Oscar season is almost over! Soon, we will finally put the year to bed and get to work on the important things, like determining which films seem to be early contenders for Academy Award attention next year.
The other day, we provided some guidance to this year’s prestige awards, drawn from our viewing, reading, and arbitrary hunches. But we’d be remiss if we skipped the technical ones.
Unfortunately, as I’ve explained, I haven’t seen very many of the Oscar-nominated films. This renders my voice, sadly, unsure and disreputable. However, it is essentially required that one weigh in on this stuff, and so our two-part feature concludes below.
Who will win? Who will lose? Will either of them be Nicolas Cage? Both, somehow? Read on and discover.
Will win: O.J.: Made in America
Ava DuVernay’s 13th would get my vote, and I Am Not Your Negro is a worthy, incendiary entry in the personal essay vein, but I’m guessing actual Oscar voters will be wowed by the scope, skill, and novelty of ESPN’s 8-hour tour de force. Assuming they stuck with it, that is, or had a sufficient number of people tell them it blew their minds. If their experience was anything like mine, it popped up in innumerable conversations, which is probably more than enough.
Would win, if restricted entirely to the Nic Cage canon: Too Tough To Die: A Tribute To Johnny Ramone
Pretty solid expositional doc, from the director who also brought you Bad Brains: Banned In D.C. You will be unsurprised to learn that Nic Cage enjoys The Ramones.
Documentary (short subject)
Will win: 4.1 Miles
A strong category, with a possible spoiler from the heart-string-tugging Joe’s Violin. But 4.1 Miles feels immediate and urgent right now, with a stripped-down narrative about one man’s impossible choices and moral grappling amid the refugee crisis. In the mercenary politics of award season, this seems aimed directly at the consciences of Academy voters.
Would win, if restricted entirely to the Nic Cage canon: I don’t know, probably one of those “Making Of” features. Let’s go with The Making of ‘Stolen’
This seems like a good use of our time.
Will win: La La Land
La La Land is a film held together throughout its transitions and ricochets across time and space by the editing, which works in service to a human story. It’s also already going to win everything, so why not this? It’s entirely worthy.
Hacksaw Ridge, the most recent foray into salvation and suffering from the nefariously-bearded anti-Semite Mel Gibson, could also have a shot (even without having seen it, I’m guessing it’s easy to admire editing in combat sequences), and winless (by my count) Arrival is probably an outside contender.
But, for many people, I’d think La La Land is the Oscar go-to. Fluidity is key to musicals, and La La Land accomplishes that and more. Voters will go for it.
Would win, if restricted entirely to the Nic Cage canon: Snake Eyes
Editor Bill Pankow has worked with Brian De Palma a full 9 times since they first teamed up on Body Double in 1984. So if De Palma wins a Best Director Oscar for Snake Eyes — which he should, and did, from me — then Pankow’s a no-brainer here. All of the director’s usual tics are out in full force here, as various characters remember crucial details piece by piece, and it’s in large part through the editing that the (kind of stupid) story gets told. Movie magic!
Foreign Language Film
Will win: The Salesman
Toni Erdmann has won a lot of loyal and enthusiastic fans it seems, but Asghar Farhadi’s latest will win. Even for Academy members who haven’t been able to see it yet, it’s an opportunity to cast a protest vote and also reward a master filmmaker. Farhadi has refused to attend the ceremony “even if exceptions were made,” in protest of the U.S. government’s contemptible xenophobia. He’s opted instead to send Iranian astronauts on his behalf and the film is being screened for free in Trafalgar Square.
Meanwhile, the directors of all Oscar-nominated films in the category have issued a joint statement denouncing “the climate of fanaticism and nationalism we see today in the U.S. and in so many other countries”, and just yesterday, the Syrian cinematographer of nominee The White Helmets was denied entrance to the country.
This is a moment in which politics can’t even be tenuously separated from the art under consideration. As it happens, Farhadi’s A Separation and The Past are also among the greatest films of the decade, and only one of them won an Oscar. A victory for The Salesman seems assured.
Would win, if restricted entirely to the Nic Cage canon: Bangkok Dangerous
Cage hasn’t really shown up in any films that technically fit the bill here, but Bangkok Dangerous is a remake of a foreign film, so that’s pretty close.
In any case, we all know his really vital work overseas: whatever this is.
Makeup and Hairstyling
Will win: Star Trek Beyond
A Man Called Ove has almost no reason to be in this category, and no one wants to use the words “Academy Award-winning Suicide Squad” for the rest of their lives.
Would win, if restricted entirely to the Nic Cage canon: Trespass
While it might lack the flair of other entries, this mediocre home-invasion thriller never once let me forget that Nic Cage was a white guy living in a big house. This is at least in part attributable to whatever they did to his hair and face, a transformation out of which emerged a pasty, bespectacled middle-manager-type with delusions of grandeur, running through vaguely Straw Dogs-patterned routines of humiliation.
Music (Original Score)
Will win: La La Land
Would win, if restricted entirely to the Nic Cage canon: Mark Isham, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
Prolific film composer Mark Isham (Beyond The Lights, Dolphin Tale, The Mist, Timecop for some reason) shows up with alarming frequency in the background of Cage’s work. Sometimes, this is not for the best: his comically arbitrary score for Stolen, for instance, sounds like a Krautrock-inflected Mission: Impossible theme as imagined by a man with something on the stove.
But his sensibility works for Bad Lieutenant. It’s all angular and edgy and cool, much like Nicolas Cage. In fact, I assume this is what it sounds like in Nic’s head when he’s just walking around one of his castles or whatever.
Music (Original Song)
Will win: “City of Stars,” La La Land
Would win, if restricted entirely to the Nic Cage canon: “Cool Cat Walk,” Wild At Heart
It just makes you want to throw on a snakeskin jacket as a symbol of your individuality and belief in personal freedom, smear some lipstick all over your face, and set out for California.
Will win: La La Land
It’s nice that Hail, Caesar! got an Oscar nomination — its ludicrous attention to detail and meta-reference being its defining feature — but the juggernaut that is La La Land will carry the day here, too. And not without justification: Chazelle’s film pulls out all the stops in its recreation of Technicolor fantasies out of time. Its opening scene, which even its detractors tend to acknowledge seems engineered to send critics searching for synonyms for “lavish”, will particularly be on the minds of voters.
Would win, if restricted entirely to the Nic Cage canon: Dog Eat Dog
Paul Schrader’s heartfelt, absolutely sincere FUCK YOU to everything in sight is nasty, barbed, and mean-spirited. It’s also a pretty fun film noir, positing a one-last-score narrative as just another in a series of idiocies for small men in a small town. That town is Cleveland in Dog Eat Dog, and it’s pretty grimy. The production design underscores this at every opportunity: sparse, red-lit strip clubs, roadside motels subbing in for the high life. There’s a lot of coke but nowhere to go, and fatigue is written in every corner. That grossness seems to live on set, radiating out and swallowing its anti-heroes.
Cleveland is actually a very nice town! But not here, and not for these guys.
Short Film (Animated)
Will win: Piper
Here’s another category that’s overflowing with worthy choices. Pear Cider and Cigarettes is the bravest of the bunch, so adult in theme that it even arrived to theaters with its own content warning, in case parents thought it would be cute. It’s not, but Piper sure is. Pixar’s latest is a small story of growth and courage, gorgeously constructed and irresistible. It’ll be their first win in 13 years, and they earned it through maximum adorableness.
Would win, if restricted entirely to the Nic Cage canon: N/A
There are no nominees for this category. The category is hereby abolished from future Oscars.
Short Film (Live Action)
Will win: Ennemis Intérieurs
Sure, why not. It seems topical and actorly.
Would win, if restricted entirely to the Nic Cage canon: Werewolf Women of the S.S. (from Grindhouse)
There’s really no other option, is there?
Will win: Hacksaw Ridge
As one of The Hollywood Reporter‘s crop of anonymous Academy voters noted this year, about sound editing and mixing:
These are the categories I have a really hard time with — it would be easier if they just had a “best sound” category, but as it is I’m really totally confused and prefer to just stay out of it.
Fair enough, I guess! Which is why Hacksaw Ridge is my pick here. I haven’t seen it and almost certainly never will, but I imagine it’s very loud, which I think is what voters are looking for here.
Would win, if restricted entirely to the Nic Cage canon: Con-Air
Although Face/Off was actually nominated in this category, losing out to the similarly understated soundscapes of James Cameron’s Titanic, Con-Air is my pick. The sound editors’ extensive resumes include Lethal Weapon 2, Bad Boys, and that Yoram Globus-produced Lambada movie, making them ideal for an action film where things are constantly exploding while Nic mutters, “Put the bunny in the box.”
Will win: La La Land
Being a musical, give or take, was probably all that was needed to make this a shoe-in. Winning top honors last week from the Cinema Audio Society just seals the deal.
Would win, if restricted entirely to the Nic Cage canon: The Rock
This Alcatraz-set thriller — and official Criterion release, which remains hilarious — was in fact nominated for a Best Sound Mixing Oscar in 1996. As a nod to Academy insight, The Rock‘s veteran sound department, and those halcyon days before everyone told me I was supposed to admire Pain and Gain, it wins here.
Will win: The Jungle Book
There are jaw-dropping moments throughout this otherwise middling retelling of Kipling’s classic, and the photorealism will impress plenty of folks. Meanwhile, plenty of others will simply not have seen Kubo and the Two Strings, which ought to win but therefore won’t.
Would win, if restricted entirely to the Nic Cage canon: Bringing Out The Dead
Generally speaking, this Oscar should probably go to one of the explosion marathons that dot the Cagian filmscape: your World Trade Center, or Knowing, which uses the collapse of the World Trade Center, rather amazingly, as a hastily thought-through plot device.
But Scorsese and Schrader emerge victorious. Bringing Out The Dead is a famously divisive, now seemingly ignored entry in auteurist lists, carried most of the way through Scorsese’s frenetic direction and on-the-nose needledrops. It occasionally slows down, however, at least long enough to indulge in some hallucinatory sequences that depict the guilt and possible madness of Cage’s one-foot-on-the-ledge ambulance driver. Sure, those very sequences have all the markings of screenwriter Paul Schrader’s worst impulses, but they look pretty cool.
Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
Will win: Hidden Figures
The fact that Moonlight and Manchester By The Sea weren’t competing for a writing award was seen as very good news for Moonlight, but I think the enormous success and crowd-pleasing aspect of Hidden Figures has to count for something with voters, and it’s pretty unlikely to pick up either of its other two nominations.
Would win, if restricted entirely to the Nic Cage canon: Left Behind
Let us pause to consider.
At some point, there must’ve been a conversation in which nervous producers — still reeling from when earlier attempts to render Left Behind marketable to audiences who were not insane foundered on the shores of Kirk Cameron’s grotesque unbankability — asked the screenwriter and director, “But … do we have to name him ‘Rayford Steele’? And does he have to say things like, ‘I have no spoilers, no flaps, no elevators, and if I run this thing dry, no reverse thrust, I need some room!'”
And that man (I assume) did what we all must do, eventually.
He sighed deeply, gazed into the distance, and replied, with the conviction only true faith can impart, “Yes, we do, and yes he does. Give me my Oscar.”
Writing (Original Screenplay)
Will win: Manchester By The Sea
In other categories, it seems at some point people straight-up forgot this early frontrunner even existed, but Kenneth Lonergan’s script continues to generate effusive praise. On a night when Manchester By The Sea won’t win much else, this seems like a gimme.
Would win, if restricted entirely to the Nic Cage canon: Moonstruck
I’d like to award this to Adaptation, if only for the paradox of giving an Original Screenplay Oscar to a meta-riff on an existing text that went ahead and called itself Adaptation. Or Raising Arizona, which remains the Coens flat-out silliest film and provides my favorite deadpan exchange in all of their deadpan work. (“These balloons blow up into all them funny shapes?” “Well, nope. ‘less round is funny.”) But it is not to be.
Moonstruck is playwright John Patrick Shanley’s best work (outside of Joe Versus The Volcano, of course) and won Best Screenplay in real life. Of course it wins here, too. This is just a delightful film propelled by a witty, tight script.