TECH SUPPORT: Gleaning the guilds

Posted by · 8:51 am · December 14th, 2008

Tech Support at In ContentionIt’s been three weeks since the last “Tech Support” column. For that, my apologies. In the meantime, we’ve had Thanksgiving, the NBR, the LAFCA, the NYFCC, the BFCA and the Golden Globes to keep us entertained.

The Screen Actors Guild is the first guild to announce its nominees and will do so next week. Between then and the date the Oscar nominations are announced, the various crafts guilds will also announce their nominees.

The guilds have a knack of shaking up the race, even more so than the Globes. The guilds have crossover membership with the Academy, which is incredibly important in predicting AMPAS nominees. The American Cinematographers Society (ASC), the American Cinema Editors (ACE), the Art Directors Guild (ADG), the Costume Designers Guild (CDG) and the Cinema Audio Society (CAS) all have a tendency to accurately predict the eventual Oscar nominees –- and often, winners –- in their respective categories.

So what to expect from these groups when they announce their nominees in January?

The ASC has what is probably the best correlation of any guild-to-Oscar nominees. Every year, at least three, usually four, of its five nominees tend to be cited by AMPAS.  Last year, all five nominees were cited by both groups.  This year, I would expect Roger Deakins (a guild favorite) to be nominated for “Revolutionary Road.” The living legend of cinematographers lensed what seems to be a major player among this year’s contenders. Moreover, the work has his customized style and class.

Claudio Miranda (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”) and Anthony Dod Mantle (“Slumdog Millionaire”) also seem primed for citations from this guild and AMPAS. Though awards have not been common in their careers to date, both are working on films which are leading the Oscar race so far. Moreover, the cinematography on both films is incredibly showy and Mantle has already been awarded by the NYFCC for his efforts. Miranda may face difficulty come Oscar time due to the use of visual effects to brush up his work. But that tends to be less of a problem from the guilds.

Wally Pfister is also attempting to garner his third straight nomination for collaborating with Christopher Nolan on “The Dark Knight.” The work is reminiscent of both “Batman Begins” and “The Prestige,” for which he was cited by his branch in AMPAS. I’d be surprised if his guild failed to recognize him for his most acclaimed accomplishment yet.

Mandy Walker is attempting to become the first woman nominated for both the guild and AMPAS in this category. Her epic work on “Australia” was beautiful. Will that stand any scrutiny that the film will receive? The results have yet to be determined. But I think a trio of guild/AMPAS nominations (Cinematography, Art Direction, Costume Design) seems appropriate.

Harris Savides, who has been doing fantastic work for Gus Van Sant for years, has the task of delivering the 1970s San Francisco of Harvey Milk to AMPAS. Savides is certain to be cited by his guild eventually. This could very well be the project.

Eduardo Serra, despite his two Oscar nominations, has yet to be cited by the ASC. On “Defiance,” he has the responsibility of capturing the saga of Edward Zwick’s WWII drama on screen. If anything has the chance to get him into the “in” crowd in Hollywood this would appear to be it.

And let’s not forget Roger Deakins’s work (however minimal) on “The Reader.” The collaboration with Chris Menges could find its way onto the radar of awards bodies. I fully expect its HFPA success to decrease by the time it arrives at the guilds. But if I’m wrong, this is among the first places I’d expect it to show up.

The ADG divides its nominees into three categories: contemporary, fantasy and period. As I said in my last column on this category, the vast majority of nominees tend to be “period.” Kristi Zea (“Revolutionary Road”), Michael Carlin (“The Duchess”), Brigitte Broch (“The Reader”) and Catherine Martin (“Australia”) would seem to have the combination of nature of the work, and period of the projects, in their favor.

Michael Corenblith (“Frost/Nixon”), Dan Weil (“Defiance”), James Murakami (“Changeling”) and Bill Groom (“Milk”) all are on projects which don’t have the scope of the aforementioned films but nevertheless have either obvious bait or film respect working in their favor.

In the fantasy realm, however, I would fully expect Donald Graham Burt to be cited here for his designing of the numerous eras on display in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” though the film could be deemed a period piece.  Guy Dyas and Nathan Crowley also strike me as shoo-ins for “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” and “The Dark Knight,” respectively. Ged Clarke (“The Fall”) and Stephen Scott (“Hellboy II: The Golden Army”) would complete the category if it was being decided strictly on merit. Roger Ford is nevertheless a strong possibility for “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.”

I cannot plausibly see many, if any, contemporary nominees being players at the Oscars. I think the category is primarily worth watching to see if any films can show themselves to be beloved in the industry. Mark Digby will likely benefit from that for “Slumdog Millionaire.” That said, the vast majority of the “major contenders” this year are period films. Though I’m nonetheless curious to see if “Frost/Nixon” is classified with the sometimes loose definition of “contemporary.”

(Might I also add that Mark Friedberg certainly SHOULD be nominated in this category for “Synecdoche, New York.”)

The CDG divide its awards in the same manner as the ADG. Again, I would expect potentially all of the Oscar nominees to come from the period side.

Michael O’Connor (“The Duchess”), Catherine Martin (“Australia”), Ann Roth (“The Reader”), Albert Wolsky (“Revolutionary Road”) and Deborah Hopper (“Changeling”) strike me as the five most likely nominees. Past guild winner Danny Glicker (“Milk”) and multiple nominee Louise Frogley (“Leatherheads”) finding a home here would not surprise me in the slightest, however. Though I would only expect two or three of them to go on to Oscar nominations, given the strength of the fantasy contenders and a particular nominee I doubt will score with the guild.

That nominee is Sandy Powell, who I do NOT expect to show up here for “The Other Boleyn Girl.” Remarkably, she has only received one nomination to date from the CDG: 2004’s “The Aviator.” I doubt this wretched piece of history will change that, regardless of the quality of her work. The same applies to industry veteran Jenny Beavan for “Defiance.”

On the fantasy side, Lindy Hemming is a shoo-in for “The Dark Knight” as is Jacqueline West for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” if it is classified as fantasy of course. I also think the great Eiko Ishioka will score if the guild sees “The Fall.” Bernie Pollack and Mary Zophres (usually seen designing the threads for the Coen brothers) would also appear solid bets for “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” I suspect either Isis Mussenden (“The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian”) or Sammy Sheldon (“Hellboy II: The Golden Army”) will complete the category.

The contemporary nominees almost never follow up their guild nominations with citations from the Academy. Nonetheless, Ann Roth’s threads for “Mamma Mia!” and Patricia Field’s wardrobe for “Sex and the City: The Movie” seem certain nominees. The rest of the category is still worth keeping an eye on, however, because if titles such as “Rachel Getting Married,” “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” or “Happy-Go-Lucky” can find a home, it could be indication of respect within the community.

ACE also divides its nominees, but between the cateogories of “drama” and “musical/comedy,” much like the Golden Globes. I fully expect all Oscar nominees this year to be from hopefuls on the drama side of things. Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill (“Frost/Nixon”), Elliot Graham and Gus Van Sant (“Milk”), Chris Dickens (“Slumdog Millionaire”) and Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”) all have the combination of showy editing and well-respected films going in their favor. A nomination for Lee Smith (“The Dark Knight”) would be excellent news for the film.

However, veteran Steven Rosenblum (“Defiance”) has the sort of project editors love, while Dan Lebentel’s work on “Iron Man” is more than worthy of awards. Tariq Anwar (“Revolutionary Road”) and Dylan Tichenor (“Doubt”) are also past nominees on films which could be big players with the guilds.

I honestly feel the comedy side of things will yield no clues for the Oscar race. Films such as “In Bruges” and “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” (for their action), “Mamma Mia!” (for its music), and “Burn After Reading,” “WALL-E,” “Happy-Go Lucky” and “Vicky Christina Barcelona” (for their reviews) all seem plausible nominees.

Lastly, I feel it right to mention the Cinema Audio Society. The CAS usually predicts at least three, often four, of the eventual nominees in this category. In the absence of Kevin O’Connell and Greg P. Russell (perennial favorites), however, it’s difficult to see what will actually happen here.

Nonetheless, “Iron Man” seems a surefire nominee at both the guild and the Oscars. And despite its predecessor failing to accomplish as much, I’d say “The Dark Knight” is poised to get a nomination here and, quite possibly, at the Oscars.

I fully expect Andrew Stanton’s “WALL-E,” which has not only performed very well in the precursors but also has Pixar’s characteristically excellent sound work featured even more prominently than usual. That having been said, “Shrek” remains the only animated film to date to have received a guild nomination.

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” also seems like it’s in a good position. The water, war and music have the makings of a likely nominee.

“Defiance” and “Australia” both are the sorts of films one would normally expect to be nominated here. Both films are epic, of the sort that the Academy likes, and have sound work featured prominently. But the reception for them seems unenthusiastic. We’ll see if that creates a problem.

“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” is the sort of summer blockbuster that one would normally expect would dominate in this category. The caliber of the crew, the box office and the nature of the work all point towards a solid contender. My hesitation remains in the reception of the film, and the fact that other summer blockbusters may have trumped it.

“Valkyrie” and “Mamma Mia!” are the sorts of films which normally get cited in this category, though less than spectacular reviews could pose a problem.

This is but merely looking ahead to a few weeks from now. In the next couple of weeks, I hope to share some more unique takes on phenomena we’ve seen in this category.

→ 12 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: Featured · Tech Support

12 responses so far

  • 1 12-14-2008 at 10:11 am

    N8 said...

    I don’t like the idea of ADG and CDG classifying “The Dark Knight” as a fantasy, because it does not rely on the comic book stylization of other superhero movies, and is grounded enough in reality that it ought to be competing in the contemporary categories.

  • 2 12-14-2008 at 10:50 am

    Ben M. said...

    Something tells me Benjamin Button’s one big tech snub will be in cinematography.

    After all, the film was shot in digital rather than film, and some old-school cinematographers (the ones who would be in the academy branch) hate digital and I believe have yet to nominate a digitally shot film, though I agree it will have a better shot at the guilds.

  • 3 12-14-2008 at 10:57 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Ben: If you’re talking a snub for Oscar, I’ve been thinking the EXACT same thing lately. I’ve even been cooking up a column on the matter. With Apocalypto and Collatral doing well with the guild but coming up short at the Academy, it’s clear there is an AMPAS bias against digital.

  • 4 12-14-2008 at 10:58 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Reading it again I see you are indeed talking Oscar. So yeah, totally agree. However beautiful, the a nod for Miranda at the Oscars is not a foregone conclusion by any means.

  • 5 12-14-2008 at 11:12 am

    red_wine said...

    Great article, as usual.
    I think TDK should be classified as fantasy because it had many elements that are not found in a real world. Its a super-hero movie after all. Though Benjamin Button is most definitely a fantasy.

    I agree with the above posters who say Button may be snubbed for cinematography. The trailer was too pretty to be true and it definitely looked like it had been digitally enhanced, the colors and everything were too perfect and postcard. Of course it was not 300 level manipulation but it certainly looked touched up.

    I’m rather surprised Slumdog is doing so well in cinematography because I read about the shooting of various crowd scenes where all they had was normal lighting and it was lucky that they could just shoot let alone light it up to look pretty. I guess its more due to camera movement than lighting.

  • 6 12-14-2008 at 11:23 am

    Chad said...

    red_wine, do you think Braveheart, Legends of the Fall and The Lord of the Rings won because of their lighting? Hardly. The Academy is just looking for pretty pictures.

  • 7 12-14-2008 at 11:24 am

    red_wine said...

    Might I mention by the certain bits shown in the trailer, Che’s cinematography looked masterful.
    Here it is in HD.
    (right click…save as)

  • 8 12-14-2008 at 11:28 am

    red_wine said...

    Chad, thats what I am saying, Slumdog’s not even pretty. Hence I’m surprised its doing so well.

  • 9 12-15-2008 at 12:02 am

    oscar nominee said...

    I came across this blog – interesting read

  • 10 12-15-2008 at 6:34 am

    mike said...


    I saw the Che roadshow version on Friday evening in NYC (Soderbergh did a QA for us after) and the film indeed looks masterful. The RED camera produced STUNNING footage, esp on the huge screen at the Ziegfeld.

  • 11 1-21-2009 at 9:38 pm

    Grandy said...

    I would love to see Wall-e get a nomination for Best Art Direction. It certainly deserves one.