Summer Blockbusters Take On Late Year Prestige in the Race for Best Visual Effects

jurassic world chris pratt

Who doesn’t go to the movies to escape? That escape is frequently provided merely through amazing comedy and/or drama. But a certain spectacle never hurts. Amazing visual effects not only help in this regard, but studios frequently find themselves selling a movie’s effects before its stars or its story. No other craft finds itself so prominently featured in the minds of movie executives.

The Academy Award for Best Visual Effects awards up to four individuals who play the most important roles in crafting a film’s visual effects. I should note that the sorts of films that get nominated in this category tend to feature dozens if not hundreds of individuals on their visual effects crews. As a result, determining which supervisors will be nominated can be tricky from this far out.

More than any other Oscar category, blockbusters tend to score here. Being a “prestigious” and/or very high-grossing blockbuster always helps. Certain franchises (Marvel!) do particularly well. Over the past decade or two, computer-generated effects have taken prominence over more “traditional” special effects. Best Picture nominees by no means dominate this category but, once they are nominated, they almost always win – the last exception was 1970, when “Tora! Tora! Tora!” beat “Patton.” We will get a massive clue as to the ultimate nominees when a shortlist of ten finalists is announced at some point prior to January 14.

Like so many other crafts categories, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is sure to be a force to be reckoned with in this category. The visual effects will be the star of this film. Oscar winner Chris Corbould and nominee Roger Guyett appear to be in excellent shape for another nomination, which would be the sixth this franchise would receive in this category. (Only “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith” failed to make the cut, and that was in the days of only three nominees.) The sole hiccough in my view is the fact that no one has seen the film yet. But it would have to be a major miss to miss here.

“The Martian,” on the other hand, has been widely seen and embraced by both audiences and critics. Ridley Scott’s biggest Oscar contender in years is likely to get nominations in several crafts categories (if not above-the-line categories) with this perhaps being its surest bet. Chris Corbould’s brother and fellow Oscar winner Neil Corbould is on the crew here, alongside past winner Chris Lawrence and past nominee Richard Stammers.

After those two titles, three films from the summer are also in good shape. The first is “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” part of the enormously successful (in this category) Marvel franchise. While this film may not go down as the most memorable Marvel film, Paul Corbould has a good shot at joining his brothers in the ranks of Oscar nominees.

“Jurassic World” was a box office behemoth, twenty-two years after the franchise’s first film won this category. I suspect this branch will embrace a respected revitalization of the franchise. In the result, past nominees Tim Alexander (“The Lone Ranger”) and John Rosengrant (“Real Steel”) seem poised to return to the fold.

“Mad Max: Fury Road” did not earn the kind of box office the above four films have earned/are likely to earn. But the critics loved this visual feast, which I’m sure will result in it being remembered, at least to some extent, in awards seasons. While the film may be too bizarre for many crafts categories, I anticipate the Visual Effects branch will be less reticent to embrace George Miller’s massive crew.
Those films strike me as the top five. But this category always contains surprises. What could they be?

“Furious 7” is the massively grossing latest entry into its franchise. Daniel Sudick does have 7 nominations to his name. But is there enough novelty for this film to earn the franchise’s first nomination? Sudick is also in the running for “Ant-Man,” the latest Marvel title. But will Marvel really get two nominations this year, especially as “Ant-Man” is considered a lesser entry into the Marvel canon?

Earlier in the year, “Ex Machina” garnered a significant following, prominently featuring novel and story-furthering effects. Richard Conway was nominated for “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” and while I’m not optimistic he will return to the fold, it’s possible.

Moving towards autumn releases, Robert Zemickis’s “The Walk” featured CGI up the wazoo in its latter half. The film didn’t catch on the extent some were hoping but if it finds a home anywhere, it will be here.

“Everest” is, to some extent, in a similar boat to “The Walk”. It was a visual effects powerhouse but did not light the world on fire, leading one to wonder how well it will actually do in this category, where box office and/or critical success can help a blockbuster stick out. I’m not hopeful but, like “The Walk,” this category strikes me as its best shot.

In case it’s not apparent, I don’t have a lot of faith in any film that has been released to crack what I view as the top five in this category. So I’ll end with two unseen wild cards.

As I’ve mentioned before, “In the Heart of the Sea” has the makings of a crafts category behemoth, despite currently being shrouded in uncertainty. The crew doesn’t appear to have any past nominees on board, but an ocean-based film with a whale at its center would seem to be a potential nominee in this category.

And on the note of attacking animals, how about the bear at the heart of “The Revenant”? The film looks like a visual feast and maybe, just maybe, that will lead to a run here. Cameron Waldbauer earned a somewhat surprising nomination here last year for “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” so could he make it two years in a row? Let’s see how prominently featured those visual effects are…
Those strike me as the top dozen contenders from this vantage point. And if I had to predict the final five, I’d unsurprisingly go with “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “Jurassic Park,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Martian,” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” But a final five this predictable would be odd. So let’s wait and see.


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