My dream ballot: part one

Posted by · 7:32 pm · January 31st, 2010

Where the Wild Things AreAs I did last year, I’m preparing for Tuesday’s announcement of the Oscar nominations by running through my own favorites in each category — following on from the ideal ballots posted by Kris and Chad in the past few weeks.

“Preparing” isn’t quite the word: it implies a link between the processes of predicting and wishing, whereas I’m quite aware that most of my choices have scant chance of cropping up on Tuesday morning. But a guy can dream, can’t he?

Today I’m running through the technical races, while tomorrow I’ll get to the big ones. For the most part, I’m sticking to the same format and rules for nominations as the Oscars, with a few select exceptions.

Where some worthy 2009 U.S. releases are mysteriously absent from the Academy’s eligibility list, I’m not letting that stop me from giving them their due. Similarly, I’m happy to overrule some of the more inexplicable disqualifications of the arcane music branch.

My technical ballot after the cut.

Best Cinematography
Anthony Dod Mantle, “Antichrist”
Greig Fraser, “Bright Star”
Barry Ackroyd, “The Hurt Locker”
Agnès Godard, “35 Shots of Rum”
Lance Acord, “Where the Wild Things Are”

A tremendous field from which to choose this year: “The White Ribbon,” “Broken Embraces,” “Il Divo,” “A Single Man” and “Sugar” were all vying for a place. Two films, however, rose effortlessly to the top: Anthony Dod Mantle realized Lars von Trier’s nightmare vision with shimmery, balletic grace, while rising talent Greig Fraser brought crisp, bracing textures to a very contemporary-looking costume drama. Ackroyd’s multi-camera approach is less pretty, but resourcefully enables the flow of action, Acord while beautifully realizes and updates the dusky palette of Maurice Sendak’s iconic illustrations. Finally, Godard’s fluid, honey-toned compositions furthered (and possibly closed) a marvelous longtime collaboration with director Claire Denis.

Best Art Direction
Janet Patterson, “Bright Star”
Nelson Lowry, “Fantastic Mr. Fox”
Nathan Crowley, “Public Enemies”
K.K. Barrett, “Where the Wild Things Are”
Christoph Kanter, “The White Ribbon”

In something of a banner year for animated work in this category, Lowry’s wittily detailed miniaturization of the world of Wes Anderson stood out. Barrett seemingly drew on nature and contemporary architecture to create an environment both distinct from, and loyal to, that of the film’s beloved source material. Doing double-duty as both production and costume designer on Jane Campion’s Keats biopic, Patterson made a virtue of budgetary constraints, crafting interiors that look as lived-in as they do stripped-down; Kanter’s reconstruction of pre-WWI village life is similarly minimal yet exhaustive. Crowley, meanwhile, brings a burnished, muscular grandeur to Depression-era America. Another chockfull category; honorable mentions for “Moon,” “A Single Man,” “A Serious Man” and “Coraline.”

Best Costume Design
Janet Patterson, “Bright Star”
Sonia Grande, “Broken Embraces”
Beatrix Aruna Pasztor, “The Brothers Bloom”
Odile Dicks-Mireaux, “An Education”
Colleen Atwood, “Public Enemies”

From the candy-colored, self-consciously designed creations of Fanny Brawne to Brown’s muddy tartans, Patterson’s work on “Bright Star” is far more character-attuned than the usual ruffled corset-porn that crops up annually in this category. The HD camera of “Public Enemies” picks up every thread of Atwood’s sharply tailored wardrobe, so it’s just as well not one is out of place. Dicks-Mireaux’s duds appear simply chic, but capture crucial details of class and culture. Finally, two couture-heavy contemporary titles impressed: Pasztor borrows from an assortment of eras to serve her film’s dainty sense of quirk, while Grande looks to film noir and fashion mags to make an impeccable clothes-horse of Penelope Cruz. Honorable mentions for “Cheri,” “Where the Wild Things Are” and “Bruno.”

Best Editing
Asa Mossberg and Anders Refin, “Antichrist”
Chris Innis and Bob Murawski, “The Hurt Locker”
Cristiano Travaglioli, “Il Divo”
Joan Sobel, “A Single Man”
James Haygood and Eric Zumbrunnen, “Where the Wild Things Are”

While Innis and Murawski were charged with sculpting a lean, tense narrative from countless hours of multi-camera footage, Mossberg and Refin faced the different but no less formidable challenge of negotiating and balancing the wild mood swings of “Antichrist.” Travaglioli lets fly a barrage of stylized, kinetic cutting technique that abets the sly humor of Paolo Sorrentino’s political biopic; the relatively unheralded Joan Sobel’s work is similarly heightened, but to far sleeker, woozier effect. Finally, Haygood and Zumbrunnen cleverly bridge two worlds with pointed symbolic and rhythmic echoes. “35 Shots of Rum,” “A Serious Man” and “The Informant!” were also in the mix.

Best Makeup
“District 9”
“Drag Me to Hell”
“Il Divo”

Honestly, not the most exciting year for this category: the lurid spectacle of Sharlto Copley’s prawn metamorphosis in “District 9” ought to win in a walk, and probably will. “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” could possibly make the lineup if I was in a different mood.

Best Original Score
Marvin Hamlisch, “The Informant!”
Clint Mansell, “Moon”
Abel Korzeniowski, “A Single Man”
Tindersticks, “35 Shots of Rum”
Karen O and Carter Burwell, “Where the Wild Things Are”

After a rather lackluster 2008, film composers really took it up a notch last year. I can hardly believe that I have no room for 26 year-old prodigy Mark Bradshaw (“Bright Star”), but there you go. The Academy may have declared “Where the Wild Things Are” ineligible in this category, but I refuse to play by their inexplicable rules: alternately brooding and dementedly joyous, Karen O and Carter Burwell found a fitting musical language for Sendak’s wild rumpus. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Korzeniowski’s score was a thing of stately, sweeping beauty, while Hamlisch’s gleefully kitsch 70s pastiche sits somewhere in the middle. Mansell continues to bridge the classical and the avant-garde to spine-tingling effect, while UK band Tindersticks’ latest collaboration with Claire Denis is sheer witching-hour magic.

Best Original Song
“The Weary Kind” from “Crazy Heart”
“You’ve Got Me Wrapped Around Your Little Finger” from “An Education”
“All is Love” from “Where the Wild Things Are”
“Hideaway” from “Where the Wild Things Are”

Since the Academy now does the same, I reserve the right to curb the number of nominees in this category: for me, only four tracks creatively served their surrounding films while also emerging as outstanding compositions in their own right. Fortunately, they are four very good ones. I still have trouble choosing between the boundless, naive singalong of “All is Love,” which becomes a rousing anthem for the film as a whole, or the melancholy intimacy of “Hideaway,” which underpins its loveliest individual sequence. Beth Rowley’s sweetly sultry composition for “An Education” is so seamlessly integrated into the backdrop that many mistook it for a vintage cut. Finally, “The Weary Kind” not only has to relay an entire life through music, but also has convince as a veteran musician’s magnum opus.

Best Sound Mixing
“The Hurt Locker”
“Il Divo”
“Paranormal Activity”

Best Sound Editing
“District 9”
“The Hurt Locker”
“Paranormal Activity”
“Where the Wild Things Are”

Yes, I can tell the difference between sound mixing and sound editing. But since there’s such overlap in my choices for these two categories, one paragraph will suffice. I admit to getting a perverse thrill from placing the playful, zero-budget sound design of “Paranormal Activity” alongside the all-that-money-can-buy sonic fireworks of “Avatar,” but they’re equally essential to their films’ audience seductions. Another horror title, “Antichrist,” made tingly use of simple resources, densely woven. A true artist of the medium, Paul Ottosson took both mixing and editing duties on “The Hurt Locker,” pummelling the viewer with sound to conveying the everything-at-once sensation of the war zone.

Best Visual Effects
“District 9”
“Where the Wild Things Are”

One of those years when an argument could easily be made to expand the category to five nominees, though these three are comfortably my favorites. I hardly need to explain the inclusion of the boundary-pushing “Avatar,” even if I personally found the more jaggedly traditional effects work of “District 9” more aesthetically pleasing. “Where the Wild Things Are,” meanwhile, has received less than its due in this department, perhaps because it employs its effects to such casually character-serving effect.

Okay, that’s it for today — I’ll run through my picks in the main categories tomorrow. For those of you keeping score, “Where the Wild Things Are” leads my wishlist with eight nominations, while “The Hurt Locker” and “Antichrist” follow with four each. (I wasn’t expecting such a gap.) What are your favorites in the technical categories? Have at it below.

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20 responses so far

  • 1 1-31-2010 at 7:48 pm

    The Other Ryan said...

    Interesting picks for the sound categories, though I would definitely include Star Trek in both. Good call on Paranormal Activity, too.

  • 2 1-31-2010 at 7:51 pm

    Ed D. said...

    Very nice list; I appreciate your love for Antichrist :D.

    Also, was “a guy can dream” an intentional pun? lol

  • 3 1-31-2010 at 8:00 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    No, it wasn’t. After 26 years, the novelty value of the pun kind of wears off ;)

  • 4 1-31-2010 at 8:02 pm

    Speaking English said...

    Wow, it appears you’ve never heard of a film called “Star Trek.” How you can leave that out of both sound categories, not to mention VISUAL effects, is far far far beyond me. But okay.

    And leaving “Up” out of Original Score is as egregious as an omission as possible!

  • 5 1-31-2010 at 8:04 pm

    Yogsam said...

    you’re so british, Guy!

  • 6 1-31-2010 at 8:16 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Not only have I heard of Star Trek, I’ve even seen it! I’m pretty hip, I am.

  • 7 1-31-2010 at 8:20 pm

    david said...

    Guy, I share your passion for Where The Wild Things Are. Which categories, if any, do you think it has the best chance of really showing up in when the nominations are officially announced?? Do you really think it will get shut out completely and not garner a single nomination (like Kris is currently predicting)?

  • 8 1-31-2010 at 8:22 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    David: Your second question can be answered by checking out my predictions.

    I think its best shots are for Art Direction and Song. But I’m not at all optimistic.

  • 9 1-31-2010 at 8:54 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    As much as I like the music of Moon and Where the Wild Things Are, I hated the way both were used in those films. The former emphasizing what didn’t need to be emphasized and the latter completely suffocating the film.

  • 10 1-31-2010 at 9:10 pm

    Encore Entertainment said...

    Guy, what were your thoughts on the other original song from An Education that played over the credits.

    I’m sorry that Desplat didn’t make it for any of his films.

    Did you not see Nine, or did you REALLY not like it?

  • 11 1-31-2010 at 9:22 pm

    Joel said...

    Might as well post this here. My dream ballot (same categories as yours):

    Best Cinematography:

    “(500) Days of Summer”
    “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”
    “The Hurt Locker”
    “Up in the Air”
    “Where the Wild Things Are”

    Best Art Direction:
    “District 9”
    “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”
    “Inglourious Basterds”
    “Where the Wild Things Are”

    Best Costume Design:

    “Inglourious Basterds”
    “Star Trek”
    “Where the Wild Things Are”

    Best Film Editing:

    “District 9”
    “The Hurt Locker”
    “Up in the Air”

    Best Makeup:

    “Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant”
    “District 9”
    “Star Trek”

    Best Original Score:

    “Fantastic Mr. Fox”
    “The Informant!”
    “Sherlock Holmes”
    “Star Trek”

    Best Sound:

    “District 9”
    “The Hurt Locker”
    “Star Trek”
    “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”

    Best Visual Effects:

    “District 9”
    “Star Trek”
    “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”

  • 12 1-31-2010 at 9:23 pm

    Kevin said...

    “Yes, I can tell the difference between sound mixing and sound editing.”

    Guy: I have my own ideas on what the distinction is but would you mind providing a clear explanation of your interpretation?

  • 13 1-31-2010 at 9:25 pm

    Glenn said...

    The Acadamy could do far worse – and I’m sure they will – than honouring the creaking doors and stomping footsteps of “Paranormal Activity” in Best Sound Editing.

    I find it amusing that in my own personal ballot I have “Coraline” and “Mary and Max” as production design nominees, but you subbed them for another animated movie, “Fantastic Mr Fox”. So many great animated titles this year so I am glad you’re not just throwing “Up” around in places like Original Score.

  • 14 1-31-2010 at 9:39 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    up for score needs to be there, the sound design of the lovely bones is wildly ignored and one of the best, love the wild things love, antichrist(hated it) did have great cinematography, but thats all i can say

  • 15 1-31-2010 at 9:42 pm

    Amir said...

    wow, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING for inglourious basterds in any technical category?
    that’s kind of harsh.
    they definitely make my personal list for cinematography, editing, costume and art direction.

  • 16 1-31-2010 at 9:44 pm

    The Z said...

    I think “Trust Me” from “The Informant!” has been grossly overlooked. It plays much like “You’ve Got Me Wrapped Around Your Little Finger” from “An Education” – a new song that sounds older than it is. And its use (“Trust Me,” that is) works beautifully in the film. I may have a bias as I thought “The Informant!” was one the better films of 2009.

  • 17 2-01-2010 at 1:50 am

    SHAAAARK said...

    Ugh, I just don’t understand how anyone who has seen Drag Me to Hell wouldn’t nominate it for Original Score. And…uh, I’d be the first to defend Moon on a wide range of things, but the music was minimalist, and not that interesting. Whereas Drag Me to Hell perfectly set the tone. Another score that’s been criminally overlooked is Bruno Coulais’ Coraline.

  • 18 2-01-2010 at 2:23 am

    Andrew2 said...

    As expected I love your dream ballot. But I would go with Bright Star’s excellent score too

  • 19 2-01-2010 at 3:40 am

    red_wine said...

    Whoa! Some wonderfully imaginative choices.

    In cinematography I like the other four films but Wild Things was beautifully shot indeed. 35 Shots is a very good choice. You don’t usually see people mentioning the cinematography of intimate dramas. I specially loved the way the outdoor night time scenes were shot. As I’ve said before Tetro remains my pick.

    No mention of Avatar for Art direction Guy? The design of Pandora was exemplary.

    Red Cliff & Watchmen though mediocre films did very well with Art Direction and Costume Design. Again not a fan of District 9 unlike you but the editing was very good.

    35 Shots is a brilliant choice for score, the score really stood out for me too so much so that I actually tried to look it up on the net. Wild Things score didn’t work for me at all. I loved bright Star’s score in the context of the movie but when I tried listening to it on youtube, didn’t like it much. Its more the album’s fault than the music’s but it doesn’t play very well beyond the film. Up, Ponyo & Star Trek remain three of the most enjoyable scores of the year.

  • 20 2-01-2010 at 3:46 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Encore: I like the Duffy track as a song, but for the purpose of the film I found it a little on the nose.

    My top Desplat pick was “Cheri,” which came close — but it’s a very high-quality field this year. (I say the same thing to those who find it so inconceivable that I liked some work more than the very fine score for “Up.”

    And yes, I saw “Nine,” and I don’t think it’s remarkable in any one crafts aspect. Dion Beebe is one of the best DPs in the business, but Rob Marshall really doesn’t bring out the best in him.

    Kevin: I’m sure there are others here who can explain it better than I can, but the way that I’ve always understood it is that sound editors create individual sounds, while sound mixers are responsible for recording and balancing the overall mix. Once you start listening for it in films, the difference becomes quite clear.

    Amir: “Basterds” was definitely in the mix for Art Direction. Hard to choose.