16 February 2013

The Academy Awards That Should Have Been, Part III

The Academy Awards That Should Have Been
Part III: Post-Production
SNUBBED: Paranormal Activity -- Oren Peli

NOMINATED (80th Academy Awards, 2007)
  • The Bourne Ultimatum -- Christopher Rouse <--winner li="">
  • The Diving Bell and the Butterfly -- Juliette Welfling
  • Into the Wild -- Jay Cassidy
  • No Country for Old Men -- Roderick Jaynes
  • There Will Be Blood -- Dylan Tichenor
NOMINATED (82nd Academy Awards, 2009)
  • Avatar -- Stephen Rivkin, John Refoua and James Cameron
  • District 9 -- Julian Clarke
  • The Hurt Locker -- Bob Murawski and Chris Innis <--winner li="">
  • Inglourious Basterds -- Sally Menke
  • Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire -- Joe Klotz

I don't know whether Paranormal Activity should have been eligible for the 2007 awards, when it first played festivals, or the 2009 awards when it finally had its wide release. It's particularly important in this category, since the wide release cut was re-edited from the version that played festivals. Either way, it's a glaring snub.

Culled from a reported 70 hours of footage, creator/writer/director/editor/caterer Oren Peli cut together a taut, suspenseful film in the very precise and precarious found footage genre. The franchise may have jumped the shark, but that first film was a runaway hit in a genre that had become fatigued with endless torture porn. Paranormal Activity demonstrated that audiences would, indeed, still respond to old-fashioned, low-tech suspense stories and there's no question that Peli's editing was one of the most important elements. 2007 or 2009, that work deserved some recognition.

MUSIC (Original Score)
SNUBBED: Glory -- James Horner

NOMINATED (62nd Academy Awards, 1989)
  • Born on the Fourth of July -- John Williams
  • The Fabulous Baker Boys -- David Grusin
  • Field of Dreams -- James Horner
  • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade -- John Williams
  • The Little Mermaid -- Alan Menken <--winner li="">
Holy damn did the Academy screw up this one! The Little Mermaid? The songs are terrific, maybe the best in the entire Disney canon outside of The Lion King...but Alan Menken's score was the best score of 1989? No. Just...no. Where is Danny Elfman's Batman? That should have been on here ahead of Born on the Fourth of July and Field of Dreams - both of which I have heard - and probably The Fabulous Baker Boys, which I have not heard. But the biggest problem here is that they nominated the wrong James Horner score. He's written some solid, even great, music over the course of his career but he has yet to compose a score on the same level as Glory. It's one of those rare scores that's so perfect it can stand entirely on its own without the film at all.

MUSIC (Original Song)
SNUBBED: "GoldenEye" from GoldenEye -- Music and Lyric by Bono and The Edge

NOMINATED (68th Academy Awards, 1995)
  • "Colors Of The Wind" from Pocahontas -- Music by Alan Menken; Lyric by Stephen Schwartz <--winner li="">
  • "Dead Man Walkin'" from Dead Man Walking -- Music and Lyric by Bruce Springsteen
  • "Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman" from Don Juan DeMarco -- Music and Lyric by Michael Kamen, Bryan Adams and Robert John Lange
  • "Moonlight" from Sabrina -- Music by John Williams; Lyric by Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman
  • "You've Got A Friend In Me" from Toy Story -- Music and Lyric by Randy Newman\
Seriously, Academy, just quit with the music categories because you clearly have no idea what you're doing. "Colors of the Wind" isn't even the best song out of these five, much less all movie-made songs from 1995. This should have gone to either "Dead Man Walkin'" or "You've Got a Friend in Me" and if we award retroactively based on how they stand now, this one definitely should have gone to "You've Got a Friend in Me."

Absent entirely, though, is "GoldenEye". James Bond title songs have always been important. Whenever a new Bond movie is announced, one of the very first points of speculation is always about who will perform the title song. With GoldenEye, not only did the song have to live up to that legacy but it also had the added pressure of having to reintroduce 007 to audiences after a remarkable six year absence during which Cold War spies seemed entirely irrelevant. Written by U2's Bono and The Edge and performed by Tina Turner, "GoldenEye" lived up to all the demands. It's moody, sensuous, exciting...everything a Bond song should be. It stands today as one of the best James Bond title songs on record and surely deserved at least a nomination in a category that presented its award to "Colors of the Effing Wind".

SNUBBED - Star Trek: First Contact -- Thomas Causey, Steve Pederson, Tom Perry, Brad Sherman

NOMINATED (69th Academy Awards, 1996)
  • The English Patient -- Walter Murch, Mark Berger, David Parker, Chris Newman <--winner li="">
  • Evita -- Andy Nelson, Anna Behlmer, Ken Weston
  • Independence Day -- Chris Carpenter, Bill W. Benton, Bob Beemer, Jeff Wexler
  • The Rock -- Kevin O'Connell, Greg P. Russell, Keith A. Wester
  • Twister -- Steve Maslow, Gregg Landaker, Kevin O'Connell, Geoffrey Patterson
I had to actually look at the Academy's guidelines on this one. Rule Twenty explains this category. I'm also not certain I picked the right people from the sound department to assign to this award, but I'm reasonably confident these are the names that should have been on a ballot. The short version is that this award recognizes the creation of all the things you hear in a movie from sound effects to foley (i.e., faked noises that substitute for what we see on the screen) and dubbed dialog which can range from actors re-recording lines that couldn't be heard clearly during an outdoors shoot or sneaking in background voices that would have been too distracting to have had spoken during principle photography.

When I first got my surround sound system in the late 90s, one of my favorite viewing experiences was Star Trek: First Contact. I'll never forget the scene where the Enterprise engineers are assessing the Phoenix. All of a sudden, from one of the rear speakers, I could hear an entire conversation being exchanged between completely peripheral background characters. That wowed me and it was an epiphany for me about how rich the environment of sound really is, or at least, can be in a film. I'd easily have nominated it over The Rock here, which offered no comparable auditory revelation. (I haven't seen The English Patient or Evita.)

SNUBBED - Star Trek: First Contact -- Cameron Frankley, James Wolvington

NOMINATED (69th Academy Awards, 1996)
  • Daylight -- Richard L. Anderson, David A. Whittaker
  • Eraser -- Alan Robert Murray, Bub Asman
  • The Ghost and the Darkness -- Bruce Stambler <--winner li="">
As near as I can tell, Sound Mixing is awarded to the best-sounding movies. The ones you can just close your eyes and enjoy without seeing a frame of footage. Or something. I don't know. This category used to go by the name "Sound Effects Editing" and that's what it was called in 1996 when Star Trek: First Contact should have been nominated for it. Why? Because I've seen Eraser and The Ghost and the Darkness and I'm certain First Contact makes for a better listening experience than Eraser for sure and probably at least as satisfying as The Ghost and the Darkness. Also, I picked First Contact here because I don't understand these sound categories well at all but I figured if it sounded good enough to me for one category, why not both?

SNUBBED: The Fifth Element -- Mark Stetson, Karen E. Goulekas, Nick Allder, Neil Corbould, Nick Dudman
[I had to guess at who the nominees would have been; these were who were named at the BAFTAs. Yes, I know the Academy only recognizes four people for the award.]

NOMINATED (70th Academy Awards, 1997)
  • The Lost World: Jurassic Park -- Dennis Muren, Stan Winston, Randal M. Dutra, Michael Lantieri
  • Starship Troopers -- Phil Tippett, Scott E. Anderson, Alec Gillis, John Richardson
  • Titanic -- Robert Legato, Mark Lasoff, Thomas L. Fisher, Michael Kanfer <--winner li="">
Okay, I can appreciate Titanic's win here. The recreation of the sinking was astounding. The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Starship Troopers were great looking movies, too, don't get me wrong. I'd pick The Fifth Element over The Lost World here for two reasons: 1) We'd already seen dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. I was more dazzled by The Fifth Element. 2) Starship Troopers looks better than The Lost World.

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