While Marvel’s “Black Panther” exceeded expectations by leading the Oscar crafts races with six nominations, a testament to the global impact of Ryan Coogler’s zeitgeist-changing, superhero phenomenon, Damien Chazelle’s “First Man” underperformed by receiving only four nods. This definitely changed the dynamics, resulting in several surprises and snubs.
Most shocking was the snubbing of team Chazelle’s Oscar-winning cinematographer Linus Sandgren, editor Tom Cross, and composer Justin Hurwitz. This came out of nowhere, since Sandgren and Cross were both nominated by their respective craft organizations, the ASC and ACE, and Hurwitz won the Golden Globe for his trippy score.
Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures
The best explanation, given the fact that “First Man” crucially came up empty for Best Picture, Best Director (Chazelle), Best Actor (Ryan Gosling), Best Actress (Claire Foy), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Josh Singer), was the chilly response to framing the Neil Armstrong biopic as a grieving father story.
This obviously impacted some of the craft judging as well. The cinematography branch didn’t respond to Sandgren’s cinéma vérité style shooting and surreal IMAX moonwalk, which led to Caleb Deschanel’s sixth nod for his exquisite work on German-language nominee, “Never Look Away.”
Similarly, the editing and music branches dismissed the complexities of Cross’s cutting and Hurwitz’s score. This arguably helped pave the way for editor John Ottman (“Bohemian Rhapsody”) and composer Ludwig Göransson (“Black Panther”), who had popularity and momentum on their side.
On the plus side, “First Man” earned well-deserved nominations for Nathan Crowley’s authentic production design, the efficient VFX of DNEG, and realistic sound editing and sound mixing of Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou Morgan.
By contrast, “Black Panther” scored in every category except for cinematography, editing, VFX, and makeup and hairstyling. This included Ruth Carter’s costume design, Hannah Beachler’s production design (a first for an African-American in that category), the Kendrick Lamar SZA song (“All the Stars”), and the sound editing and sound mixing of Ben Burtt, Steve Boeddeker and Brandon Proctor.
For Carter and Beachler, this was tied directly to the imaginative and opulent world building of Wakanda as a positive force of African culture and black identity. And the aesthetic of Afrofuturism contained within Wakanda was in keeping with Coogler’s vision of unity. His “Black Panther” elevated the MCU with a social consciousness that reverberated throughout the world.
Still, “Black Panther” suffered a major setback in its inability to secure a VFX nomination. Perceived by many as the frontrunner in the category as a result of its momentum, both the Academy and VES rejected its work presumably for having too much of a supporting role and lacking that special CG wow factor.
This gave rise to the surprising nomination of Disney’s “Christopher Robin,” with its impressive photoreal animation of Pooh and the other stuffed animals, and seamless integration with live-action environments shot with hand-held cameras in natural light.
Ironically, though, the VFX factor for “Black Panther” might’ve contributed to Rachel Morrison being passed over in the cinematography race (following her historic nomination last year for “Mudbound”). When it comes to VFX movies, there’s often confusion with the blurring of where cinematography ends and VFX begins, which didn’t help Morrison’s cause.
The VFX snubbing of “Black Panther,” however, had a positive effect on “Avengers: Infinity War” in its bid to earn the first VFX Oscar for Marvel Studios. The impressive performance capture animation of Thanos (driven by Josh Brolin and created by Digital Domain and Weta Digital) now becomes the frontrunner — in battle with “First Man” and its brilliant, though invisible, in-camera approach, fitting for the ’60s NASA vibe.