Sat. Jul 11th, 2020

2016 Oscar Predictions: Visual Effects



Visual Effects is a category with a long history of Best Picture correlation. In fact, 1970’s Tora! Tora! Tora! was the last non-Best Picture nominee to win here against a film that was (Patton was the only other nominee here). That’s a long statistic and this year we have three films nominated for Best Picture (Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant) against two films that aren’t (Ex Machina, Star Wars: The Force Awakens). Logic and history would tell us that the race is between those three Best Picture nominees, right? But frickin’ Star Wars. How do you say no to that? It won four awards at the VES (Visual Effects Society), including their top prize. Nine of the last 14 winners there went on to win the Academy Award. But then, The Revenant was very close behind with three (although it was not nominated for the top award). That included one for Judy the Bear, which seems to be the focus of the visual effects talk of The Revenant. Interestingly, The Revenant also won an ANNIE award this weekend for, yep, Judy the Bear.

Ex Machina is an inspired choice here but also the least likely winner. It’s the lowest budgeted film of the bunch ($15M) and features no green-screen work, which is impressive. As a non-Best Picture nominee up against films with much more broad support in the form of other high-profile tech nominations, it would be an upset for the ages for it to triumph here. Still, its nomination is impressive as it bested far more likely (and predicted) films like Jurassic World, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man. This is actually the first year a Marvel movie featuring Iron Man hasn’t been nominated in this category. For what it’s worth, it’s one of only two films in this category with a screenplay nomination. This is the first Oscar nomination for each of Ex Machina’s four-person visual effects team.

Here is a visual effects reel for Ex Machina.

The Martian follows in the line of the last two years of space winners Interstellar and Gravity in terms of a genre that the Academy really loves when it’s done well. With no Best Picture nominee in the category in 2014, Interstellar was an easy pick. In 2013 this was just one of seven wins for Gravity. For The Martian, although it’s a Best Picture nominee it’s up against some very formidable competition. Like Ex Machina, it’s the only other film in this category to have a screenplay nomination. The Martian’s four-person visual effects team comes in with four previous nominations and one win (Gravity).

Here is a VFX breakdown for The Martian.

Mad Max: Fury Road is a film that’s been lauded for its use of practical special effects. Meaning, lots of real explosions, on set locations and the appearance of not being able to often see the line between what’s real and what’s CGI. But in reality, there are over 2,000 visual effects in the film and that seamless integration could be the ticket to film winning the Oscar. Having the 2nd highest nomination total (10) helps. Dust storms, toxic storms, limb removal, day-for-night, the film is full of visual effects that are stunningly incorporated with the highly technical level of SAG-winning stunt work. This is the first Oscar nomination for each of Mad Max: Fury Road’s four-person visual effects team.

Check out this reel of Mad Max: Fury Road‘s visual effect breakdown.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens comes with it a history and a pedigree that is hard to deny. The film employs some similar strategies the original series did; marrying practical effects with the highest technical level of visual ones from Industrial Light and Magic. Working in concert provides a visceral experience as only a Star Wars film can and the nostalgia for this series could put it at #1. Granted, that didn’t help the second trilogy when those came out but Star Wars: The Force Awakens is now the highest grossing film of all time (domestic) so that could swing in its favor. Or, it could work against it. It’s that lack of a Best Picture nomination that is the real setback though. But, if any film could overcome that it’s this one. The visual effects’ four-person team comes in with six Oscar nominations and two previous wins (for Babe and Inception).

Here is a breakdown of the film’s visual effects.

The Revenant, as mentioned above, did very well with the Visual Effects Society and the Annie awards and it’s the film with the highest nomination total (12). At BAFTA, four of the five films nominated for the Oscar are nominated there. There The Revenant was replaced by Ant-Man. A weakness? Possibly, but its strength elsewhere could prove to be more important. It’s main competition feels like Mad Max: Fury Road, which won just a single award at the VES (albeit up against Star Wars) But, if there is a sweep in the making at the Oscars (and after that DGA win, I’m thinking there will be) then Visual Effects could be folded into the mix easily. This is the first nomination for three of The Revenant‘s four-person visual effects team (and the 2nd in a row for Cameron Waldbauer).

Strangely, there is no VFX reel of The Revenant that I could find so instead I’ll add the trailer, which features quite a bit of the visual effects of the film.

Here are the current predictions and rankings from The Gold Rush Gang of the films nominated for Best Visual Effects.

Mad Max: Fury Road311222121144
Star Wars: The Force Awakens222111212343
The Revenant133333343232
The Martian444444434421
Ex Machina555555555510
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