Gravity: An Avatar, A Life Of Pi

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Nowadays, there’s usually one: a Gravity, an Avatar, a Life of Pi. An effects feast that seems poised to butt heads, at the Oscars, with a movie like Argo or Spotlight, that sophisticated, actorly drama with accomplished Editing and Cinematography, say, but likely no showy Visual Effects. The Best Picture race has lately felt like a clear choice between two kinds of movies: the technically accomplished, Hollywood-made spectacle, and the sturdy, topical, independent feature. This would seem like an old phenomenon. Oscar winners have long bounced back and forth between your huge spectacles (Titanic, Ben-Hur, The Sound of Music, Gone With the Wind, Braveheart, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) and your more writerly, actorly small-to-mid-budget …show more content…

The Hurt Locker, budgeted at $15 million, feels like the “small indie” of its year only on paper, when you can see how much smaller it is than a megablockbuster like its competitor Avatar. And as a war movie, The Hurt Locker also had a great deal of craft category appeal, with wins in Editing, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing, and a further nomination in Cinematography. (It won six Oscars total, including for Director and Original Screenplay.) Still, there’s a tangible competitive trend in that, at least so far as the Academy is concerned, the Oscar race comes down to the “best” dramatic powerhouse of the year squaring off with the most impressive movie of the year, with the Hollywood spectacle often losing to the smaller drama. Gravity, Avatar, and Life of Pi lost to 12 Years a Slave, The Hurt Locker, and Argo, respectively. Meanwhile, last year’s technical favorites — Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant, two of only five movies in Oscar history to be nominated for every single technical award — lost to Spotlight, a movie with six nominations, including only one in a technical category …show more content…

It’s thanks to Bradford Young, Villeneuve’s talented cinematographer, that I have a keen memory of those set details and that they become a part of my psychological experience of the movie. I think of Arrival in terms of color: the milky grays of the clouds rolling over the Montana plain; the bright blue of computer screens bouncing off the gray tents on the makeshift army compound; the bright juts of orange against the gray whenever someone wearing a protective radiation suit walks outside. And I think of the chalky white of the heptapods’ world most of all, and the brightly astonished expressions Jeremy Renner and Amy Adams always wear looking into it. It has an extraordinary sense of scale and specificity in its design that, for its charms, La La Land does not have. I believe Arrival to be the better movie, overall, but more importantly, I believe it to be the bigger technical

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