Click the film titles on the lists to see the previews.
Who Will Win?
It’s La La Land Vs. Moonlight in their first of many one on ones. In terms of cinematography, these two films have a lot in common.
There’s a notable use of colour in both films. For La La Land, cinematographer Linus Sandgren would bring out the reds, blues, yellows and greens of costumes and set pieces during musical numbers to contrast with the realistic scenes in between them. It’s especially notable in the opening number “Another Day of Sun,” Which sees the colourful dresses of the dancers clash with the realistic blue skies and grey freeways.
While that film emphasizes basic colours, cinematographer James Laxton emphasizes neon colours for Moonlight. Drawing inspiration from the film’s original title “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue”, Laxton shoots night scenes with a hint of blue, especially when Chiron’s alone on the beach. Other colours he focuses on are greens from buildings, yellow for street lights, and pinks for neon lights, each one used in selective moments to bring beauty to the shot. A perfect example is a scene where Chiron’s mother (Naomie Harris) screams homophobic slurs at her son. Laxton shoots the scene with a point of view shot in slow motion, with pink neon beams through a door right behind her. He also shows a POV shot of Chiron standing in a dingy kitchen, taking the verbal abuse.
Both films use the colours sparingly. Most scenes are shot with realism, so when they go for a stylistic approach to a scene, it’s something special. At first, La La Land seems to only go for stylization for musical numbers, but they also use it for scenes when we go inside our main character’s heads. Whenever Sebastian starts to play a solo tune or Mia’s deep in thought, the world around them goes dark, with a spotlight on them.
Moonlight is more particular with their stylization. For the most part, Laxton brings a beauty to the lower-class Miami setting, portraying days with a bright sunny tone and nights with dark blue skies and yellow street lights. They feel realistic, and yet there’s a beauty to how he shoots the scenes. Even when it’s just someone’s just cooking’ it’s shot with a particular beauty. The stylization’s a little lower key with this one, but the film still equals La La Land in its beauty.
But the award’s going to go to the more impressive and flashy La La Land.
Who Will Win?
This award will go to La La Land.
I could tell from the extended drum solo in the climax of Whiplash that editor Tom Cross would win the 2014 Oscar for Best Film Editing. Now Cross reteams with writer/director Damien Chazelle for this modern musical.
This is quite a sharp contrast from the fast-paced editing of Mad Max: Fury Road with Cross’ more patient editing. I notice the musical numbers rarely uses cuts, consisting of long takes. It reminds me of musical numbers of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, who use long takes to showcase their dance skills. These shots serve the same purpose, especially when Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone tap dancing across a LA Freeway. In an era where most music videos and modern musicals resort to disorienting quick cutting in a misguided attempt to keep the audiences’ attention, Cross’ nuanced editing style feels refreshing.
When Cross does cut a musical number, the results are dazzling. It’s a challenge to describe film editing without the film, so I’m going to use the number “Someone in the Crowd” as an example. When Mia (Stone) and her friends head to a party, we’re treated to images at home in classic musicals. At first, we get the four of them dancing across the street, each dressed in her own colour. Then we are treated to a montage of street signs followed by close-ups of champagne poured into glasses. It all ends with the camera spinning around a pool, blending into another scene. You can imagine these scenes in a classic musical, and yet it still feels modern.
BEST MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLE:
Who Will Win?
This one will be a battle between Star Trek Beyond and Suicide Squad.
Suicide Squad’s strength in this category comes from the character of Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), who looks amazing with his scaly flesh and razor sharp teeth. The fact they didn’t rely on CGI for this character is a major bonus. The film also has some creative styles with Harley Quinn’s (Margot Robbie) and the Joker’s (Jared Leto) makeup. Too bad you can’t see the same effort in the jumbled mess of a script and incompetent editing.
While Suicide Squad had to create one realistic looking human-crocodile hybrid, the latest Star Trek film faced the bigger challenge of creating humanoid aliens. Not just one type of aliens, but multiple unique race, each unique in their looks and culture. After already create a series of alien races in two Star Trek films, makeup artists Joel Harlow and Richard Alonzo must make the new alien characters stand out in looks. They didn’t disappoint. Contrast the looks between the villain Krall (Idris Elba) and ally warrior Jaylah (Sofia Boutella). Krall has this jagged, leathery skin ripped off a sting ray. Jayla, however, has this pale look with a unique face paint that may be a representative of a unique culture.
For these reasons, I’m predicting Star Trek Beyond as the winner for makeup.
BEST COSTUME DESIGN:
Who Will Win?
Now we have a tough one. You’d probably expect me to predict La La Land. Not so much this time. While there are some stunning colourful clothing throughout the film, the film faces tough competition this time. But don’t leave it out just yet.
After some consideration, I’ve narrowed it down to either Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Jackie and La La Land. It’s a battle between the three things this category loves; fantasy, period pieces and musicals.
In terms of wardrobe, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them has quite a fascinating obstacle. The clothing of the Harry Potter films stand out amongst other fantasy films, with robes and scarves as much a part of JK Rowling’s mythology as Hogwarts or Hippogriffs. For a spinoff prequel to the Harry Potter series, the costumes should both feel like a part of the Potterverse while standing on its own.
Enter Colleen Atwood. As a frequent collaborator of Tim Burton, Atwood has a real niche for fantasy clothing. Along with Burton films, she’s also created costumes for such films as The Silence of the Lambs, Gattaca and the entire Arrowverse. Throughout her 30-year career, she has been nominated twelve times and won three times. She meets the challenge head on and doesn’t disappoint.
A notable perk with designing costumes in a fantasy film is the opportunity to get more creative with the design. There’s also more opportunities to add to the character’s personalities through their clothing, which Atwood takes advantage of. Each character’s clothing brings out his/her personality. Queenie’s (Alison Sudol) pink attire and dinner dresses brings out her Marilyn Monroe-like bubbliness. Credence’s (Ezra Miller) starchy suite and tight collar shirts really emphasize his abusive, repressive upbringing. But one that stands out the most is our hero Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne). As the new lead character of the Potterverse, Redmayne needs a wardrobe to help him stand out. From the moment, you see his blue trench coat and yellow button vest, and undersized clothes, Newt automatically becomes a memorable character. It seems to bring out his social awkwardness. Plus, his Hufflepuff scarf brings sheer glee to the members of that house. This film also scores points for taking place in 1926, which feeds into this category’s fetish for period pieces. By period pieces, I mean the dazzling looking part of those periods.
But the franchise element might work against it here. Plus, the predictions’ been swinging between Jackie and La La Land like a pendulum. Like I said, this category adores period pieces, with nearly every winner taking place decades before it was made. Jackie fits that category perfectly. With the film taking place during the events around JFK’s assassination and his funeral, designer Madeline Fontaine needs to recreate the exact clothing Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) and her family wore during these real-life events. Of course, you have Jackie’s trademark pink coat and hat, but there’s also her funeral clothing and the dresses she wore before the events. Fontaine also creates other dresses for her to wear in one scene where Jackie downs her grief in booze and tries on multiple dresses while listening to the Camelot soundtrack. This film has a great chance of winning based on accuracy alone.
But La La Land could add this to a long list of potential wins. While this category loves period pieces, it also loves musical, with wins for Chicago and Moulin Rouge. For the costumes, designer Mary Zophres blends the vintage with the modern, putting women in bright colourful dresses and men in classy white collar shirts and ties. Like the cinematography, the colours on the costumes pop out in glorious fashion. Plus, the loose style makes it easy for the actors to move during the dance number. Plus, if it wins, it will be the first Best Costume Design winning film to take place in its current era since 1994’s Priscilla: Queen of the Desert.
Like I said, it’s either Jackie or La La Land.
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN:
Who Will Win?
So, who created the best world?
If it were up to me, I’d give this to Arrival because I love the design of the spaceship. I mean, it has a gravity breaking wall you can walk sideways. But this award’s most likely going to be another win for La La Land.
First, Hollywood loves themselves a tribute to the golden age. You can imagine a lot of these set pieces being used for a Gene Kelly musical. This is especially true when we go to the Hollywood lot where Mia (Emma Stone) works. It’s made deliberately artificial in a satirical sting towards Hollywood. When Mia and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) walk across the lot, they walk past an old timey western with actors dressed as cowboys. Next, they get stopped on a grassy side, where a romance is being shot.
We also see stylization in such set pieces as Mia’s bedroom, which has a giant photo of Ingrid Bergman on the walls. But the set design shines the most in the closing number, where we many set pieces pay homage to classic Gene Kelly films, especially his dance number with Cyd Charisse in Singin’ in the Rain.
As with nearly every aspect of the film, the production design contrasts the stylized setting with realistic environments. Some locations are designed with notable realistic flair, from the clutter of Sebastian’s apartment to the poorly hung Christmas decorations of a dingy bar where he works.
These contrasts add to the films’ themes of dreams vs. reality that runs throughout the film.
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS:
Who will Win?
This here’s a tough one.
Usually, you’d expect a Star Wars film to be the forerunner. Despite many amazing special effects, the film will suffer a loss due to the uncanny valley creepiness of Tarkin and Leia.
I would love for this award to go to Kubo and the Two Strings. First, the idea of this award going to an animated film makes me quite giddy. Plus, it would a great recognition for Stop motion animation as a technical process. For frame of film, technicians and animators face the tedious task of gently moving the limbs of every character, replace every face with a new expression and tip every single leaf before they shoot a frame of film. On top of that, they must do this multiple times to create movement that flows naturally. It would take them a whole day just to make a character blink. Considering the fact a second of film takes 24 frames, imagine the persistence it takes to make a 104 minute film.
That’s just the beginning of the achievements of Laika Studios. They’ve taken stop motion a step further by using 3D printing to design the faces of the characters, which allows more nuanced expressions. Plus, they use computer effects to digitally remove creases on character’s faces and create wider environments. That’s not including the hand-designed creatures of this film. I mean, they created monsters bigger than themselves. That’s impressive.
I’d recommend watching this episode of Frame By Frame to see the work Laika puts into their films.
But it’s more likely to go to a live action film. I would like that film will be Doctor Strange, not so much for technique, but it will win for style. In terms of techniques, it doesn’t offer anything special. What makes this special is how it uses it.
To give the magic a unique feel, the effects artists draw a lot from the psychedelic artwork co-creator Steve Ditko used on the original comics. Whenever characters bend reality, the environment twists into a revolving kaleidoscope. The result is many visually stunning scenes, from the time reversal fight scene to design of Dormammu. But the biggest standout is the chase scene that inceptions the shit out of New York. Seeing buildings folding in on themselves into various universes is an acid trip without the acid.
Here’s another episode of Frame by Frame, detailing the films’ psychedelic style.
But its top competitor is the Jungle Book and for good reason. Like fellow Oscar winner Life of Pi, the making of the film has an Indian actor acting alone surrounded by green/blue screen with only a few set pieces to fall back on. This time, it’s a child actor (Neel Sethi) interacting with puppets atop a rock. Then the SFX artists tries to turn the green screen into a jungle and the puppets into monkeys. And they pull it off, creating a believable world. When I watch the film, I believe that’s the kid’s living in the jungle.
Talking animals are a challenge to pull off. It’s not enough to just animate a dog’s lips moving, the dog also should look like it knows what its saying. The makers of Babe understood this, and that’s why it won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects. Making a live action animal talk is a delicate balance. If they are too realistic, they’ll fall into uncanny valley. Besides, animals aren’t usually expressive with the more nuanced side of emotions. If they are too cartoony, it’ll be a challenge for the audience to suspend their disbelief. It’s a difficult tightrope, but The Jungle Book walks it with surprising grace. The effects team does an excellent job making the animals look realistic, like they were taken from the wildlife. When they speak, I’m blown away by how natural they look. The most notable is Baloo, who seems to share Bill Murray’s droll facial expressions.
Looks like the odds are in favour of either Doctor Strange or The Jungle Book. Mostly the Jungle Book.
 The DC television universe, which includes Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl.
 For Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha and Alice in Wonderland
 Or in the case of Mad Max: Fury Road, decades after the film is made. Apparently, some articles are counting the future as period pieces.
 Then again, there were also loses for modern musicals including Into the Woods, Les Miserables and Nine, so being a musical isn’t a guarantee.
 Not to mention the moral questions of digitally inserting dead actors into films.
 While we’re at it, let’s give props to Neel Sethi for his performance. He’s pretty much acting alone throughout the film, interacting only with puppets and people in blue suits. To do this while convincing us he’s interacting with a giant bear or a panther must be difficult for a child actor.