By Jack EganThere was something different about the Oscars this year.To the dismay of some reviewers, but to the delight of below-the-line aficionados, the first part of the show focused on awards for achievement behind the scenes in technical and craft categories, with actor awards held until the end.The event started off with a bang for Pan’s Labyrinth, which won the evening’s first two prizes (for best art direction and makeup). The Spanish-language film later also won for best cinematography, ending up with three Oscars—making it the night’s top below-the-line winner.In total trophies, only The Departed came in ahead of Labyrinth, winning Oscars for adapted screenplay, director and picture—as well as garnering a third career Oscar for editor Thelma Schoonmaker—all for films she has cut for Departed director Martin Scorsese, who finally got his first best director Oscar on his seventh nomination.It was also a third Academy Award for costume designer Milena Canonero, who won for her lavish 18th century outfits for Marie Antoinette.Composer Gustavo Santaolalla, born in Argentina, won his second Oscar in a row for his score for Babel, the only award of the evening for the globe-hopping film about the perils of unintended consequences. Last year Santaolalla won the Academy Award for his music for Brokeback Mountain. He joins an elite group of five film composers who have won back-to-back Oscars.The VFX wizards for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest—John Knoll, Hal Hickel, Charles Gibson and Allen Hall—won for best visual effects. The group took a break from putting the finishing touches on Pirates III, being filmed in Southern California, which is due out this summer.In the sound category, the Oscar for best sound editing went to Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman for their explosive Word War II sonics on Letters from Iwo Jima. The sound mixing award went to Michael Minkler, Bob Beemer and Willie Burton for their musical magic on Dreamgirls.The international flavor of much of this year’s proceedings started with the string of honors to the Mexican-born team behind the look of Labyrinth. The first award, for best art direction, went to production designer Eugenio Caballero and set decorator Pilar Revuelta. Cabellero said he was happy about the recognition for the film because “in this cruel world right now, it’s important to give a chance to fantasy, and in that fantasy find some hope. I think this movie is about hope.” The film’s makeup duo, David Marti and Montse Ribe, accepted their Oscars next. Then Guillermo Navarro, the film’s director of photography, won for best cinematography. “This award is a recognition for the collective effort to support the vision of the genius of Guillermo del Toro,” said Navarro, praising the film’s auteur-director.That was to be the last of the awards of the evening for Labyrinth. It had been heavily favored to win the Oscar for best foreign film, but in somewhat of a surprise, the Academy Award went to The Lives of Others from Germany, directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck [see this issue’s Director Series]. Navarro, arriving backstage just as the announcement occurred, was taken aback. “It was hard because the foreign-language film [award] really represents the work of all of us,” he told the assembled press.Santaolalla explained to the reporters that he relied on the sound of the oud, an ancient North African instrument, for the soundtrack of the portions of Babel set in Morocco, because it captured the flavor of the country. He similarly used the guitar in the Mexican scenes and the Koto for the Japanese scenes—connecting the film’s geographic strands. He paid tribute to Babel director Alejandro GonzÃƒÂ¡lez IÃƒÂ±ÃƒÂ¡rritu, for whom he’s composed scores for all the films in the trilogy of Amores perros, 21 Grams and culminating with Babel. “I have done three films with Alejandro and I feel blessed that I have the opportunity to keep on working with him.” Schoonmaker, who had previously won Oscars for Scorsese-directed films Raging Bull and The Aviator, said the challenge in editing The Departed was to “keep in mind that in spite of all the wonderful characters, humor, dialogue that we had, that it was still a thriller. So it was very hard, actually, and it took a long time to work out the right mix.”Costume designer Canonero, whose first Oscar was for Barry Lyndon, dedicated this year’s Academy Award to the film’s late fabled director. “Stanley Kubrick was a lesson not about costume, it was a lesson about filmmaking, and what we can give to each movie that is not academic or repetitive,” she said. Apropos of Marie Antoinette she noted that Kubrick told her, “you must never remember you’re doing a period movie; it should be believable.” As for the daunting task of creating the elaborate costumes for the storied French queen and her court at Versailles: “It was overwhelming most of the time because we were running against time and quantity and quality—and budget.” But director Sofia Coppola’s vision, she said, “was very poetic, and that’s what helped me go in a certain direction.”The only contretemps backstage came when the Dreamgirls Oscar-winning sound-mixing team was asked about Kevin O’Connell, who was nominated this year for his work on Apocalypto, his 19th nomination, with no Oscars to show for any of his noms. “Kevin should just maybe go away with 19 [noms] and just call it a record and that would be the end of it,” said Dreamgirls mixer Michael Minkler. Fellow mixers Bob Beemer and Willie Burton took a gentler approach [see sidebar].The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences held the 79th annual Academy Awards on February 25 at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood.
Written by Jack Egan