Best Picture favorite “La La Land” dominated the Oscar craft categories with nine nominations — Cinematography, Production and Costume Design, Editing, Original Score and two Songs, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing. “La La Land” exceeded even “Mad Max: Fury Road’s” eight nods last year.
Crafts Went Inclusive
But the bigger story was the diversity breakthroughs in Cinematography, Editing, and Sound Editing.
Bradford Young (“Arrival”) became the first African-American cinematographer nominee for his poetic imagery in “Arrival,” after being snubbed for “Selma.” In “Arrival” he envelops Amy Adams in a strange, ethereal atmosphere inside the alien ship with the heptapods, helping to convey the importance of unifying a divided world. By contrast, her time-bending moments with her daughter are shot like naturalistic portraitures.
Aside from Young’s historical nomination, “Arrival” garnered four additional honors (Production Design, Editing, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing). In terms of design alone, the work imaginatively encompassed the oval alien ship’s organic look, the seven-limbed oval heptapods, and their circular logogram language, which spews forth like florid ink blots, expressing the beginning and end of thoughts all at once.
Joi McMillon became the first African-American female editor honored for her sensitive work in “Moonlight” (shared with Nat Sanders). “Moonlight” marked her feature debut, reuniting with director Barry Jenkins and Sanders (who attended Florida State’s film school together). The introspective coming-of-age portrait of Chiron, a gay African-American growing up in Miami’s tough Liberty Square, has a wonderful circular structure.
While Sanders edited the first two “Moonlight” chapters, McMillon tackled the third: the climactic reunion between Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) and Kevin (Andre Holland) in a diner fraught with tenderness and tension.
Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou Morgan became the first female team to enter the Sound Editing category with “La La Land,” and Lee is also the first Asian. Damien Chazelle’s love letter to Hollywood and musicals allowed them to tackle the boisterous opening “Another Day of Sun” on the downtown freeway interchange with 100 dancers as well as the joyous John Legend club performance and Oscar-nominated “City of Stars” and “Audition (The Fools Who Dream”) numbers.
Photo by David Bornfriend, courtesy of A24
“Passengers,” Morten Tyldum’s disappointing Jennifer Lawrence/Chris Pratt sci-fi love story, was honored for Guy Hendrix Dyas’s elegant production design of the luxurious Avalon space ship along with the tender, otherworldly score by Thomas Newman (his 14th nom), which mainly utilizes piano and electronic instrumentation.
Mel Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge” earned three craft noms (Editing, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing) for its Okinawa battle sequences, one-upping both “Braveheart” and “Saving Private Ryan” in graphic intensity.
Peter Berg’s “Deepwater Horizon” earned two noms (Visual Effects and Sound Editing). Indeed, the visceral CGI explosions were underscored by the powerful soundscape in recreating the real-life oil rig disaster. Industrial Light & Magic took its digital fire — the real star of the movie with 30 minutes of screen time — to a new level of believability as a dirty, toxic, and uncontrollable force.
Jon Favreau’s “The Jungle Book” only garnered a single nomination, but it’s the overwhelming favorite in that category, thanks to Oscar-winning supervisor Rob Legato’s innovative work. The fully-rendered CGI of very difficult animal characters and jungle environments is pulled off with a convincing reality that we’ve never witnessed before.
“Kubo and the Two Strings,” Laika’s stop-motion masterpiece, marks the first time there’s been an animated VFX entry since Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” Every shot involved VFX integration of small puppets and sets along with environment extension and CG enhancement for Travis Knight’s Japanese fantasy-adventure.
The work entailed greater inter-department collaboration, yet it still had to seem hand-crafted, from the Moon Beast (the first all-3D-printed puppet) to the orange Skeleton (the largest puppet in stop-mo history) to the hybrid water that mixed CG with paper elements inspired by woodblock artist Kiyoshi Saito.