Fun fact: The last time a Best Picture Oscar winner also scored a craft victory was Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water,” which took home awards for Paul Austerberry’s production design and Alexandre Desplat’s score in 2018. Which means that Best Picture winners “Coda” (no craft nominations) “Nomadland” (cinematography, editing), “Parasite” (production design, editing), and “Green Book” (editing) all left empty-handed as far as craft wins.
But look for the five-year craft drought to end if frontrunner “Everything Everywhere All at Once” wins Best Picture. As part of its Oscar-leading 11 nominations, it captured craft nods for costume design, editing, score, and song. It certainly has momentum on its side as the populist favorite. In addition to Best Picture, it’s a serious above-the-line contender for Best Director (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheiner, aka the Daniels), Best Original Screenplay (the Daniels), Best Actress (Michelle Yeoh), Best Supporting Actress (Jamie Lee Curtis and Stephanie Hsu), and Best Supporting Actor (Ke Huy Quan).
The maximalist sci-fi/action-adventure became A24’s first $100 million blockbuster and was enthusiastically embraced by audiences and Academy members alike (despite some voters finding it too confusing). It was “an instant classic,” as IndieWire’s David Ehrlich declared in his review. Thanks to its epic “‘verse jumping,” it captured the feeling of being overwhelmed by life better than any other film last year — armed with nihilism to help restore kindness to this Chinese family beset by generational trauma.
Yet the wildly imaginative crafts were integral to the visual and sonic success of the multiverse action and slapstick. Who will ever forget hot dog hands, butt plugs, and “Raccoonouille”? If anything, the Academy short-changed the film by overlooking cinematography, production design, makeup and hairstyling, sound, and VFX. But then that would’ve been quite a stretch, considering that the work displayed here by these first-time indie nominees (costume designer Shirley Kurata, editor Paul Rogers, and composers Son Lux) is quite offbeat compared to the more polished and expensive work that typically get Oscar recognition. That’s a testament to the Daniels’ hand-made, DIY approach that took root in their early shorts and music videos before gaining prominence with their breakout indie feature, “Swiss Army Man.”
The film’s best chance at a craft Oscar is editing, which would break another drought because it’s been 10 years since a film (“Argo”) last took both Best Picture and Best Editing honors. Amidst the flurry of the Daniels’ ideas, Rogers found cohesion in the chaos by staying focused on the big picture. This meant constantly tracking the emotional connection between mother and daughter combatants Yeoh and Hsu. Rogers and the Daniels carefully layered the bombastic editing choices onto Yeoh’s arc about overcoming failure, and martial arts styles and rhythms distinguished the extended fights. However, Rogers borrowed a collaborative process from his Parallax Post editorial company called “swarm editing” to independently tackle tricky scenes and then review the results as a group with the directors.
Competition: It’s a very competitive category with Eddie Hamilton of the high-octane “Top Gun: Maverick,” “Sound of Metal” Oscar winner Mikkel E. G. Nielsen for the black comedy “The Banshees of Inisherin,” Matt Villa and Jonathan Redmond for the delirious musical biopic “Elvis,” and Monika Willi for the psychological drama “TÁR.”
Prediction: Although “Top Gun” is the favorite for Hamilton’s virtuosity — assembling and cutting more than 813 hours of amazing aerial footage that put the audience inside the Navy jet cockpits with Tom Cruise’s Maverick — Rogers could win for the combination of complexity and emotional resonance.
Costume designer Shirley Kurata offered a plethora of colorful, exotic, and thrifty wardrobes, especially for Yeoh and Hsu. It was all about breaking free from destiny and reconciling their differences, and Kurata’s costumes contributed to their characters’ arcs. Among the highlights: Yeoh’s Chinatown-inspired “tax universe” look with vest and googly eye and her glam champagne ball gown, and Hsu’s white jumpsuit, Elvis costume and K-Pop Star look with neon floral teddy bear-sleeved cardigan.
Competition: Kurata goes up against two-time Oscar winner Catherine Martin (“The Great Gatsby,” “Moulin Rouge!”) for “Elvis,” “Black Panther” Oscar winner Ruth Carter for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” four-time nominee Mary Zophres for “Babylon,” and last year’s “Cruella” winner Jenny Beavan for “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris.”
Prediction: Martin is the heavy favorite for “Elvis,” creatively breaking down the flamboyant wardrobes into ’50s teenage rebellion, ’60s Hollywood icon, and ’70s Vegas glam comeback, yet Kurata has a broader breadth of original wardrobes to work, which subvert Chinese stereotypes.
Son Lux, the L.A. rock band (comprised of Ryan Lott, Rafiq Bhatia, and Ian Chang), could win the category for their experimental, wall-to-wall score. They would join an elite group of trio composers (from “Soul,” “The Last Emperor,” and “Limelight”). Their music ranged from synthetic beats to Chinese opera. The trick was not getting swallowed up by the multiverse, so they chose certain melodies for specific relationships, creating the effect of flipping between TV channels. They also alternated styles, rhythms, and beats for the fights (which included playing with Chinese drums, tuned gongs, and shattered upright bass).
Competition: Son Lux must fight off the legendary John Williams (“The Fabelmans”) — who broke another record with his 53rd nomination and seeks his sixth win — Volker Bertelmann (“All Quiet on the Western Front”), “La La Land” multiple Oscar winner Justin Hurwitz (“Babylon”), and three-time nominee Carter Burwell (“The Banshees of Inisherin”).
Prediction: Bertelmann has a lot of momentum for the World War I action-adventure, which received six craft nominations (tying it with “Elvis”). The 90-year-old Williams is the sentimental favorite, despite renouncing his plan to retire. While Son Lux seems like a long shot on paper, the fact that they even got nominated by a very conservative music branch proves how vital their contribution was to “EEAAO.” Given the immense appeal of the film to the Academy at large, this could very well spill over into a surprise win.
Lott also took the lead on Best Original Song nominee “This Is a Life,” collaborating with guest vocalists Mitski and David Byrne, who contributed music and lyrics, respectively. For Lott, the song summed up the discovery of life being bigger than you could imagine. He envisioned it in two parts sung by two distinct voices. He composed the first draft of the song on piano, including the lyrics and melody, for Mitski to sing. Byrne followed up with the “countersong,” weaving a distinct melody and lyrics through Mitski’s lines to create a symbiotic pair. Finally, Bhatia and Chang, along with longtime collaborator Rob Moose, joined in to realize the final arrangement of the piece together.
Competition: This is even a bigger long shot for Son Lux, who face fierce competition from “Naatu Naatu” (Kaala Bhairava, M.M. Keeravani, and Rahul Sipligunj) from the Bollywood phenomenon “RRR,” Rihanna’s first nomination, “Lift Me Up,” from “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” Lady Gaga’s “Hold My Hand” from “Top Gun: Maverick,” and 14-time nominee and Governor Award Oscar winner Diane Warren for “Applause” from “Tell It Like a Woman.”
Prediction: “Naatu Naatu” appears unbeatable, especially since it’s the only Oscar nomination for the wildly popular “RRR.” Apart from that, Rihanna’s comeback story has appeal in connection with this poignant tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman. But, again, Son Lux is riding a wave of momentum — though a win for song would be a shocker.
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