My dream Oscar ballot: part one

Longtime readers will know that this is something of an Oscar Nomination Eve tradition for me: with the Academy finally set to announce their nominees on Tuesday morning, I offer my own pie-in-the-sky wishlist of films and individuals I’d like to see nominated in all feature film categories. The past three years, my list and the Academy’s have borne very little resemblance to each other; suffice to say I don’t expect that to change this year.

For starters, while my First-Half FYC columns stuck to the pool of eligible Academy contenders, my dream ballot — freed from even the hypothetical possibility of persuading voters — has no such restrictions. This means that several outstanding 2011 releases that, for whatever reason, aren’t on the official list of 256 titles being considered by Academy voters (a list that isn’t kind to terribly kind to lesser-spotted foreign and independent titles) can come into play. After all, where’s the justice in being able to consider “Dream House” but not personal top 10 inclusion “Cold Weather?” A line must be drawn erased somewhere.

With that, from all the films released Stateside last year, these are the achievements I personally found most award-worthy. I’m beginning, as usual, with the crafts categories, where I was pleased to find a sufficiently rich and diverse slate of work that 30 films all found their way to a nomination — and not one them, interestingly enough, was a current Oscar frontrunner. Check out my picks below, and share your thoughts in the comments.

Best Art Direction
Katia Wyszkop, “Potiche”
Antxón Gómez, “The Skin I Live In”
Annie Beauchamp, “Sleeping Beauty” 
Yuji Hayashida, “13 Assassins”
Maria Djurkovic, “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”

Next tier: “City of Life and Death,” “Hugo,” “Immortals,” “Melancholia,” “Water for Elephants”

Two titles on this list are 1970s period pieces, though the overripe pastels and overstuffed kitsch of French drawing-room farce “Potiche” may as well be in another dimension entirely from the utilitarian, dun-coloured meticulousness of “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.” Similarly, “Sleeping Beauty” and “The Skin I Live In” may both use contemporary decor to externalize characters’ sensual states, but the former does so with pincers, the latter with a whirling paintbrush. Meanwhile, the most historical work here, the replication of a 19th-century village-turned-samurai-battleground in “13 Assassins,” resembles nothing so much as a labyrinthine video-game environment.

Best Cinematography
Alma Har’el, “Bombay Beach”
Adriano Goldman, “Jane Eyre”
Christopher Blauvelt, “Meek’s Cutoff”
Mikhail Krichman, “Silent Souls” 
Emmanuel Lubezki, “The Tree of Life”

Next tier: “Certified Copy,” “Cold Weather,” “Drive,” “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” “Melancholia” 

What critical superlatives haven’t yet been spent on the restless, ecstatic visual poetry Lubezki has conjured for Terrence Malick’s latest can be sent instead to work that wouldn’t have seemed out of place in an older, more contained Malick film: Blauvelt’s yellowed, dust-veiled Oregon Trail vistas in “Meek’s Cutoff” make ingenious use of the Academy ratio to imprison its lost characters in their limitless landscape. The film shares with “Jane Eyre” a keen artist’s eye for the fleeting, witchy opportunities afforded by natural light, an unaffected sensibility video artist and photographer Har’el takes to more rapturous extremes in her self-shot doc “Bombay Beach.” In Russian road-movie curio “Silent Souls,” meanwhile, the startling widescreen compositions are as formally composed as can be, yet still don’t scrimp on seemingly spontaneous local color.

Best Costume Design
Erin Benach, “Drive”
Xavier Dolan, “Heartbeats”
Eiko Ishioka, “Immortals”
Michael O’Connor, “Jane Eyre”
Jacqueline Durran, “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”

Next tier: “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” “Potiche,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “Water for Elephants,” “Young Adult”

Okay, so the satin scorpion jacket in “Drive” became the year’s single most recognizable, Halloween-destined movie garment, but this nomination isn’t just about that — from Ryan Gosling’s oil-stained Henleys and creaky driving gloves to Albert Brooks’s bloated-yet-spiky suits, this was the year’s most lavishly, meaningfully underdressed movie. In a good year for contemporary costuming, Dolan’s more chic, off-the-rack selections for his own film were entire plot points in themselves. Heading into period territory, I’ve already discussed why the natty English, well, tailoring of “Tinker, Tailor” is worthy of recognition, while O’Connor’s more Oscar-friendly costuming of “Jane Eyre” weaves unusually precise details of character, class and age into its mile-wide crinoline skirts. As for Ishioka’s eye-poppingly kinky creations for “Immortals,” whether they’re historical, mythological or sheer science-fiction, they’re entirely awesome.

Best Film Editing
Mat Newman, “Drive”
Ivan Lebedev, “How I Ended This Summer”
Zachary Stuart-Pontier, “Martha Marcy May Marlene”
Chris King and Gregers Sall, “Senna”
Joe Bini, “We Need to Talk About Kevin”

Next tier: “Margaret,” “Le Quattro Volte,” “A Separation,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “Weekend”

Two very different fast-car movies, both nominated by BAFTA in this field, bookend my lineup. Newman avoids the hyperkinetic temptations of contemporary action cinema and opts to keep even his most propulsive set pieces lithely coiled, while King and Sall win the degree-of-difficulty prize for fashioning an urgent, tonally consistent narrative entirely from found footage. Lebedev’s negotiation of languidly escalating tensions in “How I Ended This Summer” has the disorienting effect of turning the offbeat Russian character study into a thriller before the audience quite catches on. Two similarly reluctant horror films, “We Need to Talk About Kevin” and “Martha Marcy Marcy May Marlene,” both employ an intricately fragmented editing architecture to convey the unreliability of their protagonist’s feverish memory process.  

Best Makeup
“A Dangerous Method”
“Jane Eyre”

Next tier: “The Artist,” “The Iron Lady,” “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”

In a year that presented few outright miracles of the craft, I was most taken with subtler, character-enabling achievements in the period field: the subtext-packed range and wit of the hairstyling in “Jane Eyre,” the delicate ageing and keen-eyed exaggeration and inhibition of actors’ trademark features in “A Dangerous Method,” the campily bouffant overstyling of every character in “Potiche.” Not a vintage field, true, but one that represents the kind of work I wish the Academy would recognize more often.  

Best Original Score
Keegan DeWitt, “Cold Weather”
Cliff Martinez, “Drive”
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”
Dario Marianelli, “Jane Eyre”
Alberto Iglesias, “The Skin I Live In”

Next tier: “Attack the Block,” “Bombay Beach,” “Hanna,” “Margaret,” “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”

It seems unlikely the Academy’s nominees will reflect what a rewarding year it’s been in this category, both in the areas of orchestral and more avant-garde film composing. No one composer sonically defined 2011 more than Martinez: his “Drive” soundtrack may have become coffee-table electro, but only because it was so headily urgent in the first place. Reigning Oscar champs Reznor and Ross couldn’t quite top the emotional channels of “The Social Network,” but their glassy, wintry score for David Fincher’s latest elicits many a tingle anyway; it makes for an interesting side-by-side listen with DeWitt’s airier, janglier but equally nippy atmospherics in “Cold Weather.” Over in the traditionalist’s corner, Marianelli’s typically swoony but appropriately reserved work on “Jane Eyre” was a career high, while Iglesias (who came this close to nabbing two of my five slots) brought both the drama and the humor with his clattering noir semi-pastiche.

Best Original Song
“Man or Muppet” from “The Muppets” 
“Me Party” from “The Muppets”
“Pretty Bird” from “Rio”
“Stuck on the Puzzle” from “Submarine”
“Think You Can Wait” from “Win Win”

Next tier: “Star Spangled Man” from “Captain America: The First Avenger,” “Life’s Happy Song” from “The Muppets,” “Pictures in My Head” from “The Muppets,” “Rango Theme” from “Rango,” “Piledriver Waltz” from “Submarine”

With the Academy’s array of options in this category even more dispiriting than usual, I found three of my nominees in the ineligible pile. Quite why Alex Turner’s wistfully lovely, cinematically integrated original song score for “Submarine” isn’t Oscar-eligible is a question The Weinstein Company needs to answer — did they not submit it? Meanwhile, a bunch of songs from colorful kidpic “Rio” are eligible — save the one really good one, Jemaine Clement’s hilariously acidic paean to himself. Maybe the powers that be decided one “Flight of the Conchords” joker in the Oscar race is enough: Bret McKenzie will likely (and deservedly) find himself nominated for at least two songs from “The Muppets,” though I wish Miss Piggy and Amy Adams’s zippy, pithy disco duet “Me Party” could be one of them. Finally, The National’s rousing bloke-ballad from “Win Win” isn’t inventively applied in the film, but it’s a lovely song — and this year, that’s enough. 

Best Sound Mixing
“How I Ended This Summer”
“Meek’s Cutoff”
“The Tree of Life”
“We Need to Talk About Kevin”

Next tier: “The Adventures of Tintin,” “Drive,” “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” “Le Quattro Volte,” “13 Assassins” 

I had “Hanna” marked as one of 2011’s most propulsively giddy feats of sound design long before its surprise CAS nod, so I’m delighted that Academy recognition now seems eminently plausible. I wish I could say the same for my other choices: “The Tree of Life” is dense and grandiose enough to register as a long shot, but the time-marking creaks and whispers of “Meek’s Cutoff” and the intimate echoes of “How I Ended This Summer” represent the kind of quiet, organic work you’d think a group of professional peers would show a little more respect. As for the dazzling, eerie collage of pops and sprinkler-system spatters in “Kevin,” at least the London Critics’ Circle thought to nominate it.     

Best Sound Editing
“Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol”
“Super 8”
“We Need to Talk About Kevin”

Next tier: “The Artist,” “Fast Five,” “Hanna,” “Insidious,” “13 Assassins”

For whatever reason, the slightly more finicky sound-editing category leaned a little more in Hollywood’s direction for me this year: the structured sonic chaos of the train crash in “Super 8” and the crisp bang-and-clatter of pretty much everything in “Ghost Protocol” dignify the cost of seeing them in the best theater possible; as, in their own way, do the continuous rattle of quirky details in “Rango” and the patiently timed punches of “Drive.”  

Best Visual Effects
“The Adventures of Tintin”
“Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol”
“Rise of the Planet of the Apes”
“The Tree of Life”

Next tier: “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” “Hugo,” “Super 8,” “Take Shelter,” “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives”

Two of these I’m expecting to show in the Academy’s list of Tuesday: the Douglas Trumbull-assisted recreation of creation in “The Tree of Life” is artful, thematically grounded work of the variety that is all too rarely cited in this field, while the largely seamless, high-concept mo-cap in “Apes” is bells-and-whistles work of the variety that is cited all the time in this field, but not always so justifiably. One of them I’m hoping will show up: because “Ghost Protocol” is such a consistent gosh-wow ride without ostentatiously showcasing its own effects, though fuck it, they blew up the frickin’ Kremlin. And two of them sadly can’t show up, despite the not-really-animated “Tintin” being Spielberg’s most whizzily realized entertainment in a decade, and “Immortals” using effects for the purposes of beauty as well as carnage. Oh well.  

Right, that’s it for today: check in tomorrow for part two, which will cover all the above-the-line categories. For those keeping score, “Jane Eyre” and “Drive” currently lead my ballot with four mentions apiece, with “The Tree of Life” and “We Need to Talk About Kevin” both on three. Even I don’t know yet what will come out on top tomorrow. 

For more views on movies, awards season and other pursuits, follow @GuyLodge on Twitter.

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