They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don't They?
Below the Line Races, Part One
By J. Don Birnam
February 2, 2017

Who do I need to beat to make sure LMM gets his EGOT?

The Oscar are just three and a half weeks away, so we'd better get a jump on analyzing the race category by category if we are gonna have any chance of helping your Oscar ballots. We start as usual with the obscure technical races, the sound, song, and makeup categories. Last year, I did pretty well in predicting these - five out of six - over one month out.

Of course, last year you had two movies heavy in tech, The Revenant and Mad Max, though the latter proved to be the most formidable of the two, in a sweep of essentially all the techs except for Cinematography.

So, how do we approach these categories this year? The last two years, as Best Picture was in flux for a few months, these races seemed open, too. This year, Best Picture is arguably a foregone conclusion. So the question becomes: “Will La La Land’s popularity carry it through to all of these on its way to a record setting or tying Oscar tally? I think the answer is yes, but let’s look at it piece by piece.

Thoughts? Comments? Here I am as usual: Twitter and Instagram.

Best Sound Mixing (aka Best Sound).

Sound Mixing is a category that prizes the overall sound of a film, including its score, dialogue, and effects. When a beloved musical is in the mix, it is almost impossible that it loses, particularly if it is up for Best Picture. Get my drift? To give you a sense of what the category rewards, past winners here include Whiplash, Les Miserables, Chicago, and Dreamgirls. Nor is it rare for Best Picture winners with showy sound to triumph here, and we have seen Slumdog Millionaire and The Hurt Locker victorious as well.

For the 89th Oscars, the nominees are Arrival, Hacksaw Ridge, La La Land, Rogue Oneand 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. You can discount the last two easily - they did not appear in Sound Editing, and while Whiplash did win like that, it is a relatively rare feat.

In a year without a Best Picture juggernaut in the mix, I’d say Hacksaw Ridge as the “loudest” of the films would have a shot, ending Sound Mixer Kevin O’Connell’s nasty string of 21 nominations in his category without a win - stretching back to 1983 when he mixed the sound for Terms of Endearment. Wow!

Anyway, I fear O'Connell will have to wait his turn again, as the mixers behind La La Land will take it. Remember that Academy voters don’t see names in the “below the line” categories, just movies, so they probably don’t know they’ve snubbed O’Connell 20 times and counting. In second place I’d actually list Arrival, simply because it has more respect- based on categories of nominations - than Mel Gibson’s movie, but it’s close.

Will win: La La Land
Could win: Arrival

Best Sound Editing (aka Sound Effects).

The “big” story this year amongst Oscar pundits was that La La Land managed a sound editing nomination, giving it the record-tying 14th mention. It is odd because, as explained before, sound editing is creating sound effects. While musicals normally win sound mixing, there was a small debate as to whether it would show up here.

Well, if the sound branch, which comes up with these nominations, did not see a distinction, do you think the entire Academy as it votes, which likely does not understand the distinction, will care? I don’t, so I expect the winner of Sound Mixing to repeat easily here. Of course, can it happen differently? Sure, the year Slumdog Millionaire won Best Picture it took mixing but lost editing to The Dark Knight, a very justifiable result. Then again, in the last ten years, two-thirds of the times the two awards have matched.

Anyway the nominees are Arrival, Deepwater Horizon, Hacksaw Ridge, La La Land, and Sully. I’d quickly knock out the last one, given that it received its lone nomination across the board in this race. For a movie to win this when it’s its only nomination is very rare - I can only see it once in the last 30 years, with an obscure Val Kilmer movie called The Ghost and the Darkness.

And while Deepwater would be a worthy winner, I again think that this is the place where a Best Picture nominees has an advantage. Could they split this time around? Sure. If they do, then the louder movie is likely to prevail, and that would be Hacksaw Ridge. But I still would not bet against the La La Land tide, even though, as I’m well aware, that means we are betting on it sweeping the Oscars.

Will win: La La Land
Could win: Hacksaw Ridge

Best Original Song.

This is a category that if you followed the pundit intelligentsia last year, you were driven off a cliff called Lady Gaga. I adore the subversive artist and would have loved to see her hoisting that little trophy. But for the umpteenth time: Academy voting ballots do not have the names of the nominated composers next to the songs. So, instead of voting for the song of an obscure documentary about rape they’d never heard of, they clicked on the most recognizable movie from the list, which last year was Skyfall.

I digress. The nominees this year are City of Stars and Audition, from La La Land (the branch recently changed the rules to cap at two the number of nominees from a movie, otherwise you’d likely have seen La La Land break the record), How Far I’ll Go from Moana, composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Can’t Stop the Feeling! from Trolls, by Justin Timberlake, and their usual curveball, The Empty Chair from Jim: The James Foley Story, by Sting.

Okay, leaving that last bit aside, there should be no doubt who the winner is going to be. Sure, two of the nominees are very popular and if Miranda won, he’d have the EGOT. I’m sure he will achieve this soon, but this year he is up against a popular musical. It would be almost insulting to see it lose. Can La La Land cannibalize its own votes? Sure, but Slumdog Millionaire (there we go again), had two nominees here and did just fine.

By the way, other Best Picture winners to triumph here were Lord of the Rings and Titanic, both tied for the most Oscars with 11. So, if La La Land is going to match and surpass that feat, it will have to win here. On the other hand, this category will simultaneously deal the musical its first loss of the night.

Will Win: City of Stars - La La Land
Could Win: How Far I’ll Go - Moana

Best Original Score. This category is always a fun one, as the score of a musical makes it or breaks it in my opinion. While in other years we have had “embarrassment of riches” for well-known composers, this year the branch welcomed four first time nominees into the fold, including two very young and very talented composers - Justin Hurwitz, nominated for La La Land, and Nicolas Britell, for Moonlight. They are joined by the composers of Jackie’s amazing score, and Lion, alongside Thomas Newman, who composed Passengers and is now on his 14th nomination, likely with another loss - but we feel worse about Kevin O’Connell!

Anyway, none of them are going to win. It is obvious that La La Land has to win here. The last two Best Pictures to win this category were The Artist and Slumdog Millionaire, two names that we are going to be hearing a lot in comparisons this year. Moonlight really has the best score, or maybe Jackie does, but don’t count on them to distinguish the songs from the music and the score.

Will win: La La land
Could win: Moonlight

Best Make-up and Hairstyling. As is their wont, the Makeup branch did what they always do, which is to nominate out of the blue choices. They could have gone for the more respectable Florence Foster or even the popular Deadpool, but they went their own way and put up Suicide Squad and Star Trek here, along with the two makeup artists nominated last year for a random Swedish movie, this time it’s called A Man Called Ove. Those two must certainly have an in with this branch?

Anyway, that film at least has a Best Foreign Language Film nomination, so maybe it stands a higher chance? But I doubt it, since it’s still relatively obscure. The question is whether the showier makeup for Suicide Squad will triumph over Star Trek? The latter’s franchise won here before, in 2009 when the series was rebooted, so it seems like a safer bet. In past years, even something like Guardians of the Galaxy lost to less showy makeup from The Grand Budapest Hotel, clearly because of the snob factor. I expect that to carry the day again.

Will win: Star Trek
Could win: Suicide Squad