89th Academy Award Predictions: The Technical Categories, Plus Shorts

And now we’ve come to the end of these near-daily Oscar predictions. It’s been a fun three weeks. I hope I’ve opened your eyes to the many films ready to compete for the big prizes this year. And now’s the time for me to wrap it all up with the Technical Categories. These are the eight categories designed to reward the behind-the-scenes stuff that makes the movies we love. This results in two things: 1) overwhelming love for the “favorite” films of the year, and 2) the ability to reward more “pop” pieces. In other words, these are the categories that make Titanic the most nominated film in history, as well as the reason we get to say “Oscar-nominee Star Wars” (or worse, “Oscar-nominee Transformers”).

I’ll be giving a brief overview for each award as we go down the list, but for an even more broad view, expect Billy Lynn, Silence and La La Land to take home the most nominations. In a weak year for action, I wouldn’t expect too many blockbusters, but if any do, I’d say Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Jason Bourne and The Jungle Book stand the best chance. At the end of the article, I’ll give you a brief look at the Shorts categories. Why? I don’t know, because I’m crazy. Anyway, enough chitchat. Let’s get down to brass tacks, shall we?

Best Sound Editing

billy lynnThe Best Sound Editing category is the action movie’s best friend. Essentially, what this field means is “best sound effects,” or how loud the things go boom. With past winner ranging from action movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T., The Bourne Ultimatum, Skyfall and last year’s winner Mad Max: Fury Road to war movies like Braveheart, Saving Private Ryan, Master and Commander, Letters From Iwo Jima, The Hurt Locker, and most recently, American Sniper (maybe the only good thing about that movie), we have enough information to narrow this field down to a group of ten. I think we can go even further and make a list of five. First, let’s start with the war side of things. This year, there will be at least four war-based movies released with Oscar buzz. I believe two of them will make the cut. The first, of course, is Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. Ang Lee is known for pushing the technical boundaries of his filmmaking, and considering the key moment of this film is a brutal battle sequence, I’m sure that Billy Lynn will be no exception. The second will be Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge. Why Hacksaw Ridge and not The Yellow Birds or the more Oscar-friendly Birth of a Nation? Two reasons. First, I think that Ridge will be snubbed everywhere else, even if the film is good, and this will be the Academy’s “Maybe next time” incentive. Second, Ridge seems set to be “louder” than the quieter Birds or the more mixed-based Nation. Its loudness will secure it a place.

As for action, I predict this year’s big action film will be Jason Bourne, and I predict that it will follow in the footsteps of its predecessor (Ultimatum, not the sh*t that is Legacy) and receive a nomination for its sound design. After that, I would say that as long as long as the Star Wars spinoff Rogue One isn’t as bad as Revenge of the Sith was perceived to be or as bad as Attack of the Clones actually was, it should follow in the footsteps of every other Star Wars film and receive a nomination for its sound editing. This leaves us one more spot, and considering the Academy’s habit of giving one nomination to a space film, as well as their love of the Best Picture contenders, I predict they will double up for the final spot and nominate Passengers for Best Sound Editing.

Best Sound Mixing

la la landNow I know what you’re thinking: what the hell is the difference between Sound Editing and Sound Mixing? Luckily, I’m one of the few people on the Internet that actually understands the difference (and yet somehow still get my predictions for it inexplicably wrong). While Sound Editing is focused on how loud things go boom, Sound Mixing is how well those sounds work together. Let’s look at Star Wars for an example, because its sound design is near perfection. The sound editing is simply how loud and how cool it is when the Death Star blows up. Sound Mixing, meanwhile, is all of it: the way the laser blasts play over the explosion while Harrison Ford shrieks with joy and John Williams’ score rings triumphant. The way all of these sounds work together make up the Sound Mixing category. And while war and action films still reign in this category as well, we also have another contender to pay attention to: the musical. The mixture of the music from the booth with the music from the orchestra and the motions of the actors must each work together in perfect unison, and this will almost always result in an Oscar nod. Therefore, consider La La Land your frontrunner here.

After that, expect crossover from Billy Lynn’s Long Haftime Walk and Passengers. Sci-fi and war films usually have the biggest success in this field. For the fourth and fifth slot, I will look to history. The three largest contenders would be action films, historical epics, and Steven Spielberg. That leaves us with a list of four: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Jason Bourne, Silence, and The BFG. Considering nominations for films like The Revenant, and especially for films like Gangs of New York, The Aviator and Hugo, I predict that Silence and The Birth of a Nation will take that fifth spot.

Best Production Design

passengersHistory and sci-fi/fantasy reign supreme in the Best Production Design category, as they are the films with the more intricate set designs. In this decade alone, four winners were period pieces, while the other two were fantasy films. In fact, the last time a modern-day film won the award, it was 1989 for Batman-and even that had fantastical elements. Therefore, let’s automatically look at any period pieces we come across. There are four that stand a legitimate chance of receiving a nomination: Silence, Rules Don’t Apply, Live By Night, and Loving. From that list, I’d say three are likely to be nominated. Considering the 1920s and the 1950s are Hollywood’s two favorite periods (look at nominations for Midnight in Paris, The Great Gatsby, Bridge of Spies, and Revolutionary Road), I would say that Rules Don’t Apply and Live By Night stand the best chance historically for a nomination. Furthermore, due to the success of the “epic” genre (think The Revenant and Gangs of New York), I would say that Silence should also continue its hot streak in the technical awards.

Next, let’s include the sci-fi lock. As mentioned before, this should be a battle between Passengers and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Due to the prestige, the gorgeous images already released to the public, and the fact that no Star Wars film has been nominated for Production Design since Return of the Jedi, I’m going to give the edge to Passengers. Finally, we have the last slot. Based on the pattern I’ve been following so far, the logical choice would be Billy Lynn. After all, Lee’s films have a history of receiving a nomination for Best Production Design, and the film is looking at a technical award sweep. However, I’m going to hold of on this one, for two reasons. First, Lee’s contemporary films have always had trouble getting a nomination. After all, if the gorgeously shot, 1960s based Western Brokeback Mountain couldn’t get nominated here, I don’t have much faith for a piece set in 2003. Second, war films have an atrocious record in this category. No Iraq War film has ever been nominated for its Production Design (despite Hurt Locker deserving one), and the last war film in general to be nominated was 1998’s Saving Private Ryan. So instead, I’m going to break my own rule and pick La La Land. Yes, yes, I know I said no contemporary film has been nominated in some-odd years, but I think La La Land has a few things working in its favor. First, it’s a musical. Musicals always have extravagant sets that immediately catch the eye of the viewer. In the past fifteen years, musicals have racked up eight nominations and two wins. The odds are in La La Land’s favor. Second, and most importantly, while Hollywood may hate contemporary films, there is one thing they love more than anything else: themselves. And considering this is a love letter to L.A. that is, by all accounts, shot absolutely gorgeously, the Academy should take note and nominate Damien Chazelle’s newest work.

Best Cinematography

hail caesar 2Cinematography is one of the more popular awards out there, because a) everyone can understand it-its simply the way the camera moves and creates images, and b) It is closely tied with Production Design and Film Editing, and therefore closely tied with Best Picture. It is one of the most gorgeous fields to look at, because many of these films yearn to push the boundaries and create living paintings. This year should prove no different, as we have a wide range of eligible contenders. This year will especially be interesting, as threepeat winner Emmanuel Lubezki is most likely not going to be in the running this year, after his groundbreaking work on Gravity, Birdman, and The Revenant. Let’s just start with the most obvious: perennial bridesmaid Roger Deakins will again be nominated for Hail, Caesar! Deakins has been nominated a record-setting thirteen times, creating some of the most beautifully shot films in history, and has won a grand total of zero Oscars. It’s becoming a bit of a joke in Hollywood at this point. While Caesar faces the uphill battle of an early release date, the Academy won’t forget to toy with the poor soul one more time, especially considering each frame in that film is a little movie in and of itself, which is a monumental accomplishment. However, don’t expect him to win, especially in such a competitive year.

Now that we’ve gotten the first loser out of the way, let’s look for the Big Winner. Cinematography has a habit of going to the most groundbreaking contender (Birdman, Revenant, Gravity, Life of Pi), and I don’t expect that to be any different for Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. John Toll’s work on Braveheart, Legends of the Fall and Breaking Bad is highly regarded, but he will be pushing himself on Ang Lee’s war epic, filming in 120 frames per second, something not attempted on film before (Peter Jackson attempted to use 48 fps on The Hobbit trilogy, but was not accustomed to the technology and it ended up hindering the film). With Lee’s abilities and Toll’s talent, Billy Lynn should now be the frontrunner for the Best Cinematography Oscar.

After that, there are two choices obvious to those paying attention to the rest of this article: La La Land and Silence, mainly because musicals and epics offer the most photogenic images to film. Which leaves us our final slot. It is important to note that science fiction has not had the greatest track record with the cinematography category, but I think there will be one film to come in and shake that tradition up. And this time, I’m not talking about Passengers or Rogue One. This time, I’m talking about Denis Villenevue’s Arrival. Villeneuve’s received two cinematography nods for his films (granted, both were filmed by Roger Deakins), and I don’t expect his science fiction drama starring Amy Adams to buck that tradition. It will be filmed by up-and-comer Bradford Young, whose work on Selma and A Most Violent Year is truly groundbreaking for a 39 year old. The film’s description made it sound very similar to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and considering that won Best Cinematography, I expect Arrival will follow in its footsteps.

Best Costume Design

SilenceThis is yet another film that favors the period dramas. I mean, who really pays attention to costumes unless there are corsets and top hats involved? The only time in the fifteen years of the 21st century that the winner of this award was not a historical drama or historical fantasy was last year’s Mad Max: Fury Road. Therefore, we can yet again look at period pieces. As with Production Design, we can automatically move in Silence, Live By Night and Rules Don’t Apply. As Costume Design also has ties to Best Picture, and previously featured 12 Years a Slave as a nominee, I think it is safe to assume The Birth of a Nation will also be nominated. Which leaves us one spot for a non-Best Picture nominee. For this, I will predict Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals. Why would I pick this? Well, it’s Tom Ford. Why WOULDN’T he make a movie filled with impeccably dressed people? It’s what he does best. Nocturnal Animals will become the first contemporary costume design nominated since 2010’s I Am Love.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

fantastic beastsBest Makeup is the most sci-fi friendly category the Academy has, perhaps even more so than Visual Effects. The nominees here are the films that create fantastical creatures of latex and rubber. Think Star Trek or The Wolfman, both of whom are previous winners. Due to it being a very creature-based film, I would say the newest Harry Potter-based film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them fits this model the closest. That being said, however, I think Rogue One: A Star Wars Story will become only the second Star Wars film to receive a nomination for its Makeup Design (a shocking statistic, I know). As for the third nominee, it’s very easy to stick with Star Trek Beyond or Warcraft. Both of these feature mystical and bizarre looking creatures that could appeal to the Academy. However, there is one other type of character design that gets nominated for its makeup work: and that’s someone who has been brutally tortured. Think Braveheart, Saving Private Ryan, The Revenant, Passion of the Christ or, in a figurative sense, Dallas Buyers Club. So I think it is more than likely that the sixteenth-century torture film Silence will receive the token historical nomination.

Best Film Editing

birth of a nationBest Film Editing is by far the most important race in the Technical Circuit. Birdman was the first film to win Best Picture without an Editing nomination since 1980. Film Editing and Best Picture are very closely tied, and I don’t expect this year to be any different. Based on both their frontrunner status, as well as the historic love of musicals, epics and war films, expect La La Land, Silence, and Billy Lynn to receive Editing nominations. Next, I’d say the talent of William Goldenberg will earn him his sixth nomination for his work on Live By Night. And finally, the indie force that is The Birth of a Nation will take the fifth slot.

These are my current frontrunners based on the information at hand. However, I would not be surprised to see three other films make a play for a nomination. There’s always an overlooked indie drama that sneaks into the field (Dallas Buyers Club, Silver Linings Playbook and Moneyball), and Loving looks the most promising in that regard. Meanwhile, The Bourne Ultimatum was not only nominated for Best Editing, but won in 2007. This shows some promise for Jason Bourne. And finally, science fiction has always been a darling of the editing department, and this could prove beneficial for Passengers. I’m still sticking with my five predictions, but keep an eye on these three to make a move in the near future.

Best Visual Effects

jungle bookAnd now we come to the award designed for the masses-Best Special Effects, a way to allow blockbusters to walk away with an Oscar. While prestige victors include Life of Pi, Gravity and the surprise winner Ex Machina, the most famous winners would be Avatar, Inception, Spider Man 2, and Independence Day. So expect this usual mixture of prestige and pop based science fiction films. This means Passengers and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story are both locks for a nomination. No matter what happens in the next six months, I feel confident that nothing will top the effects-driven marvel that is The Jungle Book, which has to be considered a frontrunner for the prize based on not only the animals created, but the jungle itself. I also believe that Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them will become the fourth Harry Potter film to receive a nomination for its visual effects, considering this one seems to be a much more effects-driven project. And finally, due to its strides in the world of motion capture, The BFG will be the final nominee for Best Visual Effects. Obviously, there are many blockbusters that are in the running for this award, and it is a rare occurrence when a Marvel film isn’t nominated, but for the moment, these are the most promising candidates in the world of Special Effects. What can I say? Not every year can be as impressive as Mad Max or The Force Awakens.

The Shorts

piperI really shouldn’t be doing these. It’s impossible to know what shorts will be competing at the end of the year. However, since I’ve got a blank space, baby, I’ll write your name, and fill in the few contenders we do actually have. Nothing is known at this point about Best Live Action Short, but we do have two contenders from Disney for the Animated Branch. First, we have the clear frontrunner, Pixar’s life-like short Piper, which created water and birds that sauntered right past the uncanny valley to create one of the greatest pieces of animation I’ve ever seen. The second will be attached to Moana, and will be titled Inner Workings. The short will show the struggle between the brain and the heart, and will combine hand drawn and computer animation.

Documentary Short is also impossible to predict, but I will give it a shot. The only short we truly know anything about right now is Pickle, a short film following a couple that adopts bizarre and injured animals to care for, including a paraplegic possum and a fish that can’t swim. The couple tries to give the animals the best lives possible before their sudden yet inevitable deaths. This is the type of life affirming short the Academy likes to nominate, and I think that if it plays the circuit correctly, it could prove to be a real smash. The second nominee may end up competing in the Feature category, but time will tell. I’ve written before about Voyage of Time, which will release in two separate versions: a feature length film, and an IMAX based short. While it would make more sense to nominate the full two hour journey through life that Terrence Malick has constructed, considering the effects and technology utilized in the film, the 40 minute short may have the best chance of not only a nomination, but also a win.

And there you have it! Every category predicted, all ready for Oscar Nomination Tuesday, only a short six months away! I’ll be updating these throughout the year, and I will let you all know when a major change occurs. Until then, you can check out all of the predictions here, and keep a lookout for updates as the days go by. Good luck with your own predictions!

Best Sound Editing

  1. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
  2. Jason Bourne
  3. Hacksaw Ridge
  4. Pasengers
  5. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Best Sound Mixing

  1. La La Land
  2. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
  3. The Birth of a Nation
  4. Passengers
  5. Silence

Best Production Design

  1. Passengers
  2. La La Land
  3. Rules Don’t Apply
  4. Silence
  5. Live By Night

Best Cinematography

  1. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
  2. Hail, Caesar!
  3. Arrival
  4. La La Land
  5. Silence

Best Costume Design

  1. Silence
  2. Nocturnal Animals
  3. Rules Don’t Apply
  4. Live By Night
  5. The Birth of a Nation

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

  1. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  2. Silence
  3. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Best Film Editing

  1. La La Land
  2. Silence
  3. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
  4. The Birth of a Nation
  5. Live By Night

Best Visual Effects

  1. Passengers
  2. The Jungle Book
  3. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  4. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  5. The BFG

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