TECH SUPPORT: Best Visual Effects — Volume II

Posted by · 8:19 pm · December 2nd, 2010

I find it somewhat appropriate to be ending my in-depth looks at the crafts categories with a discussion of Best Visual Effects. This is, after all, a category which awards the sort of behind-the-scenes crafts work that is often prominently displayed in advertisements and talked about with reverence after the film ends.

When looking at the category’s history, it is not surprising that major blockbusters have fared the best here, with big budgets and even big revenues usually being a prerequisite to be considered for a nomination. Visual effects that “stick out” are usually rewarded, even if the film is not particularly loved. Of course, being in a beloved film helps, especially in the race for the win.

Prior to this year, there had been only three nominees in this category. Now, there will be five. This means we won’t get the “clues” that come when a list of seven bake-off finalists was announced in previous years. That said, I feel we’ve got a lot of clues about what the final five will be already.

I continue to firmly believe that Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” is leading the way here and its crew members are likely to find themselves Oscar winners in a few months. Nolan’s most visually innovative film was loved by the public and the critics. With many of his “The Dark Knight” collaborators on board again, this was one of the most visually arresting and interesting films in recent years.

Also having made a killing at the box office is Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland.” With a crew led by five-time winner Ken Ralston and a massive green-screen production that resulted in most of the images being at least influenced, and usually created, by visual effects, I will be very surprised if this effort is not also among the final five come January.

Yet another blockbuster that came out in the summer and made a gazillion dollars is “Iron Man 2.” While Jon Favreau’s sequel was not as well-received as its predecessor, it nevertheless performed just as well at the box office and the effects remained tremendously impressive. While perhaps not as assured as the above two films, I’m confident the crew will repeat their feat from two years ago.

It should come to no one’s surprise that “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1” remains at the top of the box office. The second-to-last entry in this saga continues to get good, if not outstanding, reviews, while also delighting Potter fans. The series has had a mixed run at the Oscars, only finding a home in this category once.  Nevertheless , the expansion to five nominees, combined with a lack of competitors and sentimentality about the series, leads me to believe that Tim Burke and crew are heading to a nomination.

My final bet to be among the final five is “TRON Legacy.” Opening in a few weeks, the film will have the opportunity to be the major blockbuster of the holidays. Visual effects have been prominently featured in the advertisements and will surely be key to the film’s success, or lack thereof. I’d say that the effects team, led by past winner Eric Barba, is in solid shape.

It might sound ludicrous to sound so confident in what the final five will be from this distance, but I honestly feel these will be the five. What is the competition?

“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” is an attempt to revive this franchise after the disappointment of “Prince Caspian.” While “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” found a home here five years ago, and this title will undoubtedly have effects of similar caliber, will the film catch on in any way? Will it be able to distinguish itself from its predecessors and the other sequels, which seem to be in better shape?

Another more artistic title that also might be in contention is “Black Swan.” Darren Aronofsky’s latest has divided critics and audiences like no other title this year. It is visually fascinating, with important and creative visual effects work. But if “The Fountain” could not make the final seven, I’d be surprised if this made the final five, even if it has been better received.

Similarly, Julie Taymor’s “The Tempest” has effects even more prominent than those on display in the Aronofsky title. But her movie is probably every bit as divisive, without the strong fans. Could it make it? Sure. Would I bet on it? Absolutely not.

I’ll end by mentioning two very different summer efforts. “The Last Airbender” was unsurprisingly awful. Then again, its effects were essential to its success. Moreover, they were BIG. Really big. And the film performed better at the box office than M.Night Syamalan’s recent efforts. Take it for what it’s worth.

I’ll end by mentioning “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.” I must say that I really enjoyed this clever, if bizarre, title. Moreover, its effects, though not as showy as many of the other films in play, were absolutely integral to the story. If that had to be considered in the deciding this category, I would place this much higher. But is it? I’m not sure.

Believe it or not, we’ve now reached the end of our second run through the crafts categories – with one exception. Next week, Kris will take our first and only in depth look at Best Original Song. After that, we’ll end 2010 by looking at two films I expect to score across many crafts categories via our Tech Support Interview series.

[Photos: Walt Disney Pictures, Paramount Pictures]

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22 responses so far

  • 1 12-02-2010 at 8:33 pm

    Mr. F said...

    I’m predicting Scott Pilgrim gets in instead of Iron Man 2. It’s probably just wishful thinking, but the effects in IM2 were pretty much the same types as the first one, and I guess I’m hoping they go for something a bit more creative.

  • 2 12-02-2010 at 8:44 pm

    Hans said...

    I’d also like to hope that Scott Pilgrim somehow finds its way with a handful of nominations at the end of the year, a la Wanted a couple of years ago. Excellent little movie.

  • 3 12-02-2010 at 9:05 pm

    (The Real)Dan said...

    You really don’t think Nania will get nominated? The effects look really good!

  • 4 12-02-2010 at 9:20 pm

    Rashad said...

    The Last Airbender was a beautiful film to look at with very impressive visual effects. It’s a shame most people didn’t see that because it was marred by dim poorly transferred 3d. Should be seen in 2D only

  • 5 12-03-2010 at 2:15 am

    Robert Hamer said...

    I honestly think that the success of TRON Legacy in the category will depend on how they pull off Clu, Jeff Bridges’ evil alter-ego. If the film does well in this regard, with minimal Uncanny Valley creepiness, then I could see a usurper for Inception’s seemingly front-runner status.

    If not, then Inception will probably win.

  • 6 12-03-2010 at 4:26 am

    Graysmith said...

    My personal top five as of currently is actually those first four films mentioned, in that exact order no less! In fifth I’ve got Clash of the Titans (those giant scorpions were pretty badass), but I suspect once Tron Legacy comes out that’ll bump many of them down.

    So yeah, Inception, Alice, Iron Man, Harry Potter and Tron Legacy would be my prediction too. We’ll probably know better once they narrow it down though, can’t remember when they usually announce that, but since they’ve already started announcing shortlists, maybe this month?

  • 7 12-03-2010 at 4:30 am

    Graysmith said...

    Oh, and as for Narnia, I could easily see it replacing Iron Man 2 (which would be in fifth on my predictions). Creature animation/effects always do well against films that only create environments and inanimate things. It’s pretty much why The Golden Compass won the Oscar over Transformers.

  • 8 12-03-2010 at 4:38 am

    Glenn said...

    I think I’d die of happiness (/hyperbole) is something as tiny as “Monsters” or “Enter the Void” somehow managed to find favour in a field of five. Alas, “Iron Man 2” it is, I guess… yawn.

  • 9 12-03-2010 at 4:45 am

    Graysmith said...

    Actually, I just now looked at the list of previous visual effects winners, and it’s very telling how creature/character animation are favored over environment/inanimate effects. Of course in many cases the winner is so above and beyond the competition, but it’s still interesting to see how pretty much all the winners of the past decade all involved animated characters and creatures.

    While I would still consider Inception the frontrunner by sheer scope and originality, it’s worth keeping in mind that its type of visual effects hasn’t been very successful at winning. And almost all of it’s competitors this year feature some kind of animated character or creature. Like Robert said above, Tron Legacy could be a spoiler if the young Jeff Bridges character is pulled off well.

  • 10 12-03-2010 at 5:51 am

    JJ1 said...

    I think conventional wisdom is that the 5 would be:

    Inception, TRON, IM2, H7, Alice.

    But I also think IM2 is susceptible to a host of hot contenders.

  • 11 12-03-2010 at 6:01 am

    Maxim said...

    “Darren Aronofsky’s latest has divided critics and audiences like no other title this year. ”

    Last I checked it had a very solid and successful 85% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Hardly the year’s most divisive title critically. I am so tired of this kinds of overstatements.

  • 12 12-03-2010 at 7:03 am

    al b. said...

    This has always been my favorite category, mainly because it’s the one where I have seen all the films before-hand. I’m so happy they’re extending to 5 noms instead of 3! Now if they could only extend the Makeup category…

    I think Inception takes this one easy! And Black Swan gets in over Iron Man 2.

  • 13 12-03-2010 at 8:51 am

    Joe said...

    Iron Man 2 seems the most susceptible. It feels remarkably similar to such FX heavy sequels as THE MATRIX 2, 3; INDIANA JONES 4; JURASSIC PARK 3; SPIDERMAN 3; … in other words, we’ve seen the FX before, the movie was a big letdown, and we’re actually kind of angry that it made a lot of $. It certainly has a good shot at a nomination, but any of the previously mentioned films could show up as well.

    Two others that were visually wowing, if not in the traditional bloated CGI manner:
    SPLICE–with five contenders being nominated, the “I’m more impressed by the movie that pulled off nifty visual feats on little money” crowd could vote this in.
    UNSTOPPABLE–I don’t know if practical FX are considered here anymore, but if they are, the crowd that likes their FX crews to actually go out and destroy things in reality, rather than on a computer, could warm to this.

  • 14 12-03-2010 at 9:03 am

    Joe said...

    And what about THE SOCIAL NETWORK who had its show stolen by one guy playing two people sitting side-by-side onscreen and arguing with each other?

  • 15 12-03-2010 at 9:14 am

    Maxim said...

    Joe, I find your analyses on what constitutes something we’ve seen before (try applying the same to the realm of, say acting and see how far you get there) and corresponding dismissals of quality work as rather shallow. For one thing there is something to be said for rewarding good work even if it is not groundbraking. And in case of sequels as closely paced as Iron Man there is something to be said for visual continuity.

    Here I admit for not seeing Iron Man 2 so I cannot judge how well or poor it fared.

    That said, I firmly stand on the fact that Indiana Jones 4 is as artistically and visually inovative as most any film nominated in this category. Attacks on this film tend to be rather cheap (I’ve had it up to here with monkey swinging – yes, worked for me and no I wasn’t turned off). But nothing will change the fact that it had two of the best realized and striking images of that year – the majestic towerig nuclear blast and, for me, a shot of Mutt riding through campus crouds and people holding signs.

    That smooth blur of people acting as a backdrop was a beutiful thing to behold for me. There is more I can talk about it but my goal is not to hijack this thread.

    By the way, Matrix Sequels and Superman 3 are possible to defend too. Again, good integration of visual effects in to the world of the movie (what I mean here is that I liked the interaction with the envrionements themsevles – and Inception, again does this brilliantly this year) in the former and the sand effects in the later.

    I’ll end by putting out an idea, again that while Inception is very likely to win Best Visual Effects, it is not the type of film that usually triumphs in this category and thus might be more vulnarable to an upset. Even by an objectively weaker challenger (again, think Golden Compass).

  • 16 12-03-2010 at 9:27 am

    Will said...

    I’d say Inception Harry 7 Tron Legacy Narnia The Last Air Bender why the last air bender because the effects really stood out compared to the rest of the movie

  • 17 12-03-2010 at 9:39 am

    James C said...

    Pretty reasonable. I’d like to see Scott Pilgrim get in. The effects in The Social Network are far too subtle for the Academy. Inception for the win, with Tron Legacy possible being the spoiler.

  • 18 12-03-2010 at 3:52 pm

    Glenn said...

    Joe, that’s now how the Winkelvoss twins were done. It was two actors acting off one another, but then Armie Hammer’s face was put onto the face of the second actor. So there were two physical beings in every scene of the twins.

  • 19 12-03-2010 at 4:58 pm

    Speaking English said...

    Doesn’t change the fact it was the same actor conversing with himself.

  • 20 12-03-2010 at 4:58 pm

    Joe said...

    Glenn, sounds like some good visual FX to me. Of course, the movie is popular with the Academy, so that will help it. Finally, in the era of flash and bang being so common with CGI, The Social Network was one of the few movies where I was thinking “how did they do that?” when I found out that was the same person.

    Sequels have to show us something new often to get into the Visual FX category. Especially, if they were one of those that pulled in a bunch of $ in the first few weeks, then p-ed us off because they weren’t that good. (You liked Indiana Jones 4… fine, a lot of us didn’t). Not that the FX weren’t good, but people would rather vote for movies that didn’t disappoint. In this case, INCEPTION and ALICE IN WONDERLAND showed us things we haven’t seen. TRON looks like it will be something new. HARRY POTTER 7 is well liked, and the series is due in this category. Thus, I’d say IRON MAN 2 is one of several movies vying for the fifth slot. It’s got a good shot, no denying, but a lot of other good stuff could make that final spot, as well.

    And I really hated IRON MAN 2 (while loving the original), so I admit my bias may be creeping in.

  • 21 12-06-2010 at 6:45 pm

    JJ1 said...

    I’m starting to think that ‘Narnia 3’ might get in a la ‘The Golden Compass’ (crazy amount of fx filling the screen, whether they’re great or not).