Of the thirty-four films nominated, 10 of them are nominated in technical categories only. (“Technical categories” is here meant to include Best Cinematography, Best Makeup, Achievement in Sound Mixing, Achievement in Sound Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Original Score, Best Original Song, Achievement in Art Direction, and Best Visual Effects.) Because the entirety of the production is not being judged I will, in some of these cases, be writing shorter “capsule reviews” dealing directly with the judged category or categories rather than the film as a whole. We will call these “Mini Reviews.”
Number of Nominations: 1 (Best Cinematography)
Availability in the US: DVD, Blu-Ray
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, sixth in the book-to-screen fantasy series, is the most visually dazzling Harry Potter film yet. The film follows Harry through his sixth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and is thematically a very dark film. The movie is photographed in a style befitting the gravitas of the subject matter, with a lot of dark lighting and long, slow camera motions. Every moment of this movie is beautifully filmed, from the almost black and white of the cave, to the long tracking shot panning across the grounds, up the castle, and landing on Malfoy leaning over the balcony. The much-anticipated return of Quidditch also provides some exciting action shots to an otherwise slow and deliberately paced film. Despite its visual appeal, Potter is unlikely to make Oscar magic on March 7, since it is up against some more serious contenders. While fantasy films score well on Visual Effects and sound categories, Cinematography is considered more sophisticated and tends to go to more serious films (the recent exceptions being critical darling Pan's Labyrinth and two Lord of the Rings films, but those films had the support of nominations in multiple categories, while Potter does not).
Number of Nominations: 2 (Achievement in Art Direction, Best Original Score)
Availability in the US: In Theatres (Check Showtimes)
Sherlock Holmes follows the world's most famous detective as he investigates a very dangerous man who claims to be able to defy the rules of life and death. While Holmes is one of the more exciting and action-packed adaptations of Arthur Conan-Doyle's famed tales, aside from Robert Downey Jr's surprise Golden Globe win it did not receive much overall critical acclaim. The art direction is definitely one of the best aspects of this film; the detailed sets are beautifully designed and decorated and do a great job of evoking the late 19th-century time-period where the story is set. Hans Zimmer's score complements the film nicely. The odd sounds he creates from a banjo, a broken piano, and a handful of other eclectic instruments really sets the tone of the more lighthearted scenes. Sherlock Holmes should certainly be considered a contender, though not the frontrunner, in both categories.
Number of Nominations: 4 (Achievement in Makeup, Achievement in Sound Editing, Achievement in Sound Mixing, Best Visual Effects)
Availability in the US: DVD, Blu-Ray
J.J. Abrahms's reboot of the familiar Sci-fi franchise boldly goes where no Star Trek film has dared to go before: Starfleet Academy. Star Trek follows new recruits James Kirk, Spock, Uhura, and a plethora of other familiar faces as they embark on their first mission aboard the brand new Starship Enterprise. The visual effects in this film were on par with the best Sci-Fi films; the creatures and worlds created in CGI are breathtaking. I have to admit, I've still never been able to figure out the difference between Sound Mixing and Sound Editing, but I CAN tell you this: Star Trek has excellent and realistic sound effects, which keep the film believable and exciting. The makeup in Star Trek is really nothing special beyond what we've seen in the past for this franchise; Spock's prosthetic ears look the same on Zachary Quinto as they did on Leonard Nimoy. The Romulans and Klingons are impressively made-up but not really anything revolutionary. That said, movies with strange creatures or lots of latex applications tend to win in this category, and the other films nominated don’t really fit the bill there.