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HomeAwardsOscar Analysis: Is the Academy’s Split Decision Already in the Tea Leaves?

Oscar Analysis: Is the Academy’s Split Decision Already in the Tea Leaves?

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Actor Chris Hemsworth (left) and Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs announced the nominees for the 86th Annual Academy Awards this morning. (Photo by Todd Wawrychuk / ©A.M.P.A.S.)
Actor Chris Hemsworth (left) and Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs announced the nominees for the 86th Annual Academy Awards this morning. (Photo by Todd Wawrychuk / ©A.M.P.A.S.)

Often, come Awards night, the Academy doles out multiple statues to a general “above-the-line” favorite, while another “below-the-line” leader gathers its own momentum. And while no one knows for sure what surprises “the envelope please” will bring this year, it’s possible that two centers of “Gravity,” are shaping up already.

One would be Gravity itself, director Alfonso Cuarón’s riveting lost-in-space opus, which was nominated for a pack-leading 10 statues, not only for best picture and direction (along with Sandra Bullock’s acting), but in a run of below-the-line categories, including visual effects, where it remains the heavy favorite, and editing, score, production design and both sound categories.

One of Gravity’s VFX nominees, Neil Corbould (the special effects supervisor), said he was, fittingly “over the moon” with the nomination, adding “We are up against some tough competition this year, but I am keeping my fingers crossed. Gravity was one of those once-in-a-lifetime movies,” adding that his fellow nominees on the pic, above and below the line, did “amazing work!”

VFX supervisor Roger Guyett was nominated for his work on Star Trek Into Darkness
VFX supervisor Roger Guyett was nominated for his work on Star Trek Into Darkness
It was an enthusiasm shared by Roger Guyett, visual effects supervisor for Star Trek Into Darkness. “We had so much fun on Star Trek but it was a huge amount of work and this is a great reward,” said Guyett. “I just wish the other hundreds of other people in the crew got nominated too. Director JJ Abrams, who really understands VFX, makes the process so much more rewarding. This is a great honor. It’s a huge year for VFX!”

Meanwhile, back on Earth, American Hustle tied its 10 nominations, with director David O. Russell and some of his favorite actors repeating their trick from last year (with Silver Linings Playbook)  in garnering nominations in all major above-the-line categories – all the acting categories, along with best picture, writing and directing.

Production designer Judy Becker was nominated for her work on American Hustle.
Production designer Judy Becker was nominated for her work on American Hustle.
And while the film may well pick up an acting award or two, as Linings did, (and let’s not forget Judy Becker and Heather Loeffler’s nomination for American Hustle’s swingin’ retro ’70s look in the production design category), the real counterpoint to Gravity is probably 12 Years a Slave, coming off a Golden Globes win, and rounding up nine nominations from Oscar.

12 Years a Slave comes close to replicating Hustle’s performance sweep, with nominations in three out of four acting categories, and pic, directing and writing nods too. Indeed, the only difference is that there was no lead actress in the film, though Lupita Nyong’o is a strong contender for supporting actress. In below-the-line categories, 12 Years a Slave was nominated in the costume, production design and editing categories.

Nebraska
Nebraska
Another one to keep an eye on is Nebraska, another best picture nominee, but also, with Phedon Papamichael’s black-and-white photography, a contender in the cinematography category as well.

That proved to be an interesting category on its own, as the ASC Awards had an unprecedented tie in its own nominations in the theatrical feature category. Along with the five Oscar nominated films – The Grandmaster, Gravity, Inside Llewyn Davis, Prisoners and Nebraska, the two left out by the Academy, while still in the mix at ASC, were Sean Bobbitt’s work on 12 Years a Slave, and Barry Ackroyd’s for Captain Phillips.

Cinematography aside, the Coen Bros.Davis proved to be one of the surprise shutouts this year. Pushed heavily by its studio, it was only nominated in two categories, the other being sound mixing.

12 Years A Slave
12 Years A Slave
Oscar’s score and song categories add more footnotes and asterisks to some background we mentioned last year: John Williams remains the most-nominated living person, with his score for The Book Thief being his 49th nod. Thomas Newman’s nomination in the same category for Saving Mr. Banks (also surprisingly shut out in the acting categories) is his 12th, and brings the Newman clan – Alfred, Lionel, Randy, et al – to a current total of 88.

In the animation category, Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki now has his third nomination – the most since that category’s creation in 2001 – for his announced swan song, The Wind Rises. It’s a particularly strong category this year, with Frozen and Despicable Me 2 among the other contenders.

In another interesting below-the-line angle, Catherine Martin becomes the second person to be nominated in both the production and costume design categories for the same film more than once. In her previous work with director Baz Luhrmann, she was nominated for Moulin Rouge in both categories and this year does it for The Great Gatsby. (The only other person to pull off this ⅔ of a hat trick was Fellini collaborator Piero Gherardi, back in the ’60s, showing that it pays to keep working with the same director).

Jared Leto, was nominated for supporting actor for his role in Dallas Buyers Club
Jared Leto, was nominated for supporting actor for his role in Dallas Buyers Club
Another film that did surprisingly well in nominations was Dallas Buyers Club, rounding out a very good year for Matthew McConaughey in the acting department, along with best pic and screenplay nominations. McConaughey’s fellow peformer, Jared Leto, was nominated for supporting actor for the same film, and fairly gushed at the honor:

“I am absolutely blown away by this incredible nomination. I never in my life thought I would have the opportunity to even write these words… Today you not only honor me but also all those around the world living with AIDS and all those we have lost to this disease. Thank you for recognizing them and recognizing their struggle. This was a fascinating story told by a group of incredibly passionate and committed filmmakers.” Among those he thanked by name were Martin Pensa, nominated for editing the picture (along with John Mac McMurphy) and Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews, in the makeup and hairstyling category.

Richard Hymns shares the sound editing nomination with Steve Boeddeker for All Is Lost.
Richard Hymns shares the sound editing nomination with Steve Boeddeker for All Is Lost.
The film was one of only three nominees there, the others being Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, and the surprising Lone Ranger, Disney’s imploded box office offering that managed to get a visual effects nomination as well.

Tim Alexander, ILM‘s VFX supervisor on Lone Ranger, said he’d been “nervous and hoping, but not expecting anything,” after the film’s nod at VES, but said he was “happy and honored that the branch members were looking at the film for its visual effects,” as opposed to, say, its box office receipts, which have more suasion in above-the-line categories.

The visual effects nomination is one of two for the surprisingly resurgent Ranger, along with one for makeup and hairstyling. Another film that surprised – perhaps for opposite reasons – was All Is Lost, the Robert Redford-starrer that only garnered one nomination, in the sound editing department. Richard Hymns shares that nomination with Steve Boeddeker, and told us “we are ecstatic about the nomination! For such a small independent film to be recognized for its great sound is a rare thing indeed. Fantastic!”

As for Leto, though, you’ve got to like someone who starts thanking his below-the-line collaborators long before he ever arrives at the Dolby Theater on the anointed night.

The very night that the storylines begun today – above- and below-the-line alike – will reach their conclusion.

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