TECH SUPPORT: Final analysis, part one

Posted by · 8:57 am · January 20th, 2011

It seems hard to believe that it’s been more than six months since I wrote this year’s introductory Tech Support column ( a dissection of the art direction race). Much has changed since then, naturally, as we are less than a week away from the big day when we find out the nominees for the Oscars this year. Today, I take a final look at the music categories, sound categories and the two categories that have been narrowed down to seven finalists – Best Visual Effects and Best Makeup.


In this utterly bizarre category, virtually any combination of the seven finalists would fail to surprise me as the final three. That said, I’ve had the same top two predicted all year and see no reason to change now: “Alice in Wonderland” and “The Wolfman.” The former had massive box office and very noticeable makeup, whereas the latter is exactly the sort of movie that tends to score here and nowhere else.

Logic may put “True Grit” or “The Fighter” next in line due to their Best Picture contender status. But as much as these films are loved, they don’t have as showy makeup as the other finalists, and this is a category that often doesn’t care how films are received overall.

Also displaying wounds and injuries is “The Way Back.” I should note that Peter Weir’s last five movies, and seven of his last eight, have earned at least one Oscar nomination. “The Way Back” could keep that streak alive with a nod here.

“Jonah Hex”’s transformation of Josh Brolin’s face was certainly memorable and could be rewarded, but I wonder if the two frontrunners are enough in the fantasy department.

So at the end of the day, I think that the very impressive aging work – on many different characters – on display in “Barney’s Version” might just pique the branch’s interest. Aging is favored by this group, and the authentic transformation makes it stand out in a field full of injuries, wounds and fantastical creations.

But I’ll say again – this is truly a category where anything goes

“Alice in Wonderland”
“Barney’s Version”
“The Wolfman”
(alt. “The Fighter”)


Hans Zimmer (“Inception”) and Alexandre Desplat (“The King’s Speech”) have the combination of having scored Best Picture frontrunners and earning BFCA, Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations. They’re in. (If there’s a dark horse nominee, I’d say Desplat could double-dip for “The Ghost Writer,” but we haven’t seen a double-nominated composer in this category – apart from John Williams – since the comedy and drama fields were reunified 13 years ago.)

BFCA/Globe winners Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross wrote a somewhat atypical score for awards purposes, but also a great one in the Best Picture frontrunner “The Social Network.” While the BAFTA snub highlights my concerns about this score’s potential, I’d still be surprised if they missed out at this point. And assuming they are nominated, I would call them the frontrunners to win.

From there, things get trickier. I’d say Danny Elfman is in reasonably good shape for his noticeable “Alice in Wonderland” score after Globe and BAFTA nominations. But the lack of a BFCA nomination, and the divisive nature of the film, make the nomination far from assured.

Finally, I’d say we have a battle on our hands between A.R. Rahman for “127 Hours” and John Powell for “How to Train Your Dragon.” Rahman’s film has done better in the precursors and is a film that, while it has been hit-and-miss, has nevertheless hit well when it has. But I feel the more memorable nature of Powell’s score, DreamWorks’ strong campaign for it, as well as the chance to award Rahman in the Best Original Song category, gives Powell a slight – and I do mean slight – edge. It would be a first nomination after a very long and prolific career.

“Alice in Wonderland”
“How to Train Your Dragon”
“The King’s Speech”
“The Social Network”
(alt. “127 Hours”)


This is the one technical category I freely admit I’m terrible at predicting. Moreover, I frankly don’t care much about it. But I’ll try to handicap it.

I’ll start by saying that Alan Menken, Diane Warren and Randy Newman are always good bets, so I feel somewhat confident in betting on “I See the Light” (“Tangled”), “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me” (“Burlesque”) and “We Belong Together” (“Toy Story 3”). The precursors have been kind, if not to these films, certainly to these ditties, so that increases my faith.

After that, things become trickier, but I feel that John Legend’s “Shine” from “Waiting for Superman” is a good bet. Paramount has been giving the song a strong push, and it’s worth remembering that Guggenheim’s “An Inconvenient Truth” led Melissa Etheridge to an Oscar win, the first ever for a documentary in this category.

Finally, I’d venture to guess that Dido Armstrong, Rollo Armstrong and A.R. Rahman will round out this category with “If I Rise” from “127 Hours.” It’s a way to honor Rahman if score doesn’t come through and, in any event, seems to be a more Oscar-friendly tune than the obvious competition. Speaking of which…

“Burlesque” could easily double-dip in this category with “Bound to You,” turning Christina Aguilera into an Oscar nominee. Still, however…Christina Aguilera as an Oscar nominee? Plus, the Cher song is clearly the more loved of the two. It would also be foolish to rule out “Coming Home” from “Country Strong,” but I think the forgettable nature of the movie, and what I would guess would be the divisiveness of country music in AMPAS circles, could pose a problem.

I will add that this can be a wacky category, however, with seemingly sure things being snubbed and total surprises showing up.

“You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me” from “Burlesque”
“If I Rise” from “127 Hours”
“I See the Light” from “Tangled”
“We Belong Together” from “Toy Story 3”
“Shine” from “Waiting for Superman”
(alt. “Bound to You” from “Burlesque”)


I fully expect Lora Hirschberg, Garry Rizzo and Ed Novick to win this category for “Inception.” Meanwhile, with BAFTA and CAS nominations, as well as likely Best Picture citations, the teams from “Black Swan” and “True Grit” also seem to be sitting fairly well. CAS/BFCA nominee “The Social Network” may not be a typical nominee in this category, but I nevertheless think the sweep factor will pull through for it. I should add that nominations for those last three films will result in several new sound artists becoming Oscar nominees.

The fifth CAS nominee – “Shutter Island” – could very well show up here, but it will have tough competition, especially given its early release date and the fact that I doubt it can score that many nominations. “TRON Legacy” does not seem to have caught on to the extent I thought it would, not getting CAS, BFCA or BAFTA nominations here. Similarly, animated titles “Toy Story 3” and “How to Train Your Dragon” will have to compete with each other. Plus, they have a better shot at Best Sound Editing.

Rather, I would look to “127 Hours,” which, despite a guild miss here, reunited Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire” team in a project where their talents were featured much more prominently. BFCA and BAFTA took notice. I think Oscar will find a place for it.

“Black Swan”
“127 Hours”
“The Social Network”
“True Grit”
(alt. “Shutter Island”)


As in Best Sound Mixing, I expect “Inception” to triumph here, garnering a third Oscar for Richard King. Thereafter, things become more open. I expect love for the film to translate into a “Toy Story 3” nomination – five of the last six Pixar titles have been nominated here, after all.

I also feel that “True Grit” should be able to match a sound mixing nod with a nod here.  Meanwhile , even if it does not score in sound mixing, “TRON Legacy” seems like exactly the sort of title that would be embraced here.

The last spot could go anywhere but I’m again going to return to Boyle’s effort – if there is a film out there this year that showed how sound editing can be memorable, “127 Hours” was it.

Then again, one could say the same thing about “How to Train Your Dragon.” And complete sound adoration for “Black Swan” could even result in a nomination here. But I’m going to stick with “127 Hours.”

“127 Hours”
“Toy Story 3”
“TRON Legacy”
“True Grit”
(alt. “How to Train Your Dragon”)


This category strangely went down to seven finalists again this year, despite the category expanding the five nominees. Christopher Nolan’s great “Inception” crew is approaching “lock for the win” status. “TRON Legacy” is another effects powerhouse and recent blockbuster. It’ll be in the final five. “Alice in Wonderland” has massive box office, effects in virtually every scene and Ken Ralston. It is certain to come aboard as well.

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1” didn’t add much in the effects department, and only one of its six predecessors was nominated here. That said, the BAFTA nod, lack of competition and five nominees for the year increase its chances immensely. Moreover, most entries in this series did manage to garner at least one nomination.

“Iron Man 2” saw its predecessor nominated here. This movie also did not add much in the effects department, but it did make enough at the box office, and has precursor citations on its side. So while it would not be shocking to see it miss, the team appears in good shape.

I actually wouldn’t be shocked if “Hereafter” (most Clint Eastwood films this decade have managed an Oscar nomination) or “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” (given the integral role the effects played in the movie) to show up.  But why haven’t any precursors taken notice yet? BAFTA? VES? BFCA?

“Alice in Wonderland”
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I”
“Iron Man 2”
“TRON Legacy”
(alt. “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World”)

Tomorrow I’ll take a final look at the remaining crafts categories: Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design and Best Film Editing.

Feel free to offer up your predictions in these categories in the comments section below!

[Photos: Universal Pictures, Walt Disney Pictures, Screen Gems, Fox Searchlight Pictures]

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16 responses so far

  • 1 1-20-2011 at 9:08 am

    Maxim said...

    I think that “Bound to You” is the better song, personally.

  • 2 1-20-2011 at 9:08 am

    Matthew Starr said...

    The sound editing of Black Swan only stands out when you know that they made most of the sounds from variations of Swan cries. Without that knowledge it does not particularly resonate and who knows if voters are aware of stuff like that.

  • 3 1-20-2011 at 9:12 am

    Vn said...

    Great article!

    Make Up is so tricky… They can nominate awful movies such as Norbit or Click, foreign films like The Sea Inside, Pan’s Labyrinth, Il Divo or La vie en Rose or even snub wonderful showy make up in order to award Best Picture contenders (Planet of the Apes snubbed, A Beautiful Mind, Moulin Rouge in).

    So anything can happen! I would love to see those three films you predicted in the race. But they always surprise us, every year. So maybe Barney’s version is in.

  • 4 1-20-2011 at 9:18 am

    Bill_the_Bear said...

    I’d much rather see Alexandre Desplat be nominated for “The Ghost Writer” (best score of the year, IMHO) than for the totally forgettable score he did for “The King’s Speech.”

  • 5 1-20-2011 at 9:23 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    “Without that knowledge it does not particularly resonate and who knows if voters are aware of stuff like that.”

    That’s not really true. At all. The sound really impressed, both the mix and the editing, when I saw it before being privy to the particulars.

  • 6 1-20-2011 at 9:40 am

    Matthew Starr said...

    What was so particularly impressive about the sound editing of Black Swan? I have only seen it once but don’t recall anything unique about the sounds.

  • 7 1-20-2011 at 9:54 am

    JJ1 said...

    Make-Up is a throw it up in the air and see where they land. I’m only sure of Alice.

    Score should be between TSN, Inception, and Ghost Writer (but the latter prob won’t eve be nominated; gosh I love that score).

    FX: still wonder if Hereafter can squeak out a nom, here. Iron Man 2’s effects were good, but unmemorable. I guess it doesn’t matter.

  • 8 1-20-2011 at 10:24 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Matt: It just got into my head. The touches and textures that were woven. A LOT of different sounds are built into that track and manipulated to enhance the overall experience. In fact, when I saw it on a regular TV without surround sound, it was just deflated. The experience of that film, to me, is very much about what you hear.

  • 9 1-20-2011 at 11:52 am

    San FranCinema said...

    I am convinced that Scott Pilgrim is going to make the nomination list for visual effects. Effects were completely integral to the story, and always surprising, in a film that is unlike anything else on the list. Plus, if there are points to be earned for using visual effects comedically, this one rises above. Fingers crossed.

  • 10 1-20-2011 at 1:26 pm

    JJ1 said...

    I love hearing the quiet, intermittent fluttering of feathers all throughout ‘Black Swan’.

  • 11 1-20-2011 at 7:48 pm

    Speaking English said...

    PLEASE make it so “Inception” doesn’t win Sound Mixing. *Please.*

  • 12 1-20-2011 at 8:37 pm

    Andrew F said...

    When watching the film for a second time, a thought struck me: “The King’s Speech” for Sound Mixing.

  • 13 1-21-2011 at 5:00 am

    JJ1 said...

    ^ The speech (dialogue) … the microphone … it actually is a movie about sound and how smoothly it comes from the mouth, I suppose. Haha, I hadn’t thought of it before; not to mention Desplat’s sublte score throughout, aiding the dialogue/microphone … but I still think it’s a bit of a stretch.

  • 14 1-21-2011 at 8:57 am

    Andrew F said...

    Oh, it’s definitely a stretch… but if we get a surprise on Tuesday morning, I get bragging rights!

  • 15 1-21-2011 at 9:59 am

    Peter said...

    How come you list one set of predictions here for Sound Mixing, but your final predictions today are different? Looks like you swapped Alice for True Grit.

  • 16 1-21-2011 at 10:55 am

    Zach said...

    I have all the same predix! We think alike! This might mean we’re being too obvious in our predictions. I also prefer Bound to You and think it should win, though Cher’s song is admittedly catchier and more memorable.