Tech Support: 'Hugo' dominates Oscar's craft categories

Posted by · 11:06 am · February 27th, 2012

It”s not usually appropriate for journalists to speak of how their personal experiences affect their views on particular events. But my experience watching the 2012 Academy Awards affects my analysis of it to such an extent that it would be dishonest for me to pretend anything otherwise.

Meryl Streep has been my favorite actress of all time for as long as I”ve had a “favorite actress of al time.” And as much as I loved Viola Davis”s performance in “The Help,” Streep remained my favorite of this year”s Best Actress nominees. Her victory and her speech made me extraordinarily happy last night.

She divided her “thank yous” between her husband, her makeup artist, and her Hollywood family. Notice that second class as a category unto itself. Roy Helland and Meryl Streep have worked together for almost four decades. His win for “The Iron Lady” is oh-so-deserved and I”ll give Streep the utmost in kudos for recognizing the work of the men and women below the line. Recognizing the importance of such work is what we”ve tried to do here at Tech Support.

After “The Iron Lady””s deserved makeup win, I had a hunch that “The Girl With the Dragon Tattooo” would win Best Film Editing. I”m seriously regretting not predicting it, attributing it to an affinity for the American Cinema Editors” choices. Alas, as Kris noted this morning, Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall”s win is the first time since “Bullitt” that a film has won Best Film Editing and nothing else.

Only three of the past 12 winners in this category triumphed in the absence of a Best Picture nomination. Like “Black Hawk Down” and “The Bourne Ultimatum,” “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is a critically acclaimed genre movie helmed by a previously nominated director. I should have seen this coming.

This is not to say Best Picture nominees didn”t have a great time in the crafts categories: see, for instance, “Hugo.” This is a fine movie, and it deserved its victory in Best Art Direction. But I was sad to have forecast its win in Best Visual Effects early on, a win most people didn”t seem to see coming. And the sound categories? Predictable, maybe, but hardly exemplary. Don”t get me wrong: I like the film well enough, but beyond art direction I view it as, how shall I say it? Just competent in crafts arenas. That said, I was quite happy to see Tom Fleischman with an Oscar in his hand.

My views are slightly more nuanced when it comes to Best Cinematography: Robert Richardson”s work was actually pretty great, but Emmanuel Lubezki”s was the best achievement in the field since his lensing of “Children of Men” five years ago, where he also had an Oscar pulled out from under him.

That said, when Sandy Powell lost Best Costume Design to Mark Bridges, I knew that “Hugo” was not going to sweep. Not only was I pleased with Bridges”s deserving win, it showed the Academy wasn”t blindly ticking off the box for the most showy nominee in each category.

In the realm of putting the final touches on movies, “The Artist””s Ludovic Bource of course won, as we all predicted. Bret McKenzie”s victory for “Man or Muppet” was also a deserved highlight for Kiwis.

Film is frequently referred to as a “director”s medium” as opposed to stage being an “actor”s medium.” But film clearly affects actors” performances in ways that they are not on stage. The director is assisted by the artists who control the camera, the set, costumes, the cuts, the effects, the music and the soundtrack, always feeding new ideas, new ways of changing the outcome of a film, leaving a thousand fingerprints on the whole. They simply couldn”t work otherwise.

It has always been our goal that Tech Support at In Contention highlights the work of these craftsmen where the spotlight evades them throughout most of the media. Whether we succeeded or not (and I think we have, especially as the rest of the media has stepped up its game in this department), they succeeded in providing the public with so many 2011 movie moments.

Here is hoping 2012 provides us with even more luscious treats. But that is ahead of us and we”ll have plenty of time to analyze it. So, for the meantime, to quote the movie Christopher Plummer is so keen to leave behind: “”So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye.”

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