With most of 2020’s blockbusters pushed off to later in 2021 (or beyond), the Visual Effects category looks very different this season, and that’s a good thing.
Gone are films that look and feel like overstuffed video games, giving us a wealth of movies that use visual effects to support their stories while still taking us to other worlds whether it’s the space station and interplanetary travel in The Midnight Sky or the Imperial Army battles in China of Mulan.
This year also gave us a possible nominee that would only be likely in a year like this and whose goals weren’t to marvel and dazzle but to literally save lives. The face-masking and deep fake technology used in the documentary Welcome to Chechnya was implemented to hide the identities of LGBTQ+ refugees trying to escape the harrowing realities of their homeland led by a brutal and murderous dictator. A nomination here would be Oscar history for a documentary.
Every year, the VFX branch holds a ‘bake off’ where shortlisted nominees show 10-minute reels of their work and offer up conversation. Sometimes we get a feeling of where the branch is leaning if a group gives a weak or strong performance there. The event is usually open (with invitation) but obviously in the pandemic era we live in it was virtual and outsiders were not able to attend.
Next Best Picture’s Will Mavity is someone who attends these bake offs, doing extensive write ups based on the presentations and conversations he has with branch voters afterwards. While he wasn’t able to attend this year, Mavity did have some online conversations with voters who revealed that “Tenet, Midnight Sky, Chechnya are the three shoe-ins,” specifically highlighting Chechnya but with one voter saying “Tenet was probably the lowlight from a VFX perspective, just because they did so little, but they made up for it with a very impressive SFX component.”
He heard that Mulan‘s presentation was “middle of the road” and Mank‘s was “fine.” Positive surprises came from the reels for Soul and The One and Only Ivan. One of the surprise shortlisted films, Bloodshot, was said to have “a pretty good presentation.” Mavity continued, “Vin Diesel wasn’t around for reshoots due to scheduling conflicts so they team had to create a photorealistic digital double for lots of sequences that was showcased even in closeups where he speaks.”
I have a feeling The One and Only Ivan could spoil either Mank or Mulan like Christopher Robin did a few years ago the likes of effects-heavy films like Black Panther and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. I’ve tossed in Annie nomination recognition for good measure.
With this morning’s BAFTA nominations still fresh, here’s a decade of BAFTA nominees that missed the Oscars (and what they missed for):
2019 – 5/5
2018 – Black Panther, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (Christopher Robin, Solo: A Star Wars Story)
2017 – Dunkirk, The Shape of Water (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Kong Skull Island)
2016 – Arrival, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Deepwater Horizon, Kubo and the Two Strings)
2015 – Ant-Man (The Revenant)
2014 – The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)
2013 – Pacific Rim (The Lone Ranger)
2012 – The Dark Knight Rises (Snow White and the Huntsman)
2011 – The Adventures of Tintin, War Horse (Real Steel, Transformers: Dark of the Moon)
2010 – Black Swan, Toy Story 3 (Hereafter, Iron Man 2)
Here are my final 2021 Oscar nomination predictions in Visual Effects.
- 1. The Midnight Sky (Netflix) – BAFTA, VES
Matt Kasmir, Chris Lawrence, Dave Watkins, Max Solomon
- 2. Tenet (Warner Bros) – BAFTA, BFCA, VES
Andrew Jackson, Andrew Lockley, Scott R. Fisher, Mike Chambers
- 3. Welcome to Chechnya (HBO) – VES
- 4. Mank (Netflix) – BFCA, VES
Wei Zheng, Simon Carr, Pablo Helman, James Pastorius
- 5. Mulan (Disney+) – BAFTA, BFCA, VES
Sean Faden, Anders Langlands, Seth Maury, Steve Ingram
Watch out for: The One and Only Ivan (Disney+) – Annie, BAFTA, VES
Oscar shortlist contenders: Birds of Prey, Bloodshot, Love and Monsters, Soul