From cinematography to visual effects, this year’s Academy Awards technical categories may actually be the easiest Oscars to predict.
It’s time to plug our Oscars prediction machine back in for another year. And by that, we, of course, mean that we set our team to the task of researching every category deeply, exploring every nominated film, and doing our best to continue the long Film School Rejects legacy of being right.
Our first batch of predictions focuses on the technical aspects of productions. Cinematography, the celebration of the director of photography’s eye, the cameraperson’s steady hand, and the lighting team’s magical ambiance creation. Costume design, the art of transporting the familiar faces of Hollywood to different worlds and different times using cotton, polyester, and an array of fancy hats. Film editing, the drummer of the film production band — the team tasked with keeping everything in rhythm. Makeup and hairstyling, the masters of transfiguration. Production design, the builders of worlds. And last but certainly not least, Visual Effects, a celebration of the hundreds of digital artists who create each movie’s distinct magic.
In these six categories, our team discovered that predictions seem clear and the winners seem worthy. Not bad by Academy standards.
Neil Miller: There’s a clear consensus that the most deserving nominee in this category is Roger Deakins, who has now been nominated 13 times and is perhaps the most overdue person in the history of the Academy Awards. Whether or not he’ll actually win is always another story. There have been years in the past in which Deakins appeared to be the frontrunner, but never has he been up against so many newcomers. Three of the other four nominees — Rachel Morrison (Mudbound), Dan Laustsen (The Shape of Water), and Hoyte Van Hoytema (Dunkirk) — are all first time nominees with excellent resumes and a lot working in their favor based on this year’s work. Bruno Delbonnel (Darkest Hour) is the next Roger Deakins, having this year earned his fifth nomination with no wins to show for it.
After winning the American Society of Cinematographers award a few weeks back (for the 4th time), Deakins appears to finally be barrelling toward his first Oscar win. If this prediction is wrong, The Academy will once again have committed crimes against art. Plus, Blade Runner 2049 may be Deakins’ most profound work to date, so it’s hard to see anything beating it.
Who should win: Blade Runner 2049
Who will win: Blade Runner 2049
Tomris Laffly: The impressive 13 nominations of The Shape of Water include Costume Design, which (in my opinion, puzzlingly) beat Phantom Thread at the Costume Designers Guild Awards. Yet, Mark Bridges’ work in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread is what this Academy Awards category is made for. His purposely rigid designs for the fictional 1950s London Couturier ‘The House of Woodcock’, plus all the spot-on English Countryside costumes of the era should bring Bridges his well-deserved second Oscar after The Artist. At least I hope it does.
Who should win: Phantom Thread
Who will win: Phantom Thread
Tomris Laffly: Sure, BAFTAs favored Baby Driver here; so don’t count it out for a possible surprise on Oscar night. Yet, my money is on Dunkirk’s Lee Smith. For starters, Christopher Nolan’s film has broad support with 8 nominations including Best Picture. You have to go back to 2011 to find a Best Editing winner without a Best Picture nomination (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), and then back to 2007 to find another one (The Bourne Ultimatum). Dunkirk also notably won the ACE Eddie Award. Plus, it’s a film that unfolds through a pronounced structure—so editing is its star, in a way. It is the safest bet among all the nominees.
Who should win: Dunkirk
Who will win: Dunkirk
Makeup and Hairstyling
Tomris Laffly: Is there really much to discuss for this category, with a thin group of nominees that include Darkest Hour, Victoria & Abdul and Wonder only? Gary Oldman’s transformative, prosthetic-heavy make-up in Darkest Hour that turned him into a very believable Winston Churchill will win this easily like it should (at least among this group of nominees).
Who should win: Darkest Hour
Who will win: Darkest Hour
Tomris Laffly: Even though no one seems to be predicting it, I would say watch out for (in my opinion, overdone) Beauty and the Beast as a potential dark horse here. But the Production Design race is between the futuristic world of Blade Runner 2049 and the nostalgic fantasy The Shape of Water. Guillermo del Toro’s lovely period-fantasy boasts incredible details and imagination in its design throughout, as previously agreed both by BAFTA and the Art Directors Guild. Oscars should follow suit.
Who should win: Blade Runner 2049
Who will win: The Shape of Water
Meg Shields: History tends to repeat itself at the Oscars and that’s certainly what the War for the Planet of the Apes folks at Weta Digital are hoping for. Just like another FX-heavy trilogy featuring Andy Serkis, the rebooted Planet of the Apes series has been twice denied for Rise and Dawn but hopes to earn its dues with its third and final installment. And given the lack of nods to give Serkis his always-overdo props, the Academy will likely honor a trilogy’s worth of work in one fell swoop. And this really needs to be stressed: Weta Digital’s breathtaking FX work on Planet of the Apes has set a new standard for CG hyperrealism and the emotive subtlety that can be achieved through performance and motion capture technology. Their work, particularly with War, has also seen innovations in the ability to shoot motion capture on location in environments that are less than forgiving to sophisticated tech.
Or who’s to say maybe they’ll give it to MPC’s admittedly striking digital human animation of Rachael from Blade Runner 2049, which is another popular ballot in the category this year and snagged a victory at the BAFTAs. That said, the Visual Effects Society has been clocking the importance of Weta’s work on the Planet of the Apes series since 2011 and this year was no exception. But it remains to be seen if the Academy will belatedly tip its hat to a clearly deserving cinematic achievement. Or hey maybe they’ll surprise us all and vote solely on their love of Porgs.
Who should win: War for the Planet of the Apes
Who will win: War for the Planet of the Apes