95th Academy Awards: The Technical Categories

It’s finally here! Festival season is upon us! And while we now generally know which films will be in the race, we will soon know exactly which films will impress, which will fall flat, and who will soon be marching their way to Oscar glory. And so, in honor of the pending weeks of festival coverage, I thought we’d take the opportunity to round out our predictions for the 95th Academy Awards. That’s right – it’s the technical awards!

Usually, the best place to reward major blockbusters, the tech categories tackle the bravest and boldest works of any given year. There’s the dramatic soundscape of action movies, the cinematography of grand epics, the editing of musical and electric productions, and the visual effects of sci-fi. Now, generally, three of four of the big Best Picture contenders will dominate these fields, so expect to see a lot of names in common. And I recently had to update this list as Killers of the Flower Moon bumped to 2023, changing my predictions for Best Sound, Best Production Design, and Best Cinematography. But with those two caveats firmly established, let’s jump straight into things with the Best Sound category!

Best Sound

Best Sound is a rather tricky category, ever since combining the Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing categories. After all, one traditionally favors action films while the other favors musicals – they don’t mesh. But it does have a few tells. For starters, it usually goes to the loudest film nominated, like Dune or Ford v Ferrari. It also tends to line up with Best Film Editing, so anything predicted there should also have some overlap here.

Using those rules, things become a big clearer. In fact, the race may generally be over: it’ll come down to Elvis and Top Gun: Maverick (expect to see these names a lot today). Elvis is a big splashy musical with great editing and greater sound (on some of history’s greatest songs). Meanwhile, Maverick just sounds like the best film of year. It’ll be close, and while I’m giving the edge to Elvis, that truly means nothing right now.

I’d also say Babylon feels relatively safe. Damien Chazelle has always been strong at sound design, and when combined with a 1920s epic, voters will want to just check this name over and over again. Oh, and speaking of a name just repeatedly checked off ad nauseum, Spielberg’s films almost never miss Best Sound. Expect The Fabelmans to earn a nod, deserved or otherwise.

Which leaves us with one final slot for a Big Blockbuster. Originally, I had Three Thousand Years of Longing and Thirteen Lives in the Top 2 slots, before they flopped on release. I also toyed with blockbusters like Everything Everywhere All At Once, The Woman King, The Batman, Wakanda Forever, and I Wanna Dance With Somebody. But come on – even if it misses Best Picture, there’s no way Avatar: The Way of Water is missing the Tech categories. Expect this to be the first of many Avatar nominations in this article.

  1. Elvis
  2. Avatar: The Way of Water
  3. Top Gun: Maverick
  4. Babylon
  5. The Fabelmans

Best Production Design

Up next, we have Production Design, the award for the biggest, coolest sets – or the best CGI, as the case may be. Therefore, the films with the grandest, most colorful landscapes – and, strangely enough, Spielberg – have the best chance. For this reason, there are three likely sure things to consider here: Babylon’s throwback to 1920s L.A., Avatar: The Way of Water’s return to Pandora, and the 50s and 60s extravaganza of Elvis. All three have teams that previously won, and should at least earn nominations once again.

As for who will earn that final slot, one certainly has to consider the major Best Picture contenders, like Empire of Light, Women Talking, and The Fabelmans. And blockbusters like The Woman King, Black Panther, and Don’t Worry Darling could also sneak in. But this category – and the technical categories in general – love to reward low-performing genre fare that takes big swings on their sets. So I’m giving the edge to Three Thousand Years of Longing and The Northman, two of my favorite films of the year that will likely only earn a nomination in one or two fields.

  1. Babylon
  2. Avatar: The Way of Water
  3. Elvis
  4. Three Thousand Years of Longing
  5. The Northman

Best Cinematography

Best Cinematography is one of the most important fields for Oscar contenders. Camerawork is integral to a Best Picture contender, and most (although not all) Best Picture winners get a Best Cinematography nomination. Because of this importance, I’ve already seen this category change several times. In fact, three of my original five are completely out. Three Thousand Years of Longing, my original #1, is DOA. Thirteen Lives was sabotaged by its studio. And we’ve addressed Killers of the Flower Moon enough.

So which two films have always been seen as locks? Do you even have to ask? Babylon and Elvis, of course. Linus Sandgren is a previous winner with a knack for shooting sweeping epics. Meanwhile, Elvis has that Baz Luhrmann edge, capturing images we’ve seen millions of times in ways that still seem new. They should battle it out for this prize all season. Of course, there’s stiff competition from both older legends, like Roger Deakins for Empire of Light, and never-nominated workhorses, like Bardo’s Darius Khondji. Bardo has an uphill climb all season in the technical races, but should it snag a few like Cinematography, it becomes a serious contender.

As for that final slot, let’s not kid ourselves. Top Gun: Maverick’s cinematography is game-changing, capturing dazzling footage both inside and outside of cockpits. It’s the reason the Academy has this category, and whether or not they go for the film in Best Picture (and I think they will), it should be safe here in Cinematography. Of course, don’t overlook rival blockbusters, like previously-nominated Avatar, or the absolutely stunning The Batman.

  1. Babylon
  2. Elvis
  3. Empire of Light
  4. Top Gun: Maverick
  5. Bardo (Or, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths)

Best Costume Design

Perhaps the easiest category of them all to predict, the secret to predicting Costume Design is thus: find the period pieces. Especially if those pieces reflect an iconic era or an iconic wardrobe. Obviously, this makes the 1920s-themed Babylon a surefire contender, while fashion icons Blonde (for Marilyn Monroe) and Elvis (for…you get it) feel fairly likely.

Legendary winner Jenny Beavan recreated the House of Dior in the delightful Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, and feels a safer lock here than for Three Thousand Years of Longing. As for the final slot, I considered a litany of contenders: Women Talking had a chance until it was revealed it took place in the modern day with intentionally modest gab – probably not the Academy’s speed. The Woman King tackles the 19th century, Amsterdam tackles the 1920s, Don’t Worry Darling the 50s, Empire of Light the 80s, and Black Panther a sci-fi Afro-futurism. But I’m giving the edge to the 1960s-set Fabelmans, because when Spielberg hits, he hits hard.

  1. Blonde
  2. Babylon
  3. Elvis
  4. Harris Goes To Paris
  5. The Fabelmans

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Best Makeup and Hairstyling is a messy category. Originally designed for science fiction and creature features, it now simply reflects which actor wore the best fat suit. Don’t believe me? Just ask Vice, and Bombshell, and Tammy Faye, and so on. Since historical transformations always play big here, look for Blonde and the Whitney Houston biopic I Wanna Dance With Somebody to make the biggest splash.

Equally obvious are The Batman and The Whale, which transform Colin Farrell into a Tony Soprano-esque gangster and Brendan Fraser into a 600-lb man. Regardless of their success elsewhere in the Academy, the makeup work seems like a sure bet (remember: Norbit got nominated here). So who’s in that final slot? Well, don’t expect science fiction like Black Panther or Three Thousand Years of Longing or the Macedonian film You Won’t Be Alone. Stick to the obvious: Babylon will once again earn a nomination, increasing its final tally.

  1. Blonde
  2. The Whale
  3. The Batman
  4. Babylon
  5. I Wanna Dance With Somebody

Best Film Editing

No category is more important for Best Picture than Best Film Editing. Outside of Coda and a fluke Birdman year, no one has won Best Picture without an Editing nomination in forty years. The secret to an Editing nomination, other than fluidly moving along a complicated story in a fun way, is a Sound nomination -in recent years, the winner of Best Editing has also won Best Sound.

So what films have a chance at pulling this off? Well, for perhaps the final time today, we can cross off our locks like Babylon and Elvis. Elvis in particular feels like your future winner – it has that Sound nomination in the bag as well. I’d also say a Best Picture nominee or two has a shot, whether it’s as impressive as the big boys or not. While Women Talking, Bardo, The Son, and Empire of Light have a shot, I’d say Spielberg’s The Fabelmans and Maria Schrader’s Harvey W*instein expose She Said to have the best bet (journalist thrillers always fare well here).

So who has that final slot? Well, there’s precedent for films like The Woman King, Avatar: The Way of Water, or Three Thousand Years of Longing. And it’s absurd not to be predicting Maverick in this Top 5 But if Everything Everywhere All At Once is the Best Picture contender it’s shaping up to be, then it would be absurd for it to miss on Best Editing. No film’s editing is as electrifying or genre-bending or game changing as Everything’s gutsy, bravado style. Expect it to be in the mix with the big boys come January.

  1. Babylon
  2. Elvis
  3. She Said
  4. Everything Everywhere All At Once
  5. The Fabelmans

Best Visual Effects

And finally, we have Best Visual Effects, aka the Blockbuster Award. This is the category that awards the best effects, practical or science fiction, action, or blockbusters in general. Of course, it’s still a little sketchy, as things with debatable “effects” get nominated all the time. Still, even in a sci-fi light year like this one, there’s some strong contenders to choose from.

Obviously, Avatar: The Way of Water is your frontrunner (James Cameron is always changing the game), with Top Gun: Maverick’s practical effects not too far behind. Marvel often earns its sole nominations here, so keep an eye on Black Panther’s likely-more impressive effects and Doctor Strange’s weirdo sci-fi appeal. As for the final slot, while Jurassic World and Nope and Everything Everywhere stand a real chance (especially the latter), I’m giving the edge to Three Thousand Years of Longing. If nothing else, the Academy should be dazzled by its practicality in bringing 3000 years of fantasy to life.

  1. Avatar: The Way of Water
  2. Top Gun: Maverick
  3. Doctor Strange In The Multiverse of Madness
  4. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
  5. Three Thousand Years of Longing


And that concludes our early look at this year’s Oscar race! Oh, actually, one more thing: while I don’t usually cover the shorts until December, it’s worth noting that Taylor Swift has apparently gotten “All Too Well: The Short Film” eligible for the Best Live Action Short category, and is going all-out on a campaign. Music videos historically don’t fare well here, but it’s worth noting. I’ll be back tomorrow with one final look at the race before the festivals begin. Until then, you can see the full list of predictions by clicking right here. Let’s get excited, folks!

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