Dream Academy Award Nominations 2013! Part 1 – The Technical Categories

Academy Awards Statues Dream Academy Award Nominations 2013! Part 1   The Technical Categories

The nominations for the 85th Academy Awards will be released on January 10th, one week from today, and will, as history has taught us, provide endless frustration for cinephiles everywhere.

Why? Because the Oscars are silly. In concept and execution, they are a frivolous exercise, a largely substance-free attempt for Hollywood to congratulate itself, defined by industry politics and campaigning. The Academy Awards are not a bad thing, but they are also not worth putting much stock in, especially if one is a rampant film lover who probably sees twice as many films in a given year as most Academy voters. The Oscars are obnoxious because they make claim to definitiveness, but are really nothing more than a simple set of opinions, no different or superior to yours or mine.

With that in mind, I have found that one of the best remedies for alleviating Oscar-related frustrations is to simply imagine a different outcome based on my own tastes, preferences, and experience. These are my Dream Academy Award Nominations – the artists and films I would personally nominate if I put on an awards show, or, putting it another way, the artists and films I would like to see nominated in an alternate universe where the Oscars know what they are doing.

I do like these sorts of Awards in theory, and though the Oscars annoy me, I very much value this exercise for shining a light on the best achievements in individual components of filmmaking. I therefore view these Dream Nominations as my final summary of the year in film, a chance to celebrate the best elements of a highly enjoyable 2012.

These are not – and I cannot stress this enough – predictions for what the nominees will be. There is little value in making such prognostications, as the Oscars are habitually predictable, and habitually boring in their picks. I hope my choices are a little more eclectic, and if you find yourself dissatisfied, please feel free to offer your own Dream nominees in the comments. There are plenty of excellent choices to go around. I should note that these picks are, in part, based on my ballot for the 2012 Denver Film Critics Society awards, which I voted in earlier this week.

Because there are a lot of categories to get through – I am doing everything except the Short Film categories, Documentary, and Foreign Language – we will be presenting this feature in two parts. Today’s article will focus on the technical categories – Cinematography, Sound, Visual Effects, Editing, etc. – while the next part, publishing Monday, will dive into the big awards, like acting, writing, and directing.

Enjoy! 

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Best Cinematography 

samsara Dream Academy Award Nominations 2013! Part 1   The Technical Categories

Roger Deakins, Skyfall

Ron Fricke, Samsara

Mihai Malaimare Jr., The Master

Wally Pfister, The Dark Knight Rises

Masanobu Takayanagi, The Grey 

Tons of outstanding work this year, and a tough category to narrow down. Roger Deakins’ stunning imagery for Skyfall is an absolute gimee, as is Wally Pfister’s work on The Dark Knight Rises, which continued the innovations of its predecessor with a much greater amount of IMAX 70mm photography. Mihai Malaimare Jr. also shot on 70mm for The Master, and the results were breathtaking in every way – not just for the enhanced clarity of the format. Masanobu Takayanagi is quickly becoming one of my favorite Directors of Photography, and his ability to so clearly capture the stark, horrifying chill of the Alaskan tundra in The Grey stands as his greatest achievement to date.

But the winner here, without a shadow of a doubt, is Ron Fricke and Samsara, a beautiful tone-poem of a documentary that features some of the most incredible photography humans have ever captured. Also shot on 70mm, Fricke never ceases to innovate in the way he observes our world, and while Samsara may not, on the whole, be quite as great as Koyaanisqatsi or Baraka, it may be the most visually potent of the lot. 

Dream Winner: Ron Fricke, Samsara

Tough Omissions: Robert Richardson, Django Unchained; Tom Stern, The Hunger Games; Masanobu Takayanagi, Silver Linings Playbook; Seamus McGarvey, The Avengers; Robert Yeoman, Moonrise Kingdom; Steve Yedlin, Looper; Franke Griebe and John Toll, Cloud Atlas; Danny Cohen, Les Miserables

Best Editing 

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Alexander Berner, Cloud Atlas

Jeffrey Ford and Lisa Lassek, The Avengers

Ron Fricke and Mark Magidson, Samsara

William Goldenberg and Dylan Tichenor, Zero Dark Thirty

Fred Raskin, Django Unchained 

Another strong field, albeit one where the winner is absolutely obvious. After all, no other editor this year had such a complex task as Alexander Berner did on Cloud Atlas, linking six stories together into one seamless, flowing experience, and that means Berner’s success just naturally shines a little more brightly than anyone else’s. But that should not take away from the task Ron Fricke and Mark Magidson had assembling five years worth of footage on Samsara, or the from the monumental task Jeffery Ford and Lisa Lassek faced putting together several historically vast action sequences in The Avengers. This kind of stuff is harder than it looks. Zero Dark Thirty is probably the runner-up here, as William Goldenberg and Dylan Tichenor’s editing reflects the complexities of the story without sacrificing narrative propulsion, and Fred Raskin deserves major praise for doing the late Sally Menke proud on Django Unchained, one of 2012’s best examples of classical, invisible editing.

Dream Winner: Alexander Berner, Cloud Atlas

Tough Omissions: Lee Smith, The Dark Knight Rises; Stuart Baird and Kate Baird, Skyfall; Bob Duscay, Looper; Michael Kahn, Lincoln; Melanie Ann Oliver and Chris Dickens, Les Miserables; William Goldenberg, Argo

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Best Production Design

%name Dream Academy Award Nominations 2013! Part 1   The Technical Categories

 The Cabin in the Woods

Cloud Atlas

Django Unchained

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Skyfall 

Cloud Atlas would get a lot of below-the-line nominations from me, given just how much the crew had to do to bring six different stories and periods to life. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the Production Design, where enough great work was done to fill six different movies. Similarly, Django Unchained is a technical marvel across the board, but excels most clearly in the inventive and period-accurate sets that impress from start to finish. The Hobbit recreated Middle Earth, one of cinema’s greatest fantasy landscapes, in fine form, and The Cabin in the Woods deserves recognition for several great sets, including the cabin itself and the control room, that do a great deal to ground a zany and ambitious story.

But for me, the clear winner is Skyfall, which features one creative, stylish, and unforgettable set after another. Think of MI6’s special underground headquarters, or the vacated island where Raoul Silva makes his base, or the Shanghai Casino where Bond first meets Severine. The list goes on and on, and makes Skyfall stand out as the best designed film of 2012.

Dream Winner: Skyfall

Tough Omissions: The Master; Looper; Lincoln; The Dark Knight Rises; The Hunger Games; Prometheus

Best Visual Effects 

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The Avengers

Cloud Atlas

The Dark Knight Rises

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Life of Pi

Another strong batch, and one where the dream winner is especially hard to pick. I like the effects work in Life of Pi enough to put it here – I could never once tell when the tiger, for instance, was real or fake – but do not feel it quite stacks up to the other titles, and basically feel the same about Cloud Atlas (which, again, deserves the nod for seamlessly creating so many different settings). The Hobbit arguably features some of the most technically proficient blends of CGI and live-action to date, but I also think the Orc-leader Azog looks rather terrible, and cannot give the film the win for that miscalculation alone. It comes down, for me, to The Dark Knight Rises – with effects so good they are practically invisible – and The Avengers, and I give the edge to The Avengers for the sheer scale of the final act and the visual splendor with which it was achieved.

Dream Winner: The Avengers

Tough Omissions: The Grey; Prometheus; The Amazing Spider-Man; Flight

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Best Costume Design

django unchained2 Dream Academy Award Nominations 2013! Part 1   The Technical Categories

The Avengers

Cloud Atlas

Django Unchained

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Moonrise Kingdom

I am always disappointed with what bland choices the Academy comes up with in this category every year, almost exclusively picking elaborate period pieces while ignoring all the other wonderful things costuming can achieve. Think, for instance, of how downright cool each of the Avengers look. Those costumes may be based on comic-book drawings, but bringing them each to life in such spectacular fashion certainly deserves a nod. And consider how inventive all the costumes are in Moonrise Kingdom, each keeping with Wes Anderson’s stylistic, storyboard vision. In The Hobbit, creative costumes are key to bringing the citizens of Middle Earth to life, and the costume designers on Cloud Atlas had to pull sextuple duty crafting costumes for characters across the ages.

But in the end, I find I must declare a period piece the winner here, albeit a ridiculously suave and stylized period piece. The costuming in Django Unchained is marvelous, not just in recreating the antebellum south, but in lending additional personality to all of the characters. Jamie Foxx is a fantastic Django, but he needs a great costume designer to illustrate the character’s awesome eye for style. Django Unchained is filled to burst with fantastic costumes, and takes this (imaginary) award with ease.

Dream Winner: Django Unchained

Tough Omissions: The Master; Skyfall; The Dark Knight Rises; Lincoln; The Hunger Games; Les Miserables

Best Makeup and Hairstyling:

Holy Motors Sacred film for a comeback Dream Academy Award Nominations 2013! Part 1   The Technical Categories

 Cloud Atlas

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Holy Motors

The easiest selection of no-brainer nominations any category has had in years, the Academy has inexplicably chosen to exclude both Cloud Atlas and Holy Motors – each of which feature wildly transformative makeup work that is central to the film’s story – from the shortlist of possible contenders, meaning neither will get a real nomination. I guess that’s why I call this the “dream” nominations. In any case, both films feature some of the best and most integral makeup work I have ever seen, while The Hobbit stands among them for the incredible artistry employed to bring thirteen dwarves, a Hobbit, some elves, and several wizards to life. All three films deserve recognition, but given how much attention makeup is given in Holy Motors – the film is, in many ways, a love letter to the art of this category – I give it the edge it will, sadly, never get.

Dream Winner: Holy Motors

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Best Sound Editing

Zero Dark Thirty 011 Dream Academy Award Nominations 2013! Part 1   The Technical Categories

Django Unchained

The Grey

Skyfall

Wreck-It Ralph

Zero Dark Thirty

The difference between “Sound Editing” and “Sound Mixing” is a subtle but important distinction, and very much worthy of separate categories. In short, “Sound Editing” refers to the way sound functions in the movie; which sounds have been captured and how they are arranged, used, and delivered to create an aural experience. “Sound Mixing” is about properly balancing and orienting a wide variety of sonic elements to create an immersive and effective soundscape.

With that in mind, Zero Dark Thirty defines good sound editing. Just looking at the raid on bin Laden’s compound at the end, the number of nuanced sound effects – boots crunching on dirt, ruffling uniforms, shuffling guns, loading ammunition, firing bullets, etc. – is vast, and they are all arranged to sonic perfection. The rest of the movie is equally precise in its sound design, and to my mind easily earns this award. Django Unchained is similarly detailed and nuanced, while Skyfall does all this and more on a much grander scale. It is hard to pinpoint whether the incredibly evocative sound design of The Grey is an exercise in good editing or mixing, but I feel it belongs here, as it is the specific sound effects and elements assembled, and the ways in which they are combined and presented, that seems to give the audio its power. Finally, I always wish animated movies got more attention in this category, as their entire soundscape is built from the ground up. Wreck-It Ralph is a particularly good example of this process, and should be recognized as such. 

Dream Winner: Zero Dark Thirty

Best Sound Mixing

movies les miserables still 7 Dream Academy Award Nominations 2013! Part 1   The Technical Categories

 The Avengers

The Dark Knight Rises

Django Unchained

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Les Miserables 

Going back to what I said about sound mixing, The Avengers is a great example of the process. Looking at the final action sequence in New York, there is a wide variety of sonic mayhem going on at any given moment, and yet the cumulative effect is not muddled, but rich, immersive, and powerful. The same goes for any of the major action sequences in The Dark Knight Rises or The Hobbit, and all three films feature quiet moments that exemplify top-notch sound mixing. Django Unchained is an all-around technical knockout, as I have explained before, and deserves a nod in this category too. But I would give my hypothetical award to Les Miserables, which had the tough task of mixing live vocal performances, orchestral backing music, and sound effects into one cohesive, cinematic package. It pulls that off in spades, and sounds a little bit different – and superior – to most movie musicals ever made.

Dream Winner: Les Miserables 

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Best Original Score

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James Horner, The Amazing Spider-Man

Howard Shore, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Michael Sterns and Lisa Gerrard, Samsara

Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimek, and Reinhold Heil, Cloud Atlas

Hans Zimmer, The Dark Knight Rises

I wrote an entire article on the best scores of 2012, so I will not go into great depth here beyond reiterating that the beautiful compositions for Cloud Atlas are central to its success, hat Zimmer and Horner composed two of the all-time great blockbuster scores in The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spider-Man, and that Shore easily matched his legendary work on Lord of the Rings with The Hobbit. The one new addition here to my personal list is Michael Sterns and Lisa Gerrard’s incredible score to Ron Fricke’s Samsara, which is just as gorgeous, evocative, and haunting as the film’s masterful cinematography. 

Dream Winner: Howard Shore, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Tough Omissions: Thomas Newman, Skyfall; Marc Streitenfeld, The Grey; John Williams, Lincoln; Alexandre Desplat, Zero Dark Thirty; Henry Jackman, Wreck-It Ralph 

Best Original Song

skyfall adele banner Dream Academy Award Nominations 2013! Part 1   The Technical Categories

Adele Adkins, “Skyfall” from Skyfall

Elayna Boynton, Kelvin Wooten, and Anthony Hamilton, “Freedom” from Django Unchained

Neil Finn, “Song of the Lonely Mountain” from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Ennio Morricone and Elisa Toffoli, “Ancora Qui” from Django Unchained

Katy Perry, “Wide Awake” from Katy Perry: Part of Me 

A category that seemed all-but dead and buried a year ago has an unusually strong set of contenders this year, with Adele delivering one of the all-time great Bond themes in “Skyfall” and Django Unchained featuring four outstanding original pieces. Of those, I have limited myself to nominating “Freedom” – a wonderful, stirring song used beautifully in the film – and “Ancora Qui,” which marks the first original Morricone piece writing for a Quentin Tarantino film. Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films each featured fantastic original songs in the end credits, and Neil Finn’s “Song of the Lonely Mountain” more than lives up to that legacy. Finally, I have included Katy Perry’s “Wide Awake,” written for her concert documentary Part of Me. You may scoff, but I want to give Ms. Perry props for challenging herself on this one – it is far and away the best song she has ever recorded, and in the ways the lyrics relate to the themes of the surprisingly excellent film, “Wide Awake” more than lives up to the spirit of this category.

Dream Winner: “Freedom” from Django Unchained

Tough Omissions: “Who Did That To You?” from Django Unchained; “100 Black Coffins” from Django Unchained; “Suddenly” from Les Miserables 

Who would be YOUR dream Oscar nominees? Sound off in the comments, and come back soon for PART TWO of this feature, focusing on the big awards like Best Screenplay, Actor and Actress, and Picture!  

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  • http://www.facebook.com/kserenyi Kenneth Serenyi

    It’s been 20 years since John Williams won an Oscar. He should at least get a lifetime achievement nod.