As another Academy Awards ceremony gets ever nearer many people are beginning to set in their final predictions. However, as with last year, before going into my predictions for what will win at this year’s Oscars here’s a rundown of the nominees I would personally put a cross or tick in the box for in each category.
Best Cinematography – The Tragedy Of Macbeth
The misty, black and white landscapes of The Tragedy Of Macbeth are brought to life with a classic horror-style feel thanks to Bruno Delbonnel’s cinematography. He emphasises the stage-like nature of a number of scenes, held within the production design of the piece, and helps to push the dark isolation and thoughts lurking within the characters minds. It helps to further add visual flare to the piece and a layer of intensity during a number of the discussions between Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand’s characters – and indeed their individual moments. The visual style overall adds an intensity to the piece which allows for storytelling as visual as it is about the language and performances. Plus, the film as a whole just looks great! With a lot of style packed into each shot with its stripped-back ‘only the essentials’ nature.
Best Costume Design – Cruella
Yes, Cruella is a film largely set within the fashion industry. But, Jenny Beavan goes all-out with a host of bright, flamboyant displays of costuming to fill the screen with. Putting on full display the central character’s competitiveness and own style from the flowing newspaper-rubbish dress to the almost bridal costume that gets set alight to reveal a devil-red standout amongst the rest of the costumes in the scene. Even Emma Thompson’s high-fashion-world costumes feel packed with detail to fit into the world and suit her own individual character and her surroundings. It’s undeniable the detail within the costumes across Cruella, particularly the often briefly-seen efforts that fill the screen (partly because of just how big and grand they are. They’re made to show the fact that the character is showing off, and they certainly do that with an impact.
Best Makeup and Hairstyling – Cruella
For me, this is a close category in that nothing completely stands out. Cruella’s hair and makeup, however, while perhaps not as memorable or discussed, does have its links to the costume design. In many sequences they both work together to have an impact, stylistically pairing for the reasons mentioned when talking about the costumes. And while some of the other nominees it could be said have ‘more’ makeup and hairstyling, particularly with the transformations or aging makeup put into certain characters, Cruella, again, feels like the nominee that has that impact because of the way in which it is used and works.
Best Production Design – West Side Story
I think the way that The Tragedy Of Macbeth looks is excellent, and I was close to picking that for this category, however there’s something about the visual style of West Side Story that really brings you in to the musical world. The way in which it throws back to the old soundstage look of classic Hollywood musicals, and indeed the 1961 adaptation, while managing to open things up into the world is truly something. Capturing the run-down feel of the streets in which the Sharks and Jets are warring over. The pop and the vibrant nature of the 50s setting also come through, the contrasts in locations and situations for different characters. It all comes through and pushes the ideas that the film holds within its arcs. Plus, the way in which the set and the objects within it are used during the Gee, Officer Krupke sequence are excellent, and could possibly win this alone.
Best Sound – Dune
Yes, West Side Story is a musical. The songs sound great. And perhaps Dune (alongside No Time To Die) has the ‘flashier’ sound amongst the nominees within this category. But, there’s an entirely different, futuristic world created within it. The loud detail of the ornithopters and sandworm attacks throw you into the mix of the world of Arrakis, and the various other space and planetary locations within the film, with just as much detail as the visual effects. Throwing you into the experiences that they hold with plenty of audible detail so you hear and feel the roar of the situations, including the surely now iconic sardaukar chant – led by a figure who could perhaps do (music) battle with the legendary Doof Warrior.
Best Visual Effects – Dune
It has to be Dune. While the visual effects in the other nominees are good, and the mirror dimension scene in Spider-Man: No Way Home is one of my favourites from last year, and, for me, the highlight of the film, nearly all of Dune creates an entirely different world that brings you in for the ride and experience. It comes to life on the big screen and fully utilises it to full potential. Forming events and figures that fit right in to what’s happening that look and feel realistic within the highly-visual world which has been created. Yet, perhaps the best effect lies in the smaller scale effects of this grand-scope sci-fi piece. For me, one of the best things about Dune came in the protective suits that a number of characters are seen to wear. Flashing and glitching red when attacked, instead of showing any blood, and allowing that visual element to do the talking and get across the details of the fight than anything else. It’s a small detail amongst everything else in the film, but it stands out as something very effective.
Best Original Song – Dos Oruguitas from Encanto
I’ve not really got a lot to say on this choice or category apart from the fact that I just think it’s the best song amongst the five. Yes, it backs perhaps the most emotional scene in the film, but as a isolated song it’s perhaps the one I’m most likely to casually listen to, and, again, the one that I like the most out of those nominated (although I do really wish that Beyond The Shore from CODA was in this list, because that is a wonderful song!).
Best Original Score – The Power Of The Dog
Jonny Greenwood’s score for The Power Of The Dog is one of my favourite things about that film. Greenwood had a great year last year, with his score for Spencer also being rightfully praised (although not nominated). But, I think that his work on The Power Of The Dog sticks out that bit more for me, especially when having listened to a handful of tracks in isolation. There’s something about the slightly disjointed feel to it that works well with the film and gets across the tone and style at play within the 1920s set western. Creating a thin air of tension amongst the landscape and inner thoughts and conflictions of Benedict Cumberbatch’s central characters. Plus, it makes excellent use of some rather prominent, ominous banjo. And any score with the banjo in is usually fine by me.
Best Film Editing – Don’t Look Up
For a film juggling so much with so many different characters Don’t Look Up really manages to flow well. It’s quickly paced and within that manages to conjure up a fair deal of humour amongst the increasing levels of anxiety and tension which rise as the threat of the end of the world gets ever nearer. To be able to still include some effective comic timing and humour amongst the escalating tension and not have either disturb each other speaks for the nature of the editing in the film. And perhaps it is down to the personal response of the film, this has certainly been proved to be one of the most divisive films amongst those nominated, but it worked for me, brought me in and managed to have a strong effect. All while still balancing its themes and characters over the course of a quick 2 hours and 18 minutes.
Best Documentary Feature – Summer Of Soul (Or When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised)
Perhaps there’s something about the memory of having seen it on a hot day, in an air conditioned cinema, and being put into the vibe of the celebration on screen, but there’s something just rather joyous about Summer Of Soul. A wonderfully structured and pieced together documentary that manages to be more than just a concert film in the way that it brings back and in many ways introduces for the first time the Harlem Cultural Festival. Linking to current times while very much capturing the mood and tone present when it happened in real life there’s an unbelievable feeling when it comes to ‘how has this been forgotten?’, something asked and mentioned a couple of times throughout. It just brings you in for a celebration of identity, pride and music.
Best International Feature – Drive My Car
There was part of me considering choosing Flee as my personal favourite within this category. While I love that film’s style and the way it visualises the human story at the centre of it, using the animation to get across just an example of the experience the focus went through for hope and survival, there’s something about the way in which Drive My Car allows its characters to open up and discuss grief that really hooks you and brings you in. Connecting you to the figure on screen and gradually providing development over its run-time to give a human feeling of real-time development. Blending those ideas with the production of Uncle Vanya that’s being put together, and some great performances to bring both that and Drive My Car as a whole to life. This is a film about giving time and thought to both ourselves and others when it comes to the harsh topics of life, particularly grief and loss, and it gives just that to its characters with great effect.
Best Animated Feature – The Mitchells Vs. The Machines
“Behold, cinema!” The Mitchells Vs. The Machines proves why some films are made in the animated format, why it can often be the best way to tell a story. It uses the format as best and as often as it can with great results. It’s undeniably one of the most creative films of last year, and not just when it comes to the strong visual and unique animation style featured throughout. Add to that some brilliant humour, featuring plenty of laughs, and a narrative that’s simply very well told and you have one of the best animated films at least of last year. Not to mention the fact that Monchi is perhaps one of the greatest
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Best Original Screenplay – Don’t Look Up
As mentioned in the point about Don’t Look Up’s editing, perhaps a lot of the balance of tension and humour boils down to the screenplay. However, the script also does a good job of pushing across (yes, perhaps somewhat heightened) recognisable figures in modern society and, as opposed to previous Adam McKay films which have leaned towards targeting one or two groups of people, jabs at all of them. Creating plenty of humour within a number of the situations in which they find themselves and forming a fine sense of satire around that fact, even creating a fair deal of non-satirical humour throughout too. The scenes of Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence on a morning magazine show hosted by Cate Blanchett and Tyler Perry perhaps show it all. The varied humour and the rage and anxiety.
Best Adapted Screenplay – Drive My Car
Perhaps its more down to the direction and editing, but the thing that really stands out in Drive My Car is the way in which people interact and talk. It’s a film about development and grief, coming to terms with it and understanding it. Talking about it. Yet, it takes time for the characters to open up and the film, and indeed its screenplay, understand and accept that. It allows for them to develop and connect over the course of the film and then in the final 45 minutes or so, after a number of brief conversations and references throughout, the core figures are ready to truly talk. To openly discuss their grief and loss and how it’s impacted them. The thoughts that have been in their minds, locked away for so long as repressed emotions. Perhaps some of the effect is also down to the performances, but the screenplay had to provide the words. Words which show the development and then give time for quiet and conversation and most of all reflective, understood, human conversation. To write something like that, to build up to it, all within a number of lengthy largely dialogue-based scenes and sequences takes very strong writing to keep you engaged, interested and connected.
Best Supporting Actor – Troy Kotsur in CODA
It is the best supporting actor performance of last year. Troy Kotsur is simply brilliant in CODA. A wonderfully funny performance, for my money the best in the film, that manages to show his character’s upset and anger and simply emotion. The scene where he feels his daughter’s (played by Emilia Jones) throat as she sings after a school performance has a big emotional impact, and it’s largely down to his tears and performance. He forms a believable connection with each of the cast members and has a real effect with his silent performance. Making the most of physicality and the visual nature he delivers an excellent turn which captures much of the heart and humour of the film in which it appears in.
Best Supporting Actress – Ariana DeBose in West Side Story
Ariana DeBose just absolutely commands the screen every time she’s in shot in West Side Story. A brilliant performance which captures so much of a joyous nature, particularly during the rightfully much acclaimed America sequence. Almost every time DeBose appears on screen there’s a burst of energy as she makes the most of the opportunity to be in this film and delivers a performance which is a pure delight. Even as the film develops and her character reveals a more serious edge, especially in the final stages, she’s still great and manages to show the slight change in character with ease, without it feeling sudden or out of place. All while still commanding the scene and your attention, much like her character likely intends to do and would hope for on a number of occasions. Her performance is a real delight.
Best Leading Actor – Denzel Washington in The Tragedy Of Macbeth
I’m probably (almost certainly) in a minority here, but I really think that Denzel Washington is the standout in this category. His turn in The Tragedy Of Macbeth is, as should be expected from him by now, nothing short of amazing. He captures the theatricality of the piece, and, of course, the stage and Shakespearean origins while still creating something darkly dramatic for the screen. Yet, perhaps the thing that stands out for me within his performance is just how much detail and emphasis he puts in to the language and the dialogue he’s reciting. There’s something methodical and yet in the moment about his performance and it adds to what’s being said and the connection the viewer has with the film as a whole. He takes the Shakespearean language of the play and removes a few layers of the language barrier to truly get across tone and intentions, making the film more accessible for those who may otherwise, or usually, struggle with non-updated language. Even aside from this he delivers a finely paced, thought-through performance that stands out, as do many things, amongst his varied career so far.
Best Leading Actress – Olivia Colman in The Lost Daughter
I think Kristen Stewart is sensational in Spencer. And I think she thoroughly deserves the Oscar. I championed her performance for a long time and hoped that she would gain the nomination and recognition that her performance deserves (and still do). But, then came along Olivia Colman’s performance in The Lost Daughter. Playing a character who appears to be so entirely different to how she seems to be in real life – based off of various TV appearances and awards acceptance speeches – and truly embodying their emotional state of upset and regret. Attempting to escape the past but being confronted with it in an uncomfortably direct manner. There’s something highly subtle and naturalistic about her performance in The Lost Daughter that allows for the inner workings of her mind to be shown without saying a single word. Again, I loved Stewart in Spencer, but there’s something about Colman’s performance which has lingered in the mind each time I’ve watched the film, and even continues to do so now.
Best Director – Paul Thomas Anderson for Licorice Pizza
I’m not as in love with Licorice Pizza as many other people are, I don’t think it’s the best film overall in the Best Director category, but I do think that it is the best directed film, and that’s what this category is, after all. While I also think that Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s direction of Drive My Car is fantastic, and a close second, there’s something about the throwback to 70s era California which Anderson wistfully reflects to that you can’t help but be caught up in. There’s a slightly heady rush about the film and memories that appear to rush back as the two central characters go about their various, mostly business, ventures as their relationship develops. To still be engaging without an overall core narrative speaks further to the direction and the way in which the film has your attention as you watch the development of the pair. Capturing that 70s vibes and style while never feeling like a piece of personal nostalgia for the writer-director, instead capturing a growing friendship in a hazy summer.
As Best Picture is voted for with a preferential ballot I’ll list what mine would look like (from best to least best – I don’t dislike any of the films in this category) and then write a bit about the one I have at number one, because I’ve rambled enough and my thoughts and explanations on all ten probably aren’t needed (or wanted).
I realise that this list, as with likely most of what I’ve written and rambled about here, is wrong. I’ve looked at it a number of times and thought about why it’s wrong. But, I’ve partly taken into account first viewings (I’ve seen all of these nominated films at least twice now) and I’ve likely already proved why it’s a good thing I’m not an Academy voter, this can just act as one more reason on that list.
1. West Side Story
5. Don’t Look Up
6. Drive My Car
7. Nightmare Alley
8. Licorice Pizza
9. King Richard
10. The Power Of The Dog
Re-watching West Side Story just made me realise how much I enjoyed it the first time around. It manages to tweak and increase certain elements to slightly update the piece while shine a light on the fact that it’s still very much relevant today. It takes the story, takes the musical numbers and keeps a traditional classic Hollywood-era musical feel while opening it up to the world for a true celebration and development of the story. It’s joyful and tragic and manages to capture that balance and range across its run-time, particularly within the well-staged musical numbers. It just takes you along and brings you in for the ride within each scene. The musical numbers all work alone and contribute to the film as a whole, adding to the highly cinematic nature that the film holds. It all brings to life the words “tonight, tonight, the world is wild and bright. Going mad, shooting sparks into space” for a real rush and experience. It might be a bit slow to start, but once it does and that central connection is formed between Tony and Maria, the film really takes off, bringing the audience along with it. Plus, I just think it’s the best film in this category.