Though it lost Best Picture, “1917,” Sam Mendes’ single-shot, World War I extravaganza, was rewarded with the most crafts Oscars Sunday night. For its technical virtuosity it received three awards, powered by cinematographer Roger Deakins’ second win for his brilliant camera choreography.
Deakins was joined by the sound mixing team of Mark Taylor and Stuart Wilson for their intricate soundscape as part of the continuous-shot narrative, and, surprisingly, MPC Film (the dark horse winner) for VFX. Ironically, though, MPC’s win overshadowed its own innovative virtual production and photoreal animation on Jon Favreau’s “The Lion King.” Yet this supporting visual effects work played an integral role in making stitches invisible and creating CG environments (including No Man’s Land and the burning village of Écoust).
Meanwhile, Pixar won its 10th animated feature Oscar for “Toy Story 4,” and “Hair Love,” the black father-daughter bonding work, took home the animated short Oscar. It was distributed by Sony Pictures Animation and animated by Six Point Harness. Significantly, Matthew A. Cherry, Everett Downing Jr., and Bruce W. Smith become the first black directors to win the category, and Karen Rupert Toliver (SPA’s executive vice president of creative) became the first black female producer to win the category as well.
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Period pieces dominated the craft winners, which included editors Michael McCusker and Andrew Buckland and sound editor Donald Sylvester for their bravura work on James Mangold’s “Ford v Ferrari” Le Mans racing biopic; production designer Barbara Ling’s multi-faceted, 50-year facelift of Tinseltown (with set decorator Nancy Haigh) on Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”; costume designer Jacqueline Durran’s Winslow Homer-inspired, gender-bending wardrobes on Greta Gerwig’s re-imagining of “Little Women”; Hildur Guðnadóttir’s off-kilter score, which inspired Joaquin Phoenix’s choreographed dance in Todd Phillips’ “Joker”; “Rocketman’s” Motown-infused original song, “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again,” from Elton John and Bernie Taupin.
The lone contemporary craft winner was “Bombshell’s” makeup and hairstyling team of prosthetics wiz Kazu Hiro, Anne Morgan (makeup), and Vivian Baker (hair) for their impressive transformation of John Lithgow as the late, disgraced Fox News head Roger Ailes, and Charlize Theron as former anchor Megyn Kelly.
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Also, it was a pretty good night for inclusion and diversity among the crafts and animation: In addition to “Hair Love’s” aforementioned breakthroughs in the animated shorts category, Icelandic composer/cellist Guðnadóttir (following her Emmy victory for “Chernobyl”) became the first woman to win for dramatic composition; production designer Ling earned her first Oscar for “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and set decorator Haigh won her second; costume designer Durran won her second Oscar for “Little Women”; the Japanese Hiro won his second Oscar for “Bombshell,” and Morgan and Baker both won their first Oscars for “Bombshell.”
The biggest crafts snub, though, was Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman,” shut out after receiving five nominations for Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography, Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing, Bob Shaw’s production design, Sandy Powell and Christopher Peterson’s costume design, and Industrial Light & Magic’s breakthrough de-aging of screen legends Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci.
But, in terms of crafts, the night belonged to “1917.” It was the must-see, theatrical event of the season, and its single-shot experiment packed a primal power. Deakins created a singular visual language for the movie, and it’s the crowning achievement of his illustrious career: naturalism and surrealism colliding during his camera dance with the two British soldiers, Schofield (George MacKay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman). We are with them every perilous step of the way, as they miraculously cut through the fog of war (one of the alternate titles was “No Man’s Land”). And, in the end, Mendes’ bold experiment worked as a tour de force, thanks to this special collaboration.