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Longlists to Nominees: Visual Effects

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The monsters they created and the monsters they fought.

When it comes to judging visual effects, there are two ideals, essentially irreconcilable, which are striven for: most fantastic and most convincing. When the fantastic is convincing, so much the better, but these two ideals are separately–and superbly–embodied by two films this year, one of which was rightfully nominated by the Academy, and the other shockingly ignored. So let’s dig into the longlist for Best Visual Effects and see what five make the grade.

  • Elysium
  • Gravity
  • Her
  • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
  • The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  • Iron Man 3
  • Man of Steel
  • Pacific Rim
  • Post Tenebras Lux
  • The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
  • Star Trek Into Darkness
  • The World’s End

Right off the bat, two films (the two I mentioned earlier) are automatically on: Gravity and Pacific Rim. How the Academy didn’t nominate Pacific Rim (opting instead for the in every way inferior The Lone Ranger) is beyond me. Now, the other three spots are up for grabs, so let’s see what we’ve got.

  • Elysium: Flawed film, but the effects are pretty impressive. Neill Blomkamp knows how to use effects–I think District 9 should’ve won the Oscar–and the scope of the effects here is greater and essentially as convincing. The biomechanical enhancements Matt Damon wears, the robot police, Elysium itself…it’s all extremely well done. Probably should make the final five.
  • Her: Wonderful film–the effects are relatively limited, though. Aside from the video game Joaquin Phoenix plays, there’s not THAT much in the way of effects. Not even sure where it came into the equation, since it wasn’t on my original or my intermediate list. It’s off.
  • The Hobbit: I saw this in 2D, projected at normal speed, and the effects looked great. Maybe in 3D, at 48 fps, they look like shit, but what I saw–especially Smaug himself–was pretty damn good. I’m thinking this is a finalist.
  • The Hunger Games: Some good effects, but…nah. There’s better choices.
  • Iron Man 3: I’m surprised the Academy nominated this. The effects are fine, just…this is nothing new. I already nominated The Avengers–this is basically the same stuff. Fine for a longlist, but it’s not making the cut.
  • Man of Steel: See, these effects were more interesting to me than Iron Man‘s. The effects on Krypton (especially the communications console which reminds me of pin-screen animation) are strong enough, but the flying scenes are incredible. Zack Snyder’s approach to the material (very Terrence Malick-esque at times) leads to some really evocative imagery: Superman waking up underwater, face to face with a group of whales; Superman first taking flight; Superman sinking into a sea of skulls representative of General Zod’s intended extermination of the human race. It’s a great-looking film.
  • Post Tenebras Lux: This is here purely for the glowing red demon that appears a couple of times in the film (why, I don’t know), which is very well executed on what was probably a low budget. I didn’t like the film, but it was worth mentioning in this regard.
  • The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: Some solid effects here, but…the daydream angle wasn’t much explored here, and the effects ultimately didn’t reach the heights of some of these other efforts. It happens.
  • Star Trek Into Darkness: There’s some fine work on display (enough for the Academy), I’m just not sure if it’s standout enough to squeeze into the final five. Not a whole lot to say here, really.
  • The World’s End: The “robot” effects were quite nice. In another year, this could sneak on, but…not this time.

Huh. I didn’t even longlist Upstream Color. That’s weird. Not that it would have gotten on, but given my regard for the film…

Anyway, this is pretty easy for me:

  • Elysium
  • Gravity
  • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
  • Man of Steel
  • Pacific Rim

Maybe you could swap out Elysium or Man of Steel for Star Trek Into Darkness, but I’m quite happy with this.


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