Best Visual Effects

Best Visual Effects. Over the years, this award has been called a number of things. In 1928, it was given as the award for Best Engineering Effects to the World War I flying drama Wings. It has evolved in the years since, recognizing in equal measure effects that are practical and digital, but most of all that live on the line in-between reality and surreality on the silver screen. It’s the only award category to consistently recognize those pioneers of film who have dazzled audiences with the yet unseen, everything from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey to George Lucas’ Star Wars. Perhaps you’ve heard of them.

The core criteria for the award is that it’s given to the visual effects masters whose work most exemplifies artistry, skill and fidelity with which the visual illusions are achieved. Each of this year’s nominees has these elements. And each of this year’s nominees brings something unique to the table. We’ve got the year’s highest grossing, all-out superhero explosion; the return of Peter Jackson and his WETA wizards to Middle Earth; Ridley Scott’s return to the sci-fi genre; a classic tale with a digitally saturated twist; and of course, one arty epic that is as colorful a film as was printed on celluloid (or imprinted in ones-and-zeroes) this year. Still, it might be one of the most predictable categories that Oscar has to offer in his 85th edition.

The nominees are below, with our pick for winner marked with red

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The Avengers

The Avengers

Why It Was Nominated

It’s hard to imagine, considering the monstrous box office grosses and universal acclaim heaped at Joss Whedon’s big Marvel team-up film, but this is the only Oscar nomination for The Avengers. Surely there was a Best Sound Design nomination that someone simply filled out wrong on a spreadsheet somewhere, no? Alas, The Avengers has found its one nomination in its most deserving category. Because without some serious visual effects talent, that 30-minute long all-out war between our heroes and an army from another world is nothing more than a video game cut scene.

Why It Might Win

The only shot Avengers stands at bringing home gold on Oscar Night is a bit of voter pity. The Academy does not generally dish out awards in any category for sheer box office might alone. However, films such as Inception and Avatar found their Oscar luck in the technical awards. If there’s a dark horse in this category, it might be Marvel’s mightiest. But at this point, it’s a very long shot.

Why It Might Not Win

Since it started making movies on its own — and much to the chagrin, I’m sure, of now 3-time nominee Dan Sudick, who has worked as an effects Supervisor on nearly every Marvel Studios film, and in 5 nominations has won zero — Marvel Studios has not been able to bring home this particular award. The same team of Marvel and ILM wiz-kids that pulled noms for Iron Man and Iron Man 2 have a losing streak going, and sadly The Avengers is probably outmatched. Of course, they can always rest easy on the giant piles of cash.

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The Hobbit

Why It Was Nominated

When Peter Jackson and WETA get together to make a movie about the denizens of Middle Earth, they will get a nomination. In fact, they brought home three consecutive wins to the Shire from 2001 to 2003 with the first three Lord of the Rings movies, so to say that they are the Academy’s darlings in this category would not be far off. On top of all that, a much talked-about 48 frames-per-second innovation and some of the year’s biggest action set pieces didn’t hurt this holiday blockbuster’s chances of being fresh in the minds of voters.

Why It Might Win

Frankly, the WETA team led by Joe Letteri has never lost this award on a Peter Jackson movie. They even picked up a win for King Kong in 2005 to go with the statues for the LOTR trilogy.

Why It Might Not Win

The Hobbit isn’t on par with those first three Lord of the Rings movies, no matter how you spin it. And unlike the original trilogy, The Hobbit isn’t being pushed with a big awards campaign because it’s only nominated for technical awards and Warner Bros. is spending big money to get Argo the last award of the night. It’s sounds crazy, but underexposure might be the factor that breaks the WETA/Jackson streak in this category.

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Life of Pi

Life of Pi

Why It Was Nominated

Few movies in 2012 were as beautiful as Ang Lee’s tale of a boy who traveled across the ocean in a raft with an adult Bengal tiger. The vibrant colors and lifelike animal effects created on the computers at Rhythm and Hues, under the supervision of past Oscar winner Bill Westenhofer (The Golden Compass, 2008) exemplify the part of this award in which effects are recognized when they enhance the director’s ability to tell his or her story. In this case, the effects are a magic wand for Lee and his protagonist.

Why It Might Win

Life of Pi has the right balance needed to appeal to Academy voters. It’s spectacle enough to take your breath away and ask yourself whether or not the effect is an effect or the real thing. And the film caries with it enough artistic pedigree to feel like a real Oscar kind of movie. Voters get to vote for something cool, but also something respectable. Also being the only film in this category nominated for Best Picture doesn’t hurt, either.

Why It Might Not Win

Unless Peter Jackson has kidnapped the families of voters to ensure that WETA gets another statue, Life of Pi is a lock in this category.

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Prometheus

Prometheus

Why It Was Nominated

Interesting is the fact that of all the big summer blockbusters that could have been considered for this award, many of which made the final 15, it was this and the next one that made it alongside The Avengers. In fairness, there is something absolutely massive about the look of Prometheus. It could have easily earned a Production Design nomination if the Academy were feeling a bit more hip. The digital effects were slick, the props were cool, the designs were top notch and the story was abysmal. That last one doesn’t matter so much in this particular category.

Why It Might Win

The sheer scale of Ridley Scott’s return to the Alien franchise is impressive, it has that going for it. But stacked up against the other films in this category, it doesn’t appear to stand much of a chance.

Why It Might Not Win

Because there are better works of effects wizardry on this list. It’s really quite simple.

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Snow White and the Huntsman

Snow White and the Huntsman

Why It Was Nominated

Every year it seems as if the Academy’s visual effects branch gets one silly nominee, especially since 2010 when the rule was set that the category would have five entrants. It opened the door for films such as Hereafter and Real Steel to get little “Academy Award Nominee” stickers for their DVD boxes. This year’s lottery winner is the otherwise unremarkable Snow White and the Huntsman. The bridge troll scene may have been the lone stand-out in this one, but lets just assume that seeing Charlize Theron rise from a pool of milk is what really caught the Academy’s eye.

Why It Might Win

If someone at PriceWaterhouse Coopers allows their email to be hacked by Chinese military forces hell-bent on making sure that the Rupert Sanders/Kristen Stewart drama remains relevant. Then, and only then, will this one take home Oscar gold.

Why It Might Not Win

The only votes this one is going to get are from the unreasonable Academy members who are still mad that The Dark Knight Rises didn’t get a nomination, thus forcing them to throw away their vote in protest just like the three times they voted for Ralph Nader in Presidential elections. This movie is the Ralph Nader of Oscar Night, just taking votes away from The Avengers.

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