2015 Oscar Circuit: Best Visual Effects

Is it space vs. the apes, or is there room for a superhero film to take the award?

Our annual look at the individual Oscar categories. If you miss a piece, click on the tag titledOscar Circuit 2015. You can also see the official Oscar Predictions page for Best Visual Effects.

The Nominees Are:

  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  • Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Interstellar
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past

Superheroes, Earthlings and Apes! Oh my! Between the five Oscar-nominated films in the Visual Effects category lineup, only one stands proud and perhaps slightly intimidated amongst the franchise heavy-hitters. Uniqueness and not being tied to a brand has often been an huge deciding factor when it comes to winning this golden trophy, though one cannot discount the technical achievements still being made by studios whose visual ingenuity knows no bounds. Thus we are left with five completely worthy contenders battling it out for the sexiest of technical honors: Best Visual Effects. Let’s take a deeper look at our five nominees…

Just Happy to be Nominated:

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

the winter soldier helicarrier

I’m not quite sure this film is as memorable for its visuals as it is for its intricate and heart-pounding choreography, but who am I to stand in the way of blind patriotism?! In any event, Dan Deleeuw, Russell Earl, Bryan Grill and Daniel Sudick should be proud that despite competing against the more critically acclaimed and eye-popping Guardians of the Galaxy, they still managed to stand out under the same banner and be acknowledged. That has to feel incredibly rewarding even without an Oscar in hand. This is Daniel Sudick’s whopping seventh nomination in twelve years, and with zero wins you can bet some admirers of his within the branch will throw him some votes for a superlative career in such a short period of time. The final battle above Washington D.C. is as bombastic as any Marvel finale we’ve seen but a feast for the eyes nonetheless. Still, Guardians of the Galaxy’s inclusion pretty much derails this contender in its tracks.

The Potential Spoilers:

X-Men: Days of Future Past

days of future past

With only one prior nominee in this category (Richard Stammers), the visual effects lands in this category by virtue of one iconic moment moviegoers won’t forget anytime soon. Yes, we all know of what scene I’m referring to. Richard Stammers, Lou Pecora, Tim Crosbie and Cameron Waldbauer mesmerized us with their slow-mo sequence featuring the time-altering mutant Quicksilver reordering the entire room and fighting positions of the men in the thick of combat. The entire moment was equal parts operatic and hilarious, but without the astounding visuals to hold everything together we’d lose the detail required to make this ambitious scene truly land. Hats off to the team, and unfortunately the only thing holding them back is the rest of the movie itself which, while better than passable entertainment, is nowhere near as great as those few minutes of cinematic ecstasy.

Guardians of the Galaxy

groot guardians

This was the “experimental” Marvel outing populated by relative unknowns — with the exceptions of Bradley Cooper and Zoe Saldana, of course (both alien in origin) — that landed in a big, unexpected, intergalactic way. Nobody anticipated that this minor Marvel property would make as humungous a splash as it did, but low and behold that’s exactly what happened. The beauty of the visuals, especially with regards to the lovable Groot, comes from its seamless execution thanks to the talented foursome of Stephane Ceretti, Nicolas Authadi, Jonathan Fawkner and Paul Corbould. Their effects work accentuates the vibrancy of the Marvel universe’s color palette while simultaneously showing a sleeker, more sophisticated side to the brand that satisfies the inner sci-fi geek. Unfortunately for Guardians of the Galaxy, the visuals are uniformly great but don’t quite scream “I’ve never seen this before!” like some of the contenders in this lineup. This brings me to…

The Frontrunners:

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

koba dawn of the planet of the apes

Anyone who is anyone knows full well this sequel’s predecessor Rise of the Planet of the Apes was robbed an Oscar win courtesy of Academy favorite, Hugo. The outrage was felt all throughout the internet, mostly because Hugo was visually and thematically a lesser film than Rise. There’s no question that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes broke new ground with its vulnerable and exposed first thirty minutes of the apes in subtitled conversation. Had the effects team – comprised of five-time Oscar winner Joe Letteri and team members Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett and Erik Winquist – faltered in any way during this daunting task of engrossing audiences via CGI character interaction for a substantial stretch of time, the whole film would have collapsed faster than Koba’s descent into madness. Simply put, the feat these gentlemen accomplished is nothing short of genius filmmaking that wholly deserves to be rewarded. The problem is: A) Caesar’s motion capture work by the great Andy Serkis isn’t the revelation that it was in the first installment; B)the film itself flew under the radar rather quickly, certainly a distant memory when compared to its buzzier closest competitor in this category, Interstellar. Yes, I am well aware that Dawn just won the Visual Effects Society award…but so did Rise, and it lost to a film with far less public goodwill than Interstellar. I don’t think this is a case of undoing a previous wrong, especially since voters know full well this isn’t the one and only time they can reward the revamped Apes franchise with this prestigious honor.


interstellar wormhole

The effects in Christopher Nolan’s epic space adventure were mostly practical yet still unlike anything witnessed before in cinema. Particularly in the cases of the wormhole sequence and that death-defying moment when Cooper attempts to connect his shuttle to the partially demolished space station mid-rotation, viewers were graced with imagery that felt as real in the theater as it looked onscreen. Nolan’s keen sense of visual storytelling has never been better than what’s on display in Interstellar, crafted so meticulously and scientifically accurate by his loyal VFX team (Paul J. Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter and Scott R. Fisher) that the film has zero distinction between artifice and reality upon innocent glance. The effects might not be showy or definable, but they are certainly present and more than contribute to how mighty Interstellar stands as a blockbuster for the ages. With four additional Oscar nominations riding alongside this one – not to mention Interstellar is going to reap the benefits of traditional voters who are anti-franchise and pro-original filmmaking – Interstellar is clearly the one to beat in this category, VFX Society snub notwithstanding.

Oscar Prediction: Interstellar

Potential Upset: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Oscar Snubs: Noah, Under the Skin, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Maleficent, Godzilla, Enemy

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Written by Joseph Braverman

My name is Joseph Braverman. I am 31 years old and a graduate from the University of California, Santa Cruz with a Bachelor of Arts in Film and Digital Media. I love watching and analyzing films and television shows. I live in Los Angeles, CA, enmeshing myself in the movie industry scene in any way possible. Don't forget to follow me on Twitter @JBAwardsCircuit.

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