With Oscar night 2019 almost upon us, let’s take a quick break from the buzz of this year’s race. By that, we can take a look at some of the memorable below-the-line Academy Award winners from the past. Feel free to add your own in the comments. Plenty to choose from.
Spider-Man 2 – Best Visual Effects, 2004
The award for Best Visual Effects has had a long and complicated history, with the award going through various definitions and name changes. In fact, Between 1972 and 1977, there was no specific award for visual effects. Nowadays, there is a clearer definition which has helped us fully understand this award. As it’s one of the technical awards, Visual Effects seems to often get lost in the mix.
Spider-Man 2 picked up the award in 2004, going up against Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and I, Robot. Spider-Man 2 is a very visually impressive film, with its CGI and special effects looking realistic, and part of the real world. The first Spider-Man film was nominated for the award but lost to The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Unlike many superhero films from the early 2000s (Daredevil, Fantastic Four, Catwoman… anyone?!) Spider-Man 2 stands up against today’s superhero films and looks great. – – – Bianca Garner
RoboCop – Best Sound Editing (Special Achievement Award), 1987
At the time, the technical flair of Paul Verhoeven’s dazzling RoboCop was something of a cinematic breakthrough. In particular the deft audio chunks that make the various sounds of machinery authentic, chilling, and somewhat exciting – including embellishing some of the more natural sounds, like a door opening. With Sound categories still finding their feet, the Sound Editing award was not a competitive one, but rather a Special Achievement Award was handed to Stephen Hunter Flick and John Pospisil for their extraordinary work on RoboCop.
The film was also nominated in Film Editing and Sound, losing both to The Last Emperor (which won all 9 of it’s Oscar nominations). It would / could have been an interesting scenario, had the Special Achievement Award not been merited, whether RoboCop nabbed the votes to win Best Sound – thus denting The Last Emperor‘s clean sweep. The extended honor from the Academy, though, was a kind of hat tip to a innovative film that bypassed any competition in this category. – – – – – Robin Write
Spartacus – Best Cinematography, 1960
Kubrick’s Spartacus is often overlooked by fans of his work, it does stand out like sore thumb in his filmography. The 1960 epic picked up four awards in total, aside from Best Cinematography, the film walked away with Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Art Direction, and Best Costume Design. Kubrick was not nominated. There is no denying how epic in scale that Spartacus looks on the big screen. The was at the height of Hollywood’s obsession with delivering “spectacle” in the effort to lure audiences away from the growing pull of television.
Photographed by Russell Metty, ASC, the historical epic Spartacus was one of the most expensive films produced in Hollywood at that time, with a budget exceeding $12 million. ($100 million in adjusted U.S. dollars.) There’s some impressive shots, from the famous ‘’I am Spartacus’’ scene, to the Colosseum fight scenes, with the camera capturing the beauty and impressive grandness of the Roman era. It certainly doesn’t look like anything that was being aired on television at the time. – – – Bianca Garner
My Fair Lady – Best Costume Design, 1964
When it comes to the Best Costume Design Oscar game, a period musical is more often than not a slam dunk. But what Cecil Beaton creates for My Fair Lady is so iconic and with an incredible attention to detail that it’s quite honestly peerless. Eliza’s gown for the ambassador’s ball alone is enough to cement his design’s place in history, but that’s just one tiny piece in a veritable smorgasbord of perfect costuming.
I submit to you the ensemble of the Ascot Opening Race sequence, a room filled with women in black and white, each costume elegant and utterly unique – he dresses each woman as though she is the star of the show. The effect is stunning, a decadent spectacle that serves to highlight how very far Eliza is from home as she makes her first trial run into high society. – – – – – Audrey Fox
Ed Wood – Best Makeup, 1994
Ed Wood is probably Tim Burton’s best film, but maybe his most overlooked film. The film picked up Best Supporting Actor for Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi. And it is Rick Baker’s prosthetic makeup which helped to bring Lugosi back to life. The process of prosthetics is a long one, and begins with lifecasting, the process of taking a mold of a body part (often the face) to use as a base for sculpting the prosthetic.
One of the hardest parts of prosthetic makeup is keeping the edges as thin as possible. They should be tissue thin so they are easy to blend and cover giving a flawless look. Baker manages to pull this off, so well that we hardly recognise Landau on-screen. Baker is a veteran at the Oscars: winning the Academy Award for Best Makeup a record seven times from a record eleven nominations, beginning when he won for An American Werewolf in London. Personally speaking, Baker’s work on Ed Wood, is his most impressive. – – – Bianca Garner
Moulin Rouge – Best Art Direction, 2001
As far as Oscar-winning designers go, Catherine Martin is the epitome of a double threat. A creator of both sets and costumes—often for the same movie—Martin has garnered a total of four Oscars for two films, making her the winningest Australian in Academy history. Most recently, she took home two statuettes for her glitzy take on The Great Gatsby. Her previous same-ceremony dual-victories came twelve years prior to that for Moulin Rouge, thanks in large part to Martin’s keen world-building.
Moulin Rouge is a film that relies heavily on spectacle and style. It’s a designer’s utopia. Visually weaving fantasy into reality, the scenery educes a dreamlike landscape rich with a flamboyance that elevates the film’s feverish atmosphere. More is definitely more here. Unbound by time, Moulin Rouge all at once looks like a raucous cabaret, a Golden Age-era studio musical, and a sexy Madonna video. Martin’s lush Art Direction and Costume Design steal the spotlight in every frame by bringing to life the Bohemian, decadent, tuberculosis-ridden Paris that many of us fell in love with in our youth. – – – Brandon Stanwyck
O.J.: Made in America – Best Documentary Feature, 2016
O.J.: Made in America was released as a five-part miniseries and in theatrical format. The documentary explores race and celebrity through the life of O. J. Simpson. From his emerging football career, and his celebrity within American culture, to his infamous trial for the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman. And subsequent acquittal, and how he was convicted and imprisoned for another crime 13 years later.
Perhaps due to the series length, many wouldn’t necessarily label it as being a candidate for the Best Documentary Feature. O.J.: Made in America premiered at Sundance with one intermission. The documentary had a theatrical run with two intermissions at Cinema Village in New York City and the Laemmle Theatre in Santa Monica, California. However, many would have caught it on ABC and ESPN in five parts. In fact, the documentary became the last of its type to be nominated and win an Oscar after a new Academy rule barred any “multi-part or limited series” from being eligible for the documentary categories. – – – Bianca Garner
Pan’s Labyrinth – Best Makeup & Hairstyling, 2006
Everyone throw up a silent thank you to the make-up artists from The Elephant Man, whose incredible work is what inspired the Academy to have a Best Makeup & Hairstyling award in the first place. Without them, extraordinary films like Pan’s Labyrinth would see their artists languish, unrewarded by the world’s biggest cinematic awards. Pan’s Labyrinth is remarkable not just for its unique designs and incredible attention to detail, but for the breadth of different characters they were required to build more or less from scratch with makeup.
In a lot of films you see winning this award, there’s maybe one character utilizing heavy prosthetics and extensive makeup, but Pan’s Labyrinth has those films beat by the sheer number of individual pieces it had to work with. And they’re all breathtakingly strange and perfect. Just the design of Pan and the Pale Man alone are deserving of this award. And what makes the film even more special is that Guillermo del Toro and his makeup artists faced severe budgetary limitations when it came to executing their visions for these characters, and had to get creative (as if they weren’t already) to come up with workable solutions that still looked good. Well, necessity is the mother of invention, and the result is nothing less than iconic.
Innerspace – Best Visual Effects, 1987
Innerspace is a classic 80s science-fiction film, a blend of action and comedy, with some great visual effects that still impress 32 years later. The film is directed by Joe Dante, and remains the only of Dante’s film to pick up an Oscar. The film was inspired by the 1966 science fiction film Fantastic Voyage, but is a lot more comedic and less serious.
The film’s visual effects consisted of the likes of Dennis Muren (who won nine Oscars in total), Harley Jessup (nominated for two other visual effects Academy Awards), Kenneth F. Smith (previously won for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial) and Bill George (who worked on the miniature construction and design on Blade Runner and oversaw model construction on Ghostbusters II and Alive). This team of experts helped to create an underrated science-fiction classic which should be appreciated by more people. – – – Bianca Garner
Beauty and the Beast – Best Original Score, 1991
The wondrous, unforgettable songs from Disney’s 1991 classic Beauty and the Beast have often refreshingly lingered in and out if my head over the last 25 years. Has it been that long?! It really has. And to me, the enrapture of this animated movie hasn’t faded. I mean, it’s a tale as old as time – and that very collection of melodies still stand as some of the finest, both before and since then. Beauty and the Beast earned composer Alan Menken two of his 8 Oscars for Original Score and Original Song, for 4 different films.
Menken powered into the 1990s with undeniably magical, emotive scores for various Disney outings. Considered by many, including myself, as one of their great animations, Beauty and the Beast has one of the most enchanting scores for many a year. Capturing a new angle on the beauty lies within story-telling, Menken delivers both a grand film score and some endearing melodies – this is a new wave of poignant animated compositions. It is wonderful, classic stuff throughout, completely engaging with the film’s narrative world. The songs are great, of course, but it is the Prologue theme, book-ended with the Finale track, that is without doubt one of my favorite pieces of music from the last thirty years, period. – – – Robin Write
Taxi to the Dark Side – Best Documentary Feature, 2007
I suspect that many have overlooked some of the wins for Best Documentary Feature, which is a shame. Going back to revisit 2007’s Taxi to the Dark Side, the film was directed and produced by Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief). Taxi to the Dark Side focuses on the December 2002 killing of an Afghan taxi driver named Dilawar, who was beaten to death by American soldiers while being held in extrajudicial detention and interrogated at a black site at Bagram air base.
The documentary unpicks the US policy on torture and interrogation and offers up various discussions against the use of torture by political and military opponents. An important and groundbreaking film, it deserves our attention. Perhaps the reason that it remains relatively unseen and unknown by many is due to the Discovery Channel refusing to show it originally due to its controversial nature. In June 2008, Gibney’s company filed for arbitration, arguing that THINKFilm failed to properly distribute and promote the film following its release and Oscar win. – – – Bianca Garner
Dirty Dancing – Best Original Song, 1987
When it comes to Best Original Song, more often than not you’re looking at either a Disney song or something that has managed to crossover into major radio airplay. But every once in a while, there’s a song that truly captures the essence of the film it belongs to, and it creates a little bit of magic. “I’ve Had (The Time of My Life)” is able to immediately evoke all of the emotions of the final showstopping scene from Dirty Dancing, when Baby joins Johnny on stage for one last dance of the summer. It’s equal parts joyful and sexy, a celebration of Baby’s development from a girl pigeon-holed as the bookish, serious, innocent one into a confident woman who defies such easy categorization.
“I’ve Had (The Time of My Life)” also happens to be an almost unfairly catchy tune, one that’s easy to dance to, which comes in handy when you’re attempting to recreate the choreography in your living room for much longer than I think any of us would like to admit. There’s a reason why decades later the lift move would become such a part of pop culture fantasy for women that in Crazy, Stupid, Love, Ryan Gosling’s ability to perform the lift is the only move he’s ever really needed (that and, you know, being Ryan Gosling). Sure, a lot of that magic is thanks to the lift, but the lift would be nowhere without the song. – – – – Audrey Fox
Sleepy Hollow – Best Production Design, 1999
Tim Burton is a filmmaker with a distinct style whose films have superb production and art design. production design is such an important aspect of filmmaking and unlike, direction, editing and cinematography it often gets overlooked or ignored by those who don’t fully understand its importance. Richard Heinrichs & Peter Young both share the Oscar for art design for their work on Sleepy Hollow. Heinrichs and Young manage to bring the gothic world to life, capturing Burton’s quirky style.
Sleepy Hollow references a wide variety of different texts which influenced the director and set design team. Burton clearly drew on his love for the Hammer House films, but Heinrichs influences were far wider in scope: American colonial architecture, German Expressionism, and Dr. Seuss illustrations. Watching the film now, we can appreciate the amount of work that was put into creating this world. In order to create Burton’s vision, the decision was made to create a totally controlled environment at Leavesden Film Studios- that’s why Heinrichs and Young deserve their Oscar win. – – – – – Bianca Garner