Both the Oscars and BAFTA nominees list this year are the same five films competing to be crowned ‘Best Visual Effects’.
Four of the films I have seen in full and so feel able to comment on them, although I feel like this may ultimately be a consideration of the runners-up. It’s an interesting race between films that have effects but you’ll be hard-pushed to work out where, and a film that’s entirely visual effects to the point that it should be considered an animated film. So, I’ll briefly go through the four I’ve seen, give my brief thoughts on each.
While I haven’t seen ‘The Irishman’, I have seen many clips and know exactly why it’s nominated for this award. The ‘digital de-aging’ process that enabled the actors to play their roles at different ages is something we’ve been seeing in a films for the past few years, though it’s the extent to which it’s used to key effect in this film that has put it far above the same effect being achieved for example with Samuel L. Jackson in ‘Captain Marvel’.
‘1917’ – Of the four I’ve seen this is freshest in my mind as I saw it at the cinema just yesterday, less than 24 hours ago. I intend to write a slightly longer review later, but suffice to say it’s a very well made film. In the context of this discussion about its visual effects work, they are seamless. I couldn’t with complete confidence in my mind pick out many examples of obvious effects work, though I’m sure the landscapes, dogfights, explosions and rats all benefitted from the work of the effects team. They’ll have augmented the locations and added small elements throughout, which all add the convincing depiction of war.
‘Avengers: Endgame’ – All MCU films have featured some incredible visual effects, that they almost always appear on this list each year. We’ve grown accustomed to seeing superpowers and fantastical worlds and planets, and as some characters are recurring along with their trademark and signature powers rendered through visual effect artistry, they’re becoming commonplace and familiar, thus taken largely for granted. I don’t think this is going to win, but it makes a lot of sense that it’s nominated and it definitely deserves to be.
‘The Lion King’ (2019) – As all but one shot of this film is computer-generated, it’s more than just a film featuring visual effects, it’s truly an animated film and should be thought of in those terms to a large degree. As such, the extent of the ‘special visual effects’ are profound for this, the film from start to end is an entire showcase of astounding visual effects. However, as just noted, that will likely go against it in this race as voters won’t see it as 118 minutes of brilliant visual effects, mentally putting it in a different category altogether and thus not considering it the best for this award. The other thing going against its chances are the film itself. I’m not entirely sure I’m even going to bother writing a full review of this as it’s so unimpressive in every way other than visually. If you’ve seen the hand-drawn animated classic, you’ve got the measure of this film, it does almost nothing to add to the story and in some ways detracts from it, becoming little more than an exercise in digital animation and studio profiteering.
‘Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker’ – I always feel I must preface any thoughts on a Star Wars film by stating that I came very late to this party and while I generally enjoy them, I’m not a huge Star Wars fan and so don’t think about the wider saga issues or expanded universe implications of the films. I will say this was, without doubt, the weakest of the three episodes, the other two of which I enjoyed a lot more, ‘The Force Awakens’ particularly so. Lightsabres aren’t anything special anymore, but there are amazing space battles with planets, ships and creatures that always look spectacular, for which these films earn their inclusion in this list.
I’m not sure my head is fully in predicting-mode yet, so I can’t say what I’d pick if I had to, I think they all make a good case to win some lovely little sculptures. For the Academy Award, if pushed to guess, I think I’d lean towards ‘The Irishman’ from all that I’ve heard about how the de-ageing works so well it hasn’t detracted from the story, an accomplishment in itself. One that’s worthy of both a BAFTA and an Oscar? I doubt it. I think these awards will go to two different films. My hunch is that BAFTA will pick ‘1917’. Though I’d love to see the Avengers swoop in and take them as a nod to the whole three phases of the Infinity Saga worth of beautiful VFX work.