As you may already know, a bunch of awards groups are starting to announce their annual awards this week, some that will have more of an impact on the ongoing Oscar race that will conclude at the annual ceremony on February 2, 2020 than others.
There was a time earlier this year, probably early in the summer, when Marvel Studios’ magnum opus Avengers: Endgame was dominating the box office, not allowing any other movie to make money. At that time, many felt that it was time for Marvel Studios to be taken seriously in the Oscar race. After all, it was just last year when Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther was nominated for Best Picture and won a few technical Oscars, but also received the top award from the Screen Actors Guild for Best Ensemble.
Avengers: Endgame fared well among critics, but I don’t really see it as much of a “critics’ movie” persé, at least in terms of awards. You might remember that Avengers: Endgame did well at the Saturn Awards a few months back, but those aren’t industry awards. Maybe a few regional groups will surprise me, but this really is for those in the guilds and the Academy proper who have the power to give Marvel Studios, Kevin Feige and the huge cast that has appeared in these films their due.
There’s a particular reason why I’m thinking someone needs to get behind Avengers: Endgame,and it’s not because Marvel’s movies need to make any more money. But read on and learn why… slight SPOILERs ahead if you’re one of the three people on the planet who hasn’t already seen the movie.
This conversation will probably begin and end with Robert Downey, Jr,who was there at the very beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Iron Man in 2008, and he ended his run on the series with a spectacular demise that won’t be soon forgotten. In between, Downey has had a number of fantastic dramatic moments as Tony Stark, from dealing with his conflict with Captain America to Stark becoming a father in the latest movie. We already know that Downey will be making an appearance in next year’s Black Widow, which is only possible as a prequel since Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff is also with the angels. Long before he joined the MCU, Downey was a well-regarded and talented actor who already received an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Charlie Chaplin in 1993’s Chaplin and then another one for his comedic role in Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder. Wouldn’t it be cool for Downey to get a third Oscar nomination for his most famous role yet? It would look nice with the $200 gajillion dollars he’s been paid for the movies he’s appeared in, right?
But a lot of the cast that has been appearing in these movies for over ten years did some great work in Avengers: Endgame, including Chris Hemsworth, who was giving a performance that was comedic at first but more emotional later, as well as Chris Evans, who may really be done with the MCU. It’s going to be hard for any of them to get into the mix, but maybe the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) will realize the dedication they’ve had to their roles. Let’s not forget that last year’s SAG Ensemble award went to Black Pantherlast year, so why shouldn’t the cast of the MCU get similar love?
It’s pretty difficult to not be impressed by what the Russo Brothers have done within just four movies as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They took over for the sequel Captain America: The Winter Soldier to tell a fantastic political thriller of a story that would bring Cap’s friend Bucky Barnes (played by Sebastian Stan) back into the MCU, presumably from the dead. Granted, it wasn’t quite as dramatic as it was in the comics where it took almost five decades to bring him back.
They went from there into Captain America: Civil War, which let’s face it, was really the third Avengers movie since it pit half the MCU against the other half. It also played up the end of S.H.I.E.L.D., and how that affects the team, but it was really the two-parter of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgamethat put the punctuation on what Kevin Feige had been trying to do with the Marvel Cinematic Universe since Day 1. Although the first movie was all about the war against Thanos to keep him from completing his set of Infinity Stones, Endgamebecame something much bigger as the Avengers actually had to, you know, avenge.
Those four movies were a pretty spectacular achievement, but it all came together when Chris Evans’ Cap said the words “Avengers assemble,” and we finally got the massive scale of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in toto. If you look back at what the Russos did pre-Captain America: Winter Soldier, you’d be absolutely astounded by the way they stepped up to help define the look and tone for everything Marvel that’s to come, both in the comics and further movies. For that, they really should be honored.
Like above, all four of the Russos’ MCU movies were written by by two men, Stephen McFeelyand Christopher Markus, and they really played a large part in building the blocks of the MCU beyond what Joss Whedon did in 2012’s Marvel’s The Avengers. In fact, the writers had to incorporate characterizations from dozens of other movies including James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy and Scott Derickson’s Doctor Strangeand make all the characters sound and feel the same. That’s quite an achievement, and while a lot of that can be attributed to the actors as well, McFeely and Markus did this in a way that was faithful to the comics but never to the point where it was copying beats exactly. Avengers: Endgame is a great example of this because it picked up from the end of Infinity War when half the MCU had been snapped into oblivion by Josh Brolin’s Thanos. Instead of aping what happened in Jim Starlin’s “Infinity Gauntlet” stories, the writers created a new story which has various Avengers going off on time travel missions into stories set-up in other movies, including Whedon’s Avengers movie. They basically had to take everything from nearly 80 years of comics plus 21 previous movies and make it work as a possible grand finale. Being able to take so many different elements and putting them into such a cohesive manner that makes for an entertaining 3-hour movie that’s offered plenty of rewatch value, that’s what makes Avengers: Endgame such a worthwhile adapted screenplay.
Last year’s win in this category by Black Panther composer Ludwig Göransson was quite a coup for Marvel Studios, one of three Oscars for that film. The score for Avengers: Endgame contributes so much to the excitement and emotions of this grand finale to Phase 3, and it’s no surprise that it was composed by two-time Oscar nominee Alan Silvestri. Silvestri has been composing music for movies you’ve loved going all the way back to 1972 with everything from Back to the Futureand its sequels to Predatorto James Cameron’s The Abysson his vast filmography. He has scored three of the four Avengers movies, as well as Captain America: The First Avenger. You know that four-note theme that you hear every time there’s an Avengers trailer or commercial over the logo? Those four notes were composed by Silvestri. The guy has outdone himself time and time again and has NEVER WON AN OSCAR. What the holy hell!? The man is gonna be 70 next year and still doing such memorable and iconic work without an Oscar on his mantle. That’s just crazy.
As we get into the more technical awards, some of them will be tougher to warrant, particularly film editing where we have so many amazing achievements. Yes, Avengers: Endgame is well-edited – it has to be! – but is it better editing than the legendary Thelma Schoonmaker’s work on Martin Scorsese’s Irishman or the fantastic editing on James Mangold’s Ford v Ferrari? Does it really stand out? Maybe not, but Jeffrey Ford and Matthew Schmidt really had to pull together a lot of different things to make the film work dramatically and keep the energy going in between the action sequences, which is fairly impressive.
Personally, I don’t think that the work by the cinematographers on Marvel’s movies get nearly enough credit. The movies always look fantastic but Avengers: Endgame and DP Trent Opaloch’s other three movies with the Russos have looked great while also delving into all sorts of different worlds, mixing live action stage work with fantastic CG environments and doing so in a way that makes it seamless. This is all considering that Opaloch has only acted as director of photography on eight movies total, the four Marvel movies and three movies with Neill Blomkamp, including his own Oscar-nominated debut District 9. Sadly, cinematography is one of those categories that often gets confused with Visual FX in terms of what is done by each department, so if this piece is the only time that Opaloch is given the proper respect this year, than I’m more than happy to do so.
Again, we have to go back to last year when Ruth Carter’s costumes for Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther won the Costume Designer her first Oscar. Avengers: Endgame costume designer Judianna Makovsky has been nominated for three prior Oscars, most notably for 2001’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Maybe she had a bit of an easier job with the number of costumes that had been designed for previous Marvel movies, but she still had to create literally hundreds of them with her shop, including costumes in various states of disrepair from when the fighting begins. Personally, I loved the Avengers’ time travel “uniforms” which finally gave them the consistent look of being a team, even as they were sent off to different parts of time and space. Listen, these superhero movies don’t just snap their fingers and come up with all these costumes, it takes a costume designer like Makovsky, who also designed costumes for James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 2and next year’s non-Marvel The Suicide Squad.
This is another category that’s often discarded or misrepresented as the work of the Visual FX department, because so much CG is involved with creating the worlds of something like Avengers: Endgame. There is much more involved in Production Design, and it begins with the overall look of the movie from the very early concept art stage to building the sets, designing costumes, dressing the sets with props, etc. etc. It is a big job Production Designer Charles Wood is a 25-year veteran who began working with Marvel on 2013’s Thor: The Dark World and just stuck around, designing the look of James Gunn’s first Guardians of the Galaxy and the last three Avengers movies. In other words, when you talk about the “look” of the MCU, you have to take into account the work of Wood and his art direction team that also oversees the work of Makovsky above. This is such an important and overlooked job because Wood is responsible of taking what the artists create in the design phase and make sure that the director has what they need on set and in post to make those worlds come to life. Wood is also the Production Designer on next year’s Black Widowand from the recent teaser trailer, that also looks like a very different MCU movie. Obviously, the Academy is well aware of what Production Design brings to the MCU, which is why they gave an Oscar to the team behind the look of Black Panther last year.
Sound Editing and Mixing
While these two awards categories may seem like the most obvious one for Avengers: Endgame to be rewarded, they’re also the categories that so few non-Academy members and probably more than a few actual Academy members understand. Every year, the question is the same, “What is the difference between Sound Editing and Sound Mixing?” or “Why isn’t there just a single Sound category?” Having been a recording engineer for nearly 20 years, I can tell you very simply. Think of “Sound Editing” as sound FX, how they’re created and/or chosen and placed. Think of “Sound Mixing” as how the different sound elements: Dialogue, music, sound FX, ambience, etc are blended together to create what you hear while you’re sitting in the movie theater. (There was actually a fantastic doc this year called Making Waves, which I highly recommend if you want to learn more.) While I’m not going to go through and name all the fantastic sound people who helped make Avengers: Endgame sound so fantastic when you sat in a theater to watch it, there’s no denying what the sound FX added to the movie, and also how well it was all mixed into the overall auditory experience. In any other year, I would think Avengers: Endgame could sweep the two sound categories without blinking. Black Panther got nominated in both categories and lost both to Bohemian Rhapsody. (Avengers: Infinity War didn’t receive nominations in either sound category.) This year Endgameis going up against fantastic sounding films like Sam Mendes’s 1917 and Ford v. Ferrari, as well as another music movie in Rocketman. That’s going to make it a lot tougher to win in this category even if does get nominated. (Oh, there’s also J.J Abrams’ grand finale, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalkerto contend with.)
Probably the most obvious and apparent award that Avengers: Endgame is very likely to get nominated for is the category for which Marvel Studios has received the most Oscar nominations going all the way back to 2008’s Iron Man. Except for 2009 (no Marvel movie), 2011 and 2015, Marvel Studios has received an Oscar nomination for at least one of its movies every other year. To date, Marvel Studios has won exactly ZERO. Some might find that hard to believe since the visual FX teams that Marvel Studios has been using have created such cutting edge visuals using innovative technology. The Russos have used the same team since Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl and Dan Sudick have each been nominated twice. There’s no reason why they might not be nominated a third time (and a second time for Avengers: Infinity War’s Kelly Port. There are some of the same obstacles in the way like that Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, a franchise that has also been snubbed four times in a row. If you’ve seen the WETA Visual FX reel for Avengers: Endgame that’s been going around, then you already know what WETA brought to the movie, particularly that epic final battle scene. WETA previously won for their work on Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King and King Kong, but this seems like a good year for Marvel Studios to be honored for its groundbreaking work.
This is the big one, and there are probably going to be arguments on both sides of whether Avengers: Endgame is worthy of the Academy’s biggest prize or even a nomination. Yes, it is the highest-grossing movie of the year domestically and the highest-grossing movie of ALL TIME globally, but there have already been a lot of complaints and arguments about the Academy wanting to introduce a “Popular Movie” category last year.
This is the thing… and I feel like I find myself saying this a lot: It is called the “movie business.” Movies are made to entertain, but they’re also made so they can make money. Breaking news, but that’s the same with Marvel’s movies, and the members of the Academy, all people in the movie business, are well aware of this. They’re not going to nominate Avengers: Endgamebecause it made a kajillion dollars, but they might realize how important it was to so many moviegoers who have helped keep everyone involved in these movies working. That and the social impact of last year’s Black Panther probably helped it get into the Best Picture race last year, and I personally don’t think Avengers: Endgameis any lesser a movie. I also think that while maybe it didn’t have quite the social impact of Black Panther, it did have an impact. It was the only thing anyone was talking about for months while still maintaining the secrecy and spoilers as requested by the Russo Brothers.
Then on top of that, Avengers: Endgame is also the finale of a massive epic that began way back in 2008 with Iron Man. If you remember, Peter Jackson’s aforementioned The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King swept the Oscars in the year it came out, mainly because the three movies in Jackson’s series were seen by the Academy as an epic achievement that deserved overall praise. It took 21 movies for Marvel Studios to get to Avengers: Endgame, and that is just as significant an achievement. And that’s not even including how they’ve helped make the theatrical experience the way to see their movies, which is not something Jackson was facing 15 years ago. Why not give Kevin Feige and his team of creators, actors and crews some acknowledgment for what they’ve accomplished?
Let us know what you think of Avengers: Endgame as a possible Oscar contender… or if you’ve already forgotten all about it after watching Joker.