They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don’t They?
Handicapping the Technical Races, Part Two
By J. Don Birnam
January 27, 2016
Last week, we looked at the lesser below the line categories. Today we will look at the rest of the tech races: costumes, art direction, cinematography, visual effects, and film editing. Note that the guild awards for these races are yet to come, and we will talk about those results live on Twitter and Instagram.
While I will take into account the guild winners of those races by the time we make final Oscar predictions, guild wins in the tech area should be taken very lightly. For one, guild members only vote for those awards, as opposed to the entire Academy voting for the award at the Oscars. So, you have cinematographers voting on costumes for the Oscar, etc. This creates skewed incentives where guild members, particularly those who I presume are not Academy members, like to reward the movie they like the most regardless of the craft they’re voting. And thus, for example, last year Boyhood won the ACE Eddie award, and lost both that Oscar (to Whiplash), and Best Picture (to Birdman).
Oscar bloggers and movie nerds point out that Roger Deakins, for example, is on his 12th nomination for cinematography for Sicario, and that it is “finally his turn.” Do not buy it. Why didn’t Deakins win the previous 11 times? His name is not on the ballot. He has won the guild award several times, but has come up short at the Oscars each time and will again this time.
Ready for more Mad Max vs. Revenant handicapping?
Best Visual Effects
What to make of this category? Given the nonstop explosion of effects-driven movies, it is somewhat retrograde that this remains the only true space where the Academy recognizes the films that keep Hollywood employed. This year, at least a half dozen other movies from Jurassic Park to San Andreas had shots here. Instead, they went for the more prestigious pictures - they couldn’t help “me too”ing, the eventual Best Picture nominees, and gave nods to Mad Max, The Revenant, The Martian, Ex Machina, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
As I explained last year, this is a category where the presence of a Best Picture nominee trumps the non-nominees, going back nearly 20 years. But that happens when you have one Best Picture nominee (and sometimes none), in this race. It has never happened that three Best Picture nominees make the visual effects cut. That eliminates Ex Machina out of the gate. One theory for The Martian is that this will be the place where they reward a movie that they clearly liked, but I would not count on it - given the much showier craft of the other sci-fi movie in this year’s Best Picture race, there is a real chance that The Martian goes home empty-handed.
So is it between the animal-related special effects in The Revenant vs. the entire-movie is one special effect of Mad Max? Not so fast. For this one, I’d actually put The Revenant in third. Yes, the bear attack is infamous, and the inclusion of this movie shows it has wide and deep support among the Academy, but I doubt the entire membership sees this as an effects-picture. Its nomination here was, in fact, somewhat of a surprise. Instead, I think this is the obvious place for them to reward the popular Star Wars though some will, undoubtedly, resent having to reward the movie in the first place. Still, given that Mad Max will have plenty of Oscars, it is not a horrific guess.
Will win: Mad Max
Could win: Star Wars