Like Avatar before it, Life of Pi is the kind of Oscar-y prestige pic that also stands as a benchmark for the medium—a whopping widescreen spectacle displaying the latest in CG, 3D, and OMG imagery. Say what you will about David Magee’s boilerplate script, which fumbles religious themes and offers very rusty bookends, but the vast second act of Ang Lee’s boy-and-his-tiger tale is pure cinema on a grand scale, bringing myriad wonders of ones and zeroes to his stranded protagonist. Just as its sheer scope conveys the humbling hugeness of life, the sea provides Lee and his F/X wizards with a great canvas on which to work, leaving ample room for neon-hued whales, flying fish, and a carnivorous island crawling with meerkats. What’s more, all of that comes after the film’s gargantuan inciting incident—the most awesome ship-foundering since James Cameron sunk the Titanic. In short, Life of Pi is, with next to no doubt, your victor in this category, unless some scandal emerges about, say, animal cruelty, toward the scant few animals that weren’t uncannily crafted by digital artists.
Of the competitors who stand a fighting chance against the frontrunner, you can count out Prometheus and Snow White and the Huntsman, both of which have nifty merits that warranted nominations, but not enough to pose realistic threats. Visually, the former proved a fine, semi-return to form for Ridley Scott, and featured an alien-abortion scene for the creep-out history books, but beyond other drawbacks (like those less-than-wow-worthy humanoids), there’s a chance that not enough voters saw (or liked) the film. As for the latter, which unleashed a wicked army composed of black shards, and saw the queen’s liquid mirror get its T-1000 on, all involved should just be pleased for their invites to the party.
Which leaves the orgiastic superhero mash-up The Avengers and Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. A box-office behemoth, Joss Whedon’s handling of Marvel’s franchise intersection has popularity to burn, making it a likely must-see for voters even outside their ballot duties. The Hobbit, meanwhile, surely piqued curiosity, and enchanted many just as Frodo’s journey did 10 years back. But for all of The Avengers’s climactic virtuosity, and Jackson and company’s enduring ability to transport, the Life of Pi team will still be sailing to the podium.
Will win: Life of Pi
Could win: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Should win: Life of Pi