14 February 2013

The Academy Awards That Should Have Been, Part II


The Academy Awards That Should Have Been
Part II: Production
SNUBBED: Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (Art Direction: Ian Gracie, Phil Harvey, David Lee; Set Decoration: Richard Roberts)
NOMINATED (78th Academy Awards, 2005)
  • Good Night, and Good Luck. -- Art Direction: Jim Bissell; Set Decoration: Jan Pascale
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire -- Art Direction: Stuart Craig; Set Decoration: Stephenie McMillan
  • King Kong -- Art Direction: Grant Major; Set Decoration: Dan Hennah and Simon Bright
  • Memoirs of a Geisha -- Art Direction: John Myhre; Set Decoration: Gretchen Rau <--winner li="">
  • Pride & Prejudice -- Art Direction: Sarah Greenwood; Set Decoration: Katie Spencer
Say what you want about the story and acting, but Revenge of the Sith is the best looking Star Wars movie of the entire series. I absolutely love just looking at this movie, whether it's the design of the Jedi Starfighters, that amazing opera house or the volcanic Mustafar. I've only seen Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. It's a solid looking film, certainly, but let's be honest: it's still mostly just Hogwarts. There's a lot more visual difference between Revenge of the Sith and the other Star Wars prequels than there is between Goblet of Fire and the previous HP movies. Even if you keep that, I have to imagine that Revenge of the Sith is more visually impressive than Good Night, and Good Luck. although I admit that I really like that kind of outside-the-box nominee in a field like this.

CINEMATOGRAPHY [Updated 23 February.]
SNUBBED: Restrepo -- Tim Hetherington

NOMINATED (83rd Academy Awards, 2010)

  • Black Swan -- Matthew Libatique
  • Inception -- Wally Pfister
  • The King's Speech -- Danny Cohen
  • The Social Network -- Jeff Cronenweth
  • True Grit -- Roger Deakins
I knew something was wrong when I originally published this post. It's because I managed to forget which CINEMATOGRAPHY snub actually angered me and it's Tim Hetherington's work on Restrepo. Despite being shot primarily with handheld cameras, Restrepo is not a shaky film. Hetherington captures both the imposing scale of the landscape with the intimate look at each of the soldiers, whether in interview or in action. On top of its technical merits, the footage is astounding. By far the greatest microcosm for why Hetherington should have been nominated is the firefight he managed to film while being caught in it himself. If there was ever an example of the power of using a camera, by God that's it.

SNUBBED: Watchmen -- Michael Wilkinson

NOMINATED (82nd Academy Awards, 2009)
  • Bright Star -- Janet Patterson
  • Coco before Chanel -- Catherine Leterrier
  • The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus -- Monique Prudhomme
  • Nine -- Colleen Atwood
  • The Young Victoria -- Sandy Powell <--winner li="">
It's very hard to make superhero costumes work in live action, but Michael Wilkinson did an amazing job taking Dave Gibbons's designs and making them viable as costumes worn by actual people. To be sure, the costumes benefited from Larry Fong's photography because bad lighting could have completely ruined all of his work. Instead, each costume looks terrific at all times. I've seen none of the nominees and to be honest, I've never even heard of Bright Star. That'd be the first one I'd knock off to make room for Watchmen.

SNUBBED: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen -- Michael Bay

NOMINATED (82nd Academy Awards, 2009)
  • Avatar -- James Cameron
  • The Hurt Locker -- Kathryn Bigelow <--winner li="">
  • Inglourious Basterds -- Quentin Tarantino
  • Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire -- Lee Daniels
  • Up in the Air -- Jason Reitman
Am I really arguing that Michael Bay should have been nominated for directing one of the most inane blockbusters of recent years? Yes, I am, and Orson Welles has my back on this.

Peter Bogdanovich tells the story of discussing directing with Welles once, in which Welles confessed that the director is the most extraneous person on a film shoot. Once everyone is hired and in place, the director could not even show up at all and it wouldn't have much effect on production because everyone knows their job. We lavish the di-rec-tor with all the laurels, but really what we're saying is that we're too lazy to look into the men and women whose work we actually appreciate. The director is a shorthand for all the cast and crew, so that we don't have to burden our attention spans with things like what anyone actually does on a movie.

So how does this lead to Michael Bay? Easy. He's the only director in the world that could have actually helmed Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Paramount gave the Transformers sequel a release date before even securing the return of the first film's screenwriters, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci. No big deal, right? Happens all the time.

Except that before they ever even really got started on the screenplay, the Writer's Guild went on strike. Paramount never budged on the release date, despite the demanding nature of the film's special effects and editing processes. When the strike ended, it was Bay who effectively locked the writers into a hotel room until they had finished the screenplay. Pages were coming to the director one at a time while he was already at work getting the production underway.

Filming took place across the world, including Shanghai, Paris, Jordan and Egypt, where the film received special permission to film actor John Turtorro standing on one of the Pyramids. Actor Shia LaBoef injured himself driving drunk during filming, which could have interrupted shooting; Bay just had the actor's wounds treated on-screen as a character moment and kept going. Industrial Light and Magic actually had a computer start smoking, it was so overworked by trying to create the digital Devastator. That's right: this film's effects were so elaborate that they overwhelmed ILM. Editing was still taking place right up to the actual premiere screening.

Is the film a convoluted mess full of unlikable characters, banalities and plot holes so big Optimus Prime could get lost in them? Certainly. But if ever there was an example to defy Orson Welles's cynical assertion that the director is extraneous, it was Bay's dogged relentlessness that managed to deliver Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on time. The Best Directing award is almost always considered a validation category for Best Picture, owing again to the aforementioned shorthand factor. Of the directors nominated, only James Cameron tackled a film as technically demanding as what Bay faced...but he had the luxury of something like an entire decade to plan and develop Avatar. I'd like to have seen what Cameron could have done from scratch in the time Bay had to film Revenge of the Fallen.

To use a sports analogy, sometimes the Most Valuable Player doesn't play for a championship team. Sometimes, the best player in the game is wasted on a basement-dweller.

SNUBBED: Shaun of the Dead -- Stuart Conran, Jane Walker

NOMINATED - (77th Academy Awards, 2004)
  • Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events -- Valli O'Reilly and Bill Corso <--winner li="">
  • The Passion of the Christ -- Keith Vanderlaan and Christien Tinsley
  • The Sea Inside -- Jo Allen and Manuel García
Maybe Shaun of the Dead wasn't eligible because it was a British production. I don't know. What I do know is that the zombie design work was terrific. Honorary mention: Dawn of the Dead, makeup by David LeRoy Anderson and Mario Cacioppo (also 2004).

Again, another category where I'm 0-fer. I've never heard of The Sea Inside, so that'd be what I'd bump. I understand that in 2004, Hollywood still took a dim view of genre films and even now, big budget sci-fi/action movies are more accepted than horror. But come on, Academy. Makeup is the one field where there should never be just three nominees because you're throwing out lots of great work. Even if they just added Shaun of the Dead and Dawn of the Dead to the 2004 ballot, that'd put them at five nominees, the same as most other categories. Why the stinginess here?