On 2 December, 2016, the latest visual effects Oscar race began in earnest, when The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the 20 films up for consideration by the Academy’s Visual Effects Branch Executive Committee. Later this month, that list will be halved when committee members decide on the 10 films that will be eligible for nominations voting. Everything comes to a head on 26 February, 2017, at the trophy ceremony for the 89th Annual Academy Awards.
Here’s the list in alphabetical order:
Alice Through the Looking Glass, Arrival, The BFG, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Captain America: Civil War, Deadpool, Deepwater Horizon, Doctor Strange, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Independence Day: Resurgence, The Jungle Book, Kubo and the Two Strings, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Passengers, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Star Trek Beyond, Suicide Squad, Sully, Warcraft, X-Men: Apocalypse.
Once again, science fiction and fantasy makes a strong showing, with 90 percent of the movies sitting squarely in that ever-popular genre. Of these, one third feature the antics of superheroes ranging from Marvel’s squeaky-clean Captain America to the down-and-dirty reprobates of DC’s Suicide Squad.
Mind you, not since 2004 has a superhero actually won the battle for the visual effects Oscar, when John Dykstra, Scott Stokdyk, Anthony LaMolinara, and John Frazier picked up awards for their work on Spider-Man 2. Will the 89th Awards mark the moment when the famous gold statuette sports spandex once more?
Squaring their shoulders against the sci-fi onslaught are Sully and Deepwater Horizon, a pair of true-life tales that are themselves as different as chalk and cheese. Then there’s the wild card that is Kubo and the Two Strings, Laika’s fantasy adventure that relies as heavily on cutting edge visual effects as it does on its devotion to stop-motion.
Some might think that the overwhelming presence of science fiction and fantasy movies in this awards category is just a sign of the times. Not so. Every film that won a visual effects Oscar during the 1980s was either solid genre fare, or was at least coated with a dusting of fantasy — and if you disagree that Raiders of the Lost Ark counts in that regard, I’ll gladly debate the point. During the 1990s, the only award-winning movie to break the mold was Titanic, a feat matched in the 2000s only by Gladiator. Like it or not, robots rule, wizardry wins, and spaceships score bigtime.
Of course, there’s sci-fi and there’s sci-fi. Last year’s visual effects Academy Award winner was Ex Machina, an absorbing character piece in which the on-screen magic was subordinate to the story. Will this year’s Academy voters be similarly wooed by slow-burning Arrival, or will they give their blessing to a bells-and-whistles spectacular like Doctor Strange or Rogue One: A Star Wars Story? And what of the movies that relied heavily on state of the art virtual production techniques, notably The Jungle Book, The BFG and Warcraft?
Just like you, we don’t have a crystal ball. But we do pride ourselves on the fact that since Cinefex was first published in 1980, every single visual effects Oscar-winner has featured in the magazine. As for this latest crop of contenders — you’ll find in-depth articles covering no less than 17 of the movies on the Academy’s longlist in our recent and upcoming issues.
None of us in the Cinefex office knows who is going to walk away with the next Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, but we’re having a lot of fun guessing. What’s your prediction?