They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don't They?
Handicapping the Technical Races: Part I
By J. Don Birnam
February 2, 2015
Best Picture is in flux, and the acting categories are mostly done except for one. But Oscar ballots are normally won in the below-the-line races. And for all the predictability of some of the main awards, there is no dearth of suspense in some of the tech races. As you know, I love the craft of movies, and obsessing over the lower Oscar races is a mostly unhealthy pastime. So, in two parts, I will take a look at those races to try to shore up your Oscar pools.
Best Visual Effects
In what has become a battle of the big blockbusters, the visual effects category is where the audience-popular movies normally duke it out - and inevitably lose to a Best Picture nominee if one is in the mix. There is no such nominee this year - indeed, this will be the first year since 2007, when The Golden Compass surprised here, that the Oscar doesn’t go to a Best Picture nominee. Nevertheless there is a more “prestigious” movie in the bunch and that one will likely walk away with the trophy.
Two of the nominees here, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and X-Men: Days of Future Past, haven’t won any major precursor love in this category and seem to be going along for the ride. I doubt either has a chance.
I was most surprised to see the final installment of The Hobbit series not listed here after it made the list of finalists, given the poignant effects in the climatic scenes of the film, and I wrongly predicted Godzilla to score a nod - a silly prediction in retrospect given the poor critical reception the movie received. The last Hobbit entry, indeed, had to conform itself with a lone sound nod, a whimper of an exit for a franchise that once reached the summit of Best Picture glory.
The Planet of the Apes sequel has a shot for its amazing live-action animation capture effects (the original was predicted to win this award but then lost to Hugo), and The Guardians of the Galaxy gives the Academy a shot to throw a bone to the second-most popular movie of the year box-office wise. But as we have seen, the Academy doesn’t really seem to care about the public’s view anymore, so I doubt that will be enough to tip the scales.
Instead, I am sticking with the prediction I made when the movie came out and will jot down Interstellar for a win, which would give recognition to a movie that was clearly well-respected in the technical field despite its lackluster support elsewhere. Barring a Guardians upset, Interstellar should take this easily.
Best Original Score
The nominations in this category cannot be argued with, but two can be easily discounted. Mr. Turner’s soundtrack is moving and exquisite but has no chance to win, mostly because of the low-visibility of the movie and its overall poor reception with audiences. Interstellar is my favorite soundtrack in many years, and I would be thrilled by little more than a surprise win for Hans Zimmer here on Oscar night. Zimmer has amassed a stellar 10 nominations in this field but hasn’t won since way back when The Lion King triumphed in this category over 20 years ago. But only once since the year 2000, when Frida did it in 2002, has a non-Best Picture nominee emerged victorious here. As we have seen time and time again, they vote for the Best Picture nominees as a way to reward the runners-up for the ultimate prize.