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The bulk of Oscar discussions each year center around the Best Picture nominees and the 20 actors, male and female, lucky enough to walk the red carpet in designer glam, newly lit from within by the industry's golden approval. The Wizard Of Oz famously pleaded, "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!" and for the most part, when we're watching the movies, we obey. Let's disobey. The magic of the movies is often behind the scenes.
The Men (and Women) Behind the Curtain
The Directors Guild of America announced their nominees on Monday and chose the following men as the "best" to sit in the director’s chair in 2010.
• Darren Aronofsky for Black Swan
Though "Best" is always open to interpretation, each of them brought the magic in their own way. If this is Oz, then Fincher is the Scarecrow (The Social Network definitely brings "the brain"), Hooper is the Tin Man (The King's Speech triumphs with "heart"), Aronofsky is the Lion (Black Swan sure finds "the nerve"), Nolan is the Wizard (Inception being the dream) and Russell is... well, he's Dorothy. The Fighter can't escape his family and his entire town (Lowell, MA) claims him as their "pride." There's no place like home.
These fine directors aren't the only options for Oscar voters should they want to go a different way with their own nominees (balloting ends Friday).
The Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan, are riding high at the box office with their western True Grit and might still appear. They've got their own Dorothy in Hailee Steinfeld's Mattie Ross. She even wears pigtails! Like Dorothy, Mattie keeps picking up strange men along her journey, though she defines heart and nerve as "true grit,” and given the gruff comic buffoonery of LaBeouf (Matt Damon) and Rooster (Jeff Bridges), brains are not her priority.
Should the Academy's director branch want to bathe in the historic afterglow of Kathryn Bigelow's (The Hurt Locker) recent win, the first female director to take the Oscar, they could honor Debra Granik—not that she’d be an unworthy choice regardless of gender. Her acclaimed chilly thriller Winter's Bone technically takes place in Missouri, but the Ozarks stretch into Kansas, so close enough. The only trouble with this Oz comparison is that the film’s heroine Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) is clearly never leaving her (metaphorical) Kansas. Yes, the film is that grim.
Other colorful characters wait in the wings, some far worthier than others depending on your point of view: Danny Boyle for 127 Hours, Ben Affleck for The Town, Roman Polanski for The Ghost Writer, Lisa Cholodenko for The Kids Are All Right, Mike Leigh for Another Year, Lee Unkrich for Toy Story 3, Martin Scorsese for Shutter Island, Tim Burton for Alice in Wonderland. The list goes on, as the dream fades.
Maybe you can work them into this crazy Wizard of Oz framing yourself? We still haven’t cast Toto, The Wicked Witch, Glinda, The Flying Monkeys, Auntie Em or the Munchkins.
The Wizard of Oz (1939) was nominated for six Oscars in its day, winning two for Original Song (Over the Rainbow, which was nearly cut from the film!) and Original Score. Its nomination tally would surely have been bulkier if more categories had been in play; Costume Design was added in the 40s, and Make-Up didn’t show up until the 80s.
No Blue Checkered Gingham, No Pink Ball Gowns
Costumes as future-iconic as those from Oz are hard to come by. None will be Oscar nominated this year, unless they go for Black Swan. Natalie Portman’s creepy black finale look will undoubtedly be a Halloween costume favorite next year, and Halloween is the quickest way to immortality for movie costumes. The Costume Designers Guild, which will give us some Oscar clues, has not yet announced their nominees, but we’re curious. This is the rare Oscar year when the eventual costume nominees aren’t too clear, since Oscar tends to go for traditional period work; beyond True Grit and The King’s Speech, the bulk of the heavyweight contenders are contemporary films.
Oscar’s Make-up branch has curious taste. Each year they ignore brilliant stuff and allow rather dubious movies to call themselves “Oscar nominee!” (Think Norbit and go from there.) This year they’ve ditched Black Swan, despite the movie getting so much fantastical mileage from those fingernail tears, freaky eyes, skin rashes, and that absolutely creepy prosthetic moment (you’ve seen it in the trailer) when Nina pulls a feather out from her shoulder blade. They’ve settled on the following films as finalists instead:
• Alice in Wonderland
The Wolfman is from Rick Baker, who dominates this category like John Williams dominates the history of Best Original Score. Baker has already won six times (or 21% of all wins in this category). This will be his twelfth career nomination, unless the Academy decides to go for less effects-driven makeup jobs like The Fighter (boxing wounds), True Grit (Barry Pepper’s teeth and Josh Brolin’s skin, we presume) or The Way Back (authentic looking sunburns and other ill-health looks).
Cinematography is our last category today. Oscar used to have two categories for this work: black and white or color. The Wizard of Oz famously straddles this divide, but picked up its nomination in color. Cinematographers are responsible for the lighting and shooting of motion picture images. The American Society of Cinematographers just named their best-photographed films of 2010. They chose:
• Danny Cohen for The King’s Speech
Those films are all beautifully shot, but this category always has more than enough worthy choices to fill out a roster. You might see Shutter Island or 127 Hours disrupt this list on Oscar nomination morning.
Whomever is nominated, we hope Roger Deakins eventually wins an Oscar. He may pick up his 9th nomination for True Grit this year (previous credits include Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, and No Country For Old Men, among other classics), but he has yet to win the statue.
That red carpet can be as winding, weird and difficult to navigate as the yellow brick road.
More in our 2010 Oscars series: