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Oscars 2014: Spotlighting the down-ballot Academy Award categories

An Oscar, whether it is for lead actress or for makeup and hair, weighs exactly the same (8.5 pounds). A win in production design represents a level of achievement in a craft on par with best director. The night for all the winners is just as golden — same stars overhead.

Yet there is a different, dimmer spotlight on the below-the-line contenders. Their red carpet walk will go unnoted, their gowns and tuxedo flair overlooked and their heartfelt speeches mostly unremembered or rudely cut short.

So it seems only fair given the quadrillion words written on all-things Oscar that on this final day a few more be devoted to the many deserving less-spotlighted artists in the running for one of those golden boys. Some thoughts on a couple of categories I adore for the light they shed on moviemaking and my guesses at what the Motion Picture Academy might do.

FULL COVERAGE: Oscars 2014

Production design/set decoration: Always one of the most difficult categories, judging how the space around the actors was filled, the particular aesthetic of a particular universe created. This year's nominees are "American Hustle," "Gravity," "The Great Gatsby," "Her" and "12 Years a Slave." I'm guessing this will be part of "Gravity's" sweep, with Andy Nicholson on production, Rosie Goodwin and Joanne Woollard on set. But I have a fondness for the contemporary sleek of "Her," with K.K. Barrett on production, Gene Serdena on set.

Costume design: A rich category often dominated by period pieces, this year is no exception with "American Hustle," "The Grandmaster," "The Great Gatsby," "The Invisible Woman" and "12 Years a Slave" fighting it out. I expect this is one of the Oscars "12 Years" and Patricia Norris will pick up. I'm torn between the '70s kitschy chic of "American Hustle" created by Michael Wilkinson and the zoot suit perfection William Chang Suk Ping achieved in "The Grandmaster."

Makeup and hair: Though I'm miffed "American Hustle's" comb-over was overlooked, you could not ask for a more eccentric range in "Dallas Buyers Club," "Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa" and "The Lone Ranger." On the face of it, I believe "Dallas Buyers Club" is a lock with Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews winning gold. Oh, but imagine the acceptance speech if it went to "Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa." Stephen Prouty truly did a masterful job aging Johnny Knoxville — no joke.

FULL COVERAGE: 'American Hustle' | 'Dallas Buyers Club' | '12 Years a Slave'

Visual effects: This year the effects were simply out of this world. "Gravity," "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," "Iron Man 3," "The Lone Ranger" and "Star Trek into Darkness" all hoping to have the best effect. I would be shocked if "Gravity" didn't win, or more specifically Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, Dave Shirk and Neil Corbould. While I wouldn't argue with that choice, I have a soft spot for the amazing, fire-breathing, fog-drenched work of Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton and Eric Reynolds on "The Desolation of Smaug."

Film editing: One of the more invisible players in creating movie magic, yet one of the most critical. Editors set the pace, keep one scene flowing into the next, or shake things up with a jolt. "American Hustle," "Captain Phillips," "Dallas Buyers Club," "Gravity" and "12 Years a Slave" are vying for the final cut. I think the academy will go with the stomach-churning tension of "Captain Phillips" with Christopher Rouse commanding the bay. Personally, I liked the way Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers and Alan Baumgarten did the jazzy "Hustle."

Sound mixing: Another illusive craft, finding the right balance amid ambient noises to heighten our experience. "Captain Phillips," "Gravity," "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," "Inside Llewyn Davis" and "Lone Survivor" are in the race, with "Gravity" the odds-on favorite. On this I agree, with Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead and Chris Munro deserving the statuette.

Sound editing: This requires a meticulous but rhythmic type with more patience than I can imagine. "All Is Lost," "Captain Phillips," "Gravity," "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" and "Lone Survivor" made the finals. "Gravity" and Glenn Freemantle will likely be the academy's choice. I, however, was drawn to the remarkable nuance in the sounds of silence on the high seas Steve Boeddeker and Richard Hymns achieved in "All Is Lost."


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Oscars 2014: Behind the scenes

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