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2020 Oscar Circuit: Best Visual Effects

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OSCAR PREDICTIONS: Welcome to our annual “Oscar Circuit” series – our deep dive look into each and every category that will be presented at the upcoming Academy Awards.  Each writer of AwardsCircuit.com will tackle a different category, offering up their own perspectives on those specific races. You can also see the official Oscar Predictions for that particular race by clicking on the link here or at the bottom of each article.  Make sure to include your own predicted winners in the comment section too!

In an era of eye-popping spectacles, this year’s nominees for Best Visual Effects are the strongest in years. Each nominee demonstrated a perfect understanding of how to make the audience feel their visuals effects were as real as possible. Whether it’s de-aging Hollywood legends or recreating a World War or giving us the last adventure from the Skywalker Saga, their world’s felt unlike anything seen on screen this year.

Throughout the decade, Best Picture nominees or films with high nomination counts have dominated this category. It makes sense because they are the most seen films by Academy members during the voting period. So this year, two of the nominees seem to be ahead of the others, but nostalgia could break the recent trend and ride one of the others towards the win. So, with all the uncertainty, let’s take a look and see which film will go home with Oscar gold.

And the Nominees Are:

  • “Avengers Endgame” (Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Matt Aitken & Dan Sudick)

  • “The Irishman(Pablo Helman, Leandro Estebecorena, Nelson Sepulveda-Fauser, and Stephane Grabli)

  • “The Lion King” (Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones, and Elliot Newman)

  • “1917” (Guillaume Rocheron, Greg Butler, and Dominic Tuohy)

  • “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” (Roger Guyett, Neal Scanlan, Patrick Tubach, and Dominic Tuohy)

“Avengers: Endgame” (Marvel)

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As mentioned before, nostalgia is going to be the driving factor for many of the nominees this year. “Avengers: Endgame” is not only the conclusion of a decade long storyline but the highest-grossing film of all time. But while “Endgame” was a giant cultural hit, this nomination was the only one it received on Oscar morning. While it’s a disappointment for Marvel coming off the Oscar success of “Black Panther,” this is a very deserving accolade.

With effects created by Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Matt Aitken, and Dan Sudick, they provided “Endgame” with the best visuals in the whole series. They include dazzling motion-capture performances, a 45-minute battle sequence for the ages, and stunning de-aging work on Chris Evans. Marvel’s been nominated eight out of the last ten years in this category. While they would love a win, a nomination will have to suffice.

“The Irishman” (Netflix)

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When the year began, many of us believed Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” would be winning this award. From the announcement of the project, the mystic of the film’s presentation rang loud. With a price tag over $175 million, Scorsese’s largest budget to date was vital to tell him crime epic. This high cost is due to Scorsese’s use of de-aging technology on actor Robert De NiroAl Pacino, and Joe Pesci. By using these visual effects on this cast, he can bookend an impressive career of gangster stories.

While the achievement of “The Irishman” demands respect, audiences were able to tell some flaws within the final product. Most of these criticisms lie in the presentation of the younger Robert De Niro. While his face may look young at times, there is no escaping the older age of the Hollywood legend. Still, Pablo Helman, Leandro Estebecorena, Nelson Sepulveda-Fauser, and Stephane Grabli did a phenomenal job making Pacino and Pesci look so vibrate. In the end, “The Irishman” feels like a runner-up in this category, mostly because the front-runner has no blemishes.

“The Lion King” (Walt Disney Pictures)

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Back in 2016, Jon Favreau’s “The Jungle Book” won this category by recreating one of the most beloved Disney animated films of all time. They created every location and creature through green screens and computer animation, all within the comfort of Los Angeles, California. So with “The Lion King,” the same team is back to construct another Disney classic, and for the most part, they pull it off again.

Every animal’s design is so detailed; they feel lifelike. The work of Robert LegatoAdam ValdezAndrew R. Jones, and Elliot Newman is jaw-dropping, especially in the smaller moments of the film. “The Lion King” almost feels like a documentary at times, and works until the characters speak and sing. The decision to go down the realistic route can be jarring and disconnect the viewer from any real emotion within the voice acting. Ultimately, this doesn’t take away from the nominee’s hard work; it just means they did it better the last time they tried this trick.

“1917” (Universal Pictures)

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Director Sam Mendes and his team set out to make an immersive experience by masking “1917” as a one-shot exploration of resilience and sacrifice. To do this, they manufactured and manipulated new technology to ease the filming and editing process. As such, these enhancements vastly helped pull this trick off. Beyond the visual style of “1917,” the balance of practical and green-screen effects felt effortless within the final product. From altering multiple-night sequences to the iconic run across the frontline, the “1917” crew made a mesmerizing achievement.

Guillaume Rocheron, a past winner in this category for his splendid work on Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi,” leads Mendes’s team. Partnered with him is Greg Butler, who worked for Weta during the creation of multiple characters for “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. And rounding out the “1917” nominees is Dominic Tuohy, who was nominated last year for “Solo: A Star Wars Story.” With these skilled craftsmen, Mendes had a talented squad whom anyone can trust with visualizing their cinematic dream.

“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” (Walt Disney Pictures)

Image result for star wars the rise of skywalker rey vs kylo ren

The final nominee is also the final installment in the most significant cinematic saga of all time. “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” entered late within the awards race just like “1917.” Unfortunately, the reception for Episode IX wasn’t as high as the war epic, or even previous entries within the series. But while the storytelling fell flat, “The Rise of Skywalker” continued the artful balance of mixing different styles of effects like the original trilogy once did. Stellar designs of new droids and creatures, as well as new planets and force powers, highlight this showcase from Lucas Film.

By doing this, nominees Roger Guyett, Neal Scanlan, Patrick Tubach, and Dominic Tuohy safely landed nominations as they did for their work on previous Star Wars entries. A Star Wars film hasn’t won this category since 1983’s “Return of the Jedi.” Within a decidedly weaker field, “The Rise of Skywalker” might be your winner, but sadly, the losing streak will continue.

Will Win / Should Win: “1917”

Could Win: “The Irishman”

Should have been nominated: “Ad Astra” or “John Wick: Chapter 3- Parabellum”

What do you think will win the Oscar for Best Visual Effects? Leave your comments below! Also, make your picks at the Circuit Hub.

What do you think?

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Written by Ryan McQuade

Ryan McQuade is a film-obsessed writer located in South Texas. Raised on musicals, westerns, and James Bond, his taste in cinema is extremely versatile. He's extremely fond of independent releases and director passion projects. When he's not watching movies, he's watching and rooting for his Dallas Cowboys, Texas Longhorns, or San Antonio Spurs.
Follow him on Twitter @ryanmcquade77.

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