Hollywood studios always hope to attain one of the many tiny gold naked man statues handed out on Oscar night and even films that that are foremost exercises in style over substance stand a chance of doing just that. The 2011 Oscar nominations won't be announced until January 25th, but the Academy has narrowed down its list of potential candidates to win the prize for eye-dazzling visual F/X.
Seven movies - Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, Hereafter, Inception, Iron Man 2, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, and TRON: Legacy - are still in the running to snag a nod for their effects work. Regardless of which ones are eventually nominated and/or win, it begs the question - which film released in 2010 actually boasted the best practical and digital effects?
While the Oscars are far from being the ultimate means to determine what movie in a particular year was the best acted/written/directed/etc., cinemaphiles can't help but enjoy it when a film they loved or admired gets recognized. Technical qualities like sound editing or mixing are primarily of interest to actual filmmakers, who can really appreciate the effort that goes into those processes - seeing as that film is primarily a visual medium, pretty much everyone walks out of a movie with an opinion about the caliber of the visual F/X.
Projects likes Avatar or last year's TRON: Legacy certainly deserve to be recognized for pushing the boundaries of 3D visuals and the use of motion-capture technology to bring unusual characters to life. But F/X are (or rather should be) meant to serve a film's narrative and ought not to so much call attention to themselves but instead enhance the viewing experience for an audience. That's arguably why Hereafter is still up to be nominated this year, as the computer imagery used to produce flashes of the afterlife or to recreate the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and resulting tsunami (see below) aren't excessively flashy and don't draw attention away from the rest of the movie.
The texture and color of CGI helps to create the illusion that computer-animated characters, vehicles, and background are in fact "real." Each subsequent Harry Potter film has managed to integrate digital objects and creatures with live-action settings and people with increasing success, but the fantastical inhabitants of Underland in Alice in Wonderland (don't bother trying to understand that statement) and the metallic suits and technological equipment on display in Iron Man 2 came as close to looking "real" as any bit of CGI has before.
In terms of mixing slick animated visuals with practical F/X involving wirework and flesh-and-blood actors performing stunts, the action sequences in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and Inception really take the cake. Scott Pilgrim intentionally aimed for a non-realistic but highly stylized aesthetic through its use of sound effect graphics and video game-inspired fight scenes, while Inception combined CGI visuals like that of an entire city folding over itself with events like the topsy-turvey hotel hallway fight so seamlessly that it becomes nearly impossible to tell what is real and what is not - which is all the more appropriate, given the plot of Christopher Nolan's film.
TRON: Legacy and Scott Pilgrim both feature loads of impressive eye candy and colorful F/X, but Inception seems all but guaranteed to walk away with the Best Visual Effects Oscar on February 27th - and not only because it's the most critically-acclaimed movie on the Academy's shortlist. An expected choice that may be, but far from a controversial one.
What movie released in 2010 do you think truly had the best visual F/X?
Source: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences