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Oscars 2023: Here’s How ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ Could Dominate the Craft Races
After dominating the BAFTAs with seven wins (including cinematography, music, and sound), Netflix’s “All Quiet on the Western Front” just went from Oscars wild card to potential juggernaut in the craft races, where it is tied with “Elvis” for the lead with six nominations. In addition to the BAFTA-winning three categories, Edward Berger’s German-language World War I epic is also nominated for makeup and hairstyling, production design, and VFX.
“All Quiet” appears to be on a similar Oscar trajectory as “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2001), which also scored six craft noms. That’s a record for international features. Ang Lee’s martial arts spectacle (co-starring “Everything Everywhere All at Once” Best Actress nominee Michelle Yeoh) eventually won a record three craft awards: cinematography, original score, and art direction-set decoration (now production design). “All Quiet” could very well match its success after duplicating its BAFTA wins.
How much weight do the BAFTAs carry for “All Quiet”? Nine of the last 10 wins for cinematography, eight of the last 10 for music, and nine of the last 10 for sound went on to win Oscars. Plus, as the favorite to win the Best International Feature prize, “All Quiet” now carries considerable crafts momentum heading into final voting March 2-7. Timing is everything, and the war in Ukraine has made this harrowing war film extremely topical. For many, “All Quiet” must seem like a cross between documentary and horror.
“All Quiet on the Western Front”
Berger adapted Erich Maria Remarque’s popular 1928 anti-war novel for the first time as a German film — and he made it an immersive POV experience. The director takes us through the battlefield and trenches of World War I with long tracking shots as we follow young German soldier Paul (Felix Kammerer) amidst the unrelenting artillery attacks and massive carnage. And the visual and sonic crafts were essential in contributing to the visceral immediacy of the death and destruction that Paul experiences around him.
“All Quiet” faces tough competition in all six categories. But, like “Crouching Tiger,” it is in a better position than, say, “Roma,” which took cinematography in a milestone win for director Alfonso Cuaron, while losing out in production design and sound editing and sound mixing, or “Parasite,” which was snubbed altogether after being nominated for production design and editing.
After his BAFTA win, composer Volker Bertelmann (aka Hauschka) has the best chance of Oscar success. Previously nominated for “Lion” with Dustin O’Halloran, he provided an almost atonal approach that reflects Paul’s demoralizing emotional state and the sounds of battle itself on a more macro level. He used acute, staccato drumbeats and a burst of sinister, spare chords and often emphasized the bass. Snare drums were bullet-like by design; Bertelmann found personal inspiration in his great-grandmother’s refurbished harmonium, which he treated like a modern synthesizer.
Competition: Score is the most interesting and competitive craft race without a strong frontrunner. L.A. rock band Son Lux impressed with its maximalist, wall-to-wall score for the Daniels’ multiverse drama-comedy, “EEAAO.” Justin Hurwitz provided “Babylon” with a loud musical universe to convey Damien Chazelle’s wild vision of Hollywood during the Roaring ’20s. Carter Burwell brought an offbeat, fairy tale vibe to Martin McDonagh’s mystical “The Banshees of Inisherin.” And the legendary John Williams composed a slight but inspired summary score for Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical “The Fabelmans.”
Prediction: Bertelmann’s BAFTA momentum puts him in the driver’s seat. His score is well-liked by the Academy at large with its effective fusion of classical and avant-garde. Williams no longer has the retirement sympathy vote, “Babylon” is probably too divisive to help Hurwitz, and although Burwell is past due for an Oscar, his haunting score is a longshot.
The soundscape (led by supervising sound editors Markus Stemler and Frank Kruse, sound editor Viktor Prášil, and re-recording mixers Lars Ginzel and Stefan Korte) was built on the soldiers’ sonic relationship with the war, giving various agents of death nicknames (the machine gun was a sewing machine). This was utilized to great effect in the scene where the whir of the sewing machine segues into a burst of gunfire. Silence was also important, though, and the variations of human breath or the smallest gasps were as effective as the crash of bombs.
Competition: “Top Gun: Maverick” remains the frontrunner with its “synaptic” sound experience inside the cockpits of the jet fighters with Tom Cruise. Other nominees include “Elvis,” “The Batman,” and “Avatar: The Way of Water.”
Prediction: The sound of “Maverick” was a great part of the thrill factor that brought audiences back to theaters last year and should win. However, one sound branch member told IndieWire not to be surprised if “All Quiet” pulls off an upset. The BAFTA win now makes this a closer race.
The key for cinematographer James Friend was putting us on the battlefield with an array of large format cameras that fit seamlessly, coupled with a striking color palette that marked the seasons. The Alexa 65 was the primary camera on the battlefield following the action; the Alexa Mini LF snaked its way through the long and narrow trenches; the Sony Venice captured nighttime shots with flares; and the RED was the kamikaze camera for FX explosions that were comp’d into the background in post.
Competition: “Elvis” cinematographer Mandy Walker has the best opportunity to finally break the category’s glass ceiling. She follows last year’s Ari Wegner (“The Power of the Dog”) and Rachel Morrison (“Mudbound”) as the only women nominees. Two of the nominees — the legendary Roger Deakins (“Empire of Light”) and Darius Khondji (“Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths”) — both shot remarkable-looking films that failed to gain traction during awards season. And the keen naturalism of Cameraimage winner Florian Hoffmeister (“TÁR”) remains a longshot.
Prediction: The time appears right for Walker to break the glass ceiling, but the momentum has shifted to Friend, thanks to his BAFTA win. However, the fact that he is not competing in the ASC race could help Walker if she scores a historic triumph there.
Makeup and Hairstyling
The MUAHS was all about the mud and blood, and makeup designer Heike Merker and makeup artist Linda Eisenhamerová immersed themselves in the fine details of applying them to Paul and his fellow soldiers on the rain-soaked battlefield. They helped convey their journey into becoming sludge-caked, demoralized soldiers. This entailed an assortment of wigs and lots of facial hair and keeping track of the evolution of the war makeup and hair (especially since scenes were not shot in order).
Competition: BAFTA winner “Elvis” pulled an upset win over “The Whale,” benefiting from Austin Butler’s BAFTA win for Best Actor. The other two nominees are “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and “The Batman.”
Prediction: “Elvis” has the edge by virtue of its BAFTA win, especially if Butler wins the Oscar. But if Brendan Fraser wins, then look for “The Whale” to also win. It contains the most innovative work among the nominees, boasting the first all-digital prosthetic makeup for a major feature in transforming Fraser into the 600-pound English teacher in search of redemption.
Production designer Christian Goldbeck strategically built the maze of battlefields and trenches outside Prague in a way that aided the oppressive atmosphere. The trenches were claustrophobic, and moving around the battlefield during filming (against the light) was psychologically and physically challenging and depressing, especially since it was cold, wet, and muddy.
Competition: “Babylon” got a big Oscars boost for production designer Florencia Martin by taking both the period production design prize at the ADG Awards and the production design BAFTA award. The other nominees include “Elvis,” production designed by two-time Oscar winner Catherine Martin and Karen Murphy, “The Fabelmans,” production designed by two-time Oscar winner Rick Carter, and “Avatar: The Way of Water.”
Prediction: This has become a race between “Babylon” and “Elvis,” with the former now expected to win as a result of its ADG and BAFTA victories.
Production visual effects supervisor Frank Petzold took a naturalistic approach led by Friend’s principal photography, and the goal was to rely on as many photographic elements as possible for compositing. Explosions, meanwhile, were handled by the SFX team and shot at the former airfield location with the Red camera, then seamlessly comped into the background during the battle sequences. Crucially, smoke and tanks were handled as characters.
Competition: After its unprecedented sweep of the 21st VES Awards (winning all nine categories), James Cameron’s “Avatar: The Way of Water” clinched its status as the Oscar frontrunner. The other nominees include “Top Gun: Maverick,” “The Batman,” and “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.”
Prediction: This is the least competitive craft race, with “The Way of Water” now a lock to win.
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