Welcome once again to my Oscar preview that ignores the A-list categories in favor of handicapping the mid-major races, giving me the chance to praise work by the artisans whom I didn’t always have space for in my regular movie reviews. As always, any wrong predictions will entitle you to a refund of the purchase price of this article.
Cinematography: Hard to see how anyone will take the statuette from Emmanuel Lubezki for Birdman. The sheer technical difficulty involved in all that movie’s long takes will win the Mexican cinematographer a second straight Oscar after last year’s Gravity. Elsewhere, Wes Anderson’s longtime lensman, Robert Yeoman, was recognized for his lustrous work on The Grand Budapest Hotel, a first nomination that was years overdue. Dick Pope (whose name was famously mangled at the nomination ceremony) is also a worthy nominee for the sumptuously beautiful look he gave to Mr. Turner, as are the two Polish cinematographers who conjured up the austere black-and-white look of Ida. Still, I don’t think Unbroken merited the fifth nomination ahead of Hoyte van Hoytema’s awe-inspiring visuals for Interstellar or Robert Elswit’s moody L.A.-at-night atmosphere on Nightcrawler. Bradford Young could have been nominated for either Selma or A Most Violent Year, which would have made him the first ever African-American cinematographer so recognized. Looks like he’ll have to wait. If you want another black-and-white movie (or a left-field choice), what about Lyle Vincent’s somber, menacing photography on the Farsi vampire Western A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night?
Production design: Adam Stockhausen should take the Oscar for The Grand Budapest Hotel, while Interstellar and Mr. Turner deserve their places in the field. But both The Imitation Game and Into the Woods are underwhelming visually. The category would have been better served with Ondrej Nekvasil’s dazzling work on Snowpiercer, bringing badly needed variety to a movie that could easily have become boring to look at, taking place as it does on identically shaped train cars. David Crank did excellent work on two movies — the Kafkaesque nightmare world of The Double and the sun-kissed SoCal vibe of Inherent Vice — without being recognized. And Alex Holmes should have been nominated for The Babadook just for creating the pop-up children’s book that scares the bejesus out of a little boy and his mom.
Costume design: The Academy has finally recognized the existence of Wes Anderson this year, so Milena Canonero will take home the gold for her costumes for The Grand Budapest Hotel. She deserves it, too. The rest of the field is hard to fault, but I think Into the Woods’ slot could have gone to Under the Skin, with Steven Noble creating a precisely off-the-mark look for the sexy but robotic alien who stalks our world looking for human prey. While I didn’t feel the love that some critics had for the empty-headed Lucy, that movie used contemporary outfits to both stylish and dramatic effect, and I wouldn’t have flinched if Olivier Bériot’s costumes had been nominated. From this, you might think the costume branch hates Scarlett Johansson, but, really, they just hate modern clothes.
Foreign language film: The austere Polish drama Ida looks like a front-runner, with its striking visuals, terrific performances, and post-Holocaust subject matter. However, the Russian entry, Leviathan, might win some votes now that Vladimir Putin’s government has blasted it for depicting Russia’s rampant corruption and perverted justice system. Meanwhile, Mauritania’s brightly colored, darkly funny Timbuktu feels of the moment, satirizing extremist Islamic separatists as petty, bumbling fools without losing sight of the fact that they’re also murderous ideologues. With all this, Argentina’s Wild Tales doesn’t stand much chance, though I’d watch Damián Szifrón’s collection of twistedly comic revenge stories again before I watched any of the others. Many people were understandably upset at the omission of Sweden’s Force Majeure, which prompted its director to act out a scene from the film. Equally deserving in my estimation were Latvia’s Rocks in My Pockets, Turkey’s Winter Sleep, and Belgium’s Two Days, One Night, though none of those ignored films raise my hackles as much as Canada’s Mommy. The Oscars’ “one country, one submission” rule forced Sweden, Argentina, and Israel to all leave superb films at home (We Are the Best!, The German Doctor, and Zero Motivation).