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Crafts Roundup: Assessing the Craft Nominations and the ‘Gravity’ Factor

Assessing the Craft Nominations

As anticipated, Alfonso Cuaron’s blockbuster “Gravity” dominated the Oscar nominations this morning with 10 (tied with “American Hustle”), of which seven were craft-related (VFX, cinematography, production design, editing, sound editing, sound mixing, and original score). Meanwhile, best picture frontrunners “12 Years a Slave” and “American Hustle” each scored three craft noms.

The uniqueness of “Gravity” in pushing the boundaries of virtual production was that it was essentially made as an animated movie by Cuaron, his department heads, and London-based Framestore. This was the best way to achieve the weightlessness. In fact, everything in space was fully prevised, pre-lit and animated except for the faces of Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. And the team was assisted by a new twist on some old techniques with the Light Box, robotic cameras, and wire rigs.

Thus, taken as a whole, the “Gravity” craft noms represent the making of a complex digital jigsaw puzzle, which was reverse-engineered and pieced together over a four-year period. It involved production design (Andy Nicholson, production designer; Rosie Goodwin and Joanne Woollard, set decoration), cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki), VFX (Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, Dave Shirk and Neil Corbould), sound editing (Glenn Freemantle), sound mixing (Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead and Chris Munro), score (Steven Price), and editing (Cuaron and Mark Sanger). And it’s likely that “Gravity” will sweep them all.

Here’s the total crafts breakdown:

In VFX, “Gravity” is joined by “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” (Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton and Eric Reynolds), “Iron Man 3” (Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Erik Nash and Dan Sudick), “The Lone Ranger” (Tim Alexander, Gary Brozenich, Edson Williams and John Frazier), and “Star Trek Into Darkness” (Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Ben Grossmann and Burt Dalton). The big surprise here is that “Pacific Rim” from Cuaron’s buddy, Guillermo del Toro, didn’t make the cut, despite great work by ILM. However, ILM is represented by both “The Lone Ranger” (terrific train mayhem) and the “Star Trek” sequel directed by J.J. Abrams, matching real and virtual action and futuristic environs for San Francisco and London. “Iron Man 3” (a joint collaboration principally between Digital Domain, Weta Digital, and Trixter) offers a new hero suit created by eight different companies, and “Smaug” touts the best CG dragon ever (voiced deliciously by Benedict Cumberbatch) along with a bear, spiders, and a barrel flume thrill ride.

Production design is additionally shared by “American Hustle” (Production Design: Judy Becker; Set Decoration: Heather Loeffler), “The Great Gatsby” (Production Design: Catherine Martin; Set Decoration: Beverley Dunn), “Her” (Production Design: K.K. Barrett; Set Decoration: Gene Serdena), and “12 Years a Slave” (Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Alice Baker) No surprises here — it’s all fascinating period or retro-looking work, ranging from the ’70s disco of the David O. Russell comedic con game to the ’20 Flapper look of Baz Luhrmann’s hyper-real take on Fitzgerald to the warm, red glow of Spike Jonze’s enchanting love story to the Goya-esque horror and beauty of Steve McQueen’s slavery drama.

Cinematography also goes to “The Grandmaster” (Philippe Le Sourd), “Inside Llewyn Davis (Bruno Delbonnel), Nebraska” (Phedon Papamichael), and “Prisoners (Roger A. Deakins). The only minor surprise here is the omission of “12 Years a Slave.” Interestingly, though, there’s a split between three shot digitally (“Gravity,” “Nebraska,” and “Prisoners”) and two on film (“The Grandmaster” and “Inside Llewyn Davis”). But it’s all about turmoil: Le Sourd’s improvisational venture with Wong Kar-wai is a clash of physical and philosophical ideals about martial arts; the Coen brothers’ folk odyssey is a cold and slushy evocation of failure; Alexander Payne’s father-son trek is a black-and-white gray zone; and “Prisoners” (Deakins’ 11th nom) is a bleak look at faith taken to horrible extremes.

With costume design, there’s the diverse period mixing of  “American Hustle” (Michael Wilkinson), “The Grandmaster” (William Chang Suk Ping), “The Great Gatsby” (Catherine Martin), “The Invisible Woman” (Michael O’Connor), and “12 Years a Slave (Patricia Norris). There’s an expression of inner turmoil in all five, but Wilkinson’s work in “American Hustle” takes on greater complexity given the bizarre role playing and volatile power play between lovers Christian Bale and Amy Adams.

For editing, “Gravity” is joined by “American Hustle” (Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers and Alan Baumgarten), “Captain Phillips” (Christopher Rouse), “Dallas Buyers Club” (John Mac McMurphy and Martin Pensa), and “12 Years a Slave” (Joe Walker). Survival, reinvention, and rebirth are the common themes expressed here through a range of compelling rhythms and tones.
Likewise, survival, reinvention, and rebirth are also underscored in the sound editing and sound mixing nominees. The display of creativity and emotional impact is remarkable.
For sound editing, “Gravity” has competition from  “All Is Lost” (Steve Boeddeker and Richard Hymns), “Captain Phillips” (Oliver Tarney), “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” (Brent Burge), and “Lone Survivor” (Wylie Stateman). The latter two are a bit of a surprise. For sound mixing, “Gravity” stands alongside “Captain Phillips” (Chris Burdon, Mark Taylor, Mike Prestwood Smith and Chris Munro), “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” (Christopher Boyes, Michael Hedges, Michael Semanick and Tony Johnson), “Inside Llewyn Davis (Skip Lievsay, Greg Orloff and Peter F. Kurland), and “Lone Survivor” (Andy Koyama, Beau Borders, and David Brownlow).

Makeup and hairstyling are represented by frailty and old age: the surprising “Dallas Buyers Club” (Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews), perceived frontrunner “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa” (Stephen Prouty), and “The Lone Ranger” (Joel Harlow and Gloria Pasqua-Casny).

For original score, “Gravity” is joined by “The Book Thief,” a lyrical work by five-time winner John Williams, who scored his 49th nom, breaking the record of the late Alfred Newman); “Her” (William Butler and Owen Pallett of Arcade Fire) offers a nice mash-up of Haitian and Jamaican influences; “Philomena” (Alexandre Desplat), marked by a lovely carnival waltz, and “Saving Mr. Banks” (Thomas Newman, son of Alfred), a wonderfully solemn and jaunty score with a nod to ’60s cool jazz.

And, finally, competing for original song are “Alone Yet Not Alone” from “Alone Yet Not Alone” (Music by Bruce Broughton; Lyric by Dennis Spiegel), “Happy” from “Despicable Me 2” (Music and Lyric by Pharrell Williams), “Let It Go” from “Frozen” (Music and Lyric by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez), “The Moon Song” from “Her” (Music by Karen O; Lyric by Karen O and Spike Jonze), and “Ordinary Love” from “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” (Music by Paul Hewson, Dave Evans, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen; Lyric by Paul Hewson). 

This is truly a study in musical contrast: the powerful, showstopping “Let It Go,” (the clear frontrunner), the sense of loss and uplift in “Ordinary Love,” the intimate lullaby of “The Moon Song,” the irresistible fun of “Happy,” and the ode to survival and faith in the obscure “Alone Yet Not Alone.”

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