×

‘Beale Street,’ ‘First Man,’ ‘Mary Poppins’ Shine in Artisan Oscar Races

These crews have the right stuff in this year's below-the-line competitions.

As 2018 draws to a close and various critics groups and deliberating bodies measure the year in movie superlatives, a look below the line at the Academy’s crafts races reveals an art form invigorated by many of today’s most brilliant cinematic minds.

Perhaps the most fully realized visual effort is director Barry Jenkins’ follow-up to the Oscars-crashing “Moonlight”: an adaptation of James Baldwin’s “If Beale Street Could Talk.” For the task of translating 1970s Harlem to the screen, Jenkins tapped underappreciated production designer Mark Friedberg, who despite genius efforts on films like “Far From Heaven” and “Synecdoche, New York,” has never been nominated for an Oscar. “Moonlight” composer Nicholas Britell returned with intricate themes to bear, along with costume designer Caroline Eselin, who embraced a far juicier opportunity this time around. Cap it off with lush photography, once again courtesy of DP James Laxton, and this is quite an attractive package.

Aurally speaking, Jenkins’ 2016 circuit colleague Damien Chazelle and the “First Man” team dialed in one of the most incredible experiences of the year. Working from Mary H. Ellis’ production recording a post-production sound crew featuring “La La Land” collaborators Mildred Iatrou Morgan and Ai-Ling Lee partnered with Universal Studios-based mixers Frank A. Montaño (an eight-time Oscar nominee) and Jon Taylor (three-time nominee) to surround the viewer in sonic terror alongside astronaut Neil Armstrong (played by Ryan Gosling)through his early flight tests, as well as NASA’s Gemini and Apollo missions. Composer Justin Hurwitz, who won a pair of Oscars for “La La Land,” ties it all together with an intricate and graceful score that deserves to bring him a third trophy. (Linus Sandgren’s photography, by the way, merits mention for balancing the intimacy of 16mm and 35mm photography in the film’s terrestrial scenes with awe-inspiring Imax footage in the climactic moon landing sequence.)

Another stand-out across the board is Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther.” Production designer Hannah Beachler, legendary costume designer Ruth E. Carter and makeup/hair artists Joel Harlow, Camille Friend and Ken Diaz led teams that built out the world of Wakanda with vibrant detail. Rachel Morrison made history last year as the first female DP to receive an Oscar nomination (for “Mudbound”), and she could get the call again here. Meanwhile, hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar is part of the equation, too, with the hit original song “All the Stars,” a pulsating punctuation to Ludwig Göransson’s percussive score.

Disney arrives with a second craft-heavy juggernaut in Rob Marshall’s “Mary Poppins Returns.” Three-time Oscar-winning costumer Sandy Powell seems more likely to triumph here than for “The Favourite,” while John Myhre designed a production that could earn a third Oscar for his mantle, alongside previous Marshall collaborations “Chicago” and “Memoirs of a Geisha.” And, in a music-heavy production, the sequel will of course be a strong player in both the score and song categories.

“Underappreciated production designer Mark Friedberg, despite genius efforts on films like ‘Far From Heaven’ and ‘Synecdoche, New York,’ has never been nominated for an Oscar.”

“Poppins” is an interesting visual-effects player as well, for its interplay of live-action, CG and hand-drawn elements. That race also features “Black Panther” and, to a lesser extent, “First Man.” Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One” is a major contender, while superhero entries “Aquaman” and “Avengers: Infinity War” could figure in as well.

There are plenty more sparkling craft contributions to mention: the breathtaking photography and immersive sound design of “Roma,” the nimble editing of “A Star Is Born” and “Vice,” the engaging soundscape of “A Quiet Place.”

But allow a few separate pleas for consideration.

The photography in “Mission: Impossible — Fallout,” for instance, is jaw-dropping and ropes you straight into the action. The production design of “Hereditary” adds to the creep factor and is richly inventive. The editing of “The Other Side of the Wind,” “You Were Never Really Here” and documentary “Minding the Gap” fashions compelling tapestries, while the jazzy “Gemini” score deserves a spin for voters looking to shake that category up a bit. And speaking of category-bending, let’s just add every single element of the Coen brothers’ Western “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.”

The Academy’s many branches have their work cut out for them with these and many other contenders. But the guilds will have their say on nominees first, beginning just after the new year with the cinematographers, editors and art directors on Jan. 7.

More Film

  • BOTM-Eve-Viper-Gang

    Director Angus Gibson: My Audience is ‘Young, Black South Africans’

    DURBAN–Sophiatown, 1958. On the outskirts of Johannesburg, as the apartheid police prepare to demolish the community at the heart of black South African cultural and intellectual life, a notorious gang leader is determined to make a last stand. Resisting the forced evictions that will transport the residents of Sophiatown to a desolate township miles away, [...]

  • marvel

    Marvel Phase 4 Plan Revealed, But Comic-Con’s Big Winner is Disney Plus

    In a triumphant return to the San Diego Comic-Con main stage, leadership at Marvel Studios managed some splashy surprises and showed off risky creative bets for the next two years of content coming from the superhero operation. But the biggest takeaway from the Saturday presentation inside Hall H was how important Marvel will make Disney [...]

  • Florence Pugh, O. T. Fagbenle, Rachel

    'Black Widow': Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh Go Head-to-Head in First Footage

    Marvel’s “Black Widow” has only been in production for a month, but studio president Kevin Feige still delivered the goods for fans at San Diego Comic-Con on Saturday. Filmmakers brought an intense sizzle reel of on-location shots, kicked off by a dazzling and bone-crushing fight sequence between lead Scarlett Johansson and her on-screen sister Florence [...]

  • Natalie Portman Thor

    Natalie Portman Returns for 'Thor: Love and Thunder' as Female Thor

    Natalie Portman is coming back to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but she’s no one’s love interest this time around. The Oscar winner will play a female god of thunder in the fourth film from the Chris Hemsworth series, titled “Thor: Love and Thunder.” Portman hit the stage at San Diego Comic-Con on Saturday to great [...]

  • Fantastic Four

    New 'Fantastic Four' Movie in Development at Marvel

    Marvel is going back to the Fantastic Four. Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige announced that a new movie based on the superhero group is in the works at San Diego Comic-Con on Saturday. Further details, however, including a release date, were not revealed. It marks the first Fox property for Disney to mine since the [...]

  • Mahershala AliMarvel Studios panel, Comic-Con International,

    Mahershala Ali to Star in Marvel's 'Blade' Reboot

    Marvel is rebooting the “Blade” series, and has cast Mahershala Ali to star. Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige announced the news at Comic-Con on Saturday as the panel’s big ending surprise. Ali also took the stage at the announcement to massive applause, donning the Blade baseball cap. Wesley Snipes previously played the half-vampire superhero in [...]

  • Doctor Strange

    'Doctor Strange' Sequel Billed as First MCU Horror Film at Comic-Con

    A sequel to “Doctor Strange” was announced as expected on Saturday at Marvel’s Comic-Con panel — what we didn’t see coming was the tone. Director Scott Derrickson said the film, titled “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” will mine the original comics and play up “the gothic, the horror.” Derrickson said it will lead [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content