If you are watching this year’s Oscars, you’re probably doing it to see how else the ceremony can screw up. First, there was the aborted popular film award, then the host with the homophobic tweets, then the recently reversed decision to relegate four Oscars to commercial breaks. It’s like the Trump administration is running things. The way this comedy of errors is going, Lady Gaga will probably burst into flames on live TV. Here are some of my other predictions for the awards’ mid-major categories. (By the way, one of my predictions from last year’s column came true: Black Panther is all over this article.)
Cinematography: This award was supposed to be cut out of the broadcast, but now you’ll be able to watch it live. It’s a fairly compelling race, too: Alfonso Cuarón became the first to pull double duty as director and cinematographer and be nominated for both on Roma. Arguably the best thing about Cold War was its gorgeous black-and-white photography by Łukasz Żal. However, don’t sleep on Caleb Deschanel, the old hand who has been photographing Hollywood movies since the 1970s without ever winning an Oscar. (He’s also the father of Zooey and Emily Deschanel.) He has his fifth nomination for Never Look Away, and in a film about how an artist sees the world, his photography plays a pivotal role. There are snubs aplenty in this category. Rachel Morrison became the first female nominee ever in this category last year for Mudbound. Her work photographing the far different Black Panther showed her range. Rob Hardy merited a nod for the hallucinatory Annihilation, as did Sayombhu Mukdeeprom for the atmospheric Suspiria. A technicality made Mandy ineligible for all Oscars, but Benjamin Loeb’s photography would have made an impact in this race. Every year seems to have a bad movie with great photography. My pick for 2018 is A Wrinkle in Time.
Production design: Black Panther may just walk away with this one. The other nominated films evoke 1930s London (Mary Poppins Returns), 1960s America (First Man), 1970s Mexico City (Roma), and 1700s England (The Favourite) with varying degrees of expertise, but none of them offered up anything like the imaginative flights in Hannah Beachler’s evocation of an African country with technology beyond anything that exists. A major reason why the film was such a hit was that Wakanda felt so fully realized in her hands. I’ll tell you who was absolutely robbed: Grace Yun made Hereditary feel of a piece with its dollhouse interiors and helped create a feeling of claustrophobia in a wide-open house. Jason Kisvarday made some entrancing near-future clutter for Sorry to Bother You, too.
Costume design: The hidebound costume branch voters will probably give this to The Favourite, but if any film other than Black Panther wins this, we should all pick up the pitchforks and torches. Ruth E. Carter’s costumes were as genius as the movie they were made for: envisioning a whole new aesthetic for a nonexistent culture and making it feel seamless and functional as well as beautiful. The nominations for Mary Poppins Returns and Mary Queen of Scots are pretty pro forma. Giulia Piersanti warranted a nod for her costumes (dance and otherwise) for Suspiria, and Bad Times at the El Royale or Ocean’s 8 could have gotten something here.
Foreign-language film: South Korea gets screwed again. The country has never been nominated in this category, which is insane when you think of how many great films have come out of there recently. Their 2018 entry, Burning, was up against a stacked field, but even so, it deserved to break the country’s losing streak more than the ham-handed Capernaum (Lebanon) deserved its nomination. I’m surprised that Border (Sweden) and The Cakemaker (Israel) didn’t even make the shortlist for this award, despite the former film’s kinky troll sex and the latter’s appetizing shots of German desserts. The social significance of A Twelve Year Night (Uruguay) and I Am Not a Witch (United Kingdom) wasn’t enough to warrant consideration, either. Regarding the nominees, Shoplifters (Japan) is finely calibrated, socially conscious human drama, and Cold War (Poland) and Never Look Away (Germany) have strong support. However, it’s hard to see anything stopping Roma from being the first-ever Mexican film to win this award.
Animated feature: In a weaker year, Incredibles 2 would have a stranglehold on this trophy. As it is, Isle of Dogs and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse will be the top contenders to spoil things for Pixar. Mirai is a solid choice for the token foreign nomination, but I would have gone with the demented Japanese film Night Is Short, Walk on Girl, which would have given this category something it has never seen before.
Documentary feature: I’ll be brief, because I already covered much of this in my list of the year’s best documentaries. Ruth Bader Ginsburg fans will support RBG, but the statuette will either go to Free Solo for its visual awe or Minding the Gap for its emotional power and inside angle on domestic abuse. The lack of a nomination for Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is a genuine shock, and Bisbee ’17 failing to make the shortlist is a baffling oversight.
Original score: It wasn’t just Spike Lee who bagged a long-overdue Oscar nomination for BlacKkKlansman. The same goes for Terence Blanchard. The jazz composer who has been writing excellent film scores since the early 1990s would be a worthy winner, as would Nicholas Britell, whose lush string score was integral to the romantic feel of If Beale Street Could Talk. Ludwig Göransson also earned his nod for Black Panther, the sort of movie that the music branch doesn’t ordinarily honor. Even so, you could assemble a better field of nominees out of the scores that were left out. Let’s start with the two British celebs: Radiohead’s Thom Yorke contributed an appropriately creepy old-school score to Suspiria, while classical music composer Thomas Adès made an impressive film debut in Colette. Colin Stetson was even more impressive in his first film-composer outing in Hereditary, Anna Meredith memorably punched up Eighth Grade, and Justin Hurwitz was understatedly brilliant in First Man.
Original song: Lady Gaga probably had this one sewn up the moment she unleashed that “Ohhooowhoaoh!” in the trailer for A Star Is Born. I see no way that “Shallow” loses out here, and it’s a winner that the Academy won’t be ashamed of next year. The best song that wasn’t nominated was “20th Call of the Day” from Juliet, Naked, but given the recent accusations of Ryan Adams’ sexually predatory behavior, the music branch is probably feeling good about omitting that one. I would have preferred Jackson Odell’s “Smokin’ and Cryin’” from Forever My Girl and Keegan DeWitt’s “Blink (One Million Miles)” from Hearts Beat Loud replace the nominated songs from Mary Poppins Returns and RBG, but at least none of the songs will be cut for time the way the Academy tried to do.