The front-runners heading into the final straight of the 1995 Oscar race seemed to be Sense and Sensibility and Apollo 13. That was until the Oscar nominations were announced, Ang Lee and DGA winner Ron Howard were remarkably absent from the Best Director list. Tim Robbins (Dead Man Walking) and Mike Figgis (Leaving Las Vegas) were there instead, but without Picture nods. This felt like something of a transitional Oscar year, there were snubs and surprises and diverse choices all over the place, depending on your point of view. To add, Seven, Exotica, Strange Days, and To Die For were nowhere to be seen, but 12 Monkeys, Casino, and The Crimson Tide were nominated moderately. Oh, and Heat too. Nothing.
Director — Michael Mann (Heat) 1995 — Robin Write
Michael Mann is an architect and a film director. Heat was pretty much an action crime movie, some superb film-making, narrating the dilemmas and set-pieces of the story. Although hints on broken human relationships, it is more focused on an obsessive cop and a meticulous crook, playing cat and mouse over a three hour running time (let’s not forget the cinematic significance of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro actually sharing the screen – and what a scene). That substance and style of Heat is perhaps were the Academy completely ignored it, in the midst of a talking pig or defeating the English to earn your freedom. That is also a mistake the Academy keep on making, and movies likes these will continue to be loved while other Best Picture winners are forgotten. Mann was then a significant force in directing, to say the least, but not until The Insider a few years later did he receive an Oscar nomination.
Score — Mica Levi (Under the Skin) 2013 — Bee Garner
There is something beyond haunting about Mica Levi’s score for sci-fi horror Under the Skin. It’s both beautiful and disturbing, leaving you with an unsettling feeling long after the film has finished. Levi’s score is otherworldly, and alien, unlike anything else I have ever heard before. It’s a strange collection of sounds and instruments which causes the hair on the back of my neck to stand on end. The music is in complete sync with the surreal images on the screen. In an interview with The Guardian Mica Levi explained the process behind composing her score, “we were looking at the natural sound of an instrument to try and find something identifiably human in it, then slowing things down or changing the pitch of it to make it feel uncomfortable. There was a lot of talk of perverting material. It does sound creepy, but we were going for sexy.” She certainly managed to accomplish her goal, and has created something that is hypnotic and deadly, capturing the very essence of Scarlett Johansson’s character. The piece called “Love” is perhaps my favourite, I remember sitting in my bedroom watching the rain after finishing the film and listening to that track on a loop, I have never quite had that experience to a piece of music before. It left me shell-shocked in a way. The Oscar for Best Original Score went to another sci-fi film, Gravity, a score less memorable, aside from a few pieces at the start of the film. It doesn’t haunt you like Levi’s music, a beautiful score which needs more appreciation.
Adapted Screenplay — Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) 2005 — Robin Write
Based on, only to some degree, the Brett Halliday crime novel Bodies Are Where You Find Them, Shane Black has faithfully brought the touch of romance and of comedy to that detective story, and brought his tongue-in-cheek edge to modern day Los Angeles. By touch of comedy I mean this has more crafty laughs than many other comedies that attempt to be intelligent. What is so damn smart about Black’s screenplay for Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is that it’s really, genuinely funny moments (and there are a lot of them) are not just the lines of dialogue, but also the physical actions. Accidentally peeing on a dead body, or an aimless hand flick gesture that required words, don’t seem so humorous read from the page. But executed on the screen they come to life as they are supposed to. Of course credit has to go to what appears to be inch-perfect casting with Robert Downey Jr, Val Kilmer and Michelle Monaghan.
Supporting Actor — Ben Mendelsohn (Animal Kingdom) 2010 — Matt St. Clair
Jacki Weaver understandably heaped the awards buzz on Animal Kingdom and earned a rightful Supporting Actress nomination as the sinister matriarch named Janine “Smurf” Cody. But Ben Mendelsohn was the film’s unsung hero as Smurf’s equally psychotic son named “Pope.” Through every small glance he gives along with him being a man of few words, you’re always guessing what Pope is going to do next. His seemingly calm demeanor and kindly line delivery always contradict his detached eyes, capturing his mystique and thanks to Mendelsohn’s performance, “Pope” is one of the greatest on-screen villains in recent memory. If I had a ballot and he was nominated in Supporting Actor, Ben Mendelsohn would have easily gotten my vote.
Art Direction — The Double Life of Veronique 1991 — Robin Write
Krzysztof Kieślowski was renowned for being frustrated with film-making as he could never quite make the movie he saw in his head. No disrespect to the man, and I understand his notion, but that was pretty wasteful thinking when you look at what he visually achieved. The Double Life of Veronique cemented his place on the list of high caliber directors working at that time. Production Designer Patrice Mercier and team played an integral part in the meticulous attention to detail. An under-rated technical element, the set design, be it a house or music venue, plays a huge role here in capturing the film’s vivid atmosphere. The cinematography too by Slawomir Idziak ought to have found its way to an Oscar nomination. And a Foreign Language Film nod. And Best Actress. Director. You get the picture – ooh Best Picture, yes.
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