Tech Support: A new year of crafts coverage

Posted by · 11:37 am · September 22nd, 2011

Welcome back. Today marks the beginning of the sixth year of Tech Support here at In Contention. I am delighted about the new collaboration with HitFix, which will doubtless result in even more comprehensive awards coverage.

Over the next 10 weeks, we will analyze each of the “technical” category races in this space: Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Makeup, Original Score, Original Song, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing and Visual Effects. The ways in which the artists behind these crafts can improve a film are innumerable. While excellent crafts artistry certainly can wow the audience, it can, more importantly, bring us into a world being crafted by the director, writers and stars, building mood, character and period, among other things.

Despite all the ways in which the crafts artists improve a film, and are an indispensable part of making one, they are almost always ignored by the press. Indeed, there are gripes almost every year that including these categories in the ceremony takes too long and it would be better if they were taken out of the show. While it is true that people do tend to see films for the story, direction and acting, there nonetheless seems a profound unfairness in this respect given the importance of crafts artistry to filmmaking, not to mention the fact that that first, key draw — story — is told via every element of the process.

Here at Tech Support, we try to correct that, shedding light on the particular disciplines that are awarded by the Academy every year. For the next 10 weeks, each category will be profiled separately. I will explain what it rewards, how the work affects a film and how the corresponding branch of the Academy tends to vote. Then, I will take a look at what I consider to be the year”s biggest contenders.

After that, it”s our tradition to have interviews with many of the contenders on the major films, before delving into a final analysis of the contenders come January.

Many of those contenders have already passed before us and been released in theaters. Early-year releases becoming nominees tends to be more commonplace in the crafts categories than in the major fields, largely because the summer blockbuster season is a playground for these disciplines. For instance, at this point last year, eight of the 10 winners of the “tech” categories had already been released.

While I don”t expect that to be the case this year, I am confident we have already seen many of the nominees in these fields: I fully expect films such as “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” “The Tree of Life” and, most likely of all, “The Help,” to show up in at least some categories. Films such as “Jane Eyre,” “Rango,” “Pirates and Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” “Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon,” “Super 8,” “Captain America: The First Avenger” and even “Green Lantern” (in Best Makeup) could also follow suit.

Given that crafts work tends to be most noticeable when it is showy, it is unsurprising that many fantasy features and especially period pieces tend to be awarded across the board in these categories, and most of the films I just mentioned fall into that category. Being a well-reviewed Best Picture contender certainly helps but is hardly determinative, especially in categories such as Best Makeup and Best Costume Design, where a blind eye is often turned to poor filmmaking if the craft element is nevertheless quality.

The Venice and Toronto film festivals shed light on some potential Best Picture contenders, though not as many as is often the case. In any event, many of these contenders, such as “The Descendants” and “The Ides of March,” are, for reasons I will explain in weeks to come, not films I expect to show up in a plethora of categories. I similarly expect “Drive” and “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” to be contenders in only one or two tech categories.

Titles such as “The Artist,” and even “A Dangerous Method” could be the sort, however, that have more across-the-board appeal in the crafts categories. I expect the former to do quite well and while I doubt the latter would be a tech category sweeper, it could end up in contention in multiple places.

And then there are the completely unknown commodities that could flop but could also garner up to a half-dozen crafts category nominations – some prospective Best Picture contenders such as “War Horse, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” and “J. Edgar” could be major players in many a crafts category. Other titles such as “Hugo,” “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn” will likely be more commercial efforts, but that”s not to rule out their potential in many tech categories.

As I go through my analysis in weeks to come, more and more titles will reveal themselves, first to the critics and then to the public. This will make forecasting easier but before that happens, considerable guesswork is involved. And once precursor season starts, momentum becomes a major factor in many categories. As I will explain as we go forward, some crafts branches are more amenable to sways in the overall awards market than others.

These variables make forecasting these categories a tricky business. I have no doubts the films I haven”t mentioned in this column will become nominees, and I may also miss eventual nominees as I go through the individual categories. Nonetheless, the process is a fun one. And from the perspective of the men and women who will find themselves nominees in these categories in the new year, the process is undoubtedly exciting and rewarding.

I”m glad to be back and look forward to going through these fields over the next 10 weeks. So with those musings out of the way, next week we”ll begin our analysis of the crafts categories. First on the docket: Best Visual Effects!

Comments Off on Tech Support: A new year of crafts coverage Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: HitFix · In Contention