Oscar Primer 2016: Straight Outta Star Wars

During the lead up to this year’s Oscars on February 28th I will be covering a lot of the nominees for the upcoming Academy Awards. This will not be your usual Oscar primer, but in fact more of a “catching up to speed” series. Once a week I will be dissecting a few films in each installment. I will be going over what the nominees are, and what chances it stands to win. I am very excited to be doing this series for the third year in a row now. Along with the weekly articles, I will also be posting a mini episode of Contra Zoom going over the Best Picture nominees two at a time; in the last episode I discussed Bridge of Spies and The Martian. In the last post I talked about Sicario, Steve Jobs and Spectre. This post I will be discussing Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Straight Outta Compton and Shaun the Sheep Movie.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens was directed by J.J. Abrams and was released on December 18th. The film has five nominations. 

– Best Editing- Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey 

– Best Original Score- John Williams 

– Best Sound Mixing- Andy Nelson, Christopher Scarabosio and Stuart Wilson 

– Best Sound Editing- Matthew Wood and David Acord 

– Best Visual Effects- Roger Guyett, Pat Tubach, Neal Scanlan and Chris Corbould

I’d love to talk about what a great return to form the story of The Force Awakens is, but the only nominations come from the technical side of things, so if you are curious to my reactions to the new film as a whole check out the last episode of Contra Zoom where Andreas and I talk about it (and the six older Star Wars films). It’s tough to really talk about the editing of the film as it basically replicates what the original films did as far as swipes and shooting the film. It feels so much like the original trilogy that you could have sworn Irvin Kershner, director of Empire Strikes Back, was helming the film. The battle scenes are taut and the emotional moments are left to breath, but the editing isn’t where the film stands out. Expect the extended takes from The Revenant or Mad Max: Fury Road to win the award.

As soon as the iconic Star Wars theme started up in the theatre it was impossible not to feel nostalgic. John Williams returned to do what he does best, make grand sweeping overtures that have the ability to control your emotions. While the gist of the theme music was like its previous incarnations, Williams managed to incorporate fresh ideas to introduce the world to the new characters like Rey, Finn and Kylo Ren. Look for The Hateful Eight (another film with a partially borrowed score) to be the clear contender, but Star Wars is certainly a dark horse that could run away with it faster than the Millennium Falcon doing the Kessel Run. 

One thing the Star Wars films have always excelled at was the sound effects that help build the universe it is in. Everything from light sabers being turned on to space ships whizzing by to alien dialects created using odd noises and the latest film really upped the ante. Sound Editing refers to the new sound effects being created while Sound Mixing refers to the things you hear from dialogue to the sound effects to background noise. There is always so much going on in a given Star Wars film with the Maz Kanata bar and the Jakku junkyard scenes being prime examples of sound showing you more than the visual cues do. I have pointed out in the past for a film to stand a chance they need to be nominated in both categories, which Star Wars is one of four to be a real contender. Mad Max: Fury Road seems to be the top contender with The Revenant and Star Wars as the potential spoilers of both categories. 

After the hot garbage fire that was the Star Wars prequels featuring 95% CGI, which has aged as well as a week old avocado left in the open. Abrams made sure to bring the franchise back to the way it was rightfully remembered, fantastic practical effects adding a dash of CGI to fill in the gaps. While no one thought that the film didn’t have large swaths of CGI, it is nice to have some things back to the basics like aliens being prosthetic costumes, Storm Troopers actually being in shots and robots actually rolling around in the dessert. It is refreshing, as a moviegoer to watch as it grounds the film while also making sure it will age well. Yoda in the original films may have had its limitations since it was a puppet, but it was far superior then the CGI version doing back flips in the prequels. This category is a two horse race between Star Wars and Mad Max: Fury Road, another film that relies almost entirely on practical effects something the Academy will handsomely reward this year. 

Straight Outta Compton was directed by F. Gary Grey and was released on August 14th. The film has one nomination. 

– Best Original Screenplay Andrea Berloff, Jonathan Herman, S. Leigh Savidge and Alan Wenkus

I’m really not going to get into the race game like everyone else is doing this Oscar season as no one comes out of it looking good. Should Jason Mitchell or O’Shea Jackson Jr been considered for Best Supporting Actor? Ya, they should have been considered, but the Supporting Actor race is already really tight and I don’t know who doesn’t deserve their nomination (I’ll hold my tongue about Sylvester Stallone until after I see Creed). The casting helped make this movie as fun as it was using the real life exploits of incidents that there is already plenty of documentation about. The quieter moments that were not in front of large crowds or on camera is where the script shines. We know that everything has a slightly rose coloured tint as both Ice Cube and Dr. Dre were consultants on the film, meaning that they imparted their version of the “truth” to reflect themselves as better people, but just like The Social Network’s fictitious story who cares when it is this good. The story is at its best during the first two acts with the rise and fall of N.W.A. showcasing the brotherhood these young men formed when the world wasn’t ready for young black people to tell their own stories. The final act runs a bit too long, trying to focus on the solo careers of Eazy-E, Ice Cube and Dr. Dre and includes a cringe-inducing scene of Dre leaving Death Row records to create Aftermath. Spotlight is the clear frontrunner and expectant winner with Inside out being a long shot dark horse but Straight Outta Compton does seem to be an underdog that might get some consideration, especially if Spotlight falters as the season goes on.

Shaun the Sheep Movie was directed by Mark Burton and Richard Starzak and was released on August 5th. The film has one nomination. 

– Best Animated Feature

I went in knowing nothing more than the obnoxious Cineplex commercials shown with families bringing their young kids to see the film back in the summer. I didn’t even know that it was a spin off of the great Wallace and Gromit series and the character of Shaun had been around since 1995. The film is a gorgeous stop motion picture made using Claymation and is almost entirely silent using only grunts and emotional expressions to communicate sound by the characters, even the humans. The story was ridiculously simple with a herd of sheep trying to find their concussed farmer who is lost in the big city, but the beauty comes from the clever set pieces and the sight gags created by the animators. Story wise, it doesn’t stand a chance, but if the Academy wants to reward some amazing hand made animation this is a perfect film to give it to. Unfortunately for Shaun the Sheep Movie, Inside Out looks poised to add to Pixar’s already very full trophy case with Anomalisa being the only real film to stand a chance against the heavy weight champion. 

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