Every year at the Oscars, there’s a middle group of categories somewhere between “really important” and “I wonder which college basketball games are on right now.” For most people, the categories listed below probably fall closer to the latter group, but for people who genuinely love film, categories like editing and cinematography are just as important as Best Director.
Let’s take a look at the nominees.
Best Visual Effects
This is always a fun award to watch being presented, because the telecast always shows the various stages of visual effects magic. You see Gollum as this weird grid-like structure, then a crude 3D rendition, and finally, the layers ad up to a finished product of this weird little creature skittering across the screen.
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier
- Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
- Guardians of the Galaxy
- X-Men: Days of Future Past
This is a pretty significant achievement for Marvel: three films based on their franchises are nominated in one category. That said, I don’t think Captain America or X-Men have enough traction to win here. Which leaves us with three legitimate candidates. My personal favorite of the bunch is Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, because Andy Serkis is always, always brilliant, and his motion-capture performances help make CGI feel real. Interstellar is the prestige film of the lot, and could walk away with a victory based on merit. Then there’s Guardians of the Galaxy, that feel-good romp through sci-fi silliness. It was adored by audiences and critics alike, but is it too light to pick up an Oscar? (In case you haven’t noticed, the Oscars don’t always reward the most deserving work, but the one that seems most prestigious). Interstellar certainly had more VFX, mostly because it had more of everything at almost three hours in length. But I’m going with the dark horse here.
Prediction: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Now, I know what you’re thinking here: why is this a mid-major category? Think of your favorite photograph. Think of the picture of that sailor getting a kiss in Times Square that was on the cover of Life. Cinematographers want you to remember their images. Everything from the composition of a shot (Establishing shot? Two-shot? Close-up?) to color pallette to lighting is in some way dictated by the cinematographer, so if the movie looks great, we have them to thank.
- Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
- The Grand Budapest Hotel
- Mr. Turner
Roger Deakins, cinematographer of Unbroken, has been nominated twelve times with zero wins. He was the favorite a couple years ago for Skyfall, but ended up losing to Life of Pi. However, I don’t think 2015 will be his year, either (even though he’s responsible for my favorite shot in film all year). And, as has been our trend all along, I think we can safely rule out Mr. Turner. Ida is brilliantly shot, in crisp, clear black-and-white that recalls the films of Bresson in its simplicity (and 4:3 ratio). But it’s also not going to win.
The two real contenders (in a category of beautiful movies) are Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel. Grand Budapest is inventive, colorful, and experimental (it alternates between aspect ratios as the narrative jumps through time). In another year, this one might go to Wes Anderson’s quirky tale. But this year, it’s going to Emmanuel Lubezki’s work on Birdman. Purposely designed to look like one continuous shot, Lubezki’s camera is crystal-clear, showing every pore on the faces of the actors from which it hovers no more than six inches away. It weaves and bobs like some beautiful pugilist. It’s a thing to behold.
Prediction: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Best Film Editing
One of my personal favorite categories. Next to the director, the editor may be the most important person at work on a film, because the editor sets the tone and pace of the whole movie. It’s the editor who chooses to cut to a reaction or stay on the person speaking. It’s like being a second director, and some movies (see Jaws) are considered to be “made in the editing room.”
- American Sniper
- The Grand Budapest Hotel
- The Imitation Game
This one comes down to two films, with one potential spoiler. As to the spoiler, it’s going to be American Sniper. Sniper is going to be breathing down the neck of the frontrunner in many categories simply because it has so much momentum going into Oscar Sunday. But barring a shocker, this one is down to Boyhood and Whiplash. Boyhood is interesting because it isn’t really greatly edited. It’s more a feat of twelve years’ work, and assembling so much footage into one workable film. Whiplash, on the other hand, is a master class in how to edited a film. The camera is constantly moving, and the editor picked up on that rhythm, using quick cuts when necessary, constantly allowing the tension to build. Its last act is a dizzying crescendo of terror. The problem therein is that Boyhood picked up most of the editing awards throughout the season, while Whiplash came on strong at the very end, picking up the BAFTA. In honesty, it’s probably going to be Boyhood taking home the trophy, but here I think I’ll stand up for which I thought was the better job. This is a close race, and it could go wither way.
Best Foreign Film
Look, you may not care about foreign films. But this is an important category. It shows that there are films outside of Hollywood. It’s a category that chooses the best picture, without being called “Best Picture.” Not many categories at the Oscars honor a film as a whole and this is one of them.
- Wild Tales
This category had a semi-shocker when Force Majeure, one of the year’s best-reviewed films, was left out of the nominations. In a rather unfortunate way, though, it helps us narrow down the real contenders to two: Ida and Leviathan. Neither film is particularly uplifting material, and the latter is certainly more experimental in terms of structure. That approach paid off last year with Italy’s The Great Beauty, but I have a feeling that this year, Ida will take home the trophy.
Best Documentary Feature
- Finding Vivian Maier
- Last Days in Vietnam
- The Salt of the Earth
This has been another interesting category to follow. I’ve been assured that every entry is excellent, and for a long time, it seemed CitizenFour was a shoo-in. The Edward Snowden chronicle was one of the year’s best-reviewed films. However, both the Netflix-produced Virunga and Last Days in Vietnam have been gaining lots of steam, with many critics now proclaiming the latter to be the best of the bunch. Still, I think most of the damage has been done, so to speak, and despite two potential spoilers (Virunga is great, by the way. Watch it immediately.), CitizenFour will probably take this one.
Best Animated Feature
- Big Hero 6
- The Boxtrolls
- How to Train Your Dragon 2
- Song of the Sea
- The Tale of Princess Kaguya
The biggest nomination shocker this side of Selma cam when The LEGO Movie was left out of this category. I personally didn’t think it was that great, but apparently all of the world did, so there’s that. The Boxtrolls was a critical darling, but does it have enough steam to beat two juggernauts? I don’t think so. It’s a Disney-versus-Dreamworks kind of year, with Big Hero 6 squaring up against How to Train Your Dragon 2. I think the latter takes it, as a way of honoring that rare sequel that lives up to its predecessor.
Prediction: How to Train Your Dragon 2
On next to the awards we’ve all been waiting for, in some of the most hard-to-call races in years. I’m not looking forward to this…