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Oscars 2019: Different Directions, From Green Book On Down

February 27, 2019 | By

Although the anointing of a best picture Oscar for Green Book has already sparked a kind of Crash-like umbrage, the truth is this year’s Oscar-fest showed no clear overall “winner” — or do we mean “Favourite?”

Green Book wasn’t even nominated in the directing category, but neither was Argo, a few short years back. Then again, Argo’s best pic nod has been revisited and re-argued, as well.

Nonetheless, Bohemian Rhapsody — in addition to a truly amazed and humble Rami Malek’s acting award (he even thanked the entertainment press backstage, for all the movie reviews he’d read, growing up) did well on the below the line side, winning awards for editing, and both sound categories.  We asked John Warhust, who won, with Nina Hartstone,  for sound editing, what it was like to recreate iconic pre-digital sound — and songs — in a digital era:

Rami Malek poses backstage with the Oscar® for performance by an actor in a leading role with Gary Oldman (L) and Alison Janney during the live ABC Telecast of The 91st Oscars® at the Dolby® Theatre in Hollywood, CA on Sunday, February 24, 2019. Credit: Matt Sayles / ©A.M.P.A.S.

Rami Malek poses backstage with the Oscar® for performance by an actor in a leading role with Gary Oldman (L) and Alison Janney during the live ABC Telecast of The 91st Oscars®. Credit: Matt Sayles / ©A.M.P.A.S.

“It’s sort of a blend of old and new recordings,” he said “and I think that we always wanted to keep the spirit of Queen, you know, in the film.  And it had to be the Queen that everybody knew with the same sort of sound everybody knew.  But it also had to work in the cinema in 2018, in Dolby Atmos.  So it was sort of a blend, a mixture of the two.  That’s what we aimed for.”

A similar mix of old and new was touted by Black Panther’s winning costume designer, Ruth Carter, when we asked not only about the African influences of her designs (many of which were later 3-D printed!), but the work of comics artist Jack Kirby — who created the character with Stan Lee — as an influence.

She agreed it “all started with Lee and Kirby, and their idea that the black community in the 60s needed a superhero.  And guess what?  The black community in 2019, ’18, needed a superhero as well.  So with that, we created a new Wakanda because it’s a forward nation.  It’s forward in technology.  So we couldn’t really use the old tech from the other comics.  We had to create new tech.  And with that, the door ‑‑ the ideas were open to us too ‑‑ to be creative.”

Hannah Beachler and Jay Hart backstage with their Oscars® for achievement in production design during the live ABC Telecast of The 91st Oscars® at the Dolby® Theatre in Hollywood, CA on Sunday, February 24, 2019. Credit: Matt Petit / ©A.M.P.A.S

Hannah Beachler and Jay Hart backstage with their Oscars® for achievement in production design during the live ABC Telecast of The 91st Oscars®. Credit: Matt Petit / ©A.M.P.A.S

Production designer Hannah Beachler won for a similar grafting of sensibilities on the same film, but when asked about influences, after touching on collaborations with Carter, DP Rachel Morrison, and her set decorator,  Jay Hart, and talking about specific parts of Africa that influenced the look, said she was “totally in another world right now — just totally freaking out right now, right?,” without addressing comics.

But hey, it was Oscar night, she’d just won one, and not every question gets answered. Especially if you wanted to ask one of winning cinematographer Alfonso Cuaron, who won for shooting his own best-directed Roma, one of the night’s other big winners.

Alfonso Cuarón of Mexico poses backstage with Angela Bassett with the Oscar® for best foreign language during the live ABC Telecast of The 91st Oscars®. Credit: Matt Petit / ©A.M.P.A.S.

Alfonso Cuarón of Mexico poses backstage with Angela Bassett with the Oscar® for best foreign language during the live ABC Telecast of The 91st Oscars®. Credit: Matt Petit / ©A.M.P.A.S.

Sometimes the Academy will “hold” a person for backstage Q&A, if they’re busy winning other awards (or if they’re an actor), and such was the case with Cuaron. Thus, when he finally came back after winning in the directing and foreign language categories, there was no one to ask him about cinematography. Oh, we and a colleague tried, but by then, the range of hands in the air diminished the odds of any one person getting called on.

And no one else talked about it.

So we’ll never know his Oscar-night musings on how his collaboration with himself compares to his collaborations with Chivo Lubezki. When he was asked about the film’s portrayal of different cultures within Mexico, he said “it’s a conversation that should have happened, I’m not saying years or decades, probably centuries ago.  And it’s a good thing that it is happening, but it’s very, very late in the game.”

Spike Lee poses backstage with the Oscar® for adapted screenplay during the live ABC Telecast of The 91st Oscars® Credit: Mike Baker / ©A.M.P.A.S.

Spike Lee poses backstage with the Oscar® for adapted screenplay during the live ABC Telecast of The 91st Oscars® Credit: Mike Baker / ©A.M.P.A.S.

A game that Spike Lee, winning his first Oscar for adapting the BlackkKlansman script with his other writers, thinks might be a wee bit stacked against him, at least on the Best Picture side: “I’m snake bit. I mean, every time somebody is driving somebody, I lose.”

In the VFX category, Paul Lambert — back after his win for last year’s Blade Runner sequel — said First Man director Damien Chazelle “wasn’t really interested in trying to recreate any new camera moves.”

Indeed, co-winner Ian Hunter, part of that same FX team, said neither he nor the director wanted to put a camera “someplace you couldn’t actually do it if you were not in outer space,” to enhance the documentary feel.

Paul Lambert poses backstage with the Oscar® for achievement in visual effects during the live ABC Telecast of The 91st Oscars® Credit: Matt Petit / ©A.M.P.A.S.

Paul Lambert poses backstage with the Oscar® for achievement in visual effects during the live ABC Telecast of The 91st Oscars® Credit: Matt Petit / ©A.M.P.A.S.

“So,” Lambert recounted, “we spent a lot of time in preproduction, trying to work out how exactly we would do this.  And we came up with the idea of the LED screen, the idea of using miniatures and special effects, and obviously using CG, because we weren’t going to the moon. It was like (Chazelle) wanted to update what people had seen from the 60s and 70s.”

Which First Man did. As for the Academy Awards, they still struggle to update what they’d been five, ten, or even thirty years ago — when Spike Lee saw his Do the Right Thing go unnominated as Best Picture, while Driving Miss Daisy won.

At least, Lee noted about this year’s awards, “they changed the seating arrangement.”

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