The Oscars 2013

oscars

Who should win, will win and the politics of it all…

(in my own humble opinion of course!)

So it’s that time of year again where the people that you watch on the big screen, and the hard working team that make them look so damn good come together to celebrate another year of films. I’m excited this year because for once I have seen almost all (I’m short a Lincoln and a Zero Dark Thirty) the films nominated in both performance and technical categories. I’m pretty opinionated about stuff like this so please take whatever I say with a grain of salt, no use tearing me to shreds – just a humble movie goer’s opinion.

Let’s start with the technical shall we:


VISUAL EFFECTS

The field is an interesting one as majority of the films nominated are films people think under delivered on story and performance but had shit hot visual effects (which is what I like to call the “Michael Bay” effect). After realizing I have absolutely no idea about visual effects I decided to palm it off to Chris, our post guru and tech director to answer this one, here is what he had to say…

Before I get into the actual films – this year is a REALLY important year for the whole Visual Effects industry in regards to the Academy Awards, because for the first time, it looks like visual effects artists are finally going to take a stand and protest at the big event. For those that don’t know, the last few months have been depressing and incredibly scary for the whole visual effects industry – with the bankruptcy and re-emergence of Digital Domain, medium size post production facilities falling left, right and centre – and recently Rhythm & Hues filing for Chapter 11 hit right before the VES Awards. What makes this so frustrating and confusing is that Rhythm & Hues was the company that brought Richard Parker to life (aka the incredible Tiger in Life of Pi), and well as doing a bulk of the visual effects on Snow White & The Huntsman. Together these two films have grossed almost a billion dollars worldwide, so it’s absolutely insane and mind-boggling to think that a company with so much talent, and such a good track record, can be forced to file for bankruptcy. What’s even more depressing is that many of the artists who worked nights and weekends to create these incredible effects are out of work, and still unpaid for weeks of work (including many late nights and weekends) on NEW tent-pole films managed by the same film studios (Fox & Universal). Visual Effects artists are creating INCREDIBLE IMAGES, that are translating into HUGE box office numbers – and yet the companies that create the work are going out of business. Sadly – the Hollywood Visual Effects industry is broken, and drastic measures need to be taken to restore it. Unfortunately I don’t have any magical solutions – but all I can ask is that people try and support the protest in any way they can – even if it’s just posting your support on Twitter. And on that depressing note – let’s discuss the actual films.

The nominations this year include some really solid visual effects films – The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Life of Pi, Marvel’s The Avengers, Prometheus and Snow White and the Huntsman. The only film I haven’t managed to check out yet is Snow White – although it’s definitely on my “to watch” list.

Peter Jackson is one of my heroes – and although I was never a big fan of Lord of the Rings – checking out The Hobbit in VMAX was definitely one of my biggest priorities at the start of the year – not only because I was sure it was going to be an epic and enjoyable film, but also because it was the first film I’ve ever seen filmed and projected at 48fps. If you think about this in a VFX sense for just a second – this means that each of Joe Letteri’s talented VFX artists at Weta Digital had pretty much double the amount of work to do – double the roto, double the renders, double the storage (i.e. about 6 petabyte’s!). This is a huge achievement in itself – but then when you consider this film was also shot in stereo, your head starts hurting. This film really pushed the boundary in every sense – and I won’t go into too much more detail (check out this INCREDIBLE fxguide article if you want to get really geeky) – and although some audiences complained about 48fps and the use of stereo on a whole, I don’t think anyone can argue that the “Gollum” scene was nothing short of spectacular. This was one of the most technically brilliant, but also entertaining and captivating scenes of any films this year. It’s also proof that VFX doesn’t have to be all about big explosions and out-of-this-world set extensions – Gollum looked so real, that you instantly forgot his a digital creation, and just got sucked into the scene. Sadly, for me, there were some other sequences that didn’t really hold up on the big screen, so I don’t think this film will win Best Visual Effects – but huge points to the incredible team in New Zealand for bringing Gollum to life in 48fps Stereo! Epic effort!

I was fortunate enough to see Prometheus on opening night at IMAX – and despite lots of people having complaints about the logic and storyline of the film, I personally loved it. I’m a MASSIVE fan of the whole Alien series – and personally this film really lived up to my expectations. In terms of Visual Effects – the skin work that was done for the Engineer at the opening of the film was absolutely incredible (and basically proof that VFX can now basically create photo-realistic humans) – make sure you check out this fxguide article for all the details. Another really impressive sequence is when David (the android) uncovers a three-dimensional star map inside the Orrery (the Engineers’ spacecraft control room) – and the whole space transforms into a giant virtual map of the universe – a true work of art (both creatively – but also technically, as they used deep compositing to great effect). Overall – I was a massive fan of this movie, but although there were same incredible effects – I still don’t think it’s the best of the bunch.

I really need to see this film again, because every seemed to love it – and I just got bored in the cinema. Admittedly I saw it late at night – so maybe I was just too exhausted for a epic VFX-fueled superhero roller-coaster ride. However, from a VFX point of view – this film was incredibly impressive. ILM always does an unbelievably good job with Iron Man – but this was a step-up yet again. This film has massive explosions, giant set extensions, virtual body doubles, completely digital characters and really cool HUD’s. The effects work was incredible – but again, I don’t think this will take out the Best Visual Effects Oscar.

So given I haven’t seen Snow White yet… that leaves us with my favorite film of the bunch – Life of Pi. This film is a visual masterpiece. With digital oceans and water, completely photo-realistic digital animals, incredible fur and hair simulations (including creatures that are wet) and the fact that this film was shot in stereo – there really is a lot to take in. This film truly is magical – both in terms of it’s story, the look, and of course, the visual effects. It’s also one of the few films that I would highly recommend trying to see in a 3D cinema – the whale scene alone is spectacular. Again, for all the nerdy details, make sure you check out fxguide’s article – it’s especially worth checking out some of the breakdowns just so you can see how much work is in fact all VFX.

And so, I have to agree with the The VFX Predictinator – I think Life of Pi will definitely take out Best Visual Effects this year round – which is both incredibly exciting because I think it’s well deserved, but also really sad when you think that Rhythm & Hues is now bankrupt, and a lot of the incredible artists that worked on this film are now struggling to find work. Hopefully though, if it does win – it will spark further conversation about the state of the VFX industry, and we will be able to find a way to make VFX profitable once again.

Heart Says: Life of PiBill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer and Donald R. Elliott
Head Says: Life of PiBill WestenhoferGuillaume RocheronErik-Jan De Boer and Donald R. Elliott

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OK… Back to Nick


ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Having just come back from the AWG National Screenwriters Conference, and spent the last 3 days listening to many Oscar nominated/winning screen writers speak (Tom Schulman, Stephan Elliott, Jan Sardi), this is a category that I am very interested in. I loved all the films nominated (except obviously Lincoln as I’m still yet to see it). My heart would love to see Silver Linings win as I think it’s one of the best, most intelligent romantic comedies in years but my head says Argo is probably more deserving. Relative new comer Chris Terrio has produced a thrilling, tense screenplay based on a very unique American story.

Heart Says: Chris Terrio, Argo
Head Says: Chris Terrio, Argo

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ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

It’s always interesting when Quentin Tarantino is nominated in a category that has original in its title. He is arguably one of the most unoriginal, yet so ridiculously original writer/directors in Hollywood history. He would be my pick but I have a sneaking suspicion that with the controversy surrounding his script (particularly the use of the n word) he may get pipped at the post by Zero Dark Thirty writer Mark Boal who seems to have had a bit of buzz going in. But honestly, could you get more original than a German bounty hunter pretending to be a dentist… I think not. Don’t think there will be much competition from Moonrise Kingdom, Flight or Amour.

Heart Says: Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained
Head Says: Mark Boal, Zero Dark Thirty

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FILM EDITING

Again I’ll handball over to Chris for this one…

OK, so I’m probably not the best person to comment on this, as I’ve only seen two (Argo & Life of Pi) of the five nominations (Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook & Zero Dark Thirty) – but the two films I have seen both had incredibly strong editing.

Argo’s editor, William Goldenberg (who also cut Zero Dark Thirty!) has now earned his third and fourth nominations without a win – but given he lost out to The Matrix and Return of the King in previous years, he’s in pretty amazing company even without a statue! The odds seem to be very much in his favor statistically – but the reason I think he’s in with a really good chance is that Argo is just a really fantastic film – and when you have a really solid film, you tend to forget the craft of editing all together, and just get sucked into the film. Admittedly  I never once thought during the film “man, that’s a really good cut” – but I think that’s what makes a well edited film – you don’t want to actually notice the cuts at all, you just want to escape your world and be transported somewhere else. Argo definitely pulls you in.

Everything about Life of Pi is technically brilliant – it looks incredible, it sounds amazing. Even if you hated the film, you can’t deny that it’s a visual masterpiece. Life of Pi’s editor, Tim Squyres did an absolutely incredible job tying such a complex and visually breathtaking film together – but the only thing that could potentially go against him is that the visual effects may outshine the actual cutting. When you have a film that has so many incredible visual effects – it’s really hard to separate what’s offline editing, and what’s done in online. Given this, I think Argo has the edge out of the two films I’ve seen.

Heart Says: Tim SquyresLife of Pi
Head Says: William GoldenbergArgo

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Back to Nick again…


CINEMATOGRAPHY

Again this is a tough one without having seen Lincoln and also not really being where my talent lies as a filmmaker. However I gotta go with the ridiculously talented Roger Deakins for Skyfall. I can’t deny that I loved the look of Life of Pi and applaud Claudio Miranda for that film but if for no other reason, the poor bastard has been nominated ten times without a win. TEN TIMES! I think it’s time for Roger to shine and I think this article I saw online sums it up best.

Heart Says: Roger Deakins, Skyfall
Head Says: Roger Deakins, Skyfall

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BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

This category is slightly hilarious considering every person nominated has won an Oscar before. I’m going to be a bit controversial here and say that I think the underdog in this category should win, the underdog in this case being Robert De Niro. His performance in Silver Linings is so subtle and nuanced and is without a doubt his best performance in years. I have heard Tommy Lee Jones is a stand out in Lincoln and the obvious buzz around Waltz is undeniable but I really do hope De Niro takes it out.

Heart Says: Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
Head Says: Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained

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BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

A particularly hard one for me to judge based on the fact that I’ve only seen three out of the five performances. So based on what I’ve heard and seen from the lead up awards I would say that Hathaway’s performance in Les Misérables is a shoe in.

Heart Says: Anne HathawayLes Misérables
Head Says: Anne HathawayLes Misérables

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BEST ACTOR

Another category that you’d have to be a gypsy to be able to predict. You have Day-Lewis, arguably the finest actor of our generation, Hugh Jackman who is a knock out in Les Mis, Joaquin Phoenix who put in a remarkable performance in the underrated The Master and Bradley Cooper who blew me away in Silver Linings Playbook with a career defining performance. As for Denzel… maybe not this year mate.

Heart Says: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln (I know I haven’t seen it – but I love the man)
Head Says: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln or Hugh JackmanLes Misérables

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BEST ACTRESS

Having the oldest AND youngest nominees ever makes this a rather unique category this year. Jennifer Lawrence was breathtaking in Silver Linings in what I think is the best performance of her short but already brilliant career and little Quvenzhane Wallis was a knockout in Beasts of the Southern Wild. However, I don’t think I could go past Emmanuelle Riva’s performance in Amour. It was a horrifying and affecting portrayal of an ageing woman whose body and mind starts to succumb to old age. It was certainly a performance that I won’t forget for a long time to come.

Heart Says: Emmanuelle Riva, Amour or Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Head Says: Emmanuelle Riva, Amour

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BEST DIRECTOR

The most controversial category this year thanks to the surprise omission of Ben Affleck who has already won a string of director awards for his political thriller Argo. The press have made it a race between Ang Lee and Spielberg, with the latter seeming to be the current favourite. I’m going to go against all odds and cheer for the director who has absolutely no chance of winning but probably deserves to. Benh Zeitlin took a piss poor budget of 1.8 million dollars and managed to make one of the most unique films of the last ten years. It is a film that is beautifully written, designed, shot, scored, edited and with performances (from non actors mind you) that were so powerful you were left wondering why you’d never heard of them before. His direction was perfect and it made me so excited to see what this enormous talent will do next.

Heart Says: Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Head Says: Steven Spielberg, Lincoln

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BEST FILM

So with Argo being a guaranteed yes considering its performance on the award circuit leading up to the Oscars, I again am going to be bold and pick the underdog. Beasts of the Southern Wild should win Best Film in 2013, and here is why. Benh Zeitlin is a young filmmaker (the youngest Best Director nominee ever in fact) that has made one of the most unique films I have seen in years. A film that is beautiful and poetic and is truly a film that has to be seen at the cinema. It made me laugh, made me cry and moved me in such a profound way that I was thinking about it for weeks after I’d seen it. It won’t win because it doesn’t have the marketing power or studio backing like the rest of the films do, and Zeitland and its cast are complete unknowns, but it should. If this film won it will be making a huge statement for independent film and be a huge inspiration for independent filmmakers worldwide. In a period where Hollywood has continued to churn out the same films year after year, Beasts of the Southern Wild is a reminder that there are unique ideas out there waiting to be explored, they just need to be given a chance.

Heart Says: Beasts of the Southern Wild
Head Says: Argo

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I’m really thankful for this year as I think based on the nominated films, it has been an incredibly successful year. Argo constantly had me on the edge of my seat, Life of Pi allowed me to get lost in a story of beauty and wonder, Silver Linings showed me the importance and power of love, Amour somehow managed to show me what love is whilst breaking my heart, Django showed me a damn good time and Beasts most importantly of all reminded me of why I go to the cinema.

Would love to hear your thoughts but otherwise, Happy Oscars friends.

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