The Best Visual Effects Oscar has flourished over the past decade, growing into a full-fledged category with five nominees. Prior to that, the category would generally be three nominees. Given the industry’s increasing reliance on visual effects, it is a surprise that it took until 2010 to expand the category to a guaranteed five nominees per year.
2020 is a prime example of this reliance. The category is not reserved for the blockbuster films that are, more and more, composed of VFX. This year, the dramas The Irishman and 1917 use extensive VFX, and the films would be very different without those effects. Then, of course, there’s The Lion King…not all visual effects are a good choice.
- Avengers: Endgame
- The Irishman
- The Lion King
- Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Will Win: Avengers: Endgame
Could Win: 1917
Dark Horse: The Irishman
This is an interesting category, in that each film is using visual effects in different ways. Sometimes, when this category is stuffed with sci-fi action films, the sameness makes it hard to determine which one is the frontrunner. In this case, I am still going with the sci-fi action film, but that is because the majority of Avengers: Endgame uses CGI effects (so does The Lion King, but that film’s effects were received very negatively).
The Irishman de-aging effects are very present in that film, which could give it some momentum. But I think the end result of those effects are mixed, compared to Avengers: Endgame which uses hundreds of minor aging effects. At a visual effects panel this past Summer, it was revealed that 2,496 of the film’s 2,698 shots involved VFX in some capacity. That’s an insane number, and even if the Academy isn’t aware of it they nevertheless know the immense amount of work that went into that film’s effects.
In the unlikely event that the Academy skews to a less-is-more mindset, they will side with 1917, which uses VFX to hide edits in the pursuit of a one-take effect. I don’t personally think these effects are seamless—the waterfall, in particular, is a moment where the VFX is particularly evident. But 1917 is already a pretty big player at this year’s Oscars, so perhaps those seams will be ignored.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is the black sheep in the category. This is not because it has bad effects, per se, but because it is the 10th Star Wars movie to get a nomination in this category. The only film in the franchise that failed to earn a Visual Effects nod was Revenge of the Sith. Also, a Star Wars film has not won in this category since the original trilogy. The Star Wars thing is old hat at this point, and the Academy doesn’t feel the need to reward it any more than it already has done in the past.
On the flip side, a Marvel Cinematic Universe film has never won the award. Given the narrative culmination present in Endgame, as well as the escalation of its visual scope and its massive financial success, the Academy is much more likely to give Marvel Studios credit where credit is due.
I guess you could look at this from a different perspective, where Endgame is less likely to win given that a superhero film hasn’t won Best Visual Effects since Spider-Man 2 in 2004. You could say that the Academy has a bias against comic book movies, but I think the three Oscar wins for Black Panther last year and the 11 nominations for Joker this year show that that bias might be falling away.
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)