Oscar Nominees: Best Visual Effects


Every day from now until the Oscars on Sunday, February 26 I’m going to deconstruct the nominees in each category. I’ll give you their history with the Academy and some extra thoughts on each nominee/film and what you might consider before choosing them in your office pool.


Nominees: Craig Hammack, Jason H. Snell, Jason Billington, Burt Dalton
: Deepwater Horizon
Oscar History: All first time nominees, aside from Burt Dalton who has been nominated three times before, winning for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
Thoughts: All of the other nominees had a bit of an advantage over Deepwater Horizon because they largely took place in worlds of fantasy or other dimensions where rules didn’t quite apply.  The visual effects artists for this one, though, had to live not only in the real world but tell a true tale of survival at sea.  An explosion on a drilling rig sets a whole host of awfulness down on its crew and provides an unrelenting two hours of nail-biting.  A move with lots of fire and rain could easily become a mish mash when seen on the smaller screen but the texture and contrast designed here gives the film an immediacy that works as well on your home screen as it did on your local IMAX.

Nominees: Stephane Ceretti, Richard Bluff, Vincent Cirelli, Paul Corbould
: Doctor Strange
Oscar History: Bluff and Cirelli are first time nominees, Ceretti and Corbould were nominated before for Guardians of the Galaxy.
Thoughts: I don’t usually feel my stomach lurch much in movies but the 3D kaleidoscopic effects that featured prominently in Doctor Strange almost made me use my popcorn bag for something far less appetizing.  Though I didn’t much care for the film (I’m in the minority, I know) I have to agree with critics and audiences alike that praised this Marvel Universe entry as the most sophisticated looking.  Hopping through worlds, wormholes, and far off dimensions, this one may make you weak in the knees and stomach.

Nominees: Steve Emerson, Oliver Jones, Brian McLean, Brad Schiff
: Kubo and the Two Strings
Oscar History: First time nominees
Thoughts: Laika, the studio that relased Kubo and the Two Strings has been a frequent nominee in the Best Animated Feature category (Coraline, ParaNorman, & The Boxtrolls all netted noms) but this is the first time they’ve turned up in the visual effects discussion as well.  Blending stop-motion animation with cutting edge technology, the crew of first time nominees made this tender fable come to life in suprising ways.  All Lakia films are dark and this one had some fairly heavy messages swimming about, but the storytelling was aided by the way the figures moved and reacted.

Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones, Dan Lemmon
: The Jungle Book
Oscar History: Legato has been nominated three times before, winning for Hugo and Titanic. Valdez is a first time nominee, Jones has been nominated twice before, winning for Avatar. Lemmon has been nominated twice before.
Thoughts: As the final credits were wrapping up for this live-action update of the Disney animated classic, it might have been easy to miss the phrase ‘Filmed entirely on a lot in Los Angeles’.  Wha??  Not that I actually thought the movie was completely made up of location shooting, I guess I never stopped to think that a film with landscapes and animals created entirely by visual effects wouldn’t need to leave the US to do its work.  I saw the movie twice in theaters and both times was struck by how seamlessly the live action boy was blended with the computer generated world.  Incredible work.

John Knoll, Mohen Leo, Hal T. Hickel, Neil Corbould
: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Oscar History: Knoll has been nominated five times before, winning for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. Leo is a first time nominee. Hickel has been nominated three times before, winning for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. Corbould has been nominated four times before, winning for Gravity and Gladiator.
Thoughts: I’m going to be honest and say that I was pretty tired and more than a little grumpy when I finally saw Rogue One: A Star Wars story so I’m recalling it through an ornery filter.  Look, this may not have been my favorite Star Wars film (how people could say this is the best one since The Empire Strikes Back is just…mystifying) but as in most of the films in this series, the visuals were top notch.  Crafting solar climates that living actors worked in quite well, these nominees have the most previous wins and nominations under the belt and you can see why.  It’s the work of pros…even if I felt the overall movie was a teeny bit of a letdown after The Force Awakens which I felt had more striking visuals that I responded to on a totally different level.

Missed Opportunity:

Should Been Nominated: Actually…I think the Oscars got the nominees right.  There was a shortlist of 10 and the five that made it in felt like the most deserving.  The other contenders were Arrival, The BFG, Captain America: Civil War, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Themand Passengers.

I think it’s safe to say that The Jungle Book has this one wrapped up.  Signaling a true step forward for visual effects creating 98% of what you see on screen and doing it seamlessly, it easily earns this award.  If I had to put a spoiler in, I’d say the stop-motion work in Kubo and the Two Strings was fairly awesome as well.  It could easily be dismissed as just an animated film…but the technical effects that went into making it smooth were amazingly well executed.

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