Oscar Nominees: Best Visual Effects

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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.

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Nominees: Craig Hammack, Jason H. Snell, Jason Billington, Burt Dalton
Film
: 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
Film
: 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
Film
: 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.

Nominees:
Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones, Dan Lemmon
Film
: 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.

Nominees:
John Knoll, Mohen Leo, Hal T. Hickel, Neil Corbould
Film
: 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.

Movie Review ~ Doctor Strange

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A former neurosurgeon embarks on a journey of healing only to be drawn into the world of the mystic arts.

Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Michael Stuhlbarg, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton, Scott Adkins, Amy Landecker, Benedict Wong

Director: Scott Derrickson

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 115 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review: Can I let you in on a little secret?  Every time I hear the phrase ‘space time continuum’ in a movie I start to look for the nearest exit.  After years of taking in sci-fi movies that zig zag and fold back on themselves (like Interstellar and Inception) I’m at the point where any talk of the butterfly effect, messing with the natural order, or the aforementioned space time continuum means that naptime is imminent for The MN Movie Man.

I make this admission at the start of my review of Doctor Strange so you know that though I went in with mid-range expectations for Marvel’s latest superhero origin story (as 2nd tier as the Doctor Strange character may be), the moment the talk turned to time travel my internal timer started its countdown to impatience.  Here’s a film with a lot of heavy hitters and some big ideas that can never corral them all into being on the same page at the same time. What made previous Marvel films work so well (aside from Thor, Thor: The Dark World, and Ant-Man) was a meeting of the minds where effects and character lived in entertaining harmony.

Shades of the first Iron Man haunt the first quarter of the movie as we meet a brilliant but uncouth surgeon (Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game) known for his steady hand and icy heart.  A terrible car crash (never text and drive, ok?) leaves him scarred and shaky but just as cool and distant to those that care for him.  Exhausting his options medically he hears of a possible miracle cure near Kathmandu and it’s there he meets the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton, Trainwreck) who opens a new world of possibilities.

As he regains his strength and explores the untapped regions of his consciousness, Strange becomes wrapped up in a plot orchestrated by a nasty villain (Mads Mikkelsen, Casino Royale, who has a PhD in playing bad guys) and his crew of disciples wearing some fierce drag make-up to, what else?, destroy humanity.  Leaping from Hong Kong to London to New York, Strange makes a pit stop to get some medical attention from a former colleague and love interest (Rachel McAdams, Spotlight) before being chased through a kaleidoscopic parallel universe where the world gets turned literally upside down and inside out.

If you’re like me and are literally physically exhausted by movies that are all flash and special effects spectacle, you’ll get the same bad taste in your mouth from Marvel’s newest piece in their larger cinematic puzzle.  The best parts of Doctor Strange are also the most taxing on the brainwaves and when you add a 3D presentation on top of it all it’s time for the theaters should pass out free barf bags.  I don’t get queasy in movies but almost from the start I was nervously wondering where I would toss my cookies if I was forced to flee.

Yeah, the effects are impressive (and pleasantly colorful) when it counts but too often give off the stink of third level craftsmanship.  That goes for the script as well with McAdams’ character being so tragically underwritten they couldn’t even find a place for her to show up in the last 40 minutes.  Swinton seems to be having a crazy ball as a bald headed mystic (sketched in the comics as an elderly Asian man…oy) but Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) looks like he wants to cry for the majority of his screen time.  It’s only in the closing credits (it’s a Marvel movie, you know you need to stay to the end, right?) that we see what may have attracted him to the role.

That brings us to Cumberbatch who is merely serviceable in the title role.  Sitting here I can’t think who would have been better but the character is so onerous in his bravado that Cumberbatch has no room to wiggle around in.  Director Scott Derrickson (Sinister) doesn’t do him any favors by allowing a cape to steal the scenes it shares with Cumberbatch…yes you read the right, Cumberbatch gets upstaged by an article of clothing.

If credit should go to something, it should be to the entire cast for giving it the good old college try with some very silly material.  Cumberbatch and his gang have a way of conjuring portals to hop continents by doing a modified “wax on” sort of motion and around the 100th time this action is performed I had to let a laugh escape.  The sight of all these characters making something out of nothing draws some obvious parallels to the Oscar nominees playing them.  Destined to be one of the films you’ll beg to skip if doing a Marvel marathon down the road, Doctor Strange wheezes when it should whallop.