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Oscar 2020 Winner Predictions: Visual Effects

The tea leaves are reading that it will be another win for middlebrow respectability.

1917
Photo: Universal Pictures

Typically, it’s the short film categories that are most likely to trip up Oscar pool participants hoping to run the table, and not just among those who haven’t bothered to watch the nominees. A check on our own record reveals a number of years in which we failed to correctly guess at least one of them. It’s far more rare for the visual effects category to be one of any given year’s toughest calls. A quick glance at recent category history shows that Oscar voters clearly prefer what the industry refers to as “supporting” effects in a respectable movie for adults, like Life of Pi, Inception, and last year’s winner, First Man. Heck, voters are so counterintuitively serious-minded about this category that they eschewed the rollickingly impolite Mad Max: Fury Road—a juggernaut in the technical races back in 2015—instead opting for the not-just-comparatively minimalist Ex Machina.

Unfortunately, this year’s slate is almost ominously balanced between highbrow supporting effects, photorealistic animated animals in a kiddie epic, and template-oriented maximalism in support of action franchises. The result is the only slate where a bet on any given nominee would pay out more than double your investment, according to the latest Vegas oddsmakers. Still, the Visual Effects Society just handed the better chunk of their honors to The Lion King. It’s tempting to take stock of that, to consider The Jungle Book’s win three years ago, and to admit that the Disney remake is largely in a lane of its own here, and then take that as our cue to “hakuna matata” our way out of any further deliberation.

And yet, we’re not troubled by the VES awards’ preference for The Irishman over 1917 in their “serious movies” category. For one, the effects industry’s own affinity for character-oriented work is well-documented. Out in the wild, the uncanny valley of Scorsese’s age-reversing trickery has been as widely ridiculed as it has been embraced, especially that moment when Robert De Niro’s hitman roughs someone up in flashback, bearing a waxy youthful face but a very much seventysomething body. Given 1917’s 11th-hour surge, its Gravity-ish use of effects to blur cinematography, editing, and postproduction, and the fact that its grandest fabricated images never get in the way of the story, cue another win for middlebrow respectability.

Will Win: 1917

Could Win: The Lion King

Should Win: 1917

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