As long as there’s a Transformers film franchise, there’s a good chance Oscar nominations for special effects are going to be thrown at it like alien shrapnel. And since Michael Bay shows no signs of abandoning his clinking, clanking cash cow, expect this year’s nod for Transformers: Dark of the Moon to be the second of many (2009’s brain-melting Revenge of the Fallen was graciously snubbed in this category). But don’t expect it to be the one that tops the 2011 field, for while the Hasbro superbots demand attention on screen, the whole cacophonous series is considerably lacking in prestige, and odds are your average Academy member isn’t about to hand it his or her vote.
The other f/x contenders all have better shots at being rewarded, even Real Steel, a surprisingly heartwarming father-son rouser that plays like the benevolent B-side to all that angry Transformers mayhem (though, in fairness, the film probably owes its very existence to Jerry Bruckheimer). If we’re moving forward in order of likelihood, next in line would be Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, which deserves to be here for that spectacular Ministry of Magic dragon escape alone (the movie, a certain rarity of its genre, actually gives you multiple moments to pause and marvel at its splendor, rather than just let it breeze over you like most else on your modern CGI menu).
If Hugo manages to parlay its 11-nomination haul into a mini-sweep of technical wins, it could see its buffet of automatons, derailed trains, and airborne book pages sail away victorious. But things look better for Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a critical and box-office hit that made Hollywood feel good about its glut of sequels, threequels, and prequels. A step, if not leap, forward in motion-capture wizardry, the movie sure does offer a wealth of lifelike primates, and it’s home to a handful of supremely well-directed set pieces. If nothing else, a vote for effects will make some feel better about Andy Serkis’s lack of a nomination for his mo-cap performance, a milestone scenario that still seems way off in the future, like, when Transformers hits its 20th installment.
Will Win: Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Could Win: Hugo
Should Win: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2