Pictured: Cinematographer James Laxton (left) with director/writer Barry Jenkins (right) of “Moonlight”
Before we kick this thing off though and really get into who I think will walk home the winner from some of my favorite categories, I wanted to go over the rules. Many people assume they know and I’m sure there are some that don’t care, but I’m still going to break it down regardless. Basically in order for a film to qualify, it must open in the previous calendar year from midnight of January 1st to midnight on New Year’s Eve or December 31st. This according to rules 2 and 3 of the official Academy Awards Rules created by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), which also states film’s must be a feature-length of at least 40 minutes long with a native resolution of at least 1280×720. Producers must submit their Official Screen Credits online from before the deadline or it will be deemed ineligible. That form, which includes production credits for all related categories will eventually be checked and put into a ‘Reminder List of Eligible Releases,’ this giving the pool of movies for the 6000-plus active and life Academy members to choose from. For most of the categories, members from each of the branches will determine the nominees, meaning only actors will vote for actors, writers for writers, directors for directors, etc. The only exception is for Best Picture, where all voting members are eligible to select nominees for that category. The winning nominees are then determined by a second round of voting in which all Academy members are allowed to vote in most categories, including Best Picture.
Now, let’s get technical. As two of the most misunderstood categories, Cinematography and Production Design really help drive a film’s success from a standpoint of how they make everyone else look. Meaning without the talented people behind these two “arts,” the director and actors would not be able to look as good or function as well. Last year cinematography was a gimme considering Emmanuel Lubezki was nominated, his third nod and award in as many years. That’s how good that guy is, which is why the other nominees should be thanking him for not working last year given it will allow someone new to win it. Granted, it still might not be that close of a race given what Linus Sandgren accomplished with “La La Land.” So much of what you see in “La La Land” is because of Sandgren and his incredible eye for the dramatic. For those unsure of what cinematography is, basically it’s the technique of making motion pictures. In other words, there’s a specific person or crew who is in charge of the overall quality of light and photography as it pertains to a particular shot. Light and contrast can truly set the tone and emotion in a film, so much so that it can make the transition between scenes or time periods smooth and flawless. That’s why I have always put cinematographer’s like Sandgren right underneath the director as far as importance to a film. Other nominees include Greig Fraser for “Lion” and Rodrigo Prieto for “Silence,” two films most people reading this probably never heard of. Don’t worry, they won’t win and neither will James Laxton for “Moonlight,” despite his amazing work that helped create an extremely realistic feel to the story. That leaves just Bradford Young as the guy to possibly steal the Oscar away from Linus Sandgren. And he just might considering the last musical to win this award was “Cabaret” back in 1972. That’s a long time ago, which is why it’s about time to rewrite history again. So while some may see a tired-old theme, Hollywood will not and reward Sandgren with an Oscar for his first ever nomination.
Some may look at Production Design and wonder why I would even bring this category into the mix. The title alone is boring, but it didn’t use to be. Up until 2012 it was known as “Art Direction,” which just sounds better. But with that branch being renamed the Designer’s branch, something had to give. I only bring up this nugget to point out that it use to be easier to pick this category then. Formerly known as Art Direction, Production Design essentially handles the overall look or visual style to a film, dealing with all the sets and backdrops. So like Cinematography, it helps the director achieve certain things he wouldn’t normally be able to do. I think of Production Design as the amount of looks a film has making “La La Land” a clear frontrunner, if I simply go off my own definition. But, I will be honest, this category has been a bear to predict recently. In fact, outside of last year with “Mad Max: Fury Road,” I have missed on this category the previous five years. So as confident as I might feel in David Wasco and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco for the job they did with “La La Land,” I could still see a scenario where something like “Hail, Caesar!” takes it. Don’t laugh, it was the film’s only nomination and it was just three years ago when “The Great Gatsby” stole this same award away from “Gravity.” So you never know, but I think “La La Land” has this one locked up pretty tightly as other nominees like “Arrival” and “Passengers” find themselves in the wrong space, literary. Only “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is a true contender, as the set design and backdrops to that film, while manufactured in places, were amazing to take in.