They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don't They?
Reviewing Tech Races: Part I
By J. Don Birnam
February 13, 2019
One could write weeks’ worth of columns about the various debacles to befall the Academy Awards this year. From the Kevin Hart hosting to the no host meltdown, the Best Popular Film controversy, the anger over not showing all the Best Original Song performers, the Bohemian Rhapsody/Bryan Singer issues, and, now, the backlash over relegating four awards into tape delay. With all of this salacious stuff going on, now seems like the right time to discuss…Best Sound Editing.
Joking aside, we may as well try to enjoy it. The Academy seems totally out of touch with what makes people watch (awards and high grossing movies) and what does not (side shows). What can one do? We have been writing in this forum for years that the Academy has to grapple with the constant challenge of critics and audiences not respecting its choices. It is not an easy battle, not one we envy, and it seems that when it comes to the collective body, they are doing mostly OK. The Board of Governors, on the other hand, is a wholly different matter.
In any case, let’s look at the first categories, shall we? Last year, I did pretty well here in the early prediction, going four for five and stupidly missing Song, which thankfully I switched in time. But, since we are doing awards slightly later this year, we have the benefit of more guilds (though, notably, not yet the two sound guilds). On the other hand, the sound categories are slightly harder this year. So, let us see…
If you think I am wildly off on these please let me know on Twitter and Instagram.
Best Original Song
How about a verbatim quote from last year’s Best Original Song handicap:
“Remember the year Lady Gaga was certain to win this category because she was Lady Gaga? Thankfully I never fell for that, understanding the cardinal rule that the ballots do not have names of nominees in the below-the-line races, only the nominated film (or song as in this case). So if someone tries to convince you that Diane Warren, who has now nine nominations in this category but no wins, is going to win for the great song “Stand Up for Something” from the otherwise ignored film Marshall, do not believe them. The movie did not get noticed anywhere, and you have to go back to 2011 when The Muppet Song won its only nomination here, in a strange year that only had two nominees in what was about to become a defunct category.”
So, déjà vu all over again? It is funny that both Diane Warren is back this year, for her tenth nomination relating to RBG’s I’ll Fight, and Lady Gaga is also back, though in a different contender, A Star is Born’s Shallow. The other nominees are Black Panther’s All The Stars, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings, and Mary Poppins Returns’ The Place Where All The Lost Things Go.
This one better be the gimme of the night. Though A Star Is Born has not done as well as many would have hoped, it has consistently won this award at least, where it has been available. Thus, Lady Gaga’s little monsters can take solace that, as one of the song’s writers, she should still walk off a winner—on live TV no less—on Oscar night. Could something spoil her? Sure. Because the Song award has few predecessors relatively speaking, it always feel somewhat uncertain. I was not sure about Frozen, to be honest. But there does not seem to be an obvious alternative. Her song is only one of the two in a Best Picture nominee. And although the Black Panther song is perhaps the second best one there, it seems almost too cruel for the Academy to completely thumb its collective nose at Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga.
Will Win: Shallow, A Star Is Born
Could Win: All the Stars, Black Panther
Best Original Score
Another though one. Again, the lack of precursors make it hard. What did BAFTA do? Nothing helpful—give this to A Star Is Born, which was not even nominated here. What about the Golden Globes? Also not helpful, they went for First Man, also not here, and also a criminal omission if you ask me. Instead, the five nominees are If Beale Street Could Talk, Black Panther, Blackkkansman, Mary Poppins Returns, and Isle of Dogs.
It is wide open. The common intelligence is that the most touching score, that by Nicholas Britell in Beale Street, is ahead. The talented young composer has done the scores of movies like Moonlight and also worked on Vice this year. He is a presence in the campaign trail and people who know him like him. But will Twitter and the like be enough to reach the broader Academy? Without an obvious contender, will they go for the non-Best Picture nominee?
The Hateful Eight did do it a few years ago, but that was one of those quintessential “overdue,” “master” kind of wins, much like Roger Deakins’ last year for Cinematography. There is no such contender here, and Isle of Dogs composer Alexandre Desplat has already won, though he also has one of the showiest scores.
So we are left with two Best Picture nominees with sort of quieter scores versus two non-BP nominees with strong scores, and then Mary Poppins, which was not a huge critical hit but still has a very strong score. It really is anybody’s guess here…
Will Win: If Beale Street Could Talk
Could Win: Black Panther
Best Makeup & Hairstyling
Best Makeup & Hairstyling is one of the first on the live broadcast chopping block. Sigh.
Again, by now, if you’ve followed this space, you know my mantra: Best Picture nominee, Best Picture nominee, Best Picture nominee. As I have mentioned it in the past, you have to go back to 1997 when Men In Black beat Titanic in this race to see an example of a Best Picture nominee losing here. So, with the three nominees being Vice, Border, and Mary Queen of Scots, you have your likely answer.
It is not a complete lock, though, because the makeup in the Swedish film is so showy and, frankly, so amazing. But will enough people have seen it? None of those one off foreign films nominated here have ever won. This one feels different for some reason. By contrast, the work in the period epic is more hair than makeup, and that has not yet triumphed here. Prosthetics to look like real people seem to do well in this category, as with last year’s winner Darkest Hour. And when there is a strong acting contender to go along with it, as there is here with Christian Bale, that also seems to help, like in that Gary Oldman movie but also La Vie en Rose and The Iron Lady.
We are still waiting for this guild, the “MUAH”, to tell us what could eventually win at the Oscars but, in the meantime…
Will Win: Vice
Could Win: Border
Best Sound Editing
Last year we did both Editing (i.e., effects) and mixing (i.e., recording) together, because the category matched for the first time in Oscars history. This year, however, it is not quite one to one. Four movies have both nods: First Man, Black Panther, Roma, and Bohemian Rhapsody. The fifth slot for Editing goes to the sound effects of the subtle A Quiet Place, whereas the fifth nomination in mixing went to A Star Is Born.
Incidentally, last year, while also torn between the most showy of the sounds nominated (Baby Driver) and the Best Picture nominee (Dunkirk) I thankfully stuck with tradition and got them both right. Why is this statistic so powerful? There are several possible explanations: new Academy or not, they are more likely to have seen Best Picture nominees. They also want to reward all those movies, losers of the ultimate prize, with something. Those movies feel more prestige. Even the new members feel they don’t know enough about these categories, so they go for the movie with more general acclaim, etc.
So, while I am tempted to think the loud sounds of First Man could carry the day in Editing in particular, I am just too hesitant to buck statistics. If you recall, it has been since 2006 when The Bourne Ultimatum triumphed over much quieter Best Picture nominees that one fell here. With a loud superhero movie in the mix, that should not happen.
But what of the nomination for A Quiet Place? As far as I can tell, it has not happened since 1996 when The Ghost in the Darkness won here that a movie converts a lone sound editing nod into a single Oscar. But, A Quiet Place is very popular, do not count it out. Nor have musicals done well here—I cannot find a single example of one winning, so probably Bohemian Rhapsody is out. As for Roma, a deserving nod here shows it has very wide Academy support, but I just do not think this is a movie people remember for the sound.
Will Win: Black Panther
Could Win: First Man
Best Sound Mixing
Finally, the sound recording category, where musicals supposedly do well (though togetherLa La Land lost this to Hacksaw Ridge). Was that simply because they wanted to give that BP nominee something? Maybe, but they also had editing to give it. Anyway, and if a musical is going to win, then why not Bohemian Rhapsody, which also has an editing nod?
That said, it is not uncommon for a movie to win here without an Editing nod, though most have them. It also happens that, about fifty percent of the time, the two categories match, so this could just mean the superhero movie by default? Though.
Will Win: Bohemian Rhapsody
Could Win: Black Panther