The Marvel superhero phenomenon fulfilled its role as the X-factor, while Damien Chazelle’s NASA adventure under performed.
While Marvel’s “Black Panther” exceeded expectations by leading the Oscar crafts races with six nominations, a testament to the global impact of Ryan Coogler’s zeitgeist-changing, superhero phenomenon, Damien Chazelle’s “First Man” underperformed by receiving only four nods. This definitely changed the dynamics, resulting in several surprises and snubs.
Most shocking was the snubbing of team Chazelle’s Oscar-winning cinematographer Linus Sandgren, editor Tom Cross, and composer Justin Hurwitz. This came out of nowhere, since Sandgren and Cross were both nominated by their respective craft organizations, the ASC and ACE, and Hurwitz won the Golden Globe for his trippy score.
Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures
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The best explanation, given fact that “First Man” also came up empty for Best Picture, Best Director (Chazelle), Best Actor (Ryan Gosling), Best Actress (Claire Foy), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Josh Singer), was the overall tepid response to Chazelle’s risky decision to frame the Neil Armstrong biopic as a grieving father story.
This obviously trickled down to the craft results as well, with the cinematography branch ignoring Sandgren’s disorienting cinéma vérité style and surreal IMAX moonwalk in favor of Caleb Deschanel’s sixth nod for his exquisite work on German-language nominee, “Never Look Away.”
Likewise, the editing branch dismissed Cross’s complex cutting, which paved the way for “Bohemian Rhapsody”‘s John Ottman. And the music branch set aside Hurwitz’s experimental score and its otherworldly use of the theremin, which arguably helped “Black Panther” composer Ludwig Göransson sneak in with his evocative Afro-centric score.
On the plus side, “First Man” earned well-deserved nominations for Nathan Crowley’s authentic production design, the efficient in-camera VFX of DNEG, and realistic sound editing and sound mixing of Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou Morgan.
By contrast, “Black Panther” scored in every category except for editing, VFX, and makeup and hairstyling. This included Ruth Carter’s costume design, Hannah Beachler’s production design (a first for an African-American in that category), the Kendrick Lamar SZA song (“All the Stars”), and the sound editing and sound mixing of Ben Burtt, Steve Boeddeker and Brandon Proctor.
For Carter and Beachler, this was tied directly to the imaginative and opulent world building of Wakanda as a positive force of African culture and black identity. And the aesthetic of Afrofuturism contained within Wakanda was in keeping with Coogler’s vision of unity. His “Black Panther” elevated the MCU with a social consciousness that reverberated throughout the world.
Still, “Black Panther” suffered a major setback in its inability to secure a VFX nomination. Perceived by many as the frontrunner in the category as a result of its momentum, both the Academy and VES rejected its work presumably for having too much of a supporting role and lacking that special CG wow factor.
This gave rise to the surprising nomination of Disney’s “Christopher Robin,” with its impressive photoreal animation of Pooh and the other stuffed animals, and seamless integration with live-action environments shot with hand-held cameras in natural light.
Ironically, though, the VFX factor for “Black Panther” might’ve contributed to Rachel Morrison being passed over in the cinematography race (following her historic nomination last year for “Mudbound”). When it comes to VFX movies, there’s often confusion with the blurring of where cinematography ends and VFX begins, which didn’t help Morrison’s cause.
The VFX snubbing of “Black Panther,” however, had a positive effect on “Avengers: Infinity War” in its bid to earn the first VFX Oscar for Marvel Studios. The Thanos-powered performance capture animation of Josh Browlin’s supervillain now becomes the frontrunner –in battle with “First Man,” which offers a more invisible and old-school approach with cutting edge tech, in keeping with the ’60s documentary, NASA vibe.