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The Oscars: Below-the-Line Kudos Bourne Again

March 8, 2008 | By

The 80th Academy Awards, placed in jeopardy for months by the writers’ strike, went off on schedule at the Kodak Theater on February 24, with scribe-assisted Jon Stewart as the capable but unscintillating emcee.

In the craft categories, The Bourne Ultimatum was the big winner, hauling down three Oscars—second only to No Country For Old Men with four, including the best picture top prize.

Christopher Rouse won the Oscar for best film editing for his rapid-fire cutting on Bourne. He was previously nominated for United 93. The team of Scott Millan, David Parker and Kirk Francis won for best sound mixing on the spy-action drama, and Karen Baker Landers and Per Hallberg got the Oscar for best sound editing. The remainder of the below-the-line Oscars were scattered around, with a number of films receiving a single Oscar.

Director of photography Robert Elswit, ASC, received his first Academy Award for his masterful cinematography on There Will Be Blood, about a driven oil tycoon. Elswit had previously been nominated for Good Night, and Good Luck. Elswit humbly credited much of his achievement to the film’s production designer, Jack Fisk.

Dante Ferretti won his second Oscar for best achievement in art direction for his atmospheric, desaturated sets for Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, shared with set decorator Francesca Lo Schiavo. In 2005, the husband-wife team were honored for art direction for The Aviator. Both effusively praised the film’s director, Tim Burton. “Really, working with him, it was an award,” Lo Schiavo later told the press.

Alexandra Byrne, nominated for the fourth time, won her first Oscar for best achievement in costume design for the dazzling wardrobe she created for Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth: The Golden Age.

Didier Lavergne and Jan Archibald were honored with the Academy Award for best achievement in makeup for La Vie en Rose, transforming Marianne Cotillard in the role of Edith Piaf from youth to old age.

The Oscar for best visual effects went to Michael Fink, Bill Westenhofer, Ben Morris and Trevor Wood for The Golden Compass, with its sophisticated use of motion capture technology.

Composer Dario Marianelli won the Academy Award for his typewriter-punctuated score for Atonement. He had previously been nominated for composing the music for Pride and Prejudice.

The Gordon E. Sawyer Oscar for scientific and technical achievement was awarded to David A. Grafton for a career of contributions to the motion picture industry.

In one of the highlights of the evening, production designer Robert Boyle, 98, known for his many films with Alfred Hitchcok, received a Lifetime Achievement Oscar in recognition of “one of the cinema’s great careers in art direction.” This is one of the very few times that such an honor has been bestowed by the Academy for below-the-line achievement. Boyle, who started his career at Paramount in the 1930s, lamented the disappearance of a team spirit: “People seemed to be working together more in those days. They’re more separate today, and that’s what I regret.”

A disturbing footnote: As a television event, this year’s Academy Awards was a flop, scoring the lowest ratings in its history. One dubious suggestion that’s been put forth as a cure is to speed up the proceedings by eliminating the craft Oscars from the live event.

Here is what Los Angeles Times entertainment columnist Patrick Goldstein wrote: “Although I’m sure it will cause a firestorm inside the academy, the technical awards … have to go. No one outside of the academy wants to hear acceptance speeches from people they’ve never heard of no matter how heartfelt. The Oscars may have once been a celebration of craft, but the world has changed. Today’s audience wants a horse race. The show is just bad TV.”

So turn the Oscars into American Idol.

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