Oscar Handicap 2009: The Technical Categories

Our annual Oscar Handicap series begins with six technical categories, including three new to our handicap: Costume Design, Makeup and Visual Effects.

(For explanations as to how our scoring system works, make sure to read our first article in the series, Best Picture of the Year, linked at the bottom of this article.)

Best Art Direction

The Art Director (or Production Designer) is the part of the team, along with the director and cinematographer, who is responsible for the overall look of the film. The Art Director directs the key personnel in costume design, hair and make-up, special effects and locations to establish a unified visual appearance to the film, as well as the overall design and look of all sets created. So it should come as little surprise that many of the winners here were also up for the cinematography award.

The Breakdowns

1) As long as you are not lowest grossing nominee in this category when the nominations are announced, you have won 28 of the last 30 times (93.33%). Advantage: Changeling, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, The Duchess

2) Movies where the past needs to be recreated have won the award 26 of the last 30 ceremonies (86.57%). Advantages: Changeling, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Duchess, Revolutionary Road

3) Winners of this award have also been nominated for Best Cinematography 24 of 30 times (80%). Advantages: Changeling, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight

4) Art Direction winners have gone to films also nominated for Best Picture 21 of 30 (70%). Advantage: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

5) Helping a Best Director nominee realize their vision has helped 20 of the past 30 winners in this category (66.67%). Advantage: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

6) Winners in this category have been previously nominated here 18 of 30 (60%). Advantage: The Duchess, Revolutionary Road

7) Winners of one of the three Art Directors Guild awards have gone on to win here 7 of 12 since the ADG awards were created in 1997 (58.33%). Advantage: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight

By The Numbers

While most nominees needed to create one period in time, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button needed to recreate many locations from around the world during various points of the Twentieth Century, and should take home a statuette here.

Changeling (James J. Murakami, art director; Gary Fettis, set decorator): +1, +2, +3, -4, -5, -6, -7 (114 of 192, 59.38%)

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Donald Graham Burt, art director; Victor J. Zolfo, set decorator): (138 of 192, 71.88%)

The Dark Knight (Nathan Crowley, art director; Peter Lando, set decorator): (94 of 192, 48.96%)

The Duchess (Michael Carlin, art director; Rebecca Alleway, set decorator): (103 of 192, 53.13%)

Revolutionary Road (Kristi Zea, art director; Debra Schutt, set decorator): (76 of 192, 39.58%)

Personal prediction for Best Art Direction: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Personal choice amongst these nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Best Costume Design

From the pretty frocks of 18th century England to the groovy polyester stylings of the swinging 1970s, the costume designers nominated this year helped to enhance both the period in which their films took place and the main characters’ personas. And as part of the team that helps design the overall look of the film, it is little surprise that nominations in this category often go hand in hand with those in the Art Direction and Cinematography.

The Breakdowns

1) Films that predominantly take place outside the United States have won 25 of the last 30 times (83.33%). Advantage: Australia, The Duchess

2) Winners of Costume Award have come from a film also nominated for Art Direction 24 of the last 30 (80%). Advantages: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Duchess, Revolutionary Road

3) Winners of one of the three Costume Designers Guild awards have gone on to win here 6 of 10 ceremonies since the CDG awards were created in 1999 (60%). Advantage: The Duchess

4) Winners of this award have also been nominated for Best Picture 17 of 30 times (56.67%). Advantages: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Milk

5) Best Costume Design winners have come from films also nominated for Best Cinematography 17 of 30 (56.67%). Advantage: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

6) First-time nominees in this category have only gone on to win 12 of 30 (40%). Disadvantage: The Duchess, Milk

By The Numbers

There’s just something about a pretty girl in a Victorian getup that brings out the awards.

Australia (Catherine Martin): +1, -2, -3, -4, -5, -6 (73 of 160, 45.63%)

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Jacqueline West): -1, +2, -3, +4, +5, -6 (85 of 160, 53.13%)

The Duchess (Michael O’Connor): +1, +2, +3, -4, -5, +6 (93 of 160, 58.13%)

Milk (Danny Glicker): -1, -2, -3, +4, -5, +6 (57 of 160, 35.63%)

Revolutionary Road (Albert Wolsky): -1, +2, -3, -4, -5, -6 (77 of 160, 48.13%)

Personal prediction for Best Costume Design: The Duchess

Personal choice amongst these nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Best Editing

Editing, the cutting of sections of scenes together to make a cohesive story, is the only part of the moviemaking process unique to cinema, which defines and separates filmmaking from almost all other art forms. Editors works with the various layers of image, story and music, creating the rhythm and the pace of the work, honing the infinite possibilities of the juxtaposition of small snippets of film into a creative, coherent, cohesive whole. But how does the Academy decide whose work was the bestr

The Breakdowns

1) The winner of Best Editing has been tied to a Best Picture nominee 26 of the past 30 ceremonies (86.67%). Advantage: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, Slumdog Millionaire

2) Best Editor winners have also been nominated for Best Director 25 of 30 (83.33%). Advantage: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, Slumdog Millionaire

3) Solo editors have triumphed over their teamed nominees 25 of 30 (83.33%). Advantage: The Dark Knight, Milk, Slumdog Millionaire

4) Winners of the Best Editing have also won the American Cinema Editors Award (split into comedy and drama categories in 2000) 23 of 30 (76.67%). Advantage: Slumdog Millionaire

By The Numbers

Ever since Crash won here, awards prognosticators have looked towards this category as a potential spoiler, and already I’ve seen some people suggesting what wins here will likely win Best Picture, which ignores the fact that only half the films over the past thirty years which won Best Editing also won Best Picture. Last year, they were looking towards Best Editing to see if a No Country for Old Men or There Will Be Blood win would be a harbinger for what would happen at the end of the night, but then The Bourne Ultimatum won. Whoops.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall): +1, +2, -3, -4 (63 of 120, 52.5%)

The Dark Knight (Lee Smith): -1, -2, +3, -4 (41 of 120, 34.17%)

Frost/Nixon (Mike Hill and Daniel P. Hanley): +1, +2, -3, -4 (63 of 120, 52.5%)

Milk (Elliot Graham): +1, +2, +3, -4 (83 of 120, 69.17%)

Slumdog Millionaire (Chris Dickens): +1, +2, +3, +4 (99 of 120, 82.5%)

Personal prediction for Best Editing: Slumdog Millionaire

Personal choice amongst these nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Best Makeup

Ironically, the award for Best Makeup is usually not concerned with whom makes the stars the prettiest but who can make them the ugliest or strangest looking. At least one nominee this year is being honored for making Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett look stunning even in old age. You will notice that, unlike most categories in our handicap, there are only 26 ceremonies listed here. Makeup awards were only handed out sporadically before becoming an annual award with the 1984 awards.

The Breakdowns

1) First time nominees for Best Makeup have ended up winning 22 of the 26 ceremonies we’re tracking since 1978 (84.62%). Advantage: Hellboy II

2) The winner of Best Makeup has also been nominated for the BAFTA counterpart 19 of 26 times (73.08%). Advantage: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight

3) The winning film for Best Makeup was not predominantly set in the present 15 of the 26 (57.69%). Advantage: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

4) Want to win for Best Makeupr Don’t be tied to a Best Picture nominee, as only 6 of 26 (23.08%) have been able to win here when they’ve also been up for the big prize. Disadvantage: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

By The Numbers

A lot of Oscar pundits are saying Benjamin Button could be completely shut out in every category it is nominated in, but we like it’s chances here.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Greg Cannom): -1, +2, +3, +4 (62 of 104, 59.62%)

The Dark Knight (John Caglione Jr. and Conor O’Sullivan): -1, +2, -3, -4 (54 of 104, 51.92%)

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (Mike Elizalde and Thomas Floutz): +1, -2, -3, -4 (60 of 104, 57.69%)

Personal prediction for Best Makeup: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Personal choice amongst these nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Best Score

The score of a movie can instantly convey the feeling a director is going for in any given moment, and can continue to movie us for the rest of our lives. Over the past thirty years, some factors have shown a series of regular, if not prescient, voting patterns. (For the years this category was split into Best Dramatic Score and Best Musical or Comedy Score, between 1995 and 1998, we will be focusing on the Dramatic Scores.)

The Breakdowns

1) Winners in this category have also been nominated for the Golden Globe 25 of the last 30 ceremonies (83.33%). Advantage: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Defiance, Slumdog Millionaire

2) Scores for films that were not predominantly set in the modern day have won 24 of 30 (80%). Advantage: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Defiance, Milk, WALL-E

3) Best Score has gone to a film also nominated for Best Picture 21 of 30 (70%). Advantages: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Milk, Slumdog Millionaire

4) Being nominated for a Golden Globe might be a good harbinger, as seen in Example 1, but actually winning the Golden Globe for Best Score can apparently hurt your chances of wining an Oscar, as only 14 of the last 30 GG winners have gone on to win the Oscar (46.67%). Disadvantage: Slumdog Millionaire

5) First time nominees in this category have won 13 of 30 (43.33%). Disadvantage: Slumdog Millionaire

By The Numbers

While the numbers show a slight edge for Desplat’s epic score, the Academy will often go for something different and unique when given the chance (see Chariots of Fire, ‘Round Midnight, The Last Emperor, The Milagro Beanfield War, Il Postino, Life is Beautiful, The Red Violin, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Frida or Atonement), so look for a Slumdog win here.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Alexandre Desplat): +1, +2, +3, -4, -5 (103 of 150, 68.67%)

Defiance (James Newton Howard): +1, +2, -3, -4, -5 (91 of 150, 60.67%)

Milk (Danny Elfman): -1, -2, +3, -4, -5 (65 of 150, 43.33%)

Slumdog Millionaire (A.R. Rahman): +1, +2, +3, +4, +5 (97 of 150, 64.67%)

WALL-E (Thomas Newman): -1, +2, -3, -4, -5 (71 of 150, 47.33%)

Personal prediction for Best Score: Slumdog Millionaire

Personal choice amongst these nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Best Visual Effects

It wasn’t until 1984, the year of “Ghostbusters,” “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and “2010” that an award for Visual Effects were handed out on a yearly basis, with the exception of 1990, when “Total Recall” was given a special award when the effects section of the Academy decided there were not enough films with effects up to their standards to have a real race. So here, we will only look at the 23 ceremonies between 1984 and 2007 in which there were at least two nominees.

The Breakdowns

1) Best Visual Effects Oscars go to films not nominated for Best Picture 16 of the 23 qualifying ceremonies (69.57%). Advantage: The Dark Knight, Iron Man

2) Since the Visual Effects Society (VES) started giving out their own awards in 2002, four of the winners in this category also won the VES Award for Outstanding Visual Effects in a Visual Effects Driven Motion Picture (66.67%). Advantage: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button or Iron Man, both which are nominated for the VES Award, which will be handed out on February 21

3) The winner of the Special Visual Effects Award at the BAFTAs has gone on to win an Oscar 14 of 23 times (60.87%). Advantage: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

4) Winners of the Oscar for Best Visual Effects were for films also nominated for Best Art Direction 14 of 23 times (60.87%). Advantage: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight

5) Winners in this category have come from the highest grossing film amongst the nominees 13 of 23 times (56.52%). Advantage: The Dark Knight

By The Numbers

Even if Benjamin Button wins the VES Award next week, The Dark Knight will remain the front runner for this category.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Eric Barba, Steve Preeg, Burt Dalton and Craig Barron): -1, +3, +4, -5 (45 of 92, 48.91%)

The Dark Knight (Nick Davis, Chris Corbould, Timothy Webber and Paul J. Franklin): +1, -2, -3, +4, +5 (54 of 98, 55.10%)

Iron Man (John Nelson, Ben Snow, Daniel Sudick and Shane Mahan): +1, -3, -4, -5 (44 of 92, 47.82%)

Personal prediction for Best Visual Effects: The Dark Knight

Personal choice amongst these nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

All articles in this series:

Best Picture of the Year
Best Director
Best Actor and Best Actress
Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress
Best Cinematography
Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay
Best Foreign Language Film
Best Animated Feature
The Technical Categories

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