Best Foreign Language Feature winner “All Quiet on the Western Front” won the Oscar crafts battle Sunday night, grabbing three prizes out of six for cinematography, production design, and score. (It won four total if you include the non-Crafts, International Feature Category.) That ties “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” for the most craft Oscar wins for an international feature. Edward Berger’s World War I epic from Netflix was also nominated for makeup/hairstyling, sound, and VFX.
Shockingly, Baz Luhrmann’s delirious musical biopic, “Elvis,” was blanked after also receiving six nominations, highlighted by Mandy Walker’s cinematography and the costume and production design of four-time Oscar winner Catherine Martin (“The Great Gatsby” and “Moulin Rouge!”). It was a particularly missed opportunity for Walker to break the glass ceiling again after her historic ASC victory. She represents only the third woman DP to be nominated, following Ari Wegner (last year’s “The Power of the Dog”) and Rachel Morrison (2018’s “Mudbound”).
The other craft wins went to Best Picture victor “Everything Everywhere All at Once” (editing), “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” (costume design), “The Whale” (makeup-hairstyling), “Top Gun: Maverick” (sound), and “Avatar: The Way of Water” (visual effects). The biggest surprise was “All Quiet” production designer Christian Goldbeck’s win over “Babylon” production designer Florencia Martin. History was made when “Wakanda Forever” costume designer Ruth Carter became the first Black woman to earn two Oscars.
Meanwhile, streaming giants Netflix and Apple both made inroads in animation: the former won its first Best Animated Feature Oscar with the stop-motion “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio,” and the latter earned its first Best Animated Short with “The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse” (directed by Charlie Mackesy and Peter Baynton).
Here are the craft takeaways:
The power and topicality of “All Quiet on the Western Front”
The late surging “All Quiet” turned out to be the surprise craft heavyweight contender that benefited from the topicality of the war in Ukraine with Russia. This was reflected by its BAFTA domination and the continuing influence of international Academy voters. Berger adapted Erich Maria Remarque’s popular 1928 anti-war novel for the first time as a German film, relying on the crafts to deliver the visceral immediacy of death and destruction.
James Friend’s immersive, horror film-like cinematography (with a variety of large format cameras) took 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.
Goldbeck 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.
Composer Volker Bertelmann conveyed not only the demoralizing emotional state of the soldiers but also the sounds of battle itself with a powerful fusion of classical and avant-garde sensibilities, leaning into staccato drumbeats and a burst of sinister, spare chords, surrounded by bass.
Ending the Best Picture/Best Editing drought
In winning both Best Picture and Best Editing, “EEAAO” (which was also nominated for costume design, score, and song) broke a 10-year drought. The last time this occurred was with “Argo.” In fact, it’s also been five years since a Best Picture winner has even won a single craft award. The last instance was Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” (which won for production design and Alexandre Desplat’s score). Perhaps it’s because recent Best Picture winners haven’t been showy enough. That certainly wasn’t the case with the Daniels’ blockbuster multiverse action-drama-comedy, which turned convention on its head with its wild, handcrafted sensibility. This benefited Paul Rogers, whose flashy “verse jumping” and martial arts cutting would not have worked without his grounding of the compelling mother-daughter story between Best Actress winner Michelle Yeoh and Best Supporting Actress nominee Stephanie Hsu.
“Black Panther” strikes again with Carter
After breaking the color barrier for costume design with “Black Panther,” Carter returned with her second historic win for Ryan Coogler’s sequel. Yet, in continuing to expand and reshape the Wakandan costumes — especially for the grief-stricken yet noble Queen Ramonda (Best Supporting Actress nominee Angela Bassett) — she took inspiration from the passing of “Black Panther” star Chadwick Boseman. In addition, she created the fantastical clothing of the underwater Talokan people but grounded it through inspiration from the ancient Mayan civilization with a touch of sea life.
Ending the MUAHS biopic trend
The last five MUAHS Oscars have gone to transformations of real-life legends for “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “Bombshell,” “Vice,” and “The Darkest Hour.” This ended with the win for “The Whale,” whose first-time all digital work for a feature was led by prosthetics designer Adrien Morot (in collaboration with makeup artist Judy Chin, and hairstylist Anne Marie Bradley). What they achieved is pushing the weight of Best Actor winner Brendan Fraser to the extreme 600 pounds without covering his face and obfuscating his emotional range of expression.
Sounding off with “Top Gun: Maverick”
The best Oscar opportunity for the high octane “Maverick” was always its hyper-real soundscape inside the cockpits with Tom Cruise, which was part of the thrilling spectacle that brought audiences back to theaters. For the sound team of Mark Weingarten (production sound mixer), James H. Mather (sound designer/supervising sound editor), Al Nelson (sound designer/supervising sound editor), Chris Burdon (re-recording mixer), and Mark Taylor (re-recording mixer) that was built around the concept of a “synaptic” experience, which emphasized breathing and the manipulation of the control stick while strategically layering in the jet noises, including the sound of air whooshing over the wings and the sonic reflection of the aerobatics.
“Avatar” makes VFX history
With its second VFX prize, “Avatar” joins only five other franchises that have achieved the same feat: “Star Wars,” Indiana Jones,” “Aliens,” ‘The Lord of the Rings,” and “King Kong.” Led by Wētā’s four-time Oscar-winning senior visual effects supervisor Joe Letteri, the ocean-centric sequel featured groundbreaking underwater performance capture, a rebuilt global simulation tool set (including an FX water and fire system called Loki), and a game-changing muscle-based facial animation system for greater ease of use artists and improved character performance.