Tech Support: Films like ‘Interstellar’ and ‘Into the Woods’ set for Oscar’s craft races

Welcome back to the ninth season of Tech Support here at In Contention. The crafts coverage banner has become somewhat of a staple here at this site, as we seek to shine light upon the below-the-line artists whose crafts make our movies immeasurably richer. And over the next 10 weeks we will analyze each of the Academy's craft Oscar races: Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Makeup & Hairstyling, Original Score, Original Song, Production Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Visual Effects. The order will be mixed, to keep things fresh between audio and visual categories, and complement new releases and developments in the race as a whole.

At this point, a brief aside on this column's title is probably warranted. Many below-the-line artists object to the phrase “technical” or “tech” to describe these categories. This is understandable. “Tech” can have an unfortunately negative connotation, particularly when used in certain circumstances in the context of reporting on the ceremony. As such, in the columns themselves, the words “tech” and “technical” are rarely used – “craft” is the preferred term. Into our ninth season, however, we're not changing the brand. It's too nifty! And really, the “Support” part is more important anyway; we wholeheartedly support the craftspeople who deserve far more attention than they receive. Always have, always will.

We will explore the idiosyncrasies of the eight branches – whether it be the costume designers' independence, the film editors' fondness for the Best Picture race, the music branch's insularity or the makeup and hairstylists' eccentricities – throughout the first phase of the season. In doing so, we will attempt to paint a picture of the very different groups of accomplished artists who make up the Academy, and more to the point, make our movies shine.

But we will not only talk about the Oscar races and the Academy branches. It's our goal to get you closer to the individual men and women in the race. Some may be considered long overdue for their first win, others long overdue for their first nomination. Yet more will be complete newcomers or established veterans who have multiple wins to their names. All will have a unique story and contribution to a 2014 movie, and we'll continue to speak with many contenders over the next several months.

It's now October, and several major contenders have already appeared in theaters. Given that summer blockbusters tend to do well, particularly in Best Visual Effects and the sound categories, we should remember movies like “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Transformers: Age of Extinction” and “Godzilla.” I'm particularly interested in seeing whether pre-summer films such as “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “Noah” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” can survive in categories in which they are particularly deserving. And with last week's arrival of “Gone Girl,” we have a major contender in Best Film Editing, at the very least.

Other contenders emerged at film festivals. “Birdman,” “The Imitation Game,” “Foxcatcher” and “The Theory of Everything” immediately leap to mind as films that could be major crafts category players. But there are still more to come, and titles such as “Fury,” “Inherent Vice,” “Interstellar,” “Into the Woods,” “Unbroken,” “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” and “Big Eyes” should be anticipated with eagerness as the season progresses.

Of course, while some films will be easy to pick out as contenders, other apparent sure things will come up short. Take last year for example. Efforts such as “Gravity,” “The Great Gatsby, “American Hustle” and “12 Years a Slave” had predictable success, but potential players such as “Saving Mr. Banks,” “Rush” and “Pacific Rim” came up short.

And then there are the inevitable oddball nominations, which can be joyous (“Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa” in Best Makeup and Hairstyling, for instance), inspired (“The Grandmaster” in Best Costume Design) and just plain weird (“Alone Yet Not Alone” in Best Original Song – though, well, we all know how that one turned out).

What will we see this year? Well, at Tech Support, we'll try to chaperone you through the race. Today, however, is primarily a “welcome back.” Tomorrow we'll dive right in with Best Visual Effects.

Drop a line in the comments section below! What are you anticipating this year? Is there a particular contender you are backing? An achievement you particularly wish to see rewarded? Anything else you wish to get off your chest?