Monica Corcoran Harel is an AwardsLine contributor. This article appeared in the Feb. 13 issue of AwardsLine.
If all roads once led to Rome, then most fashion runways now merge into the red carpet. For the past decade or so, celebrity stylists have cherry-picked the fashion runways for the very best frocks for their A-list clients on awards nights. In essence, you would first see a gown on Kate Moss and then on Cate Blanchett.
But more recently, the trend is for actresses to show up to the Golden Globes or Oscars in ready-to-wear or one-of-a-kind couture gowns that haven’t yet debuted at fashion week or the European shows. In many instances, the red carpet is the new runway. Case in point: The one-shoulder black-and-white column gown that Claire Danes’ wore to the SAG Awards came from Givenchy’s pre-fall 2013 collection.
“In an effort to trump other celebs, it’s become about wearing something that hasn’t even been seen on the runway yet”, says Cameron Silver, a fashion expert known for his serrated wit and the author of the new style encyclopedia, Decades: A Century Of Fashion. “The system is so out of control”.
By system, Silver means the big, greasy machine in which actresses and designers make exclusivity deals. Though no star or stylist will speak on the record about such dalliances, it’s been suggested that anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 can come sewn into the hem of a red-carpet gown worn by a nominated actress. On a less cynical note, however, stylists can’t be blamed for calling first dibs on spectacular gowns that they preview. “The advantage to using dresses that haven’t been shown yet is that no one else has seen them”, says the powerful Hollywood stylist Elizabeth Stewart, whose clients include fashion risk-takers Blanchett and Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain. “There’s a better chance of a good dress not having been snapped up”.
Wearing the right dress can be the first business flirtation between an actress and designer, too. A bit like a wink across the room. In 2011, 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld was nominated for an Oscar for True Grit. Seizing a style moment, she wore a striking fuchsia-, tangerine-, and black-striped Prada dress with a flounced hem from the spring collection to the SAG Awards that year. The chic choice paid off. Within two months, Steinfeld became the new face of Miu Miu, Prada’s edgier little-sister label. Steinfeld was just spotted front row at the Chanel couture show in Paris, so stay tuned.
Jewelers, of course, must deliver never-before-seen sparklers too. Many stylists plunder the archives of a house like Cartier or Van Cleef & Arpels for statement pieces with heritage and vintage caché. “Finding the new unseen look and style in a piece of jewelry is also in top demand”, says Beverly Hills jeweler Martin Katz, who outfitted Jodie Foster, Sally Field, and Helen Hunt with lush diamond bracelets and bold earrings at this year’s Globes. “When I come up with unusual rings or bracelets that have not been seen on the red carpet before, stylists grab them immediately”.
If anyone can be held semi-responsible for all this pushing and shoving, it’s Nicole Kidman. Back at the Academy Awards in 1997, she hit the red carpet in an exotic chartreuse haute couture gown by John Galliano for Dior. (A facsimile of the dress had been spotted just a month earlier at the Paris show and the designer worked to customize it for Kidman.) No doubt, every other actress on the carpet that night later learned to pronounce “haute couture” with just the right French flourish.
And just as wearing never-before-seen runway dresses has become de rigueur, über stylist-turned-designer Rachel Zoe has upended the buffet once again. She put longtime client Anne Hathaway in a snow-white Chanel couture gown from 2009 at this year’s Globes. What? A 3-year-old dress? “Just because a dress was seen on the runway a couple of years ago but didn’t have its moment doesn’t mean that it’s out of fashion”, says Silver. In fact, if anything, it shows that a resourceful stylist can gild a forgotten gown like anyone else would lacquer an old credenza. Zoe also put Hathaway in a black spring 2013 Giambattista Valli couture gown for the SAG Awards this year.
Catherine Kallon, who founded the popular website Red Carpet Fashion Awards in 2007, has been visually comparing runway looks and their red-carpet translations for over five years. She sniffs at any criticism about petite Hollywood actresses being swallowed by dresses designed for statuesque woman with tiny ribcages. “For the most part, I think runway dresses translate better on the red carpet”, she says. “Just look at Lucy Liu in her Carolina Herrera gown at the Golden Globes for further proof. She owned the floral ball gown”.
Actually, she borrowed that gown and it was pre-fall 2013.
Cari Lynn is an AwardsLine contributor. This article appeared in the Feb. 13 issue of AwardsLine.
After the elation (or heartbreak) of Hollywood’s most coveted awards ceremony, 1,500 guests will flock to the Ray Dolby Ballroom at the top level of the Hollywood & Highland complex to let it all hang out at the storied Governors Ball, the Academy’s official Oscar after-party.
No real Oscar to flaunt? Grab a Patron and Ultimate Vodka cocktail, rimmed with 10-karat gold while you nibble on Wolfgang Puck’s signature smoked-salmon Oscars, coated in dill creme fraiche and topped with caviar. Still craving gold? Pluck one of 5,000 mini chocolate Oscars, wrapped in shimmering gold foil—or snag one of 50 statuette-sized chocolate Oscars (they’re made from Cacao Barry’s 64% semisweet). Pastry chef Sherry Yard will also have 30 pounds of edible gold dust on hand to sprinkle on truffles, bon bons, and macaroons.
Academy governor Jeffrey Kurland, an Oscar-nominated costume designer whose lengthy list of feature credits includes numerous Woody Allen films, Erin Brokovich, Inception, and Ocean’s Eleven, will return for his fourth year as chair of the Governors Ball, overseeing decor, menu, and entertainment, as well as designing the staff attire.
Returning for her 24th consecutive year, event producer Cheryl Cecchetto of Sequoia Productions will handle all the details, including what she calls “the piazza,” which is an Oscar embedded into the floor, and the installation of a 120-foot chandelier—surpassing the largest chandelier listed in the Guinness Book of World Records—that will sparkle with 18,000 LEDs of alternating jewel-toned hues, reflecting the evening’s chosen colors of aubergine, chartreuse, and champagne.
“Jeffrey said he wanted a chandelier,” explains Cecchetto, “and I came back and said, ‘Here’s the biggest chandelier in the world.’ ” The chandelier theme will also be reflected in the signature dessert of the night: The Vacheron Chandelier, a bejeweled and tiered meringue filled with cream and berries.
“This year’s look goes across traditional and nontraditional lines,” Cecchetto says. “It’s more about practicality and flow. We do not have assigned seating this year, instead we are using lounge furniture and cocktail tables.” The more than 400 pieces of furnishings will be provided by Lux Lounge EFR and will be covered in velvets and silk in the theme colors; also included are a new collection of Twist cocktail tables.
Mark Held, co-owner of Mark’s Garden, who’s returning for his 20th consecutive year, has added an ingenious floral design to the cocktail tables, fashioning a centerpiece of orchids, green anthurium, and purple kale under the tables and wrapping around the pedestals—leaving the tabletop free for Wolfgang Puck’s delicacies.
Puck, who’s created the menu for 19 consecutive years, is almost as signature to the ball as Oscar himself. Along with chef Matt Bencivenga, Puck will feature what he calls “a mix of comfort and innovations,” with returning favorites, such as mini Kobe burgers with aged cheddar, assorted pizzas, and chicken pot pie with shaved black truffles, along with a sushi and shellfish station, hot and cold small plates, and, new this year, an expanded vegan menu, including kale salad with grilled artichoke, beluga lentils with baby vegetables, vegan pizza, and farro with apple, beet, and spiced walnut. “This is the greatest party in Hollywood,” Puck says, “and people know they can get great food.” Attention will also be paid to sourcing local organic and sustainable cuisine, including wild-caught fish; hormone and antibiotic-free dairy, poultry, and meat; cage-free eggs; and California-grown produce.
Sterling Vineyards of Napa Valley will be returning for their seventh year with a 2007 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and a 2009 Reserve Chardonnay, both chosen at a tasting by the Academy’s board of governors.
New this year is Champagne Thiénot, a small, young brand with a production of only 300,000 bottles a year that is run by the brother and sister team of Garance and Stanislas Thiénot. Not only is this the first time the Academy has chosen a rare and little-known Champagne, but it is the first time Champagne Thiénot will be served in the U.S.—not bad to have your launch party at the Oscars. The Thiénot Rosé and a 2005 vintage will be served, with price points ranging from $40 to $150 a bottle.
Returning this year is Marc Friedland of Marc Friedland Couture Communications, reprising his role in designing one of the biggest focal points of the evening: The gold Oscar envelope, with the easy-open red ribbon primed for “And the Oscar goes to….” But in a new take, Friedland has also designed a digital collection of Academy-sanctioned invites for home Oscar parties. Free to download via Evite Postmark, the Oscar Collection by Mark Friedland will comprise 10 designs and will be available only for a limited time.
As Oscar night comes to an end, additional environmentally responsible initiatives will kick in, including a push to recycle and repurpose everything from plastics, metals, glass, and even the plywood used. Floral arrangements will either be donated to homes for the aging or composted leftover food will be donated to L.A. Specialty Chefs to End Hunger. “I’m Canadian, so green is a way of life,” says Cecchetto, who also smiles when asked about her record 24 years producing the ball. “It’s like my child,” she says, “although sooner or later I will have to retire.”
Can’t we just end all this suspense about winners or losers and call it one massive tie this year? The 2012 crop of Oscar nominees, and films in general, is so impressively dense with quality it seems a shame the Academy has to pick just one winner in each category. But that’s the name of the game we play this time of year, and with ballots going out just as I had to turn this piece in, it is still a fluid situation as to just what the final results will be. With so many movies spread across many categories that are genuine contenders, a split vote resulting in some surprising twists and turns is possible, even though the various guild awards give strong clues about industry sentiment. If the past is any indication, I am aware some readers might take these predictions as gospel and bet the farm on it in their Oscar pools, so I offer a disclaimer before we begin. I am not responsible for any monetary loss you might incur, nor do I expect 10% of any winnings. I am just trying to read the winds of Oscar after several months of analyzing every tea leaf. Here is where I have a hunch it stands, but please note I have made a few tweaks since the original version of these predictions were published in last week’s print edition of AwardsLine (I switched in production design and makeup/hairstyling). Results at BAFTA, WGA, and several other guild award shows have now been taken into account since then, but it is all still a crap shoot in one of the craziest Oscar years in memory.
All season long, this has been about as wide open a race, and as competitive a field of contenders, as we have seen in many years. With nine nominees, the same number as last year, it has taken a while to figure out a surefire winner. But with key awards from the PGA, DGA, WGA, BAFTA and SAG, in addition to best picture honors at the Golden Globes and Critics Choice Movie Awards, Argo has clearly emerged as the frontrunner, a remarkable turn of events considering its director, Ben Affleck, was snubbed by the Academy’s directing branch Jan. 10. Oh, what a difference a few weeks makes. The big question is, can the Warner Bros. juggernaut maintain momentum and win Oscar’s top prize, even without that directing nomination? If so, it would be only the second film to win without a directing nom, following Driving Miss Daisy’s feat at the 1990 ceremony.With the best picture category holding the strongest possibility for success among Argo’s seven nominations, could it actually win here and nowhere else? Not likely, but it’s possible, especially in a year in which I think the Academy will be spreading the wealth. Lincoln, with a leading 12 nominations (a good, if not always correct, indicator), Silver Linings Playbook,and Life of Pi are probably still in the mix here as well but…
The Competition:Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Misérables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty
With the quirky director’s branch going out of their way to snub DGA nominees Kathryn Bigelow, Tom Hooper, and DGA winner Ben Affleck, we know for sure we can’t count on the usual spot-on correlation between the DGA winner and the eventual victor in this category. Affleck actually would have been my prediction to win here, but, alas, he’s not even nominated, which means voters might very well be splitting their vote for director and picture this year — certainly not unheard of in recent years but increasingly rare. As directors of the two films with the most nominations, Steven Spielberg for Lincoln and Ang Lee for Life of Pi,are the likely frontrunners, with Silver Linings Playbook’s David O. Russell coming up on the outside. If initial frontrunner Lincoln has been eclipsed in the Best Picture race, this is the place voters could come to kneel at the Spielberg-ian altar. Or not. Lee’s triumph in even managing to bring the “unfilmable” Pi to the screen just screams “directing”, and that could play very well here.
The Winner: Ang Lee, Life of Pi
The Competition: Michael Haneke, Amour; Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild; Steven Spielberg, Lincoln; David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
This is Daniel Day-Lewis’ to lose at this point. Playing such a well-known biographical figure is, of course, a big plus. But Day-Lewis brought a lot to the table and remains the guy to beat in an impossibly fine field of contenders. Day-Lewis’ biggest drawback is that he has already won this prize twice, and a third would be unprecedented for lead actors in Oscar history. Also no actor has ever won an Oscar for playing a U.S. president, another potential first. The Academy might want to reward equally deserving newcomers to the category like Hugh Jackman or Bradley Cooper instead, but judging from the pile of precursor awards Day-Lewis has already won, it looks like you can bet a very large pile of $5 bills that he will make Oscar history with honest Abe.
The Winner: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
The Competition: Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook; Hugh Jackman, Les Misérables; Joaquin Phoenix, The Master; Denzel Washington, Flight
I got this one wrong last year when Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady) beat Viola Davis (The Help), and this is another tough one. The race for lead actress is hotly competitive, with both Silver Linings Playbook’s Jennifer Lawrence and Zero Dark Thirty’sJessica Chastain claiming other early awards and also impressing with strong performances (Naomi Watts is magnificent in The Impossible, but that film got no other nominations, putting it at a disadvantage here against four other actress nominees from Best Picture contenders). Plus, never underestimate the so-called “babe factor” (thanks to the Academy’s dominant male membership) that this category often, but not always, favors. A win here for either one could be a chance to give either of their movies an important award, while shutting them out elsewhere. The real wild card in this race is 85-year-old Emmanuelle Riva, whose performance in the foreign language film Amour has been widely praised and admired, particularly by her fellow actors, who comprise the Academy’s largest voting block. As the oldest Best Actress nominee ever (she actually turns 86 on Oscar Sunday), she could trigger a sentimental factor and a feeling that the others will have another shot someday. SAG champ Lawrence probably has the edge and is where the smart money’s going, but a split in this very fluid category could provide one of the evening’s most interesting stories. So going way out on a limb…
The Winner: Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
The Competition: Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty; Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook; Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild; Naomi Watts, The Impossible
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
In a category of five former Oscar winners (a first indeed), I could actually see five different, and logical, results. Christoph Waltz took the Golden Globe and BAFTA, Philip Seymour Hoffman was the Critics Choice, and Tommy Lee Jones won at SAG. Alan Arkin is playing an industry insider in the enormously popular Argo, and the Weinstein Co. has been effectively reminding everyone Robert De Niro hasn’t won an Oscar in 32 years or even been nominated in 21 years. He’s coming up on the outside as Silver Linings Playbook has become a sizable hit just passing $100 million over the weekend. Truly, toss a coin here. There’s no true frontrunner, and a logical route to victory is possible for each one of these veterans.
The Winner: Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
The Competition: Alan Arkin, Argo; Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master; Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln; Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Like the best actor race, this one has a clear frontrunner in Les Misérables’Fantine, Anne Hathaway. Having won just about every precursor award including SAG and BAFTA, it looks like this year Hathaway will make it to Oscar’s stage without hosting the show. A video parody of her moving performance singing the signature “I Dreamed a Dream” went viral but shouldn’t stand in her way. If any of the other contenders have a shot, it’s definitely Lincoln’sMary Todd, Sally Field. We know Oscar likes her — they really, really like her (she’s won twice) — but it appears to be Hathaway’s year in the winner’s circle.
The Winner: Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables
The Competition: Amy Adams, The Master; Sally Field, Lincoln; Helen Hunt, The Sessions; Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
This is a very tough category with several worthy entries, all Best Picture nominees. Pulitzer Prize- and Tony-winning playwright Tony Kushner’s herculean efforts in finding the right tone and approach to Lincoln are well chronicled, and he has the solid endorsement of Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of the book Team of Rivals from which he drew a lot of source material. He is a major contender, even if Argo takes Best Picture over his film. A late-breaking controversy sparked by a Connecticut congressman over some of the facts in the film hit just as ballots reached voters hands and that could be a factor here. On the other hand, Chris Terrio’s meticulous and tricky work on Argo is impressive, and voters might want to reward the film’s script, especially if they are voting it Best Picture. That is usually how it works, but this is a weird year. Argo has also had its own fair share of criticism from some quarters for tweaking some of the facts for dramatic purposes. Of course voters may realize they aren’t voting for Best Documentary. David O. Russell’s funny and moving adaptation of Silver Linings is another strong possibility and recently took this prize from BAFTA, so it’s a three-way battle. But with its Best Picture likelihood…
The Winner: Chris Terrio, Argo
The Competition: Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar, Beasts of the Southern Wild; David Magee, Life of Pi; Tony Kushner, Lincoln; David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
This is another category that seems widely split with no obvious frontrunner. But the three likeliest contenders would appear to be Django Unchained which won this award at Critics Choice, Golden Globes and BAFTA, Zero Dark Thirty which took it at WGA,and Amour,considering all three are also Best Picture nominees. That would indicate more widespread support among the entire Academy, which gets to vote in the finals. Both Quentin Tarantino’s Django and Mark Boal’s Zero Dark Thirty have been hit by controversy over their respective elements of treatment of slaves and use of torture, giving both of those former winners in this category more of an uphill climb to overcome negative publicity. That leaves an opening for the widely admired Amour, which could become the first to win both Best Foreign Language film and Original Screenplay since Claude Lelouch’s 1966 film A Man and a Woman, a movie that, like Amour,also happened to star the great Jean-Louis Trintignant. Django could well bring Tarantino his second writing Oscar, but…
The Winner: Michael Haneke, Amour
The Competition: Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained; John Gatins, Flight; Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola, Moonrise Kingdom; Mark Boal, Zero Dark Thirty
THE OTHER CATEGORIES
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
A strong group of movies, but the other four nominees have the misfortune of being named in a year that also includes Amour, which despite being a French film is actually the Austrian entry because of the nationality of its director, Michael Haneke. Winner of the Palme d’Or and just about every precursor prize this year, as well as being only the fifth film in Oscar history in this category also to be up for Best Picture, it would appear to be unbeatable here. But if any category has offered surprises in recent years, it is this one since you can only vote only if you prove you have seen all five entries.
The Winner: Amour (Austria)
The Competition: Kon-Tiki (Norway), No (Chile), A Royal Affair (Denmark), War Witch (Canada)
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Tim Burton, whose Frankenweenie was a critical hit but a box office disappointment, is overdue for Oscar recognition, and this one might be his most personal film yet. However, there are two other stop-motion entries in the category, including the acclaimed ParaNorman,which has been campaigned heavily, and the highly underrated and hilarious Aardman ’toon The Pirates, which by comparison has been well hidden by Sony. Two other Disney entries — Pixar’s Brave, which won the Golden Globe and BAFTA, and Disney Animation’s Wreck-It-Ralph,which triumphed at the PGA and Annies — could help split the studio vote with Frankenweenie,but I doubt it.
The Winner: Wreck-It-Ralph
The Competition:Brave, Frankenweenie, ParaNorman, The Pirates! Band of Misfits
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
A deserving group of nominees dealing with heavyweight topics are likely to lose to a fascinating and very human musical documentary about the resurrection of a singer long given up for dead who finally finds fame in the most unlikely of ways.
The Winner:Searching for Sugar Man
The Competition:5 Broken Cameras, The Gatekeepers, How to Survive a Plague, The Invisible War
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
If there were a production more beautifully designed this year than Anna Karenina,I am not sure what it is, but reaction overall to the movie was mixed, meaning large-scale Best Picture nominees Les Misérables, Life of Pi,or Lincoln might sneak past it, but which one? For the sheer technical challenge of it all, I would say take another slice of Pi.
The Winner: Life Of Pi (Production Design: David Gropman; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock)
The Competition: Anna Karenina (production design: Sarah Greenwood, set decoration: Katie Spencer); The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (production design: Dan Hennah, set decoration: Ra Vincent and Simon Bright); Les Misérables (production design: Eve Stewart, set decoration: Anna Lynch-Robinson); Lincoln (production design: Rick Carter, set decoration: Jim Erickson)
Life of Pi is considered a masterful technical achievement, and one of its chief attributes is Claudio Miranda’s stunning cinematography, which blends the CGI world with the real and makes it all a cohesive whole.
The Winner:Life of Pi, Claudio Miranda
The Competition: Seamus McGarvey, Anna Karenina; Robert Richardson, Django Unchained; Janusz Kaminski, Lincoln; Roger Deakins, Skyfall
RELATED: OSCARS: Cinematographers On Creating The Right Imagery
BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Two of the nominees here really scream costume design and deliver on all fronts: Mirror Mirror from the late Eiko Ishioka and Snow White and the Huntsman from frequent winner Colleen Atwood. There are also two more high-profile Best Picture nominees in the mix — Lincoln and Les Misérables — but this category often marches to the beat of its own drum, and this year the stunning work from Jacqueline Durran for Anna Karenina will likely stand above the rest when voters sit down to assess these contenders.
The Winner: Anna Karenina, Jacqueline Durran
The Competition: Les Misérables, Paco Delgado; Lincoln, Joanna Johnston; Mirror Mirror, Eiko Ishioka; Snow White and the Huntsman, Colleen Atwood
RELATED: OSCARS: Nommed Costume Designers Talk About Challenges
BEST FILM EDITING
This is sometimes a category where voters go their own way, such as last year when non-Best Picture nominee The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo shocked the frontrunners here and won its one and only Oscar in a bit of a surprise. This year, all five nominees are also up for Picture, so it should follow more closely to tradition. Because of its technical challenges, Life of Pi’s chances cannot be discounted, but this seems a place also to honor Argo for its tricky dance with tone and pace, although its editor William Goldenberg is competing with himself for Zero Dark Thirty. Still….
The Winner: Argo, William Goldenberg
The Competition:Life of Pi, Tim Squyres; Lincoln, Michael Kahn; Silver Linings Playbook, Jay Cassidy and Crispin Struthers; Zero Dark Thirty, Dylan Tichenor and William Goldenberg
RELATED: OSCARS: Nominated Film Editors Break Down Key Scenes
BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
This one’s almost a toss-up. Peter Jackson’s return to Middle Earth might normally have an advantage just because of the very nature of the film — unless voters want to reward the changing looks of Jean Valjean and Fantine in Les Mis which won at BAFTA.
The Winner: Les Miserables, Lisa Westcott and Julie Dartnell
The Competition: Hitchcock,Howard Berger, Peter Montagna, and Martin Samuel; The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Peter Swords King, Rick Findlater, and Tami Lane
BEST ORIGINAL MUSIC SCORE
Of course Lincoln’s John Williams is a perennial nominee and winner already of five Oscars, while Skyfall’s11-time nominee and recent BAFTA winner Thomas Newman is still looking for his first. But I have a feeling it’s between the masterful mix of Middle Eastern strains and orchestral score that Alexandre Desplat pulled off in Argo versus first-time nominee Mychael Danna, who earned a nomination for his elegant and stirring score in Life of Pi,as well as an original song nom.
The Winner: Life of Pi,Mychael Danna
The Competition:Anna Karenina, Dario Marianelli; Argo, Alexandre Desplat; Lincoln, John Williams; Skyfall, Thomas Newman
Oscar host Seth MacFarlane cowrote one of the nominated songs, the sprightly tune from Ted, and it has a shot because it is the type of upbeat melody that has won here in recent years. If a Muppet can win last year, why not a stuffed bear? The one and only original song in Les Mis, “Suddenly”, isn’t all that memorable compared to the rest of the score. We’re going with the frontrunner and Golden Globe winner, Skyfall,which should make Adele the latest pop star to successfully infiltrate this category. It also would be the first-ever James Bond song to actually win, appropriate in 007’s 50th year, don’t you think?
The Winner: “Skyfall” from Skyfall, Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth
The Competition: “Before My Time” from Chasing Ice, music and lyrics by J. Ralph; “Everybody Needs a Best Friend” from Ted, music by Walter Murphy, lyrics by Seth MacFarlane; “Pi’s Lullaby” from Life of Pi, music by Mychael Danna, lyrics by Bombay Jayashri; “Suddenly” from Les Misérables, music by Claude-Michel Schönberg, lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer and Alain Boublil
RELATED: OSCARS: Best Original Song Race Handicap
BEST SOUND EDITING
The sound categories are rarely completely understood by the membership at large that gets to vote in all categories, but again, the technical achievement and challenges of Life of Pi probably prevail over a worthy field that could include another bow to James Bond, or a tip of the hat to Argo as part of its Best Picture booty, but probably won’t.
The Winner:Life of Pi, Eugene Gearty and Philip Stockton
The Competition: Argo, Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn; Django Unchained, Wylie Stateman; Skyfall, Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers; Zero Dark Thirty, Paul N. J. Ottosson
RELATED: OSCARS: Sound Editing and Sound Mixing Nominees Often Overlap
BEST SOUND MIXING
Life of Pi might very well take the sound category, but here musicals often triumph, and what greater sound mixing achievement was there this year than blending nearly unprecedented live singing with other sound elements in Les Mis? Among other things, they had to bring an entire orchestra in during post to match the songs.
The Winner: Les Misérables, Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson, and Simon Hayes
The Competition: Argo, John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff, and Jose Antonio Garcia; Life of Pi, Ron Bartlett, D.M. Hemphill, and Drew Kunin; Lincoln, Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom, and Ronald Judkins; Skyfall, Scott Millan, Greg P. Russell, and Stuart Wilson
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
This one’s a runaway. The biggest sure thing on the ballot. Even at the Oscar Nominees Luncheon when the name first came up, there was a big whoop and applause from the voter-heavy audience. And it ran over the competition at the VES awards and BAFTA, too.
The Winner: Life of Pi, Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer, and Donald R. Elliott
The Competition:The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton, and R. Christopher White; Marvel’s The Avengers, Janek Sirrs, Jeff White, Guy Williams, and Dan Sudick; Prometheus, Richard Stammers, Trevor Wood, Charley Henley, and Martin Hill; Snow White and the Huntsman, Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, Philip Brennan, Neil Corbould, and Michael Dawson
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT
As usual, this category has a strong list of heavyweight topics, but it’s likely between Mondays at Racine, a touching film about a beauty shop that opens its doors once a week to cancer patients, and Open Heart,about a group of Rwandan children being flown to the only free medical center in Africa for treatment of heart disease. In a year that features more than one contender dealing with the pain and problems of aging, Kings Point might also have a shot. This is a category where you can only vote in person at special screenings of all five (four of the five films are from HBO which dominates here).
The Winner: Open Heart
The Competition:Inocente, Kings Point, Mondays at Racine, Redemption
BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM
This is a very rich category, and for the first time, DVD screeners of the contenders here and in live-action short (as well as feature docs) were sent to the entire membership, rather than allowing voting only at special screenings where all five noms are shown. With a Simpsons ’toon from Fox, as well as a Disney Animation Studios title in the mix, those studios with large numbers of Academy voters could have the advantage, especially if those studios’ Academy members stay loyal to their home team. That could put others here — such as the charming and remarkably accomplished British student stop-motion animated entry Head Over Heels, about a longtime married couple who have grown apart literally and figuratively — at a disadvantage. And Disney’s Paperman is equally wonderful giving it frontrunner status, as it also played theatrically earlier in the year. This is a really tough choice. However, Goliath doesn’t always beat David, so on a hunch….
The Winner:Head Over Heels
The Competition: Adam and Dog, Fresh Guacamole, Maggie Simpson in The Longest Daycare, Paperman
BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM
A generally intriguing group of films, most with a strong international flavor, provide great showcases for some potentially major new directors. Particularly cinematic are Death of a Shadow, Asad, and Afghanistan’s remarkably fine and memorable entry, Buzkashi Boys.
The Winner: Buzkashi Boys
The Competition:Asad, Curfew, Death of a Shadow, Henry
Thomas J. McLean is an AwardsLine contributor. This article appeared in the Feb. 13 issue of AwardsLine.
This year’s nominees show how visual effects have spread from summer blockbusters to genres as diverse as superheroes, different flavors of fantasy, more traditional sci-fi territory, and even the art-house film. For each nominee, there’s a moment that makes it worthy of an Oscar nomination. Here, the visual-effects supervisors on the nominated films break down the key challenges and talk about the sequence that clinched the nomination.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
The nominees: Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton, R. Christopher White
No. of visual-effects shots: 2,176
Tech breakthrough: The complexity and number of techniques used to create the digital creatures. “It’s a combination of lots of things to get a creature to that point,” says Letteri. “It’s muscles, it’s skin, it’s facial capture, it’s performance capture.” All those things had to come together to bring to convincing life six leading digital characters with dialogue.
Defining the aesthetic: “We were grounded in the Middle Earth we had established for The Lord of the Rings,” says Letteri. “For the landscapes and the environments, we wanted to extend that Tolkien-esque feeling, borrowing from what we had on the previous film, trying to keep the same look for Rivendell, for example, but kind of expanding it. Same thing with Gollum—we were trying to keep his same look, but bring him into a new dimension of what we could do 10 years on.”
Biggest challenge: The quantity of digital characters. “You’ve got dialogue, you’ve got personalities, you’ve got unique looks,” says Letteri. “You’ve got to have everything working: You’ve got to have the fur working, the eyes, the skin, the muscles, the performances—not only the capture but the animation side.”
The clincher: The confrontation between Martin Freeman’s Bilbo and Gollum, played via motion capture by Andy Serkis. “We all had a bit of nervousness going into creating (Gollum) because we had done him 10 years ago, and we spent so much time in the last 10 years really trying to delve into what makes a performance resonate with an audience,” says Letteri. “You’ve got here a nine-minute dialogue scene with a real character and a digital character, and it’s watchable in a way that keeps you engaged the whole way through.”
Life of Pi
The nominees: Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer, Donald R. Elliott
No. of visual-effects shots: 690
Tech breakthrough: Two of the major visual elements were done mostly with digital effects: The water and the tiger. “It was just pushing the bar for the realism of the tiger and the other animals involved, trying to blend water from a tank into CG water in stereo was a challenge,” says Westenhofer.
Defining the aesthetic: Westenhofer describes the look of the effects as “hyper-dreamlike reality.” “It’s a story being told by Pi, so there’s an element of his recollection and the human’s ability to exaggerate when they recollect,” he says. “That allows for a bit of stylization in the amount of color and detail.”
Biggest challenge: It’s a toss-up between the water and the animals. “Fourteen percent of the animals were real and the rest were digital, and we often cut back to back between them, so it forced our hand to make the matches as perfect as possible,” says Westenhofer. “Everything from the moment they set sail to when he lands on the beach, it’s a boy on a boat in front of a blue screen.”
The clincher: A shot where Pi pulls the tiger’s head into his lap and pets it. “We shot him on the boat in a gimbal, and he pulls a blue sock into his lap and he pets the blue sock. And we replaced that with our digital tiger, fitting in the animation to what he did. In stereo, it had to be perfectly precise to line up with everything, and then we had to animate the hair to respond to his hand as it moves back and forth.”
Marvel’s The Avengers
The nominees: Janek Sirrs, Jeff White, Guy Williams, Dan Sudick
No. of visual-effects shots: About 2,200
Tech breakthrough: The Hulk. “We leveraged on previous digital characters we had done, but really had to rebuild and improve the way our characters move, making it incredibly accurate in terms of the way the skeleton under his skin drives his muscles, which then drives his skin,” says White.
Defining the aesthetic: Invisible was
the watchword from director Joss Whedon, a point defined by the final
battle in New York City that was shot almost entirely elsewhere. “Even though very little of the movie is shot
in New York City—some is Cleveland, where we did simpler set extensions, and then a significant portion was shot on a green-screen stage in New Mexico—those are things where we didn’t want the audience to even know there are visual effects,” says White.
Biggest challenge: The Hulk. “There’s a deep ravine to cross there, where it doesn’t look good for quite a long time, and it takes an incredible amount of artistry by the artists working on the shots to make it what it ultimately became,” says White.
The clincher: The climactic battle in New York. White says ILM spent about eight weeks shooting some 2,000 virtual background spheres—extremely high-resolution photographs—from streets and rooftops that were projected onto geography of the city as the basis for the digital city. To this was added the digital aliens and plates of the actors shot, as well as the details required to sell the scene as a full-on battle. “As we put our shots together of, say, Captain America talking to Black Widow, we really wanted to push it toward this feeling of being in the center of a battle. So in every shot we added additional smoke and dust and little embers going through the scene, just trying to really capture that feel of being in the middle of a disaster.”
The nominees: Richard Stammers, Trevor Wood, Charley Henley, Martin Hill
No. of visual-effects shots: 1,284
Tech breakthrough: The specific look director Ridley Scott wanted for the alien creatures required redeveloping some commonly used tools. “We had to do a lot of work to really develop our subsurface scatter lighting technique to get that deep translucency that matched the prosthetics we were using live on set,” says Stammers.
Defining the aesthetic: The look of the alien landscape of LV-223 defined the look of the whole film and was something Scott was quite passionate about. “What we ended up with is this montage of two landscapes that he really liked. And then beyond that, we added additional mountains and sky that was very full of fast-moving clouds, and so you get a sense of constantly fast-moving layers of clouds and bad weather, (then) we could paint the landscape with fast-moving patches of sunlight.”
Biggest challenge: Stammers says the production only had three days to shoot all the references needed at Wadi Rum, Jordan, requiring an incredibly detailed plan. “We planned it out based on our Google Earth map of the location to the point where, for every take that we needed to shoot, we had a helicopter plan of altitude and GPS start and end point, so that we could go to each of the specific points and film the elements we needed in order to map out the terrain and texture it.”
The clincher: Everything came together in the shot of the Prometheus landing on LV-223. “We spent somewhere in the region of 300 or 400 days just on the texture work alone, just to get the level of detail we needed to sell the scale of it,” says Stammers. “All the elements come together in that one shot that we see throughout the rest of the film as well.”
The nominees: Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, Philip Brennan, Neil Corbould, Michael Dawson
No. of visual-effects shots: About 1,400
Tech breakthrough: The extensive use of macrophotography in CG visual effects. “It’s very tricky to do macrophotography in a full CG shot, especially when you look at an animal or something close up like that, close up on the eye,” says Nicolas-Troyan. “That’s something that people don’t really realize when they see the movie, but if you pay attention you see there’s a lot of macro shots.”
Defining the aesthetic: Director Rupert Sanders set a distinct tone that required all the visual effects to be based in reality but juxtaposed with unusual situations or actions. “Everything is based on things that exist in the world,” says Nicolas-Troyan. “They might not be in the same place in the world, so we put them all together in this one spot, but they all do exist.”
Biggest challenge: Finding a way to make eight actors appear as dwarves on schedule and on budget. “We were always going to pick the right technique and the most efficient technique for the shot,” says Brennan. “That goes all the way from old-school in-camera tricks to using risers to vary the heights of people, working with prosthetics and costumes to make people appear a little bit different, all the way up to very complex effects like head and face replacements.”
The clincher: The pursuit through the Enchanted Forest, which encompassed all the techniques used in the movie. “Something like 70 percent or 80 percent of the animals that we created for the movie are in that scene, and they are everywhere,” says Nicolas-Troyan. “There’s birds, plants, and then within those scenes you have the dwarves, so we had to use pretty much all our techniques for the dwarves.”
Mike Fleming Jr. is film editor of Deadline. Anthony D’Alessandro is managing editor of AwardsLine. Paul Brownfield, Diane Haithman, and David Mermelstein are AwardsLine contributors.
Michael Haneke |Amour
Oscar pedigree: He has two nominations this year for screenwriting and direction. Previously, 2009’s The White Ribbon received two noms for best foreign language film and cinematography.
Birds and death: “The pigeon. You can’t direct a pigeon. At most, you can entice it to move it a certain way by placing corn on the ground. But even then, it won’t obey your instructions. Of course I’m joking when I say that. The most difficult scene in the film is the one in which (Georges) suffocates (his wife). The scene is preceded by a 10-minute monologue. And Jean-Louis Trintignant had a broken wrist at that time, so we had to shoot around that. And Emmanuelle Riva was concerned about her safety physically. So it was difficult for everyone involved,” says the Amour director.
No shame: When directing Emmanuelle Riva’s nude shower scene in which she is assisted by a healthcare worker, Haneke explains: “As a director, it wasn’t difficult for me. It was far more uncomfortable for her. But it was clear from the beginning that it was necessary to shoot this scene—to capture the fragility of her situation. My job as a director was to make sure I didn’t betray her, that she wasn’t shown critically or depicted in an unpleasant light, but just to show what people in such situations have to go through.”—David Mermelstein
Ang Lee |Life of Pi
Oscar pedigree: In addition to best picture and directing nominations this year, Ang Lee won a 2005 best directing Oscar for Brokeback Mountain. He was nominated in the directing and best picture categories for 2000’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,which won best foreign language film. His 1995 film Sense and Sensibility rallied seven Oscar noms, including best picture, and a win for Emma Thompson’s adapted screenplay of Jane Austen’s novel, but Lee was overlooked in the directing category. In addition, Lee’s 1993 films The Wedding Banquet and 1994’s Eat Drink Man Woman were the Taiwanese submissions during their respective years and nominated in the best foreign language film category.
Power of persuasion: “Tom Rothman at Fox pitched (it to) me as a family movie,” Lee recalls. “I asked, ‘Why do you want to spend this kind of money?’ Because I’ve been in this business long enough to know that’s probably not going to be true. Tom said, ‘It’s a family movie.’ I said, ‘What do you mean a family movie?’ He said, ‘What happened to you when you first read the book?’ I said, ‘Oh, yeah, I introduced it to my wife and my family.”
Solving Pi:“I started to get hooked on, ‘How do you crack this thing? How do you examine illusion within illusion?’ We all know movies are based on illusions—the image, the emotional ride—but how do you do that while you’re examining the power of storytelling? Once I started to think about the solution, I got hooked. And I thought of 3D maybe adding another dimension. The whole thing could open up; what doesn’t make sense could make sense. And I thought of the older Pi telling stories, so I have the first person going through the story while the third person is examining it, but they’re the same person.”
Long days sinks ship: “The most challenging scene to direct and produce was the freighter sinking sequence. What was involved was the ocean, rain, lightning, and wind. We weren’t out at sea; we were in a wave tank that we created in Taiwan. We spent 78 days on that scene. It was a two-year preparation, so it was a big undertaking,” Lee told AwardsLine at the PGA Awards.
Harnessing visuals: “With new media (3D), nobody really can give you advice. People who have done it will tell you what it’s about. It will turn out most of that is not true. I took lessons, I took advice. But next year, people will look at this film and say, ‘Oh, he should have done something different.’ This is that new to us. It hasn’t been established in the audience’s mind. There are things like conversion points, you can make adjustments later, but how you frame it, how you separate the camera, the volume of depth, you have to decide on the set. You’re doing something you don’t know, how that depth works with the lens. You just don’t know, you’re guessing. That’s the scary thing.”—Paul Brownfield
David O. Russell |Silver Linings Playbook
Oscar pedigree: He has two nominations this year for directing and best adapted screenplay. He was previously nominated for directing 2010’s The Fighter.
Pat Jr. comes home: “The first scene where Pat Jr. faces his dad was challenging because that establishes the entire tone of the picture. I directed it many different ways. Because Bradley (Cooper) had to create that character, we tried him more bipolar and less bipolar, with more Asperger traits and less, being more explosive with his father and more loving. We were finding that balance. We were also establishing the whole setup of the movie, because the mother is taking Pat Jr. out early, the father is a bookmaker, which is something I did in the adaptation. I chose to follow the 2008 season and locked into that, as it availed us of a lot of interesting information that I heard from Philadelphia Eagles fans, such as (wide receiver) DeSean Jackson. From that, we have Pat Jr. wearing his jersey. DeSean spiking the ball on the one-yard line is literally a metaphor for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, which symbolizes the Eagles’ struggle and symbolizes Pat Jr.’s struggle. I made Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) a bookmaker because the economy collapsed in 2008. In the book, one doesn’t really know exactly what he did. I imagined he was a DHL Express manager of a hub, and he retired and lost his pension, which happened to a lot of people. His obsession in the book with bookmaking is just an obsession, but in the movie, it’s an obsession that goes to the economic livelihood of the house. So in that opening scene, establishing the tone and characters was extremely important.”
Tiffany makes her grand entrance: “The scene where Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) comes in the house for the first time was also crucial in getting the emotional content to land hard. We collide the agendas. We invented the best friend, Randy, who is the nemesis who bets against Pat Sr. The nemesis’ role is important as he loves the wife and always thinks she’s beautiful. It also creates the world of the neighborhood. I loved that all the characters travel by foot. Nobody gets in the car unless Pat Jr. goes to therapy. They even walk to the dance.”—Anthony D’Alessandro
Steven Spielberg |Lincoln
Oscar pedigree: Eight picture nominations, one win for 1993’s Schindler’s List. Seven directing nominations, two wins for Schindler and 1998’s Saving Private Ryan. Spielberg also has a 1986 Irving G. Thalberg Memorial award.
Intimate setting: “The difference between Lincoln and Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan is that the last two films take place outside,” Spielberg says. “Lincoln is within the intimacy of a set in actual, practical locations. So every room was like a library. It was quiet, there was not a lot of room to work. We didn’t want to tear down walls and suddenly have the actors see the entire crew and monitors just glaring at us from 20 yards away. So even the sets that Rick Carter built—he built a good deal of sets for this—did not have wild ceilings or wild walls. With Schindler’s List, I wanted actors to step out of character, step off the set, to return to reality as often as possible. It was different on Lincoln. It’s a beautiful literary piece.”
No drama in the Civil War: “The first screenplay draft I showed to Daniel Day-Lewis (in 2001-02) was also not a biopic. It was more like a Civil War drama. It was the story of the last three years of the Civil War, and it involved seven huge battles. Lincoln was prosecuting the war, first through Gen. McClellan and then Gen. Grant. But it was much more of a Saving Private Ryan, set between 1863 and 1865. And it quickly wore thin on me and became clear that it was not the story I wanted to tell. It took Tony (Kushner) and I a long time figuring out what part of Lincoln’s life would be able to give audiences an appreciation and understanding of his humanity, to take him off his alabaster pedestal and Mt. Rushmore to be able to understand that he was someone that could and should be related to. And that was not doable with the Civil War in his way. James McPherson, the great Civil War historian, once said that the Civil War is so vast that even a gigantic figure like Abraham Lincoln could get lost in it. And McPherson was absolutely right; Lincoln got lost in my first attempt to tell the story of the Civil War through his eyes, and I jettisoned that project within a year.”
Long story short: “This was going to be a story of his last three years, but the script was 550 pages long. For me, the most compelling part of that screenplay was a 65-page section which was the struggle to pass the 13th amendment that abolished slavery. Tony and I found that the more real estate of Lincoln’s life we covered, the more it diminished him as someone who understood politics, personalities, and political theater. And it took us away from his family. It took us away from the deep cold depths he would find himself in that some people thought was his form of depression. It took us away from that because it covered too much territory. The Emancipation Proclamation and the struggle to find the right time to announce it, the Gettysburg Address—there were so many bullet points in Lincoln’s life that actually the more that we spread over 550 pages, the more superficial his character felt. Once we focused everything on two great issues, the passing of the 13th amendment and ending the Civil War, everything got a lot more concentrated and a lot more focused.”—Mike Fleming Jr.
Benh Zeitlin |Beasts of the Southern Wild
Oscar pedigree: Beasts marks Zeitlin’s first nominations in the directing and best adapted screenplay categories.
The Beasts of the BP oil spill: “A lot of our sets were on the wrong side of the barriers that they put up to block the oil, so we actually had to be in negotiations with BP to get a lot of our sets,” Zeitlin says. “There were incredibly difficult hoops to jump through, but they were looking so bad in the media they were actually uncharacteristically, I would say, willing to cooperate. Actually, it was amazing that we managed to get back there. Anything for good PR at that time, they were going to do. We used that to our advantage.”
Casting without preconceptions: “It’s part of the idea of (my film company) Core 13, to not just write something and fill in the blanks, it’s about trying to work on these ideas and concepts and work on trying to find the essence of the character, to search for that essence in somebody. When you are looking for something in that way, you can find it in unexpected places. We wanted to stay open to what we might find out in the world. We definitely had written the character as a girl—we wanted it to be a girl and focused on casting girls—but within that, we looked at a tremendous variety of people. If you see a brave little boy, you think it might work, but obviously we found a pretty great little girl. We were rehearsing at the bakery in the mornings so that Dwight Henry could get his work done. That was key to his taking the role—he had turned it down several times. On set, we tried to make sure that it felt like a game for Quvenzhané Wallis at all times. We tried to shelter her from the panic of a film set. We always tried to maintain energy on the set that a 5-year-old would want to be part of.”—Diane Haithman
David Mermelstein is an AwardsLine contributor. This article appeared in the Feb. 13 issue of AwardsLine.
Leaving artistic issues aside, you could—at first glance—say that the competition for best original score isn’t a fair fight this year. Three of the nominees—Mychael Danna (Life of Pi), Alexandre Desplat (Argo), and Thomas Newman (Skyfall)—have never won an Oscar, and one of them (Danna) is enjoying his first nomination. Dario Marianelli won once before, but his nom for Anna Karenina is only his third. So who’s the heavyweight in the ring? None other than John Williams (Lincoln), who has won five Oscars for original score, as well as one for adapted score.
Williams is basking in his 39th nomination for original score. His first was for The Reivers (1969), starring Steve McQueen. His closest competitor within this group is Newman, who is savoring his ninth nom since 1994, when he earned two—for Little Women and The Shawshank Redemption. Desplat is suiting up for his fifth round since 2006, when The Queen first brought him close to Oscar gold.
Though virtually omnipresent on the Oscar ballot from 1990 to 2005, Williams has been less visible since the 2006 film year, though this year marks the second in a row in which he’s back on the ballot—and last year, he was there twice: For The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse. As for this bunch going mano a mano, Williams was absent the first year Newman was nommed, but since then—in 1999, 2002, and 2004—neither won when the other was also in competition. And the same was true the one year, 2005, that Williams and Marianelli previously duked it out—the younger composer’s first time in the ring. Newman and Desplat have also sparred before—in 2006, the latter’s Oscar debut, and 2008—with neither emerging victorious.
So where does that leave us this time around? A case can be made for the lately hyper-prolific Desplat, who also wrote the scores to this year’s best picture nominee Zero Dark Thirty and original screenplay nominee Moonrise Kingdom. And the talk of Argo walking off with the best picture statuette could add some kick. But two years ago, Desplat was up for The King’s Speech, which landed the big prize even as he emerged empty handed. Indeed, in the past dozen years, only three films have secured both the best picture Oscar and the prize for best score.
Still, the Academy has shown a fondness for novel instrumentation. Slumdog Millionaire took the award four years ago, and the year before that, Marianelli won for Atonement, in which he ingeniously incorporated a typewriter into his music. For his part, Desplat seamlessly weaves into the Argo score a mix of Middle Eastern instruments—including the ney, oud, kemenche, and ethnic percussion.
Newman, an heir to Hollywood’s most storied film-score dynasty, has the most noms without a win in this quintet, so accrued good will could be a factor in his favor. But Skyfall is the latest entry in the James Bond franchise, and some of the film’s most memorable cues were written by others—including John Barry, a four-time score winner who was never even nominated for his Bond music.
Given the Academy’s penchant for sentimentality and tradition, some might write off the idea that a first-time nominee—in this case Danna, also nommed for best song—could win, but Oscar history suggests otherwise. For the past two years, the statuette for score has gone to an Oscar debutant—Ludovic Bource (The Artist) last year and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (The Social Network) the year before. In fact, from 2000 on, seven of the 12 winners had never been nominated before their first victory.
Yet Marianelli offers formidable competition with his endlessly inventive score to what could have been a very tired subject, Anna Karenina. Without ever sounding forced, his music to Anna is consistently, often surprisingly, catchy—something the Academy seems to favor given recent winners like Bource for The Artist, Michael Giacchino for Up (2009), and A.R. Rahman for Slumdog Millionaire (2008).
That leaves Williams, now 81, the grand old man of Hollywood film scoring. He hasn’t won an Oscar since Schindler’s List (1993), which could bode well for him a la Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady. (Oscar loves a comeback.) And his score for Lincoln is top-drawer—anthemic, comfortable, and ideally suited to the subject. But Williams has been amply recognized already for his contributions to cinema, and unless the Academy intends to send a valedictory message, it might choose to spread the love. That’s certainly been the pattern in recent years. Once a far more predictable category, best score’s days as a bellwether seem a thing of the past. But that’s no bad thing, because the Oscars need upsets, too.
Anthony D’Alessandro is managing editor of AwardsLine. Paul Brownfield is an AwardsLine contributor. This article appeared in the Feb. 13 issue of AwardsLine.
Chris Terrio |Argo
Chris Terrio had a trove of primary and secondary material to consult in writing the screenplay for Argo, most notably the memoir Master of Disguise, by former CIA agent Tony Mendez, and Joshuah Bearman’s 2007 article in Wired magazine based on declassified documents about the remarkable clandestine Iran hostage-rescue caper.
But this hardly gave Terrio a blueprint for a screenplay that deftly blends Hollywood satire with a historical international crisis. Terrio says his biggest fear was that the Hollywood scenes of the Argo screenplay would slide the movie too far into show-business farce.
However, a passage in Mendez’s book gave him license to go there in one case. “In Tony’s book,” Terrio says, “there’s a passage in it where Tony’s describing being with (makeup artist) John Chambers and figuring out that they’re going to call the fake movie Argo. And then it describes how that title both comes from a joke—which literally was a joke that Chambers and Tony used to make, which is the ‘Ah, go fuck yourself’ joke—but also that it has these mythological connotations to it, which Chambers and Mendez were aware of and chose. I feel that somewhere in that passage is the root of the tone of the film, which in some sense was a harder thing to get at than the particular narrative.”
In getting to that narrative, Terrio arrived at the idea of creating a staged reading of Argo for the Hollywood press. “You have all these people sitting around in these ridiculous costumes and yet you have the great mythological intonations of, ‘Our world has changed.’ It’s a nudge and a wink, but there’s also something earnestly mythological about it. Plus, you have the slightly spitballing point of view of Chambers and Tony and Lester Siegel in the room watching this, and you’re trying to evoke the geopolitical world that they’re operating in, plus the human drama of both the houseguests and the hostages.”—Paul Brownfield
Lucy Alibar & Benh Zeitlin |Beasts of the Southern Wild
Playwright Alibar and first-time director Zeitlin call it the Elysian Fields scene—the moment in the third act of the screenplay when Hushpuppy leaves behind Wink, her dying father, and seeks out her mother, whom she believes works on a kind of floating stripper barge in the Gulf.
Juicy and Delicious, the one-act play on which Beasts is based, was not set in the Bathtub of the Louisiana bayou but the rural South (in the play the character Hushpuppy is a boy). “What happened in the play,” Zeitlin says, “was that Hushpuppy sort of wandered into the road and hitched a ride from this mythical truck driver that was driving down the highway, and he brought her to this diner and this woman, who wasn’t supposed to be the mother at all and just kind of gave a cooking lesson.”
The cook carried over in the movie, in just as big a way. “As we worked on the adaptation, people would look at the script and say, ‘Where is the logical plot justification for Hushpuppy to leave her father who’s the center of this story and go to a place that we’ve never heard of before in the script and have this bizarre experience?’ ” Zeitlin says. “That doesn’t really fit into what you think of as your instigating moment of the third act, or whatever you hear in screenplay school. But one of the things that I loved so much about Lucy’s play is that it never operated on a narrative plot logic, it operated on an emotional logic.”
In the play, Alibar wanted the emotional possibility that the cook could be Hushpuppy’s mother. “If it wasn’t, I wanted Hushpuppy to be hoping that it was,” she says. “I think the dialogue was pretty similar, if not exactly the same. Benh and I went back and forth a lot with the tough love aspect of it.”
“That monologue is actually a really good example of how the text from the play was revised into the movie because I remember very specifically me and Lucy taking that speech to (actress Jovan Hathaway) and working with her on reshaping the language to fit her accent,” Zeitlin says. “In the end there is a collaboration between me, Lucy, and Jovan, sort of revising this speech that the waitress made in the play. It’s more Jovan, it’s more Louisiana, but the ideas in it and the substance of it are very much the same.”—Paul Brownfield
Tony Kushner |Lincoln
Early in the process of what would become his screenplay Lincoln, Kushner came to a scene on page 716 in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals. It was a description of Lincoln riding across a battlefield, the gory, horrific ravages of war at his feet. “I got to that scene,” Kushner says, “and I wrote in my notebook and then emailed Steven: ‘This has to be in the movie.’ ”
Lincoln’s grim ride is followed by his conference with Gen. Ulysses S. Grant on the piazza of a house in Petersberg. Kushner found no historical record of their conversation, “so I felt like that’s kind of cool. I can have them talk about what I’d liked them to have talked about, as long as I can defend what they say to one another, and I think I can.”
As such, Kushner chose to leave Lincoln puzzling over what he had just seen on the battlefield while in a quieter place. “Lincoln saw a couple of battles outside of Washington, but they were fairly small skirmishes,” Kushner says. “He saw this one battle that was unfolding that was kind of a charge by (Confederate Gen.) Jubal Early’s troops in July of 1864 that was repelled. He went to meet Grant in Petersburg the morning after this really ugly battle, which was the end of Lee’s 10-month siege. He rode across the battlefield, which was strewn with bodies, and it was the first time he’d ever seen the immediate aftermath of a battle with nothing really cleaned up. And the description by one of the men that accompanied him, of Lincoln sort of visibly aging on the horse as he rode across the battlefield, moved me enormously.”
The scene also gets to the heart of the sacrifices necessary to maintain the union. “One of the paradoxes of Abraham Lincoln,” Kushner says, “was that he was not a guy who took war lightly. And Grant, whom he trusted as he trusted no one else, developed a new kind of warfare that was incredibly bloody and horrible, and it is what what won the war, but at a human cost that no one had ever seen before. Lincoln suffered this very deeply, and I felt like this was a great moment to show that.”—Paul Brownfield
David Magee | Life of Pi
In the novel Life of Pi, there is a scene in which Pi’s father illustrates to his boys that animals are dangerous by feeding a live goat to one of the tigers in the family zoo. Though that sequence did not make it into his adaptation, Magee says it became the inspiration for how to pinpoint a key moment in the film’s early dramatic structure—namely, the first time Pi meets Richard Parker, the tiger with whom he will later be adrift at sea.
“It’s handled very differently in the book and used to different effect, and it goes to the heart of what we were trying to accomplish in the adaptation,” Magee says. “In the book, a different tiger is fed the goat. It’s an incident that Pi recalls from his childhood, where the father takes the two boys in, and just to remind them how dangerous animals are, he demonstrates by feeding a goat to a tiger. And then he goes on in a somewhat comical scene to explain why every animal is dangerous in some way or the other, going from the tiger to the antelope who could spear you with his horns, to the turtle that snaps at you, and he works all the way down to a guinea pig. Pi thinks the guinea pig is a problem, too, and (the father) says, ‘No, the guinea pig is fine.’ So it’s meant as a comical scene and a reflection more on how animals are not adapted to life with humans. One of the challenges that we had in adapting the story was finding an evolution to Pi’s character, so that he was not just an infant traveling out on the waters with a tiger, having faith in God and having no reason to question why all of this was happening to him. It works beautifully for the novel because he could reflect on all sorts of aspects of spirituality in a bunch of episodes. But we needed to create an emotional narrative for that journey. And so very early on, Ang (Lee) and I talked about the possibility of turning this scene into the moment of his disillusionment as a child, the moment where he sees through some of the mythologies of childhood.”—Paul Brownfield
David O. Russell |Silver Linings Playbook
A book’s narrative has all the time in the world to lay out its plot points, but what was key for David O. Russell in adapting Matthew Quick’s novel Silver Linings Playbook was “creating a dramatic engine in the screenplay that propels the story into third act.” One of his key changes from book to script revolved around Pat Jr.’s discovery that his ex-wife Nikki never wrote him a letter—a gesture that he initially perceives as an opportunity to makeup. In the screenplay, Pat Jr. deduces on his own that Tiffany wrote the Nikki letter, while in the novel, Tiffany makes the big reveal to him. Russell deconstructs his reasons for making the change:
“In the book, he’s a completely delusional person who has lived in an institution for four years. God bless those people, but I don’t know them. I know from my own life, the one we portrayed was my son. I wanted to talk about that guy who is the whole motivation for this picture. He has a manner about him in the book that is different. I decided (along with Bradley Cooper) that he was a lucid guy who, like many bipolar people, when they’re not on their medication, they distort things and go into unrealistic expectations.”
“Pat Jr. learns about Tiffany writing the Nikki letters very late in the book. Tiffany hasn’t exchanged the letter yet. She holds it out until after the dance. So it was a big structural decision in the film to make the dance the climax of the movie and to make the letters the currency of their relationship and the barter at the heart of their intimacy.”
“The curtain opens on the third act where Tiffany and the parents are plotting to lie to Pat Jr. while he figures out on the porch the truth behind Nikki’s letter. You have to build your pressure into the canister of the movie. Not only is Pat Jr. getting the news that Nikki isn’t available, but he’s also realizing he’s been lied to. That’s humiliating to him. The shame can alone trigger a bipolar episode. In fact, he’s created the conditions where people have to tiptoe around him.”
“It all makes sense, the secrecy of the dance and the letters. There are so many people trying to help and supervise people like Pat Jr., that the dignity of their privacy and the dignity of them making decisions without telling anyone becomes extremely valuable to them. In fact, it’s the most important human dignity. So that was a decision we made—for Pat Jr. to figure out for himself (that Tiffany wrote the letters). He doesn’t tell anyone—not the audience or the characters—what he’s going to do. It’s a moment that he turns a corner and starts to own his own life.” —Anthony D’Alessandro
Thomas J. McLean is an AwardsLine contributor. This article appeared in the Feb. 13 issue of AwardsLine.
The film editing race is both diverse and expected. All five nominated films are also up for best picture, and the individual editors range from three-time Oscar winner Michael Kahn to several first-time nominees and one nominee, William Goldenberg, nominated for work on two separate films.
We talked with the nominated editors and asked them to run through a key scene from their films—one that was crucial to making the picture work, either from a tone perspective or a more technical one. The results were as diverse as the nominated films themselves.
WILLIAM GOLDENBERG |ARGO
Goldenberg says Argo’s incongruous quality was epitomized in an often bizarre sequence that cuts from the elaborate table-read of the fake screenplay at the Beverly Hills Hotel to the houseguests trying to entertain themselves in their long isolation to Iranian forces frightening hostages at the U.S. Embassy in Iran with a mock execution.
“When I read the script, I thought this was a scene where if we can make this work tonally, the movie will work,” says Goldenberg. “Because it’s all these different tones colliding together, and if all these expositions can work as a scene, then I think what we’re trying to do with the movie will be successful.”
Starting with actual news footage from the era, Goldenberg built the sequence slowly as each segment was shot. “The first cut of it was really strong, and Ben (Affleck) really liked it. But then we had too much of the mock assassination and maybe too much newsreel footage. Then we had too much of the houseguests. And it’s a process of over weeks and weeks and weeks of honing and finetuning and shaping and trying to make sure that the story points we wanted to highlight were being highlighted and that it was clear that this is a mock execution.”
Unlike most films, their luxury was time in the schedule for reflection. “(Affleck) has an editing room at his house, and we don’t live that far from each other so I was able to go up there on Sundays when it was a little calmer. We were able to sit calmly and look through the footage, and it was more about what direction the movie was going and how it would inform the next week’s work,” says Goldenberg, who says he finished editing the film in June. “I think it was helpful for him. I think it was helpful for me obviously to get reactions. You’re always nervous as an editor about how a director’s going to react to your cut footage initially.”
Tim Squyres |LIFE OF PI
Keeping the story moving was a challenge on Ang Lee’s Life of Pi, which was shot with extensive visual effects for the tiger and in stereoscopic 3D. The film focused on simplicity in its storytelling, with fewer than 1,000 shots in its two-hour running time.
Squyres says the scene in which Pi, played by Suraj Sharma, tries to train the tiger with a stick in order to ensure his own survival was tough. “The tricky thing with a scene like that, it’s really all about the content of the scene itself,” says Squyres. “I’m basically cutting from Pi to the tiger to Pi to the tiger. There’s a couple places where I kind of go out to a wide shot, but essentially, there’s not much I can do editorially to ramp up the scene.
“So in order for the scene to be riveting, interesting, exciting, and important,” Squyres continues, “I have to pace it, and I have to go with the best moments from Suraj’s performance, because he’s doing a combination of things: He’s trying to look strong and confident, but at the same time as an actor he’s trying to show underneath that he’s terrified.”
Complicating that is that one of the performers—the tiger—was a mixture of shots of more than one real tiger and a CG tiger.
The scene was prevized in a general way, and Squyres says he consulted on set with Lee more than on any of their other films to ensure they got what they needed. “There were a number of little beats of action that we dropped,” he says. “We kept modifying it and tightening it, and we at one point did decide we were stretching things a bit much. It went through a bunch of changes, but that’s editing.”
Michael Kahn |LINCOLN
Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is, like the famous president at the story’s core, a deliberate creature. The movie alternately gets intimate with the 16th president, and pulls back to give the broader view of the man and his achievements.
Few sequences in the film exemplify editor Michael Kahn’s contributions to the movie as a scene in which Lincoln visits a military hospital in the company of his son, Robert. The establishing shots show the pair riding up to the hospital sitting opposite each other in silence in a horse-drawn carriage, cutting closer as Robert tells his father that seeing the injured soldiers will not alter his plan to enlist. Undeterred and unsurprised, Lincoln leaves his son in the carriage while he enters the hospital.
Cutting back to Robert, who sits alone outside, a covered wheelbarrow pushed by two soldiers draws his attention. Curious, Robert gets out of the carriage and looks down to see the wheelbarrow has left a bloody trail. He follows and watches the soldiers unveil the severed human limbs in the wheelbarrow and dump it into a large pit with others. Kahn then cuts in close on Robert, who despite his bravery is rattled, and turns back in the cold winter sunshine.
Kahn then goes in tight on Robert’s hands, as he fumbles an attempt to roll a cigarette, tears forming in his eyes as he tosses aside the rolling papers and tobacco in frustration. When Lincoln asks him what’s wrong, he towers over the crouching Robert, the camera alternately showing Lincoln as a towering figure whose shadow crosses that of his son and as a man looking down and offering a way to help.
Robert stands to make his argument, and Kahn cuts to a wider shot of the men. Kahn then goes in tighter and alternates more quickly from Robert to Lincoln as the argument heats up, with Lincoln’s slap across his son’s cheek coming as both a surprise and the deliberate act of a man who knows what he’s doing.
Lincoln immediately tries to comfort his son, who pushes him away as Kahn cuts to a wide shot, while Robert storms away from his father and declares his intention to enlist in the military no matter what. Lincoln takes the news solemnly, turning away from the crowds on the street and looking downward, muttering to himself.
Jay Cassidy & Crispin Struthers | SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
Director David O. Russell sees editing as a continuation of the writing process, with an excellent example being how a specific music choice shaped a key sequence in which Pat Jr., played by Bradley Cooper, returns home after meeting Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) and manically tears the house apart looking for his wedding video, ultimately ending up in a physical altercation with his father, played by Robert De Niro.
“A lot of it was driven by the music,” says Cassidy. “The first versions of the scene were done where—and this would make sense from a story point of view—he would hear the trigger music in his head, the Stevie Wonder song that had triggered him in the doctor’s office. So it made sense to build the scene that way, and we could never get that to work.”
The breakthrough came when Russell suggested they try cutting it using the Led Zeppelin song “What Is and What Should Never Be.” “It’s Led Zeppelin—you can’t cut the music, it’s sacrosanct,” says Struthers. “And then we looked at the themes again, and we looked at the cuts and did everything to just shape it to the manic nature of the song, which seemed to fit perfectly with Bradley’s mood at the time.”
“Once we had done that, it unified the whole idea of the night,” says Cassidy. “It wasn’t several scenes in a row, it was this one explosion which then had some ring out, which is basically Bob (De Niro) going next door chasing the neighborhood kid with the camera.”
Helping out the process was Russell’s working methods, which involve keeping cameras rolling for multiple resets with the actors.
“In the dailies of these 20-minute takes, we can kind of see the evolution of this scene,” says Struthers. “You can see the amazing performances he gets out of these actors, the rhythms they get into. But we can also see how David and the cameraman are getting into rhythm, too, and how they’re figuring it out as they go along.”
Dylan Tichenor & William Goldberg | ZERO DARK THIRTY
The sheer volume of footage shot for Zero Dark Thirty required director Kathryn Bigelow and writer-producer Mark Boal to bring on Goldenberg to shape the movie about the decade-long hunt for 9/11 terrorist attack leader Osama bin Laden.
No section of the movie was less formed than a key middle sequence following the mechanics of the hunt, as the CIA seeks out the phone number to al Qaeda courier Abu Ahmed al Kuwaiti’s mother and use it to locate first Ahmed and then the compound where bin Laden himself is staying.
“It could have derailed the movie, and I think it turned into a really strong section,” says Tichenor. “There are sections of it that count for two to three minutes of screen time, but there were three days of dailies—three long days of dailies, just to see it all and figuring what went in and what went out.”
Making sure each shot had a point and communicated clearly the plot was another trick. “There was a lot of discussion about how much of that story we needed to tell, and if we needed to show if he had a cell phone at all,” says Tichenor. “One day we condensed it down to shorter than it is in the movie. We thought we had unlocked it, we had figured out a way to really shorthand the story and make it exciting. And as I looked at it and looked at it, I thought, ‘Uh oh, it doesn’t make sense.’ ”
“In the unraveling of it, we found a midway point that was where the movie ended up in structure. In a weird way, we had to take a giant step backward to take a step forward. It was that misstep that led us to the key to unlock the sequence,” Tichenor says.
“One part of that sequence that Dylan and I won a major battle with (was) the sequence (that) begins with Daniel, Jason Clarke’s character, (getting) a phone number for Abu Ahmed. And the next section starts with this trap and trade section where you get a rough idea of the overwhelming scope of finding people and finding these phone numbers and the global scale of it. That was never in the script. Dylan and I both felt strongly we needed to see something happen, we needed to see somebody in a big server room, we needed to see the process a bit,” says Goldenberg.
Anthony D’Alessandro is managing editor of AwardsLine. David Mermelstein and Paul Brownfield are AwardsLine contributors. This article appeared in the Feb. 13 issue of AwardsLine.
Auteurs wouldn’t be auteurs if they weren’t enigmatic, especially when it comes to deconstructing details of their oeuvre. “Let the film speak for itself” is often the motto, and for Amour director and screenwriter Michael Haneke, that’s not too far from his own credo. However, he’s not completely inaccessible when responding to the audience’s fervor for his work.
“It’s very difficult for me to say, it was so long ago, I can’t remember,” Haneke told AwardsLine when asked if there were one particularly challenging scene to write for Amour. “Generally, when it comes to screenwriting, I can say that if it’s flowing, you enjoy it. If not, it’s far less pleasant. But there’s always ambivalence—the struggle to put something there on a blank page when there was nothing there before. If it’s successful, you’re happy; if not, you’re depressed.”
In writing the story of 80-year-old husband Georges who contends with his dying wife Anne’s debilitated state, Haneke was spurred by a beloved aunt’s long and painful battle with a degenerative condition. For the director, the story of the elderly couple’s struggle was a universal tragedy versus a tragic drama “about a 40-year-old couple who is coping with a child dying of cancer.”
In researching the script, Haneke met extensively with medical specialists who work with stroke victims. His only note to Emmanuelle Riva in terms of preparing for the role was to undergo speech-therapy sessions for stroke patients. Riva initially read for the part of Anne, but Haneke had Jean-Louis Trintignant in mind for the role of Georges and wouldn’t have made Amour if the actor weren’t available.
“I like writing for actors who I know and respect, and I know I can get results,” says Haneke, who has admired Trintignant’s work since he was a teenager. In regards to Isabelle Huppert, another Haneke vet from such films as The Piano Teacher and Time of the Wolf, the director praises her talents. “She is like a Stradivarius violin, on which you can play Bach, Mozart, or Brahms, and it will always sound good.”
Setting the film in one apartment “was always the choice,” says the director. “When you get older, when you have ill health, your life is reduced to the four walls that you are living in. But beyond that, there was also the challenge of dealing with a theme of this gravity. For that, I went back to the classical use of time, space, and action.”
Though asked by his aunt to assist with her death, a request Haneke denied, the director-scribe asserts that there’s nothing in Amour that he cribbed from real life. In particular, the film’s tragic ending.
“That’s the kind of question I never answer on principle,” says Haneke in regards to interpreting Amour’s conclusion. “I respect my films, and I am trying to force the spectator with these scenes to find their own answers and their own interpretation of what they see on screen. If I were to provide interpretation, I could be wrong and robbing you of your imagination.”
Spoken like a true auteur.—Anthony D’Alessandro, David Mermelstein
Just as Quentin Tarantino casts extensively for the right actor who’ll recite his dialogue properly, he is equally exacting when it comes to the punch and snap of his comedy scenes. And if there’s one takeaway moment that helps ease the ultraviolent intensity in his revisionist western Django Unchained, it’s the lynch-mob scene where a gaggle of hooded Klansmen, led by plantation owner Big Daddy (Don Johnson), plot their attack against bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) and Django (Jamie Foxx), who have offed slave handlers the Brittle brothers.
“The comedy rhythm is very specific and an actor needs to say this word and this word for a punchline to work or for the tone to work, but I have perfect actors,” Tarantino explains.
It’s a classic western comedy moment, rivaling the campfire sequence in Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles:The dim-witted Klansmen debate about wearing hoods or not, because the person who made them didn’t cut the eye holes in the right places. For Tarantino, watching Birth of a Nation after his Django Klansman scene is all the more hilarious because the reality probably was that those actors couldn’t see a thing.
“I’m positive it’s half the reason why Amy (Pascal) wanted to be involved in the movie because she felt that the bag scene was so funny,” Tarantino says. “It’s actually terrifying to write something that funny on the page. If I write something that funny on the page and count on Jamie (Foxx) and Sam (L. Jackson) to say it, then I have no worries. But I had to spread that scene out between six people, and they all had to deliver.”
Despite any outrage that Django has triggered in the African-American media, in particular Spike Lee’s ire, the film was recognized by the NAACP Image Awards with best supporting acting wins for Kerry Washington and Samuel L. Jackson, as well as a best picture nomination and acting nod for Jamie Foxx. Yet from what Tarantino has observed at screenings, it’s his bag scene that’s a clincher.
“You get a cathartic laugh from audiences, especially black audiences, because they start giggling uncontrollably as that scene builds in its absurdity,” says the director. “The tone of the laughter is: ‘We were scared of these idiots?’ ” —Anthony D’Alessandro
In Flight, screenwriter John Gatins had to figure out how his main character, pilot Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington), would first cross paths with the heroin addict Nicole, played by Kelly Reilly.
Flight is a story about an alcoholic hitting rock bottom inside the protective shell of an act of daring heroism: The crash-landing of a commercial flight. But Gatins says he wanted “a little bit of a two-handed narrative in the first half of the movie.”
Enter Nicole, a junkie on her own descent. Gatins set their random meeting in the stairwell of a hospital. He did not, however, expect a third character to insert himself into the scene—a young cancer patient, played by James Badge Dale, who, finding Whip and Nicole smoking in the stairwell, asks to bum a cigarette and becomes “thematically a guy who comes and talks about the random nature of life and events that have to do with, what
do you believe?”
“Had I sat to really try to outline the entire movie, I never would have said, ‘Oh, scene 17 is going to be in a stairwell, and a cancer patient is going to walk in and talk for six pages and then leave, and we’re never going to see him again.’ But given the nature by which I wrote this movie, with letting the story unfold a little bit, and even though it was a little bit unwieldy at times—it was long and I had to do a lot of cutting and circling back and everything else—that cancer patient was one of those happy accidents of living in the world of (Whip’s) mind and what he might encounter once he was there,” Gatins explains.
Yet even though the character simply called Gaunt Young Man helped solidify the scene, Gatins wasn’t necessarily sure the man would ever be fully realized as a character. “There was a part of me that thought at times that he wouldn’t survive the movie or even the script cut, but I kind of fell immediately in love with him. I mean, I know he was a bit of the Oracle at Delphi, but I loved that about him, too. It was one of those things where it’s like, ‘Well, he can just say whatever he wants.’ Everyone has interesting reactions to that scene, which is another thing that made me very grateful that I decided to leave it in the script, and when (director Robert) Zemeckis and I sat down, it was one of the first things he wanted to talk about. He said, ‘It’s the framework of the whole movie. It’s important, it’s pivotal.’ ”—Paul Brownfield
On the lam from their parents and the authorities, two 12-year-old lovers enlist the aid of a high-ranking official in the Khaki Scouts to marry them quickly and help them escape the forces that would return them to adolescence. Roman Coppola, who cowrote Moonrise Kingdom with director Wes Anderson, is quite fond of the scene that stars his cousin, Jason Schwartzman.
Schwartzman is Uncle Ben, the aforementioned high-ranking official in the Khaki Scouts. Paid off to help the young Scout Sam and his child-bride-to-be Suzy escape, he tells the boy: “There’s a cold-water crabber moored off Broken Rock, the skipper owes me an IOU, we’ll see if he can take you on as a claw-cracker. Won’t be an easy life, but it’s better than shock therapy.”
“He can’t legally wed them, but he has a certain status due to being this high-level scout,” Coppola says. “And his language and the way he speaks has a distinctive manner that has to do with his position.”
Within Uncle Ben’s blizzard of words and comic alliteration—“cold-water crabber,” “claw-cracker”—is the surface tone of Moonrise Kingdom, in which characters have their own verbal coding: Deadpan and heavily formalized speech is part of the engine of a comedy about adolescence.
“The choice of words relate to the character’s function,” Coppola says. “For example, there’s the police officer, and the parents of Suzy are some type of lawyers. Often in their conversations, they use legal turns of phrase.”
Uncle Ben talks fast, in keeping with his function in the story—to conduct a quickie, unofficial wedding and get our two young lovers off the island. Schwartzman, with little time to waste, speaks his lines in what Coppola calls “a wonderful kind of ’40s, Ben Hecht-ian kind of way, in this urgent blast of dialogue.”
“When some dialogue comes out so quickly, it takes a moment to catch up to it, so it’s a scene I enjoy watching again and again,” Coppola continues. “The writing of it, and seeing Wes manifest that through his work as a director—and the actors, of course—it’s really one of the more touching scenes for me. These two young lovers are committed to each other, and they want to be married. They’re willing to be on the lam and live in a chaotic way, due to this true love. The sentiment is rather deep and sincere, and yet it has a very playful way that it’s presented.”—Paul Brownfield
The scene calls for our CIA agent heroine Maya (Jessica Chastain) to explode at her boss in Pakistan, station chief Joseph Bradley, over the prioritizing of resources in the near-decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden.
“It’s the day after the attempted bombing in New York City” in 2010, screenwriter Mark Boal explains. “We’ve watched (Maya) evolve and devolve from a relatively innocent young officer in the course of seven years to this obsessively driven, committed hunter.”
Stoic for much of the film, Maya finally sheds her emotional armor. “It’s scripted in a way that allowed Jessica to uncork a powerful emotional moment. So it works on an emotional level, and she has the opportunity to really flex her acting muscles and show the strain that she’s been holding beneath this veneer of professionalism. But it also works on a political level, because it shows the resource allocation was so important to the story, and that the CIA was constantly torn between the trade-off between trying to prevent an attack and trying to achieve the longer-term goal of finding and killing bin Laden. We know from history that different administrations placed different priority on that trade-off.”
The hunt for bin Laden, by then, has also led to the death of Maya’s close colleague Jessica (Jennifer Ehle), killed in a suicide bombing on a U.S. base in Khost, Afghanistan. “We think of the CIA as just this faceless organization, but it’s susceptible to all the same personal pettiness of any big corporation or any big high school,” Boal says. “And over the years she’s lost friends and put up with enormous frustration. And then she finally screams at her boss.”
Although the government remains a big bureaucracy, Boal says he also wanted to show how close CIA agents become in this type of work. “The team that found and killed bin Laden is a pretty small team,” he says. “And they all, or most of them, knew each other. It was a very personal undertaking. There’s so much death all around on this story. You have all the deaths in 9/11 and then subsequent deaths in Iraq on both sides and the civilians, and Afghanistan, you have the horrors in the black sites and everything. But in addition to that, you have the deaths among the CIA. There was a real historic, personal connection between Maya and the character that’s represented as being killed in Khost. There’s a scene in the film where they’re texting each other right before. They were friends. That sort of friend-mentor relationship in the film I didn’t pull out of my ass—that’s real. It just shows how personal this all was for them.”—Paul Brownfield
Cari Lynn is an AwardsLine contributor. This article appeared in the Feb. 6 issue of AwardsLine.
Colleen Atwood |Snow White and the Huntsman
No stranger to the Oscar race with three wins (for Alice in Wonderland, Memoirs of a Geisha, and Chicago), plus another seven nominations, Atwood didn’t originally plan on a career in costume design. She’d gone to art school to study painting, but when she became pregnant in high school, her path diverged to retail fashion so she could earn a living. It wasn’t until her daughter was in high school that Atwood moved to New York and took a film class, where she found herself the go-to person for sets and costumes for her fellow students. Her first break was in 1980, working on sets and props for Ragtime.
Why it’s Oscar-worthy: “Any time you’re able to design a whole new world it sets it apart,” she says. “Personally, my work on Snow White and the Huntsman is some of the most interesting I’ve ever done because I got to use new and innovative materials and applications and shapes. To be nominated by your peers is fabulous and exciting because these are the people who really scrutinize your work, whereas everyone else can have an emotional experience to the costumes, but that’s pretty tied into the movie.”
The showstopper: “I was asked to do a presell image, so I designed a feathered, raven cloak for Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron). All the feathers were hand-trimmed, and I worked with an amazing milliner in London so that, like a real bird, all the feathers go in different directions and catch the light in an amazing way.”
Biggest challenge: “The fact that we manufactured 2,000 costumes. We had two armies designed from the ground up, three courts, peasants, scary creatures, and dwarves, where everything had to be scaled down to size but still be realistic. Also, Snow White had to wear the same costume throughout much of the movie, and you couldn’t get tired of looking at it, plus it had to go through variations. When I found out she was running through the woods, I thought, We’re going to get sick of seeing the same dress full of mud. We decided to put in the story that the huntsman trims the dress, and I put Snow White in leggings underneath. After the dress is trimmed, I love what happened—it’s a look young people could associate with, and on practical level Kristen Stewart does a lot of her own stunt work so the leggings protected her from the branches and cold and elements of the forest.”
How would you dress the Oscar statuette?: “The raven cape would look great with the gold body. And a crown. We used an awesome Gothic crown in the movie.”
Eiko Ishioka |Mirror Mirror
With a previous Oscar for Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1992, a Grammy for the 1986 Miles Davis album cover Tutu, and a Tony nomination in 1988 for M. Butterfly, acclaimed Tokyo-born designer Eiko Ishioka passed away of pancreatic cancer prior to learning of her Oscar nomination for Mirror Mirror. Hailed by TheNew York Times as one of the foremost art directors in the world, Ishioka also has work that is featured in the permanent collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art. We spoke with Mirror Mirror director Tarsem Singh on the legacy of a pivotal designer, with whom he collaborated on all of his films.
Why it’s Oscar-worthy: “Eiko was a hell of an inspiration for us,” Singh explains. “Her verve flows out from her. Her DNA is completely in this film. You never had to say, ‘Think outside the box’ to Eiko. She belonged to a different planet. Usually people pull references from other films or research, (but) she never did that. She’d pull a photograph of an animal and say, ‘When the lizard is agitated, this is what it does with its neck.’ Her inspiration comes more from the natural history museum than any fashion magazine.”
The showstopper: “The wardrobe was written into the script—Eiko took my belief so viscerally. So if I say, ‘Let’s have a costume ball and make the queen stand out,’ she puts everyone in white on white and makes it an animal theme. Then there’s the Battleship game played with people’s hats. She does things I don’t think about until I see it, and I realize that every idea I talked about was incorporated. Then there are the dwarves. I wanted them to do fighting and didn’t want it to look CGI, but because this movie is also for children, the fighting couldn’t be aggressive. One of my biggest problems was solved by Eiko in a single conversation when she thought of doing accordion legs. We also discussed how the dwarves’ individual personalities had to come out through the clothes, but at the same time, they still needed to look like one group. So Eiko decided everyone’s personality should be in their hat.”
Biggest challenge: “Eiko was never fond of the practical. She would make what filmed the best, but it may not have moved. The toughest was for the dwarves—we didn’t want to have a Disney look, but they still had to look like a gang. Then, the Queen’s (Julia Roberts) wedding dress took a team to move it, and we made several dresses to shoot from different angles. If Julia was sitting, there was one dress, another for when she was in the coach. I was trying to make things easy for Eiko because she was undergoing cancer therapy, but she doesn’t know easy. She’d make seven choices of everything; I’d pick one, and then she’d present seven more variations on that. We spoiled her and said, ‘Let her have her time.’ It does make it more difficult for actors though—take a step in this (version of the costume), sit in that one, say your line in that one.”
How would Eiko dress the Oscar statuette?: “It’s so hard to try to guess. You would never tell Eiko what to make! I imagine she would have done something that would’ve been very hard to lift. If someone complained it was too heavy, she would have said, ‘You go put on weight then!’ ”
Paco Delgado |Les Misérables
Trained in set and costume design at the Institut del Teatre of Barcelona, Delgado has worked extensively with Spain’s most famous director, Pedro Almodóvar, on 2004’s Bad Education and 2011’s The Skin I Live In, as well as on Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Oscar-nominated Biutiful in 2010. In a twist of fate, Delgado met director Tom Hooper (Les Misérables, The King’s Speech) when they worked together on a Captain Morgan TV ad, and now Delgado has earned his first Oscar nomination for the epic film adaptation of the longest-running musical in history.
Why it’s Oscar-worthy: “This is about the history of France, but also about the history of the Western world,” Delgado says, “and it was a big responsibility to create this world, but I also had to remember I was doing a musical with drama, and I needed to have color and fantasy.”
Biggest Challenge: “We created 1,500 new costumes, out of a total of over 2,000 costumes, and many of them we had to break down with mud, grease, sand, brushes, and blowtorches because we wanted to reflect how poverty-stricken Paris was at that time. (In my research) I learned they used an amazing secondhand market where clothes were sold and resold and resold again until they were rags. Also, Tom and I had discussed a leitmotif, so I evoked the colors of the French flag throughout, using blue costumes in the early factory scene, then red for the revolution, and then moving to white for the wedding and nunnery scenes. Also, there’s always a fight with the budget and with time.”
The showstopper: “I wanted to try to interpret personalities and characters through the costumes. In Victor Hugo’s book, Fantine is coquettish and beautiful and had some views of the petty-minded society, so I wanted her factory dress to belong to her lost past. [Ed. note: Fantine’s dress was pink in the scene, in stark contrast to the other factory workers in drab blue.] It was all hand-embroidered and had a level of craftsmanship that would make Fantine appear as an outsider among the rest of the women.”
How would you dress the Oscar statuette?: “He already looks so sexy naked. After all, every woman and even every man wants to bring him home. I would do a version of the sexiest dress ever, like the transparent glittering dress that Marilyn Monroe wore at President John F. Kennedy’s birthday at Madison Square Garden. It’s very appropriate for Oscar who only appears in his birthday suit—and I’m very proud I have been invited to his 85th birthday!”
Joanna Johnston |Lincoln
Johnson’s biography reads like a “best films” list spanning more than three decades. She cut her teeth as an assistant costume designer on Roman Polanski’s Tess in 1979 and went on to be the go-to designer for Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Cast Away), M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable), and Steven Spielberg (the Indiana Jones franchise, The Color Purple, Saving Private Ryan, War Horse). Somehow, though, Oscar evaded this British designer until now, with her much-lauded Lincoln, Johnston’s eighth Spielberg-directed film.
Why it’s Oscar-worthy: “I suppose it hits a button with the balance of the piece as a whole,” she says. “I think the work is quite quiet—most of my work is not showcase-y but relatively character-driven. The academics and the historians seem to be happy at the accuracy, and my thought is (voters) normally go for the very expansive and forward-projecting and not necessarily the things that are understated, so all I can say is I’m really, really pleased.”
The showstopper: “I don’t have a piece designed to be a showstopper—it’s not that kind of film; Lincoln himself is the most iconic, but if there’s one that pushes above in my mind, it’s Mary Todd’s cream dress when she goes to the theater. You see it as a whole dress, and I based it off of two dresses of hers that I saw in portraits and fused together. I embellished the neckline and the sleeves because I wanted to do something to help Sally Field’s physicality get more into Mary Todd’s physicality, so I depicted Mary Todd’s affectation of fussiness in her dress.”
Biggest challenge: “The whole film! Each film is unique, but this is a completely different film, a different creature than anything else—it had its own character and rhythm and roots and had a very long gestation period of eight years. I was involved to a tiny degree over a six-year period.”
How would you dress the Oscar statuette?: “I would keep him as he is. I don’t think he could be improved—although I think he’d look kind of cool in armor, beautiful armor with a lot of tooling.”
Jacqueline Durran |Anna Karenina
A favorite collaborator of director Joe Wright’s, British designer Jacqueline Durran has garnered two other noms for Wright’s Atonement and Pride & Prejudice. Not bad for a designer who says she couldn’t understand why Wright had even asked to interview her for his first feature, Pride & Prejudice, given that Durran hadn’t previously done pre-20th-century designs.
Why it’s Oscar-worthy: “I think it’s the whole thing, how all the elements mesh together and become such a complete vision,” Durran says. “The way they move through the theater and the colors and the costumes, we all benefit from each other’s work. Joe had such a strong vision; he always had the idea that the film would be stylized, and in our first meeting he said he wanted to concentrate on silhouettes. We got to talking about how 1950s couture is about silhouettes, and how dramatic and beautiful it was, and from there it seemed we could combine 1870s dress with elements from the ’50s.”
Biggest challenge: “One part is that Joe is a challenging director because he pushes you to do more, to rethink things or to come up with different ideas. The other part is the idea of Anna Karenina, you hear it and you say, ‘Oh, god. It’s such a big idea.’ She’s got to look beautiful, the world has to be beautiful, you have to capture this luxurious beauty, and for that I had to raise my game. You feel you have something to live up to.”
The showstopper: “My personal favorite is the cream dress in the tea room in Moscow—I thought it really suited Keira Knightley, and also it was the most fully fledged version of the 1950s/1870s combo, with traditional skirt and then a pillbox hat. There’s no point in trying to make a stylized statement if it doesn’t end up looking like anything, and this came together. However, I do think the overall show-stopper has to be the ball because of all the elements there—26 dancers, in what I call ‘sour pastels’, surround Anna Karenina, all in black, and Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), all in white.”
How would you dress Oscar: “In diamonds and furs.”
Diane Haithman is an AwardsLine contributor. This article appeared in the Feb. 13 issue of AwardsLine.
Veteran set decorator Jim Erickson, nominated with production designer Rick Carter for Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, has a thing about authenticity. He once hunted down a collector of vintage candy wrappers to find just the right wrapper to reproduce for the movie Love Field (well, almost: He wanted a 1964 Butterfinger from Texas, but settled for a 1964 model found in Arkansas). Erickson took pleasure in creating authentic White House interiors because Lincoln was the first U.S. president whose life was well documented in photographs. Erickson talked to AwardsLine about the detailed work that went into re-creating Lincoln’s office.
1) Lincoln was shot in Virginia using many real-life historic sites, but the Lincoln office was re-created on a set using photos as the guide. “We scaled off the pattern of the wallpaper and had it all designed and silk-screened. We worked up a pattern that was as close as we could actually get without having a real piece of it in front of us,” Erickson says. Erickson was able to find Carter & Company, a Richmond business with a staff of four that provides wallpaper for museums and historic homes and could do reproductions at a reasonable price. “Silkscreen is how they did wallpaper back then. It can create metallics and glazes a computer can’t do. The computer can give you images, but not the texture.”
2) During her White House tenure, Laura Bush remodeled what is known as the Lincoln Bedroom “but was really his office,” Erickson explains. The First Lady had hired an East Coast design firm to weave an authentic carpet. “We just contacted them, and they made us a carpet. (Mrs. Bush) had used her own color scheme, and it was very tasteful, but we wanted to get back to the original.”
3) Erickson is often displeased with the lighting in period films because it’s anachronistically bright. So when cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (also nominated) arrived for his first meeting, Erickson, who had acquired a vintage gas light fixture, set it up and lit it in a dark room. “And I said, ‘Janusz, this is how much light a gas light gave back then.’ I like to think I influenced him in some way. He did a brilliant job.” The gas line for the lamp on Lincoln’s meeting table goes up to attach to a chandelier outside the frame of the image.
4) Even if the audience can’t see the details, all maps and documents are meticulous copies of the originals. While the average viewer might not notice when it’s done right, Erickson says, when something is not accurate, it jumps out like a neon light. Plus, the actors need authenticity to get into character. “When I first started out in film, prop people were famous for putting in gag props. That is so disrespectful to the actor to do that, it just indicates that you don’t take their work seriously. Even the minutes for these meetings people had that were in their portfolios were the actual minutes, because these minutes were documented so well.”
5) Erickson says he cringed at the idea of buying period antique furniture, expecting it to be too expensive. He figured reproductions would have to suffice. Instead, “I did really well because there was an antique auction every week in Richmond—Wednesday, I think—and it was like a prop house for me. Also this Victorian furniture is very out of fashion right now, so it was ridiculously cheap. I’d go there every week and buy a truckload.”
6) Erickson can’t take credit for the iconic stovepipe hat—talk to the costume department. But, he says, “I think all of us who are nominated should wear them to the Oscars.”
Diane Haithman is an AwardsLine contributor. This article appeared in the Feb. 13 issue of AwardsLine.
It was, in the words of production designer David Gropman, “a very large endeavor for a very short moment.” For Ang Lee’s Life of Pi, designers created a faithful reproduction of the real-life Piscine Molitor in Paris in the 1950s. The set did not get much screen time, but Gropman says Lee insisted that the pool be fully rendered as an important key to the story. Pi was named after the swimming pool (full name Piscine Molitor Patel). Besides explaining Pi’s odd moniker, Gropman says Lee wanted to explain Pi’s ability to master the water and his alarming companion at sea, an adult Bengal tiger. Pi’s father survived polio as a young boy so he could not swim, but “he was happy to see his son be able to, not realizing it would one day save his life,” Gropman says.
1) The scene begins with a closeup of the Piscine Molitor sign. As a youth, Pi adopts the nickname to avoid having fellow students call him “Pissing” instead of Piscine.
2) At first, filmmakers considered renovating the real Piscine Molitor, once a world-famous attraction but now a piece of derelict architecture occasionally used for fashion shows and special events. But prohibitive costs led to creating a pool set to exact dimensions on the tarmac of an airport in Taiwan that the production crew had turned into studios and soundstages. A portion of the pool was dug 5 feet deep and filled with water so actors could actually take a dip.
3) On the right side of the frame, the design team constructed an actual replica of the three stories of dressing rooms that flank the real Piscine Molitor. On the left, the matching bank of dressing rooms is a CGI extension. On both sides, the people and their beach umbrellas are real.
4) While designers took pains to replicate the exact dimensions and design of the pool, dressing rooms, and decks, all bets were off when it came to the skyline, a fantasy Paris featuring landmarks including the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame (neither are visible from the real Piscine Molitor). “We took tremendous liberties with that skyline,” the designer says with a laugh, adding that they wanted the look of a picture postcard.
5) Color plays a significant role in the film’s design. Blue, white, and orange dominate, both in this scene and later scenes of Pi and his tiger companion lost at sea. “I knew that blue—between the ocean, the pool, and the sky—was going to be a very strong color,” Gropman says. “The interior of a lifeboat is orange so it can be spotted from far away—not to mention having a Bengal tiger, who is a very orange fellow himself. The hard white you see in the Piscine Molitor is echoed in the outside of the lifeboat.” An aqua shade popular in the 1950s colors the beach umbrellas and turns up in the elegant swimwear along with coordinating pastel yellows, greens, and pinks.
6) What role did the 3D play for the designers? Gropman says Lee insisted that he and his supervising art director attend a master class in the technique. Lee did very little in the way of 3D tricks, that is, having objects suddenly pop out of the screen—rather, he asked Gropman to use the 3D perspective to create an illusion akin to the depth of a theater stage. “It’s a 3D approach, but borrowed from a much older tradition,” Gropman says. The pool structure is “very much a frame with four walls, the first one being the proscenium, where the balcony is.”