No: Why Oscars Are Ignoring Horror and Ruining Jordan Peele’s Craft Team

The cinematography, sound, music and VFX that evoked Jordan Peele’s celestial terror was the best Hollywood craft of 2022. So why was it ignored?

“No” is made in the finest traditions of Hollywood. Jordan Peele, probably more than any other studio director today, is a commercial filmmaker who has a lot to say about our world, but manages to successfully embed intellectual complexity in the stark clarity of a well-made, well-told piece of entertainment. keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. “Nope” was commercially successful, well-received, and can be considered a true piece of cinema, made by a serious director, with A-list craftsmen and impeccable craftsmanship. This is a film that the craft branches of the Oscars will accept.

While visually and sonically impressive, there’s nothing flashy, look at me about the filmmaking of ‘No’. Despite its technical innovations, it is (later) classic filmmaking at its best. Peele set out to create a spectacle—and not the modern, flat, green-screen version of a spectacle, as the eyeball-numbing wash cycle pollutes most of our cineplex screens. No, Peele’s carefully composed precision, turning the landscape into a stage, is much more of a lean encounter with Spielberg. Instead of a mechanical shark in the ocean, he hid the UFO in John Ford’s territory, hovering just above the developing story below, leading to a third-act reveal and climatic stalemate. It’s the grand epic, made with intelligence, restraint and craft, that Hollywood once strove to make, and likes to honor the rare occasion that still gets the chance.

And yet, the Academy ruled out “No” above and below the line on Tuesday. The visual effects team led by cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, composer Michael Abels and supervisor Guillaume Rocheron did not receive a nomination; Johnnie Burn’s vocal team didn’t even make the cut, failing to make the shortlist last month. If the Academy likes to reward this kind of filmmaking, why did the “No” craft crew get overlooked?

Did they campaign? Yes, Universal spent money and campaigned for “No,” while the extremely busy Peele himself came out and supported (full-throatedly, in a way that doesn’t come naturally to the increasingly reticent former comedian) his department heads.

Was it racial? I’m a middle-aged white guy whose #OscarsSoWhite radar may not be as finely tuned as others, but I don’t think the bias in this case was racial (or at least it doesn’t fully explain it). Three of the “No” artisans who were in the best position for nominations are middle-aged white guys who are well-known and respected within their respective industries. And on Tuesday, the craft branches once again nominated white and black artisans behind another Black-led genre film, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” (although it was somewhat disappointing that production designer Hannah Beachler, who won the first “Black Panther” award, was handed over) .

Is there a bias against the genre? As evidenced by “Top Gun: Maverick”’s four craft nominations and its clear front-runner status in the best editing and sound categories, craft branches aren’t necessarily averse to genres — though cinematographer Claudio Miranda didn’t get a nod, which was a surprise. and reflects the continued shift towards arthouse as the sector’s membership has expanded in recent years. Bottom line: How the Academy handles the genre can vary from year to year and from sector to sector.

More importantly, in the eyes of the Academy, not all genres are the same. As we saw with Peele’s Oscar win for Best Original Screenplay for “Get Out,” the Academy is reluctant (and sparing) to recognize a “serious” horror film if it’s delivered in a digestible way. Horror managed to squeeze out some best acting wins, including the Natalie Portman-led “Black Swan,” which rode a Cassevettes-meets-ballet-meets-Polanski arthouse vibe out of the horror ghetto. Recognition within the horror line is virtually non-existent and often reserved for makeup, a category in which the demands of the horror genre have consistently attracted the top of the field more often than other crafts. talent.

And there’s the rub.

In talking to filmmakers, it’s clear that the perception among top professionals (many of whom are Oscar voters) is that horror is still rooted in the realm of the B-movie. It’s a 90-year-old story that’s played out today, with horror producers relying on Canadian government co-productions or, as Jason Blum did for “Get Out,” taking advantage of low-budget deals from American unions to keep production costs independent. -film is low (and the potential background gain is excessively high).

This is in stark contrast to modern action-fantasy films like “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Wakanda Forever,” the last remaining A-movies still continuously produced by Hollywood that give the divisions well-deserved fame. . resources, time and pay that reflect respect for their craft. As a working professional, working in horror has a connotation that it’s a different league of filmmaking, and one that’s avoided or crawled out of.

What’s amazing about this mindset is the history of cinema, in which some of the most innovative, memorable, expressionistic filmmaking—and in some cases the backbone of Hollywood craft itself—comes from these B-movies, and yes, horror. its roots.

But what’s just plain stupid about this is that there’s nothing B-movie about the production values ​​of “No,” in which Peele created enormous filmmaking challenges, recruited a select A-team, and gave them the time, direction, and studio resources not to not only solve, but also deliver one of the strictest, elegantly crafted Hollywood films of recent years.

Craft Oscar season presents many cinematic narratives, story hooks, that smart awards publicists believe will resonate and push through for nominations. This was hardly necessary in the case of “No”. The day my colleagues and I saw the film, we started texting each other:How the hell did he do that?

We live in a cinematic age plagued by bad nighttime filming. This week at Sundance, filmmakers who accepted the low-light capabilities and limitations of a small Sony camera would have been much better served than the parade of dimly lit night looks currently on our TVs and big screens (there’s a streamer, which frankly should be banned when developing a scripted series of night exterior scenes). And yet here’s Peele, basing a film on staring at an unlit western landscape at night through the wide-angle microscope of an IMAX camera, capturing the sense of vastness that emerges under the evening Big Sky, and seeing quite a lot. detail that a sound effect can trick the viewer’s eyes for a fraction of a second to catch a UFO flying through the clouds.

“No” Hoyte van Hoytema solved a technical problem that had plagued Hollywood for 70 years, perfecting a two-camera mount system that allowed day-to-night photography but was able to control contrast, exposure, and color balance. to properly simulate the night. He created a stunning, atmospheric ocean canvas of the night sky for Peele’s Jaws (the otherworldly predator, nicknamed “Jean Jack”) to roam and wreak havoc on. Still, van Hoytema’s photography isn’t even the most impressive technical aspect of “No.” “

Aside from what Alfonso Cuaron’s sound team achieved in ‘Roma’, Dolby Atmos has never been used as powerfully as in ‘Nope’. It’s amazing how modern theater sound is used in big movies – a fighter jet zooms overhead, your bottom vibrates as a bomb explodes, and the amazing way you hear the splash of water over your right shoulder as you soar over the ocean. — but regardless of which of the five excellent nominees wins the Best Sound Oscar on March 12, it won’t hold a candle to Johnnie Burn’s masterpiece.

For “No”, the sound is the picture. This is what we cannot see. This is how the UFO outside the frame affects the air and turns the wind. Burn not only frees up Peele and Hoytema’s camera by so often carrying story details or information with incredible clarity. By activating the space outside the frame – and through Atmos, the 360 ​​space around the viewer – we immerse ourselves in a large-format spectacle told through sound. The “Roma” analogies are apt here, especially in the way the sound design evokes a sense of movement in space and the emotional responses evoked by immersion. As he did on “Under the Skin,” Burns creates an eerily textured atmosphere that is earthy yet otherworldly. Instead of jump scares, the sound is our ever-increasing sense of dread, relayed back and forth, in perfect harmony with Abels’ score – which, while fantastic, is not a traditional Oscar piece (although if you can figure it out, share with us a recent sample of the musical’s taste, and the nomination has always been long.

But it’s hard to look through the five visual effects nominees and wonder why Rocheron’s work was excluded. The Jean Jacket is a wonderful work of art: a creation that at first appears like a flying saucer, but reveals itself to be an animal. Whatever backstory (which was detailed but not public) that Peele wove for this species, Rocheron brought to life a fully realized version of it that fits organically with the environment and the screen and somehow evolved into something beautiful (like origami mixed with jellyfish ) and is absolutely terrifying from the third act on.

For Jean Jacket alone, Rocheron’s team deserved a nomination, but it also earned one for supporting photography, similar to the nod from the VFX in “Top Gun: Maverick.” If the first half of “No” is so much about what you can’t see, it’s Rocheron who painted the clouds over Hoytema’s sky to hide the UFO and detail the landscape. And unlike “Top Gun: Maverick,” Rocheron worked to break down those hidden contributions so his colleagues and the larger film world could understand the craft. My colleague Bill Desowitz, the industry’s top Oscar craft handicapper, came away from this year’s VFX roast feeling that Rocheron’s presentation was likely to get a nomination. But what Bill may have underestimated is how blinded Hollywood professionals are to horror.

Cinephiles roll their eyes at the notion of “elevated” horror, where the subtext of some horror films is us and society as the monster, and other films are just mindless slasher flicks and creature features – when historically the genre has been concerned with social subtext. almost a century before ‘Get Out’. I’m one of those people who roll their eyes, but for professional filmmakers who not only ignore the history of the genre, but allow their ignorance to be tainted when a studio and director “elevates” a horror film to the status of a traditional Oscar-winning craft… There’s more to it than an eye roll.

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