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The 84th Academy Awards is almost here! Leading up to the event, we’re going to put all the hours we spent watching these films to good use by giving our thoughts on all the categories, big and small. We may not be experts on everything, but I daresay that’s never stopped anyone from blogging before. On the (very remote chance) you disagree with us or the (much more likely chance) you want to applaud our picks, please chime in below.

Visual Effects

The nominees are:

  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
  • Hugo
  • Real Steel
  • Rise of the Planet of the Apes
  • Transformers Dark of the Moon

JOHN

I’m going to be the crazy person here disagreeing with the popular choice and say I was underwhelmed by the effects in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the film with all the buzz for trying to get its motion captured actor an acting nod. I just don’t think it looks good enough yet. Motion capture works great in a cartoon like The Adventures of Tintin or in a surreal world like Avatar. When placed in a real location like the Golden Gate bridge, the motion capture characters just don’t look quite right. It’s the same for the apes’ facial expressions.

I would have rather seen The Tree of Life here for its gorgeous interstellar sequences, but since it is not my choice will be Transformers: Dark of the Moon. I never thought I’d be advocating so many Oscars for a Michael Bay noise fest! But the effects are big, impressive, and realistic. They are also more intelligible in this round of robot wars, though I’m not sure if that’s the result of better effects or a directorial/storyboarding decision. It is nice being able to tell which robot is which.

But if Transformers doesn’t win, Hugo and Harry Potter are fine substitutes as well.

JARED

I think it is a lot easier to argue why each of these films should win for visual effects than coming up with reasons why they shouldn’t.  Because all of them came up with some really cool stuff.  Real Steel had friggin’ boxing robots, for crying out loud.  Though really, their fighting styles involved a little more than just punching.  All of the fight scene were great.  Rise of the Planet of the Apes had all the neat motion capture stuff, of course.  But don’t forget the fight scene on the bridge, that was very well done.  Hugo may not have done a lot for me, but I’m not petty enough to suggest it didn’t look really awesome.  Transformers: Dark of the Moon was exactly what a Michael Bay movie should be, a near-constant adrenaline rush of insane image after insane image.  If I had written this post ten minutes ago or ten minutes later, I might have picked one of those four to win, that’s how close it is for me.  But for now, I’m going with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two.  The fight scenes were just too excellent to ignore.

ADAM

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

The 84th Academy Awards is almost here! Leading up to the event, we’re going to put all the hours we spent watching these films to good use by giving our thoughts on all the categories, big and small. We may not be experts on everything, but I daresay that’s never stopped anyone from blogging before. On the (very remote chance) you disagree with us or the (much more likely chance) you want to applaud our picks, please chime in below.

Art Direction

The nominees are:

  • The Artist, Production Design: Laurence Bennett; Set Decoration: Robert Gould
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Production Design: Stuart Craig; Set Decoration: Stephenie McMillan
  • Hugo, Production Design: Dante Ferretti; Set Decoration: Francesca Lo Schiavo
  • Midnight in Paris, Production Design: Anne Seibel; Set Decoration: Hélène Dubreuil
  • War Horse, Production Design: Rick Carter; Set Decoration: Lee Sandales

JOHN

Art Direction is probably my favorite small category after Song. Why? I love sets! Many a mediocre film has been upgraded in my eyes due to neat sets. Sherlock Holmes, for example, is a lot of noise but the film’s stylish take on Victorian London always gives you something to look at when the plot takes another stupid turn. Or how about a similar entry from this year, missing from the nomination list: Captain America devolved into a lot of mind-numbing explosions, but it happened in some fantastic-looking enemy bases with their mix of Nazi, supernatural, and mechanical elements.

There’s a clear best in show winner for this year in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which of course wasn’t even nominated. There’s a film with meticulous, detail-rich sets that help establish the film’s cool style. Is there a set image more iconic from 2011 than the egg-crate insulation in the MI6 isolation meeting rooms? That and that neat doorframe in the middle of the desert in The Tree of Life, of course!

So my winner will instead be Hugo, another film whose setting really sets the tone for its overall style. It’s colorful, busy, and often quite beautiful. The train station will get most attention, but the designs of Méliès’s studio and house are also quite memorable. The film intent to pull the audience into its sense of magic didn’t really work on me, but I can understand how the production design would help sweep away those who fell under its spell.

The Artist also looks great. Design is a different beast in black and white and the film still has a nice sense of artistry as well as a neat period look. Furthermore, War Horse also has some effective sets. They’re not as flashy, but I liked the look of the windmill and the family’s house at the beginning of the film. The war scenes, mostly stripped of any gore, work as well as they do to show the horrors of war with the help of the design of the bleak trenches and No Man’s Land.

JARED

As anyone who has seen my room may attest, aesthetically pleasing spaces are maybe not so much my forte.  Being a war movie may have made War Horse a shoo-in, but I found the sets merely adequate.  Similarly, nothing in particular stood out for me with Midnight in Paris.  Though I suppose big and bold is what tends to get my attention in this category, and that may not be fair.  Speaking of bid and bold, though, this Harry Potter was the first that I’ve seen.  The wide range of locations were really impressive, but I wonder if maybe people are conflating their love of the series with admiration for the art direction.

I love many things about The Artist, and the scenery is certainly up there.  I’ve mentioned it elsewhere, but putting together a modern take on an old-timey look isn’t easy, and the crew pulled it off with style.  In particular, I’m thinking of the movie sets and scenes at the studios, which felt wonderfully alive.

Infringing on Brian’s turf here, but I think Hugo is my pick here.  I’m a big enough man to admit that even though I disliked much about the film, creating the world of the train station was really something special.  From the inner workings where Hugo lived to the bookstore, to the wide open concourses, the film established a magical, vivid world.  And Ben Kingsley’s film set was pretty neat too.

BRIAN

Hugo

ADAM

Midnight in Paris

 

The 84th Academy Awards is almost here! Leading up to the event, we’re going to put all the hours we spent watching these films to good use by giving our thoughts on all the categories, big and small. We may not be experts on everything, but I daresay that’s never stopped anyone from blogging before. On the (very remote chance) you disagree with us or the (much more likely chance) you want to applaud our picks, please chime in below.

Makeup

The nominees are:

  • Albert Nobbs, Martial Corneville, Lynn Johnston, and Matthew W. Mungle
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Nick Dudman, Amanda Knight and Lisa Tomblin
  • The Iron Lady, Mark Coulier and J. Roy Helland

BRIAN

The Iron Lady

JOHN

I like the mix here for Best Makeup. You’ve got some classic fantasy work, some classic period-spanning and aging work, and some classic identity-altering work. I have no qualms with any. I know Glenn Close doesn’t really look like a man in Albert Nobbs but she does look potentially masculine, which I think is a better effect than being caked under layers of makeup. Janet McTeer was a bit more convincing, particularly with that haircut.

The Iron Lady is my winner. It’s a good physical transformation, turning Meryl Streep into a recognizable figure without making the effect too eerie, which is what I think sank J Edgar in this category. She’s Margaret Thatcher-ish and Streep-ish, but you don’t find yourself thinking “That’s Meryl Streep dressed up as Thatcher and in weird old age makeup.” Speaking of which, the aging makeup is quite good. Referring back to J Edgar again, I liked the aging work on Leonardo DiCaprio but Armie Hammer and Naomi Watts ended up with weird, stiff faces, particularly around their mouths. This doesn’t happen in The Iron Lady. Finally, hairstyling is within the purview of this category and the film does a nice job of marking the passage of time by tweaking Thatcher’s hairstyle. I understand they had quite a wig collection on this film!

ADAM

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

JARED

I don’t really have any criticisms here.  I think the people behind Albert Nobbs did a good job making Close and McTeer believable as men while not obscuring the fact that they were Glenn Close and Janet McTeer.  A whole lot of The Iron Lady focuses (inexplicably) on an old Margaret Thatcher.  The makeup team did a great job keep the audience in the moment by making Meryl Streep actually look like an elderly Margaret Thatcher.

But I’ll give the hardware to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 2.  The team obviously did so much more, but I think making Ralph Fiennes virtually unrecognizable was really cool and extremely impressive.

Eight months ago, Brian made the stupid bold prediction that the final Harry Potter would get a Best Picture nod and be a favorite for the win. Now that Deathly Hallows Part 2 has racked up great reviews and is earning dough at an impressive rate (killing our summer box office predictions), its Best Picture chances is the top topic among the Oscar blogosphere. Lost in the analysis of the Lord of the Rings precedent, its mega box office returns, and the widespread affection for the epic series is an underreported factor that overrides all of that: the movie makes no goddamn sense.

First we dressed up as Helena Bonham Carter, then we haggled over a sword for some reason, then we collected some tears, then we talked to some ghosts, then we went to heaven, then we came back, then we ...

I’ve seen every film exactly once but haven’t read any of the books beyond the third. As the series progressed the plots got more and more unintelligible. I understand the largest audience for the films are those who read and loved the books and want to see how they get adapted for the screen. They are made for an audience that doesn’t leave the theater discussing Harry and Voldemort’s latest exploits but the choices the filmmakers made: which scenes to cut, what subplots to highlight, how to visualize a written description, etc…

I didn't know who this person was but according to the reaction of the girl next to me in the theater I was supposed to be upset he died

But take it from someone who just wants to watch these movies as only movies: they are impossible to follow. If Part 2 was an original story I’d say it smacked of being made up as they went along. It’s not a bad movie – it’s my favorite since number 5 – but I more or less had to stop thinking about who people were and why things were happening and enjoy the visuals and the natural thrill of the series’s big climax.

(On a side note, how disappointing is it that the series builds up all this mythology about the types of spells in the Harry Potter world yet wizard wars devolve into shooting at each other from wands like Star Wars blasters?)

So think about the hurdles that Harry Potter has to overcome to get a Best Picture nomination. As Academy members hear about the film’s buzz and pop in their screener, how many will have read the books? How many will have seen all the movies? If they haven’t, they aren’t going to have any idea what the hell is going on. And that’s not a good thing when you need to rack up a bunch of #1 votes.

July 2017
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