A guide to what the Oscars won't show you
It was a decision that was a long time coming — on Monday night, news broke that the 2019 Oscars telecast will officially relegate four of its less star-spangled awards to be handed out during commercial breaks. The time-saving decision has been skewered by filmmakers and critics alike, with Guillermo del Toro tweeting that the decision cuts at "the very heart of our craft."
Indeed, how can one talk about a film without looking at its cinematography, editing, or makeup and hair styling — three of the categories that won't be honored with live airtime during the 2019 ceremony? Or what of short live action films, whose filmmakers have a chance to be recognized on a national primetime stage just once a year?
As del Toro said, these awards celebrate the very essence of filmmaking. But they should be included in the live telecast for another reason as well — the competitions are as tight and exciting as any other Oscars race this year. Here is your guide to the nominees we won't get to see, and the stakes in each competition.
Who's nominated: Łukasz Żal for Cold War; Robbie Ryan for The Favourite; Caleb Deschanel for Never Look Away; Alfonso Cuarón for Roma; Matthew Libatique for A Star Is Born
The stakes: Cinematography is the biggest technical award that is given out at the Oscars. With the possible exception of the director, no one has more control on set than the cinematographer (who is also frequently called the director of photography, or DP). This award goes to the person who is responsible for actually capturing the movie's memorable shots, which involves overseeing both the lighting and camera crews. For every stand-out scene — from the "Rock Around the Clock" dance in Cold War to pigeon-shooting in The Favorite to the light hitting Lady Gaga's single glassy tear in the final shot of A Star Is Born — you have the DP to thank. Part of what makes the 2019 cinematography award so interesting, in addition to the tight competition, is that three of the five nominees are foreign films, a rarity at the Oscars. Additionally, all the nominees have never won an Oscar before.
The competition: Roma's Alfonso Cuarón is widely considered to be the frontrunner, which is all the more impressive since it's his first time working as a cinematographer in almost 30 years. Cuarón, who also directed Roma, is better known for working with the legendary DP Emmanuel Lubezki on his movies like Gravity and Children of Men. Still, flying solo paid off, with Cuarón capturing the rich black-and-white palette of Roma on an Arriflex Alexa 65 digital camera.
I would not be surprised if we see an upset in this category, though. Irish cinematographer Robbie Ryan, who worked on The Favorite, is long overdue for an award, with more than 80 projects under his belt to date (including a film I think is particularly beautifully shot, 2011's Wuthering Heights). Working on The Favourite, Ryan used wide and fish-eye lenses, which gave his shots their distorted look, Indiewire reports. He also relied on all-natural light, in part as an apparent nod to John Alcott, who shot Barry Lyndon.
Caleb Deschanel is also overdue for an award — he's been nominated for Best Cinematography six different times, including for The Passion of the Christ, The Patriot, and one of my favorite children's movies, Fly Away Home. The Academy likes to award "always a bridesmaid" contenders, and Deschanel certainly fits the bill this time around for Never Look Away, which involves a climax he told Deadline was "the most complex scene I've ever done in my life."
Many audiences will also already be familiar with the work of Matthew Libatique — he shot Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan, and now A Star Is Born. Polish director Łukasz Żal, who, like Cuarón, shot in black-and-white, has previously been nominated for his work on 2013's Ida, and is my personal favorite for this award due to his bold contrasts and elegant framing.
Who's nominated: Barry Alexander Brown for BlacKkKlansman; John Ottman for Bohemian Rhapsody; Yorgos Mavropsaridis for The Favourite, Patrick J. Don Vito for Green Book; Hank Corwin for Vice
Entering Day 3 of legitimately being angry about Bohemian Rhapsody.
This time I have video evidence.
Notice at the 11-second mark, the shot they cut to that has NOTHING in it.
Bohemian Rhapsody is nominated for an Academy Award for best editing. pic.twitter.com/kBkTxUXG9C
— Reese Stephens (@reese_stephens) February 5, 2019
The stakes: Film editing is one of the most important parts of filmmaking, because it is quite literally what brings everything together. This award looks closely at the post-production construction of a coherent visual story, from making sure people's gazes line up properly to controlling the movie's rhythm and tone through cuts, montages, and visual metaphors. Ultimately, an editor can change the meaning of movie through her choices. It's no wonder the role is so intimate with the director's; many famous partnerships have been formed between the two roles.
This year's competition is a fascinating match-up because of the different styles of editors. Hank Corwin's energetic presence can be felt in the movies he edits, for example, a style he described to Deadline as "bouncing around" as he cuts from a United Nations speech to children playing. Yorgos Mavropsaridis, on the other hand, is more interested in revealing character tensions through his choices, butting opposing scenes up against each other.
The competition: Bohemian Rhapsody has swept editing awards at other competitions, including the top honors from the American Cinema Editors. I wouldn't expect to see anything different at the Oscars. The film's success in the editing category, though, has bewildered some critics, who note that many scenes in the film are visually confusing to the point of incoherence (one very good example can be seen in this scene; another example can be seen above). This is caused in part by an overabundance of cuts, speakers being off-camera for long and destabilizing amounts of time, and the inclusion of random, meaningless shots. Defenders of Bohemian Rhapsody's editing will argue that John Ottman was a large part of the reason the film got finished at all after director Bryan Singer was kicked off the set; again, it would not be surprising to see them honor that achievement with a golden statuette.
Meanwhile, Spike Lee's longtime collaborator Barry Alexander Brown received his first Oscar nomination for BlacKkKlansman, which would be my personal choice for the editing award. Brown is in large part responsible for what comes across as Lee's signature style, including playful and lively cuts as well as that incredibly somber and powerful ending to BlacKkKlansman. Brown also loves to bend the rules of editing, including by incorporating "double cuts" that show the same action twice — an "in joke" with Lee, he told Pro Video Coalition, as well as something of a signature.
Hank Corwin had his hands full editing Vice, which ricochets from cut to cut with director Adam McKay's collage-style filmmaking; Vice didn't always work for me, but it was a technical feat, and one Corwin repeated after doing much the same on McKay's The Big Short. Greek editor Yorgos Mavropsaridis focused on juxtaposition in The Favourite, which would put contrasting shots jarringly back-to-back (a great interview on Mavropsaridis' thought process is available at Film Independent). Editor Patrick J. Don Vito got his big film break with Green Book, having mostly worked as an assistant editor and on TV prior. Despite a resume stuffed with comedies (he was with the editing team on the Austin Powers movies), he proved himself deft at drama.
Live action shorts
Who's nominated: Vincent Lambe and Darren Mahon for Detainment; Jérémy Comte and Maria Gracia Turgeon for Fauve; Marianne Farley and Marie-Hélène Panisset for Marguerite; Rodrigo Sorogoyen and María del Puy Alvarado for Mother; Guy Nattiv and Jaime Ray Newman for Skin
The stakes: What qualifies as a "short film?" These days, I'd almost be inclined to say anything less than 90 minutes, although this category looks exclusively at movies with a running time of less than 40 minutes. While short films might have a reputation for being a film school rite of passage — many of the candidates up for Best Picture got their start making films like these — they are in fact their own art form. Think of it a little like a short story compared to a novel. And like short stories, sometimes these films can be as impressive as any big-budget features.
This year, you can definitely tell what sort of shorts were resonating with the Academy: Movies about children in trouble. As The Washington Post gently puts it, "Four of the five entries involve kids engaged in situations or behaviors that will profoundly trigger the maternal and paternal instinct to worry."
The competition: Live action shorts are among the most neglected films at the Oscars, and as a result, it's difficult to discern how the Academy is feeling about the nominees. There is no clear frontrunner for this group, although I'd hazard a guess that the Quebec film Fauve has a good chance. The film centers on an accident when two young boys are playing at an open pit mine; cast in pale colors, it is chillingly horrific and gut-wrenching. The film has already proven to resonate with audiences, winning the Special Jury Prize at Sundance and making the Toronto International Film Festival's list of the Top 10 Canadian films of 2018.
The Spanish-language parental thriller Mother, by director Rodrigo Sorogoyen, is in the process of being developed into a longer film. In its short form, Mother is a single-location telephone-call between a young boy who phones his mother from a beach, saying his father is missing. On the minimal side — the film is a testament to how little you need to build effective tension — this might not be flashy enough for Oscar voters, but it has earned comparisons to fan favorites like Bird Box and Hereditary. The longest film of the bunch at half an hour is Detainment, which is based on the interrogation of the two 11-year-old boys who tortured and murdered 2-year-old James Bulger in 1993. The film is, as one can imagine, difficult to watch, and a bit over the top, but the acting by Ely Solan and Leon Hughes would be impressive even if they were adults. The film has faced some controversy after the mother of Bulger insisted it be withdrawn from the Oscars.
Skin is the only American film of the bunch and focuses on a family of skinheads; the film's political relevance, as well as its feature-length acquisition by studio A24, makes this one Slant's bet to win. The Washington Post disagrees, putting its money on Marguerite, a French-Canadian drama about an elderly woman and her nurse — and, refreshingly, no children in peril. Marguerite swept film festivals since its premiere in November 2017, and would have been my predicted winner too if children weren't so clearly on the mind this season.
Makeup and hairstyling
Who's nominated: Göran Lundström and Pamela Goldammer for Border; Jenny Shircore, Marc Pilcher, and Jessica Brooks for Mary Queen of Scots; Greg Cannom, Kate Biscoe, and Patricia Dehaney for Vice
The stakes: When people refer to "movie magic," they frequently don't even realize they're talking about the team responsible for makeup and hairstyling. While the award might sound frivolous, it is constantly the category that wows me the most — my eyes pop when I see Christian Bale transformed into Vice President Dick Cheney, or Saoirse Ronan turned into the regal Mary Queen of Scots. This year's competition is particularly fierce, and I could respect the Oscar going to any of the teams contending here.
The competition: If I had to pick, though, I would guess that transforming Bale and Steve Carell into Cheney and George W. Bush will win the top award. While Bale was in large part responsible for his physical transformation, he also had an Oscar-award winning team of makeup effects artists behind him, including Greg Cannom, who is known for his work on Mrs. Doubtfire, Bram Stoker's Dracula, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
Maybe my favorite transformation of the year, though, was of Eva Melander into a troll in the Swedish film Border. Göran Lundström and Pamela Goldammer worked to reconstruct the shape of Melander's face, while never losing the soul of the character that lay beneath; they did the same, even more grotesquely, with Melander's costar, Eero Milonoff. The artistry at work here reminds me of old Hollywood monster-making, and is a classic example of how hair and makeup can be the biggest strength of a film.
The most traditional contender, though, is Mary Queen of Scots, a period piece that allowed the three-person team to show off their authentic, historically-appropriate makeup and hair skills. In particular, Mary Queen of Scots benefited from makeup artist Jenny Shircore, who had previously won an Oscar for Elizabeth. More even than makeup, though, I was impressed by what this team could do with hair. What towering achievements! With the whole category so competitive across the bored, it's a shame we won't get to see the results of this one live.