Obviously the biggest story this morning is the surprise snubbing of “The Lego Movie” from the animated feature category. It was not only the biggest animated hit of 2014 but also the fourth highest grosser with $257.7 million. It also garnered a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, making it the presumptive. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you.
But it wasn’t as if Phil Lord and Chris Miller made some mediocrity. “Lego,” if anything, was too experimental for its own good, a wild and wacky meta-movie. And Animal Logic’s animation was quite adventurous, creating a stop-motion vibe with the CG. You hate to see such success go unrewarded (although it did get nominated for its infectious original song, “Everything is Awesome,” by Shawn Patterson).
1. It just goes to show how competitive the race was for the committee to overlook “Lego”‘s considerable merits, instead going for Disney’s “Big Hero 6,” Laika’s “The Boxtrolls” (the real stop-motion deal), DreamWorks’ “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” as well as the two acclaimed hand-drawn indies, “Song of the Sea” and Studio Ghibli’s “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” (both from Gkids). All five are impressive, running the gamut of techniques with fine storytelling about various rites of passage. Now it’s a wide open race. But here’s a fun fact: no animated feature has won best picture without taking BAFTA, which bodes well for “Big Hero” or “Boxtrolls,” if the streak continues.
2. As for the craft races, it’s about time they all got announced during the live broadcast with the help of celebrated directors Alfonso Cuarón and J.J. Abrams. Not surprisingly, Wes Anderson‘s beloved best picture nominee, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” led the way with six noms (cinematography, production design, costume design, original score, makeup and hairstyling and editing).
“Budapest” is a visual and musical feast, as Anderson lovingly revisits Stefan Zweig and Max Ophuls in his absurd and touching black comedy. Where is there room for craft and grace in a war-torn world gone mad? Ironically — or tragically — it’s as relevant as ever. If only life could go on forever in this opulent dreamscape: a pink hotel with a dollop of yellow butter cream and the sugary Mendel’s bakery. We’ll have to wait and see how Anderson’s collaborators fare: DP Robert Yeoman, production designer Adam Stockhausen, costume designer Milena Canonero, composer Alexandre Desplat (competing against himself with his “The Imitation Game” score), makeup and hairstylists Frances Hannon and Mark Coulier and editor Barney Pilling).
Yet there’s plenty of below-the-line competition:
3. For VFX, frontrunners “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” (Weta Digital) and “Interstellar” (Double Negative) will battle a trio of Marvel-adapted superhero movies: “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (ILM), Scanline VFX), “Guardians of the Galaxy” (MPC and Framestore) and “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (Digital Domain, Rhythm & Hues, Rising Sun). All five contenders are current reminders of how tech has freed the artists to concentrate on creating captivating performances and environments.
4. For cinematography, Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki (“Birdman“) seeks his second consecutive win with innovative lighting that gives the illusion of the “continuous take” for Michael Keaton’s surreal journey. Then again, 12-time nominee Roger Deakins delivers sumptuous work for his dance of light and dark in “Unbroken,” Dick Pope offers his career-defining best for “Mr. Turner” and the black-and-white wonder of “Ida“‘s Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski is a very welcome entry.
5. For production design, it’s all fascinating period work, from Maria Djurkovic’s subversive approach to “The Imitation Game” to Nathan Crowley’s celestial warmth of “Interstellar” to Dennis Gassner’s majestic woods for “Into the Woods” to Suzie Davies’s painterly “Mr. Turner.”
6. For costume design, Mark Bridges hits the trippy cusp of the ’60s and ’70s in “Inherent Vice,” Colleen Atwood conjures an off-beat fairy tale look for “Into the Woods,” Anna B. Sheppard and Jane Clive turn “Maleficent” on its head with nobility and grace and Jacqueline Durran transforms “Mr. Turner” into a renaissance man.
7. For editing, Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach create tension between the war front and home front in “American Sniper,” Sandra Adair delivers a unique 12-year, real-time journey in the front-running “Boyhood,” William Goldenberg deftly goes inside out and flashes back and forth in “The Imitation Game” and Tom Cross creates a violent percussive rhythm for “Whiplash.”
8. For makeup and hairstyling, Bill Corso and Dennis Liddiard transform Steve Carell into a strange and tragic figure in “Foxcatcher,” and Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou and David White give us a fresh yet familiar rogues gallery of aliens for “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
9. For original score, Desplat captures a lyrical poetry for “Budapest” and a mathematical precision for “The Imitation Game,” while Hans Zimmer creates a new language for the pipe organ in “Interstellar,” Gary Yershon complements “Mr. Turner” with a melodic and mournful score and Jóhann Jóhannsson finds his own musical “big bang” for “The Theory of Everything.”
10. For sound editing and mixing, we are immersed in the worlds of war, outer space as a roller coaster ride and dangerous rites of passage for “American Sniper,” “Birdman,” “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies,” “Interstellar,” “Unbroken” and “Whiplash.”