The Academy is voting! Nomination polls opened on December 17th and close on January 3rd. The two and a half week period might seem like a long time, but it’s going to go by in the blink of an eye, especially with Christmas and the New Year right in the middle. As voters pick through their piles of screeners and decide what to watch, I certainly hope that they dig deep enough to find some of the year’s best unheralded work. In fact, I’m going to suggest a few things.
At this point much of the “don’t miss this movie!” conversation has been around performances, a valid pursuit if there ever was one. However, there’s also plenty of under-discussed work in “below the line” categories. Here’s a wish list, five extremely unlikely but entirely deserving nominations that would make me a very happy blogger.
Best Foreign Language Film – Beyond the Hills
Before the nine-film shortlist was announced, I had my fingers crossed for Kauwboy. Yet the Dutch submission may have been too small for the Academy, and didn’t make the cut. And so, in its place, I’ll stump for Beyond the Hills. Oscar owes one to Cristian Mungiu, five years after they shocked everyone by ignoring his Palme d’Or winning masterwork, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. Moreover, his new film can absolutely stand on its own and would deserve recognition even if it were the Romanian auteur’s first. With breathtaking style and heartbreaking performances, Beyond the Hills might be the best film of the year in any language. (My NYFF review)
Best Costume Design – Magic Mike
Ok, so I know this is a silly choice. Yet the Oscars are always uncomfortable with male sexuality, and it gets on my nerves. That’s the biggest obstacle to Matthew McConaughey’s hope at a nomination, and it’s the reason Magic Mike stands no chance in other categories. The costumes in Steven Soderbergh’s stripper movie were hilarious, cleverly selected details in a film that never took itself too seriously. Designer Christopher Peterson had much less fabric to work with than, say, the team for A Royal Affair or Les Misérables, but whose individual choices do you remember more?
Best Original Score and Best Original Song – Where Do We Go Now?
Where Do We Go Now?, which won the Audience Award at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2011, is a Lebanese musical about resolving religious conflict. Part West Side Story, part “Lysistrata,” it’s a work of charismatic pacifism that marks a leap in ambition from rising filmmaker Nadine Labaki. Its charm comes from a naturally hilarious ensemble cast and original music by Khaled Mouzanar, including a handful of witty and catchy songs. One of those is eligible, a somewhat ridiculous ode to the usefulness of marijuana in non-violent conflict resolution. The soul of this film is its rhythm, and I’d be thrilled to see it nominated in both categories.
Best Cinematography – Ginger and Rosa or Wuthering Heights
Robbie Ryan is one of the best cinematographers working today. His collaborations with Andrea Arnold are bold, dramatic revelations that bring an elemental magic to the worlds they build. Wuthering Heights is unlike anything else that came out this year, a unique take on literary adaptation that used its brutal, rural images to turn a classic love story into a haunting. Yet I don’t expect the Academy to each out to Arnold’s difficult, minimalist screenplay. I would be impressed if many of them even watched the entire film.
However, Sally Potter’s Ginger and Rosa is more their speed and Ryan’s work in it is just as stunning. The early ‘60s appear windswept and gray, capturing the tumult of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the trauma of adolescence in the same fragile images. Never has flowing hair been shot with more purpose, flowing furiously as Ginger (Elle Fanning) tries to navigate the sense of impending disaster that troubles both her family and her world. As in Wuthering Heights, Ryan embraces the elements and helps build a visual fable that breezes right into the heart of an era.
Best Editing – How to Survive a Plague
Documentaries should be in the mix for Best Editing every single year, and it almost never happens. A project like How to Survive a Plague, compiled from countless hours of archive footage from a wide range of sources, depends on a great deal of structural technique and creativity. Crowded, hectic ACT UP demonstrations are presented with clarity and a sense of purpose. Editors Todd Woody Richman and Tyler H. Walk know exactly how to pace this film, a blend of boisterous, righteous anger and quiet, lingering grief.
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