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2018 Oscar Circuit: Visual Effects

More than most years, visual effects in 2018 were required to build the world’s in which our films took place. We had giant pink ads walking through the skyline of Los Angeles in 2049. The forests of California were populated with thousands of Apes, completing one of the landmark trilogies of the decade. We traveled to space battles, casinos, and salt planets in a galaxy far far away. Giant Apes protected the indigenous people of its island from terrible monsters. There was even a film where a planet came to life and attacked fan-favorite raccoons and tree people. It’s amazing what can be done today in visual effects, and these just represent a fraction of the incredible effects on film this year. Let’s jump into the discussion on who’s taking home Oscar gold.

And the Nominees Are:

  • “Blade Runner 2049” (John Nelson, Gerd Nefzer, Paul Lambert, & Richard R. Hoover
  • “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” (Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Jonathan Fawkner & Dan Sudick
  • “Kong: Skull Island” (Stephen Rosenbaum, Jeff White, Scott Benza & Mike Meinardus
  • “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” (Ben Morris, Mike Mulholland, Neal Scanlan & Chris Corbould)
  • “War for the Planet of the Apes” (Joe Letteri, Daniel Barrett, Dan Lemmon & Joel Whist)

Let’s jump into the front-runners, and “War for the Planet of the Apes” is as strong a place to start as any. “Apes” has a handful of things going for it, starting with the crew itself. Joe Letteri is a visual effects giant, especially since his work on “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” where he won his 1st Oscar. His other wins are for “King Kong,” “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King,” and “Avatar.” He even took home a technical achievement Oscar for his work on the “Lord of the Rings” movies. Dan Lemmon has also won for “Jungle Book” just a couple years ago. This team assembled for “Apes” is incredible, and probably the strongest group for motion capture effects possible.

While the crew assembled is impressive, here are the reasons you might want to stay away. First, why has Oscar not rewarded the first two films? The bigger question might be why would you award this one if they haven’t done it before? On the positive side, it’s won BFCA and Visual Effects Society awards. It even grabbed a BAFTA nomination despite losing. Bad news, the first two films in the series pulled the exact same stats from these 3 bodies. On paper, this is a strong contender. Sadly, it would not be a surprise if history repeats itself a third time.

Another film that’s pushing hard for the win here is “Blade Runner 2049,” a marvel in its own right. Honestly, the profile might even be stronger. First, it already beat “Apes” with the BAFTA win last week. Second, while “Apes” was never able to transcend visual effects, “Blade Runner” grabbed 5 nominations. Those nominations help the film by grabbing Cinematography and Production Design nods as well. In the last 10 years, the only film to only get a solo nomination in visual effects and win the category was “The Jungle Book” last year. Moreover, seven of the ten had at least four nominations. Eight have had a production design/art direction nomination. “Blade Runner 2049” checks both those boxes, and may even win both of those categories. “Blade Runner” might be our winner here too.

It’s easy to back up the stats when a film delivers on a visual effects level as well. Returning to Philip K. Dick’s world would have been difficult for most, but Denis Villeneuve’s team pulled off some astounding sequences. The ads in LA are as visually impressive this time around as the original film. The Vegas showroom is brilliant at bringing in nostalgia and history into the film. Perhaps most important of all, the Sean Young effect towards the end of the movie may have been the best de-aging visual effect ever pulled off in film. If we’re awarding a single moment for visual effects in 2017, this is your winner.

Our other nominees can feel like long shots when you look at these stats as well. “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2” has the most effects of any movie, but it didn’t help the first film in that franchise either. Many of the creature effects are solid, but again, Groot and Rocket steal the show. The two of them might be enough to sway the branch, especially with how much emotion is delivered through the two characters. They’re also pop culture figures that have been entirely explored through CGI. Despite this, Marvel’s never won this category. Just ask Dan Sudick, who has six of their nominations in the category. Sadly, this will likely be his 8th loss.

Kong: Skull Island” also seems unlikely to pull an upset. The film lost all of the Visual Effects Society nominations it received and has only won a single prize for “Best Teaser Poster” in the entire season. That doesn’t bode well, despite some impressive effects used here. It probably doesn’t help that one of the nominees up against this film won for the last time “King Kong” hit the big screen with arguably better effects.

Finally, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” seems like a fringe contender that over-performed on Oscar morning. It’s also got solid work, but there’s also nothing extraordinary at play here. The space battles are the best part of the film, especially one kamikaze scene in particular. The battle on Crait is also visually stunning but is not something new either. It probably doesn’t help that Serkis is so heavily tied to the Apes franchise that he can’t really go to bat for the Snoke effects either. It’s hard to believe that the Porgs are enough to save the film’s chances here, and it feels like a very stuck number 3.

With the group in play, which stats do you pay attention to and which do you ignore. It’s tough because many pundits want “War of the Planet of the Apes” to take home the big prize. Despite this, who want to win doesn’t always line up with who will. “Blade Runner 2049” shows the craft appeal. It also has history on its side with production design and cinematography elements, something that did not exist for any nominee in the 89th Oscars. I’m following the stats here and going with “Blade Runner 2049” to take home gold.

Will Win: “Blade Runner 2049″

Should Win: “Blade Runner 2049″

Could Win: “War for the Planet of the Apes”

Who Should Have Been Here: “Okja”

CLICK THE CATEGORY TO SEE THE OSCAR PREDICTIONS:

MOTION PICTURE | DIRECTOR |
LEAD ACTOR | LEAD ACTRESS | SUPPORTING ACTOR | SUPPORTING ACTRESS | 
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY | ADAPTED SCREENPLAY | ANIMATED FEATURE |
PRODUCTION DESIGN | CINEMATOGRAPHY | COSTUME DESIGN | FILM EDITING | MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING | SOUND MIXING | SOUND EDITING | VISUAL EFFECTS |
ORIGINAL SCORE | ORIGINAL SONG |
FOREIGN LANGUAGE | DOCUMENTARY FEATURE |

ANIMATED SHORT | DOCUMENTARY SHORT | LIVE ACTION SHORT |

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Written by Alan French

Alan French is a movie buff, a TV lover, and a sports fanatic. His favorite TV shows are 'Parks and Recreation,' 'Rick and Morty' and 'Game of Thrones.' He's also a Spielberg fanatic. You can find him on Twitter and Medium @TheAlanFrench.

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