Here at Cinefex we’ve just finished voting for our favourite visual effects of 2013. The result is the very first Cinefex Awards – our own personal thoughts about the movies we’ve featured in the magazine this year.
“What’s that?” you say. “When you guys report on a film’s visual effects, you set aside all emotion and just give us the facts. In the world of Cinefex, opinion is not an option.”
Damn right. That’s the ethos on which Cinefex was built. When it comes to the Cinefex Awards, however, we like to set aside our Vulcan qualities and bring out the human side. Forget objectivity – you want to know what we really think. Right?
Our awards shortlist comprises all the films featured in Cinefex issues 133-136. You’ll find the full list of nominees at the foot of this article.
The “Jaw On The Floor” Award … goes to the VFX that left us totally amazed
WINNER – GRAVITY
Don Shay – “Is there a soul on Earth (or above it) who wasn’t blown away by the very first shot in Gravity, a virtuoso 13-minute blend of artistry and technology, boldly conceived and exquisitely executed? Or by any of the other extended-take shots in this gripping tale of survival at its most extreme and terrifying? Alfonso Cuarón took us all into space, and without a rocket booster. James Cameron declared Gravity the best space film ever made. Well … yeah.”
Jody Duncan – “My winner is the ’embryo’ shot in Gravity. My amazement at the shot wasn’t for its dynamism or technical fireworks, but rather for its lyrical, graceful beauty.”
Joe Fordham – “The award goes to the opening shot of Gravity. I think I held my breath for 13 minutes.”
Gregg Shay – “Gravity was a truly amazing 3D IMAX experience.”
Janine Pourroy – “I’ve grown accustomed to being terrified or thrilled by VFX movies, and sometimes touched or even dazzled. But Gravity shifted my perspective like nothing else has, while also being thrilling and moving and dazzling … and also wonderfully, exquisitely quiet. It made me feel in my bones a notion too big for me to grasp in my head: my place in the vastness and loneliness of the cosmos.”
Graham Edwards – “Hard to articulate this, as my jaw is still on the floor after seeing Gravity. Actually, I reckon the Framestore-led VFX team has bagged this award under false pretences. I didn’t see any visual effects in Gravity at all. Alfonso Cuarón shot it all in space, right?”
The “What Did I Just See?” Award … goes to the invisible VFX we didn’t even spot
WINNER – RUSH
This one divided the team, with Ron Howard’s Formula 1 movie just managing to steal the chequered flag.
Don Shay – “Rush gets my vote for invisible effects. Sure, some of the racing shots are less than perfect – what do you expect when you’re doing such ballsy tricks as cloning real race cars from 30-year-old stock footage and dropping in digital replacements? But I’m willing to bet that I, and probably you, failed to notice most of the film’s effects shots, so beautifully integrated were they into the live-action racing footage.”
Graham Edwards – “The thrill of writing my first article for Cinefex – on Rush – was matched only by my astonishment when I finally got to see the movie. Having spoken at length with the guys at Double Negative, I thought I knew what I was looking for. Yet, throughout the film, my VFX radar obstinately refused to blip. On leaving the cinema, I immediately served myself a large slice of humble pie.”
In this category, Jody cast her second vote for the Gravity embryo shot, commenting, “I only realized later, after reading Joe Fordham’s article, how much work went into it – the replacing of Sandra Bullock’s leg and so on.” Joe picked World War Z. “With the zombie doubles,” he said, “some of those closeup critters completely fooled me.” And Gregg opted for Skyfall, confessing, “I thought the scorpion was real.”
Janine was particularly impressed by Captain Phillips. “This one is really an award for ‘the invisible VFX I didn’t even think about until many days later’. When I wrote about Waterworld in the mid-90s, I had the nerve-rattling privilege of visiting the location shoot in Hawaii. They had to film water for real in those days, or just about, and the tension on the set was palpable. A long, expensive set-up could be ruined by an unexpected freighter chugging slowly through the background – and Mother Nature made the vast Pacific more foe than friend to the production every single minute … of every single day. To give the water not a THOUGHT during Captain Phillips is only a footnote to my appreciation for the film. I was with Tom Hanks and the rest of ‘em in real time – and taken in by the story so completely I forgot I was watching a movie. And isn’t that just the best?”
The “Hmm, That’s New” Award … goes to the most innovative VFX
WINNER – GRAVITY
Joe Fordham – “I vote for Gravity – specifically the ‘baby’ shot. My mind slowly exploded as the filmmakers explained to me how this was put together.”
Janine Pourroy – “Gravity. Make that “WHOA! … That’s New!”
Graham Edwards – “Gravity wins hands-down. On the rare occasions I was able to detach my mind from the film’s compelling narrative drive, the thought that kept recurring to me was, ‘How the hell are they doing that?’ Now I’ve learned some of the behind-the-scenes secrets, my respect for the filmmakers has only increased.”
Gregg Shay chose Gravity too, heaping particular praise on Bot and Dolly, the innovative motion-control IRIS cameras used in the production.
Don resisted the temptation to vote for Gravity. “Since I’ve already given that one my ‘Jaw on the Floor’ award,” he conceded, “I’m going to spread the wealth a bit and go with World War Z and its startling and audacious assault on Jerusalem by hordes of zombies. Maybe that scene doesn’t represent true innovation in visual effects, but it sure passed my test for ‘Wow, that’s something I’ve never seen before.’ World War Z also gets my secondary award for ending with a taut, suspenseful, cat-and-mouse sequence, rather than a big visual effects battle. Am I the only one out there feeling battle fatigue these days?”
The “Oldie But Goodie” Award … goes to the best use of old-school visual effects
JOINT WINNERS – SKYFALL & HENRi
A split decision, with Eli Sasich’s science fiction short measuring up well against a host of big features.
Jody Duncan – “HENRi gets my vote, for the filmmaker’s attempts to use old-style rod puppetry – even though most of it was ultimately replaced with a CG character. I loved the photos in the magazine of the miniature sets with big ol’ heads peeking in to line up a rod-puppet shot.”
Janine Pourroy – “Sometimes new technology is the right tool to fuel the magic, but sometimes ‘oldie but goodie’ is the way to go, and we can see that pretty clearly with indie films like HENRi — or last year’s Beasts of the Southern Wild – both of which have earned my admiration. Even so, old-style approaches continue to find their way into big-budget blockbusters. They’re just not always obvious. And there’s a respect for these old traditions among new generations of artists that delights the heck out of me.”
Don Shay – “Every year or so, if we’re lucky, we get to cover a film whose director favors old-school techniques over workstation alchemy. Christopher Nolan took a break this year, after wrapping his Dark Knight trilogy, but, happily, Sam Mendes stepped in to exercise that aesthetic on Skyfall, using large-scale practical effects and miniatures seasoned with just enough digital artistry to get the job done. How about a round of applause for stunts and gags that obey the laws of physics?”
Gregg Shay – “Skyfall featured lots of great practical stuff.”
Joe opted for Oblivion, specifically the Skytower front projection scenes: “The shots putting clouds around Tom Cruise’s apartment in the clouds get my vote. It was pretty thrilling to see this in-camera technique used so effectively again, and to such beautiful effect.”
The “Eye Candy” Award … goes to the VFX that looked plain gorgeous
WINNER – PACIFIC RIM
Graham Edwards – “Pacific Rim has divided audiences, but I enjoyed it immensely, and I loved how it looked. Giant robots staggering out of the mist, sparkling in the neon lights of Hong Kong or wading thigh-deep through frothing ocean waters … just fabulously beautiful. Oblivion came a close second. I loved the clean, crisp look of the Skytower scenes.”
Don Shay – “Personally, I prefer brain candy or heart candy to eye candy, but I guess I’ll have to go with Pacific Rim – somewhat begrudgingly, because I thought the film was a failure by almost any standard I care to apply – 131 minutes in fruitless search of a story or character I could care about. But the effects were spectacular and the film looked great.”
Joe Fordham and Gregg Shay also chose Pacific Rim. “Hong Kong fight,” said Joe. “So pretty.”
The “Wake Me When It’s Over” Award … goes to the VFX that left us cold
WINNER – MAN OF STEEL
Don Shay – “The big question was not whether you’d believe a man could fly (no sweat, these days), but whether Superman could be resurrected as a viable franchise. For the first hour and a half, I was fully onboard with Man of Steel. Then came the battle of Smallville, followed in an eyeblink by the battle of Metropolis, and I was lost in the overlong orgy of digital destruction as Superman and General Zod slugged it out for … well, I didn’t really care at that point. Man of Steel was the year’s most flagrant example of ‘more is better’ effects-think.”
Jody Duncan – “The standout is the entire final battle sequence in Man of Steel. As always, for me, it’s not the VFX shots themselves – which were state-of-the-art and, in many cases, spectacular – but rather the context in which we see them. Whatever psychological or physiological element it is that’s required to make such a sequence elevate one’s adrenaline levels – a ‘Y’ chromosome, maybe, or a lifespan that measures fewer than 19 years – I ain’t got it.”
Joe Fordham – “Man of Steel – the visual effects were well done, but horrifyingly violent.”
Graham Edwards – “Man of Steel. I loved the Krypton sequence, and the early Clark stuff. Playing up the ‘alien on Earth’ angle worked well. But once the fighting started, and went on … and on … I’m afraid I came close to dozing off.”
The “Big Cheesy Grin” Award … goes to the VFX moment that made us feel like kids again
WINNER – SKYFALL
Janine Pourroy – “This one goes to Skyfall, for sure. I loved the perfect timing of Daniel Craig’s cuff-straightening after he lands in the train carriage during the chase sequence in Istanbul, and I really, really loved the opening credits montage (weren’t they just great?). But, truly, every time the famous James Bond music swelled to punctuate a quintessentially ‘Bond’ moment, I believe a ‘big cheesy grin’ is exactly what I had.”
Joe Fordham – “The moment in Skyfall when, after chasing a criminal through the streets of Istanbul and driving a multi-ton digger up across the back of a speeding train, James Bond hops down into the back of a passenger carriage and adjusts his cufflinks.”
Graham picked Star Trek Into Darkness. “I’m voting for the sequence near the beginning where the Enterprise rises out of the Nibiru ocean. It seems like everyone’s doing big water sims these days, but the sight of that iconic starship shedding approximately sixty gazillion cubic feet of water while powering its way up into the stratosphere was without doubt my air-punch moment of the year.”
Iron Man III was the movie that put a big smile on Gregg’s face: “I loved the big battle with all of the suits at the end.”
The “One That Got Away” Award … goes to the best VFX in a film we didn’t cover
There was no clear winner in this category … but there was still plenty of opinion.
Don Shay – “There are always worthy films that don’t get covered in Cinefex. An abundance of competing projects is most often the reason, followed closely by bad timing and/or the inability to get interviews and images when we need them. Sometimes, to be honest, no one on the writing staff wants to see certain films, let alone write about them. I’ll let you guess which category this one falls into, but the film I most regret not covering this year was The Great Gatsby, an over-the-top Baz Luhrmann extravaganza that was breathtaking in its ultra-stylized evocation of the Jazz Age. Talk about eye candy.”
Joe Fordham (who’s decided to make this the “Two That Got Away” award) – “I had lots of fun with Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead remake, much more than I expected, as it’s also probably the bloodiest film of the year. To tell the truth, I didn’t even want to see it, as I was a fan of Sam Raimi’s nutty, grubby original. But they put a clever spin on the plot, turning the familiar cabin in the woods scenario into a drug intervention, and Jane Levy was spectacular as the possessed junkie hero. Inventive and ferocious, but most definitely not for the squeamish.
“Far less gory, and overlooked, I also greatly admired All is Lost, the Robert Redford ocean survival story directed by J.C. Chandor. Some people called it the ‘anti-Gravity’ because it’s a similarly single-minded story about a lone survivor struggling against all odds, yet it was done on a comparative shoestring. I admired it for its invention and its ability to create empathy and tension in an almost-wordless story. Amazing sound design, too, by two of Skywalker Sound’s top guys, Richard Hymns and Steve Boeddeker, who signed on for the heck of it.”
And finally … The “Never Mind The VFX” Award … goes to simply the best movie of the year
WINNER – GRAVITY
Jody Duncan – “Gravity. It was innovative, moving, suspenseful, and the effects served the story, instead of the other way around.”
Graham Edwards – “I went into Gravity expecting to be wowed by the visuals. But I hadn’t expected to be so transported by the story, and by its telling. Story is everything, right? It gripped me, exhilarated me, and moved me, more than any film I’ve seen for quite a while. Oh, and even though this is the ‘Never Mind the VFX’ award, I have to add that the visual effects are possibly the best I’ve ever seen. Period.”
Joe cast a provisional vote for Gravity, commenting, “Ask me again in January. BAFTA is still shoving awards contenders down my throat. I’m looking forward to Spike Jonze’s Her, and I enjoyed the Coen Brothers’ new one Inside Llewyn Davis, but Gravity is right up there.”
Gregg voted for Skyfall, while Don opted for Captain Phillips. “I could make a strong argument for a couple of little indies hardly anyone saw,” said Don, “but if I limit myself to mainstream Hollywood fare, Captain Phillips jumps to the top of the list. I’m sure there were effects in that film, but I was so gripped by the narrative that I never thought to look for them, or remember them if they passed through my mind, subliminally. Anchored by first-rate performances from old pro Tom Hanks and first-timer Barkhad Abdi, this true story of piracy and abduction on the high seas, crackling with Paul Greengrass’ genius for taut, suspenseful, documentary-style filmmaking, makes this film my best of the year.”
That concludes the Cinefex Awards 2013. Now it’s over to you. You’re familiar with the awards categories. You’ve surely seen at least some of the movies on our list of nominees. So what gets your vote?
List of Nominees
- Oz: The Great and Powerful
- Jack the Giant Slayer
- Les Misérables
- Iron Man III
- Star Trek Into Darkness
- White House Down
- World War Z
- Pacific Rim
- Man of Steel
- Thor: The Dark World