If your idea of a great Oscar night is one where none of the oddsmakers has any clear picture of who the frontrunners are, this could be a banner year.
A poor showing by early favorite Dreamgirls threw the Best Picture and Best Director fields wide open this morning, when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced this year’s broad-ranging slate of Oscar nominees. Here’s what’s odd about it – that “poor showing” by Dreamgirls included no fewer than eight mentions in total (three of them for best song), making it the overall leader in nominations despite being a non-starter in the top categories.
Achievement in Cinematography
Here’s another interesting fact: Not one of the Academy’s five nominations for Achievement in Cinematography (The Black Dahlia, Children of Men, The Illusionist, Pan’s Labyrinth and The Prestige) are in the running for Best Motion Picture of the Year, proving, perhaps, that voters looked past vague notions of “quality” in identifying the most praiseworthy work behind the camera lens. It’s an interesting line-up, recognizing the masterful work of Vilmos Zsigmond in the widely-panned The Black Dahlia (
see F&V‘s coverage here), Emmanuel Lubezki’s innovative single-take camerawork for the apocalyptic Children of Men, Dick Pope's rich and moody visuals for The Illusionist (could that film have benefited from its January 9 arrival on DVD, just ahead of the nomination-ballot deadline?), Guillermo Navarro's bleak fairy-tale stylings for the fascism allegory Pan’s Labyrinth, and Wally Pfister's old-school, no-DI-for-me work on that other, underrated magic-fest, The Prestige. (Who wuz robbed? Dion Beebe – was his gorgeous and groundbreaking work on Miami Vice the victim of bias against that highly digital look?)
Achievement in Film Editing
Surprises in the film editing category may have included Steven Rosenblum’s work on Blood Diamond, which probably deserves the nod for meshing the film’s issue-oriented elements with its simultaneous agenda as an action-adventure film; Clare Douglas, Christopher Rouse and Richard Pearson’s work cutting together the intense, immediate action of United 93; and Alex Rodriguez and Alfonso Cuaron’s efforts on the spare, almost documentary-style Children of Men. And if you were surprised to see the names of Thelma Schoonmaker, for The Departed, and Stephen Mirrione, a specialist in multi-threaded narratives whose work with Douglas Crise on Babel also earned a nod, well, you haven't been paying attention to this business.
Achievement in Visual Effects
Nobody could be surprised by the results in the VFX category, where the front-runners have to be the crew on Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest for all that great work with realistic CG characters –
see F&V‘s coverage here. The Poseidon team clearly deserves recognition for their efforts on a film that was roundly thrashed by critics but contained really groundbreaking technical work ( see F&V‘s coverage here), as does the Superman Returns crew – that film wasn’t an all-out VFX action-fest, but the big FX shots were sterling ( see F&V‘s coverage here and here).
Achievement in Sound Mixing/Sound Editing
The sound-mixing and sound-editing categories are nearly identical, with the only difference being that Letters From Iwo Jima got the nod for editing, while Dreamgirls was recognized only for mixing – probably because it’s so satisfying to hear a movie featuring musical performances with a really top-drawer sound mix, while the soundscape of a war zone more readily demands kudos for sound-effects editing. The other nominees in both categories included Apocalypto, Blood Diamond (
see F&V‘s coverage here), Flags of Our Fathers, and Pirates of the Caribbean.
Achievement in Directing
What about direction? After seven fruitless nominations (for directing The Aviator, Gangs of New York, GoodFellas, The Last Temptation of Christ and Raging Bull, and for co-writing GoodFellas and The Age of Innocence), could this be the year Martin Scorsese finally gets an Oscar to call his very own? Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu seems like a long shot for Babel, and it’s hard to imagine Paul Greengrass getting the nod for United 93, which certainly earned its nominations (on the back of a long, relentless Oscar campaign by Universal) but doesn’t seem poised to go all the way. That leaves both Stephen Frears and Clint Eastwood, neither of them slouches, in contention for The Queen and Letters From Iwo Jima, respectively. (Absent from the direction category is the Dayton/Faris team behind Little Miss Sunshine, indicating that it's seen – fairly or not – as an ensemble-and-screenplay-driven piece, rather than a directors' showcase.)
The bottom line is, unless it becomes easier to read the Hollywood tea leaves over the next few weeks, this will be the first Oscars ceremony in eons where all of those little statuettes really do seem up for grabs. (Just imagine the potential for pandemonium if Sacha Baron Cohen shows up in character!) Pop some popcorn (the good stuff, in the stovetop kettle). And then fasten your seatbelt.