The production term “below-the-line” always seems like a low blow to the folks who show up the earliest and leave the latest on any production, but it refers quite simply to the way budgets are divided. Still, we’re not into it. Cinematographers and costume designers and editors are the foundation of any production, not some second-page line item. This year will forever be the year of the outcry over The Academy trying to cut some of these awards from the broadcast. But they didn’t. They backed down. Because everyone who works in film knows how disrespectful that would have been. We’re happy they’re all still in the broadcast and we love nothing more than gushing all over their work. So let’s do that below with a side of Oscar predictions.
Anna Swanson: Cold War, shot by Łukasz Żal, is bursting with energy and agony in every frame to match the doomed romantic journey at the heart of Paweł Pawlikowski’s film. The beauty of this film radiates through the cinematography. Watch for how Żal’s camera always finds Joanna Kulig’s Zula in a crowd as the light catches her perfectly. Watch for the way we follow Zula through a bar as she dances and dazzles thanks to the swift movement of the camera. Watch for the stunning use of light and shadow that makes this black and white film come alive. Cold War is a perfect example of how gorgeous cinematography can serve both style and substance. It envelops us completely, ensures we fall in love with these characters, and renders its world in gorgeous images that make this period piece feel both undeniably faithful to its historical moment and utterly timeless.
Roma, also a black and white foreign film, is shot and directed by Alfonso Cuaron and features cinematography that is more conspicuous — some might even say ostentatious — when compared to Cold War or any of the other nominees. It’s impossible to ignore that this is certainly a good looking film; every shot appears to have been meticulously arranged to capture Cuaron’s vision of 1970s Mexico City. Roma is filled to the brim with beautiful image after beautiful image and it would be a huge surprise if the majority of Academy voters weren’t captivated by the film’s cinematography and eager to award Cuaron’s work.
What should win: Cold War
What will win: Roma
Valerie Ettenhofer: Three-time Oscar-winner Sandy Powell is competing against herself in this category (for her work on both The Favourite and Mary Poppins Returns), giving her unusually great odds. The Favourite recently beat out Poppins as well as fellow nominee Mary Queen of Scots in the Costume Designers Guild Awards’ period category, for which Oscar nominee The Ballad of Buster Scruggs wasn’t even nominated. And while final nominee Black Panther didn’t compete in the same category for the CDG award, Yorgos Lanthimos’ period piece offered more memorably luxurious outfits than the Marvel outing, and Academy voters love anything that sticks in their memory.
From the opulent to the aggressive, the understated to the overdone, Powell’s costumes communicate The Favourite‘s complex themes and ever-shifting power dynamics as well as its razor-sharp script. Abigail’s mud-stained dress, Sarah’s practical trousers, and Queen Anne’s formalwear are just a few of the gorgeously selected visual signifiers that help articulate the story at hand.
What should win: The Favourite
What will win: The Favourite
Ciara Wardlow: Man, Hank Corwin is good at his job. Especially when Adam McKay is in the director’s seat. Seriously, how did he not win for The Big Short? What kind of sick joke—oh, wait, never mind, he lost to Mad Max: Fury Road. Life really is like that sometimes, as the internet memes would say. Corwin’s editing of Vice isn’t quite as jazzy as his work on The Big Short, but it’s quality stuff. In the “WOW, LOOK AT THIS GREAT E.D.I.T.I.N.G.” sort of way.
That said, when you think about it, the real wonder of editing is how it can feel so natural you don’t notice the cuts at all. Movies make chopped salads of space and time and, when done well, we the viewers hardly notice the seams. Which is why, if I could wave a magic wand, I’d give the award to Yorgos Mavropsaridis for The Favourite. There’s a peculiar, almost offbeat sense of timing to Yorgos Lanthimos’ films that is quite different from anything else out there. It’s kind of like hearing someone play an out-of-tune piano in a way that makes it sound better than a perfectly tuned instrument, and I think his longtime editor plays a major role in how that magic happens. Unfortunately, it’s a subtle sort of magic, and subtlety is not a virtue the Oscars have a history of rewarding.
If Bohemian Rhapsody wins, we riot.
What should win: Yorgos Mavropsaridis, The Favourite
What will win: Hank Corwin, Vice
Makeup and Hairstyling
Neil Miller: Perhaps the coolest thing happening in the makeup and hairstyling is the fact that now everyone is discovering that Mary Queen of Scots costume designer Alexandra Byrne made most of her period piece costumes from denim. That is a neat piece of Oscar trivia, from me to you. That said, the most interesting trivia item doesn’t always win you a little gold dude on Oscar night. The transformation of Christian Bale into various iterations of sludge demon Dick Cheney was a massively impressive undertaking and it won’t be surprising to see Greg Cannom, Kate Biscoe and Patricia Dehaney have their names called on Sunday night.
What should win: Vice
What will win: Vice
Neil Miller: Black Panther is winning at least one award. And not because there’s some kind of weird conspiracy between The Academy and network host ABC’s parent company Disney, either. Black Panther is winning an Oscar because production designer Hannah Beachler and set decorator Jay Hart brought superhero cinema to a new level with the Afro-futurist designs of Wakanda. And don’t get me wrong — the other nominees in this category are very strong. The team behind The Favourite (production designer Fiona Crombie and set decorator Alice Felton) built a beautiful world. As did the designers and decorators behind First Man, Mary Poppins Returns, and Roma. There was no shortage of beauty in the productions of 2018, but what Black Panther delivered was special. Even The Academy won’t be able to deny it.
What should win: Black Panther
What will win: Black Panther
Neil Miller: This is where perhaps I will disagree the most with The Academy. All the safe money appears to be on Avengers: Infinity War for one big Infinity Gauntlet-wielding motion capture experiment gone very right. The effects of Thanos, the integration of the performance of Josh Brolin, and the sheer scale of Infinity War should be enough to wow The Academy’s voters. But there’s something unforgettable about the subtlety and precision of what the team behind First Man did in their movie. They didn’t build something new or adapt some previous art — as is the case with Infinity War, Solo: A Star Wars Story, Christopher Robin, and every miserable fucking frame of Ready Player One. The team behind First Man rebuilt — with immaculate accuracy — some of humanity’s most ambitious moments. It’s a vivid recollection of our greatest achievement as a society and thanks to its stunning technical craftsmanship, it’s a visceral ride unlike any other we saw last year. First Man deserves this award just as much as Infinity War. Just, you know, for the record.
What should win: First Man
What will win: Avengers: Infinity War
To read our breakdowns and analysis of every one of this year’s categories, follow the links below:
- Skip to The Final Ballot
- Best Picture and Best Director
- The Other Best Pictures
- The Acting Awards
- The Writing Awards
- The Sound and Song Awards
- The Technical Awards