Oscars 2023: All Quiet on the Western Front could upset the craft
After its stunning BAFTA triumph, Netflix’s German-language World War I epic could be a juggling act at the Oscars.
After dominating the BAFTAs with seven wins (including cinematography, original score and sound), Netflix’s “All Quiet on the Western Front” went from an Oscar wild card to a potential juggernaut in the craft competition, where it tied with “Elvis”. leading with six nominations. In addition to the BAFTA-winning three categories, Edward Berger’s German-language World War I epic was also nominated in the makeup and hairstyling, production design and VFX categories.
“All Quiet” appears to be on a similar Oscar trajectory to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2001), which also won six craft awards. This is a record for international appearances. Ang Lee’s martial arts spectacle (co-starring “Everything Everywhere All at Once” best actress Michelle Yeoh) ended up winning a record three awards: Cinematography, Original Score and Art Direction Decoration (now Production Design). “All Quiet” hopes to at least succeed.
How much weight do the BAFTAs carry in ‘All Quiet’? Nine of the last 10 were for cinematography, eight of the last 10 were for original score, and nine of the last 10 were for sound. In addition, as the favorite for the award for the best international work, “All Quiet” now starts with a significant craft boost from March 2-7. Timing is everything, and the war in Ukraine made this harrowing war film extremely relevant. To many, “All Quiet” must seem like a cross between a documentary and a horror film.
Berger first adapted Erich Maria Remarque’s popular 1928 anti-war novel as a German film – and turned it into an immersive POV experience. The director takes us through the battlefields and trenches of the First World War with long tracking shots as we follow the young German soldier Paul (Felix Kammerer) amid relentless artillery attacks and massive carnage. And the visual and sonic crafts were essential to contribute to the visceral immediacy of the death and destruction that Paul experiences around him.
“All Quiet” faces stiff competition in all six categories. But like “Crouching Tiger,” it’s in a better position than, say, “Roma,” which scored a landmark victory for cinematography for director Alfonso Cuaron while falling short in production design, sound editing and sound mixing, or “Parasite,” film that was completely botched after being nominated for production design and editing.
After his BAFTA win, composer Volker Bertelmann (alias Hauschka) has the best chance for Oscar success. Previously nominated for “Lion” with Dustin O’Halloran, he provided an almost atonal approach that reflected Paul’s demoralizing emotional state and the sounds of battle itself on a macro level. He used sharp, staccato kicks and ominous spare chords and often emphasized the bass. Snare drums were bullet-like; Bertelmann found personal inspiration in his great-grandmother’s restored harmonium, which he treated as a modern synthesizer.
Race: Score is the most interesting and competitive craft competition without a strong leader. Los Angeles rock band Son Lux wowed with their maximalist, wall-to-wall score to Daniels’ multiverse drama-comedy “EEAAO.” Justin Hurwitz provided “Babylon” with a loud musical universe to convey Damien Chazelle’s wild vision of Hollywood in the Roaring 20s. Carter Burwell brought an unusual fairy-tale feel to Martin McDonagh’s mystical The Banshees of Inisherin. And the legendary John Williams composed a light but inspired summary for Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical film The Fabelmans.
Forecast: Bertelmann’s BAFTA momentum puts him in the driver’s seat. Both of them, with their effective fusion of classical and avant-garde, are liked by the Academy as a whole. Williams no longer has the retirement sympathy vote, “Babylon” is likely too divisive to help Hurwitz, and while Burwell is overdue for an Oscar, her haunting score is far from over.
The soundscape (led by supervising sound editors Markus Stemler and Frank Kruse, sound editor Viktor Prášil, and re-recording mixers Lars Ginzel and Stefan Korte) built on the soldiers’ sonic connection to war, giving nicknames to the various agents of death (the machine gun was a sewing machine). This was used to great effect in the scene where the whir of the sewing machine turns into gunfire. Silence was also important, and variations in human breath or the slightest gasp were as effective as the impact of bombs.
Race: “Top Gun: Maverick” remains the front-runner for its “synaptic” sound experience in the cockpits of jet fighters with Tom Cruise. Other nominees include “Elvis,” “The Batman” and “Avatar: The Way of Water.”
Forecast: The sound of “Maverick” played a big part in the excitement that brought audiences back to theaters last year, and it should have won. However, a vocal account member told IndieWire not to be surprised if “All Quiet” flops. A BAFTA win makes this race even tighter.
For cinematographer James Friend, the key was to put us on the battlefield with an array of large-format cameras perfectly aligned, paired with a striking color palette that defined the seasons. The Alexa 65 was the primary camera on the battlefield following the action; the Alexa Mini LF snaked its way through long and narrow ditches; the Sony Venice captured night shots with torches; and RED was the kamikaze camera for the FX explosions that went into the background in post.
Race: “Elvis” cinematographer Mandy Walker has the best chance to finally break through the category’s glass ceiling. She follows last year’s Ari Wegner (“The Power of the Dog”) and Rachel Morrison (“Muddy”) as the only female nominees. Two of the nominees – the legendary Roger Deakins (“Empire of Light”) and Darius Khondji (“Bardo, the false chronicle of a handful of truths”) – both made remarkable-looking films that did not gain ground in the awards season. And the sharp naturalism of Cameraimage winner Florian Hoffmeister (“TÁR”) is not far behind.
Forecast: It looks like the time has come for Walker to break the glass ceiling, but the momentum has shifted to Friend thanks to his BAFTA win. However, the fact that he will not be in the ASC race could help Walker if he achieves a historic victory there.
Makeup and hairstyle
MUAHS was all about mud and blood, and makeup designer Heike Merker and makeup artist Linda Eisenhamerová delved into the fine details of applying them to Paul and his fellow soldiers on the rain-soaked battlefield. They helped to transfer their way to become muddy, demoralized soldiers. This included a selection of wigs and lots of facial hair, as well as tracking the progression of wartime make-up and hair (especially as the scenes were shot out of sequence).
Race: BAFTA winner “Elvis” scored an upset victory over “The Whale” to earn Austin Butler the BAFTA Award for Best Actor. The other two nominees are “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and “The Batman.”
Forecast: “Elvis” has the edge with its BAFTA win, especially if Butler wins the Oscar. But if Brendan Fraser wins, look for “The Whale” to win as well. It includes the most innovative work of the nominees, featuring the first fully digital prosthetic make-up, the main feature of which transforms Fraser into a 600-pound English teacher looking for redemption.
Production designer Christian Goldbeck strategically constructed the maze of battlefields and trenches outside Prague in a way that fostered an oppressive atmosphere. The trenches were claustrophobic and moving around the battlefield during filming (against the light) was psychologically and physically challenging and depressing, especially as it was cold, wet and muddy.
Race: “Babylon” scored a major Oscar for production designer Florencia Martin by winning both the ADG Awards Period Production Design Award and the BAFTA Production Design Award. Other nominees include Elvis designed by two-time Academy Award winners Catherine Martin and Karen Murphy, The Fabelmans designed by two-time Academy Award winner Rick Carter and Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Forecast: It’s a race between ‘Babylon’ and ‘Elvis’, with the former winning thanks to its ADG and BAFTA wins.
Visual effects production supervisor Frank Petzold took a naturalistic approach, led by Friend’s principal photography, with the goal of relying on as many photographic elements as possible in the composition. Meanwhile, the explosions were handled by the SFX team and were shot on location at the former airport with the Red camera, then transitioned seamlessly into the background during the battle scenes. Significantly, smoke and tanks were treated as characters.
Race: After an unprecedented breakthrough at the 21st VES Awards (winning all nine categories), James Cameron’s “Avatar: The Path of Water” has earned the status of the first place at the Oscars. Other nominees include “Top Gun: Maverick,” “The Batman” and “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.”
Forecast: This least competitive craft competition, ‘The Way of Water’, is now unwinnable.
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