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Oscar Analysis

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Following the three-year domination of The Lord of the Rings in Academy Award crafts consideration, there’s a greater sense of equilibrium and inclusiveness in the 2005 ballot. Still a quality of loftiness prevails whether it entails soaring to new heights in prototype aircraft, swinging from a web or chandelier or rigging a perpetual boy to fly from the wings.The Aviator received five craft nominations from the Academy while Finding Neverland was cited four times and such films as Spider-Man 2, Ray, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events and The Passion of the Christ wound up on the short list in three categories. There was also significant representation for international productions with A Very Long Engagement, The House of Flying Daggers and The Sea Inside receiving recognition.There’s not really a sense that any film will dominate in below-the-line categories, though The Aviator has the advantage of 11 overall mentions. Oscar voters tend not to have an emotional investment for craftspeople as they do for performers and most would probably assume incorrectly that production designer Dante Ferretti had received the vaunted statuette for one of his seven prior nominations. Regardless, his latest is a stellar, daunting achievement. The only prior winner in the art direction category is Rick Heinrichs, who’s up for his whimsical and brooding fantasy work on Lemony Snicket. The bias on this year’s slate lists toward Herculean achievements like the epic recreation of early 20th century Paris in Engagement or the out-sized spectacle of The Phantom of the Opera.Notably missing in art direction was House of Flying Daggers, which received its sole mention for cinematography. Zhao Xiaoding is the only first-timer in the category with both Robert Richardson, ASC from The Aviator and The Passion of the Christ’s Caleb Deschanel, ASC, both five-time nominees (Richardson won an Oscar for JFK). Phantom and Engagement complete the slate. Historically Academy voters favor broad, epic canvases, which might provide The Aviator with a slight edge.First-time nominee Sharen Davis was surprised to be on Oscar’s short list for Ray and it must have seemed daunting to be competing against two former winners and four other films with considerably bigger budgets and more obvious period challenges. From Troy’s pre-Christ time capsule to the indeterminate era of Lemony Snicket, the performers were elegantly attired. Though Alexand-ra Byrne received the nod for Finding Neverland she also completed Phantom last year. However, the likely trophy winner at this stage is Sandy Powell for The Aviator and her consummate embrace of Hollywood of the 1930s and ’40s.There’s an old Hollywood myth that the film cited for editing will usually win best picture, so anxious producers will be hoping to hear former category winners Thelma Schoonmaker (The Aviator) or Joel Cox (Million Dollar Baby) called to the stage. However, while both rose to the challenge, the more visceral work of Jim Miller and Paul Rubell in Collateral could flaunt the trend, or the toe-tapping rhythms Paul Hirsch brought to Ray would provide a popular winner. In that crowded field Matt Chesse will likely have to settle for the honor of just being nominated for Finding Neverland.The trio of nominees in sound editing—The Polar Express, Spider-Man 2 and The Incredibles—are also nominees in the sound mixing category. For the majority of Academy members the subtleties between the two categories are lost, but that doesn’t necessarily reflect in a single picture winning both. Still the great care taken in choosing nominees must be frustrating in the less than systematic fashion voters elect winners. These are two categories that would benefit from general membership seminars and a branch bake-off in sound mixing where the additional nominees are The Aviator and Ray. Films such as Ray are currently at an advantage by dint of a musical focus, just as cinematography is often enhanced by production design and vice versa.In the section of original music score, John Williams nabbed his latest nomination for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Williams has received more than 30 nominations over the past five decades and brought home the little man on five occasions. Azkaban is one of his best recent efforts with a variegated soundtrack and a brooding theme. Other nominees include Jan Kaczmarek’s subtle and fanciful mood setter for Neverland and the slightly Eastern motifs of John Debney’s work in The Passion. The field also includes sixth and seventh nominations for, respectively, Thomas Newman (Lemony Snicket) and James Newton Howard (The Village).Oscar will also have a mighty challenge selecting in visual effects between the third Harry Potter installment, I, Robot and Spider-Man 2. All were mammoth undertakings with no film emerging with an obvious advantage. However, in makeup Lemony Snicket would appear to be a likely winner with the Academy’s general membership more predisposed to its guises than the jarring efforts of The Passion or the more subdued manifestions to be found in The Sea Inside.

Written by Len Klady

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