Awards season has begun in earnest now that it’s January and several critics groups have weighed in, giving love to contenders such as “Nomadland,” “Mank” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7.”
But work in other films is also deserving, and some of the most striking aspects of the contenders are in cinematography, production design, costume design and editing, all contributing powerfully to the mise-en-scène. To kick off the year, Variety’s awards team of Jazz Tangcay, Clayton Davis, Tim Gray and Jenelle Riley highlight artisans flying below the radar.
Greyhound, Production design, David Crank
Crank re-created a World War II battleship for the Tom Hanks-starring film. He captures the claustrophobia of life aboard the vessel in the living quarters of Hanks’ Capt. Krause and in the sonic room, in which the crew tracks the formation of U-boats trying to destroy the USS Keeling, code-named Greyhound, in a battle on the Atlantic.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Cinematography, Tobias Schliessler
As Viola Davis scorches in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” Schliessler’s cinematography depicts the hot Chicago day in George C. Wolfe’s adaptation of August Wilson’s play. It’s not just about the blues — Schliessler focuses on the tense dynamic between Davis’ Ma Rainey and big dreamer Levee, played by Chadwick Boseman.
Mulan, Visual effects (to be confirmed)
From rebuilding the Imperial City to working on complex compositing for fight scenes, the team at Weta Digital combined green screen with partially constructed buildings to bring the world of Disney’s “Mulan” to life. Weta provided 486 key shots for the film.
The Personal History of David Copperfield, Costume design, Suzie Harman
Harman’s costume design is a vision of class and status in Armando Iannucci’s retelling of “David Copperfield.” The costumes ranged from dirty and practical to bright, sharp tailoring, which Harman used to indicate where a character stood in society. Dev Patel’s sleek waistcoats and top hats are truly memorable.
Pieces of a Woman, Editing, Dávid Jancsó
The first 20 minutes feature a long take of Vanessa Kirby’s character giving birth. Not only is the scene unforgettable, but Kirby’s extraordinary performance takes the viewer on an emotional journey. The single take lingers long after the credits have rolled and promises to be talked about all season. When the cut finally occurs, it’s just a quick breather before the devastation of the scene plays out.
Bill & Ted Face the Music, Hair and Makeup, Bill Corso, Kevin Yagher, Donna Spahn Jones
Changing a well-known actor’s appearance can make or break a film; nothing is more disorienting than a bad wig or age lines that belong in a high school drama club. Yet the looks created for the new “Bill & Ted” are so flawless you’ll struggle to recognize Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter. Whether playing super-buff versions of themselves or on their deathbeds, the makeup is a marvel.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Original song: “Wuhan Flu,” Sacha Baron Cohen, Erran Baron Cohen and Anthony Hines
One of the centerpieces of the “Borat” sequel is the song that “Country Steve” (Cohen) belts out at a right-wing rally. Not only is it hilarious, clever and subversive, but it’s a damn earworm you can’t stop humming.
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, Costume design, Anna B. Sheppard
Whether decking out Will Ferrell in fantasy armor, crafting jackets that showcase Dan Stevens’ chest, or creating a ridiculously long scarf for Rachel McAdams, Sheppard creates costumes that are fun, eye-catching and vital to the story. There’s so much silver, sequins and sparkle the entire film dazzles.
The Father, Production design, Peter Francis
Francis takes a deceptively simple premise — showing the apartment of a man in the throes of dementia — and uses clever techniques to put the viewer in the same disconcerted frame of mind. It’s brilliant work that enhances unfolding the story.
Minari, Cinematography, Lachlan Milne
Everything about Lee Isaac Chung’s 1980s-set family drama bursts with authenticity. Huge credit to Milne for gently conveying the beauty of the classic American farm.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things, Cinematography, Łukasz Żal
Żal presents the honest, disturbing truth of our unnamed protagonist, played by Jessie Buckley, symbolically stitching the narrative journey of Charlie Kaufman’s darkly rich adaptation. Near the end of the film, as if in summation, Jesse Plemons’ Jake and Buckley’s character face each other before two people begin dancing.
Judas and the Black Messiah, Cinematography, Sean Bobbitt
Bobbitt’s precision and technique in framing proves that less is more: As Lakeith Stanfield’s Bill O’Neal tries to escape a local gang, a low-angle shot impeccably shows a knife coming from the top of the car, instilling fear in the character and viewer, all from the perspective of the gas pedal.
The Midnight Sky, Original score, Alexandre Desplat
A good swell of music can elevate any scene, but match that with a vulnerable and heartbreaking George Clooney calling out to “come to my voice,” and you’ll find the tears rolling.
Promising Young Woman, Costume design, Nancy Steiner
Carey Mulligan’s performance comes alive the minute she puts on a nurse’s outfit with red piping and matching blood-red pumps to administer the proper dosage of revenge.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Costume design, Ann Roth
Ann Roth’s costumes do exactly what they’re supposed to: You know a lot about each character before they even say a word. There is perfection in her details: Viola Davis’ shoes, Glynn Turman’s suit and a special prize for Chadwick Boseman’s hat.
News of the World, Editing, William Goldenberg
As Kidd (Tom Hanks) and his young ward (Helena Zengel) are trying to outrun the bad guys, their wagon gets stuck on some rocks. That begins a sequence in which the audience is always clear where the characters are, their relationships to the terrain and each other — and you hold your breath for the entire 10 minutes.
Sound of Metal, Sound design, Nicolas Becker
In a movie about the loss of hearing, the sound is crucial, and Nicolas Becker does superlative work. He brings the audience into the various stages of the character’s gradual loss. And as Ruben (Riz Ahmed) walks through the city, Becker takes ordinary sounds — a bicycle bell, car horns, an ambulance, a doorbell — and makes them extraordinary.