Sunday, January 20, 2013

2012 Oscars: Visual Effects

Over the next several weeks, I'll be going through each Academy Award category giving my personal rankings of the nominees. I'll give my thoughts on which films/performances didn't deserve to be nominated, and which should have been in their place. I'll start with the techs, move to artistics, then the major categories. I'm holding off on shorts, foreign, and docs since they're harder for me to get a hold of, and as often as possible I only want to address categories when I've seen all the nominees.

(Heads up, the most vs. best comparison comes up frequently in end-of-year awards discussions. Most cuts doesn't mean best editing, fanciest shots doesn't mean best cinematography, most beads and boldest colors doesn't mean best costumes, etc., etc.)

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Life of Pi
Marvel's The Avengers
Snow White and the Hunstman

5. Snow White and the Hunstman

This movie really did look pretty great and the effects were effective enough, but something about shards of black glass and ravens flying around just seems kind of "been there, done that." Not to mention the celebrity actor faces on dwarf bodies was a bit peculiar-looking.

4. Marvel's The Avengers

I warned you: most effects doesn't mean best effects. There are great effects in all the Marvel films, but by the end of The Avengers I just lost any sense of reality when the flying slug things were floating up and down the streets. It was CGI overload. I know these films aren't trying to bring a gritty true life feel to comics the way Nolan tried with Batman, but there was something unintentionally cartoonish about The Avengers and I don't think it was intended the way I took it.

See what I mean?

3. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Again, most doesn't equal best, but The Hobbit felt real the entire time. I believed I was looking at Middle Earth the whole time - even in 48 fps - and with the excellent 3D cinematography, at times I believed I was in Middle Earth. The fighting rock formations in the rainstorm was one of the most simultaneously terrifying and majestic scenes of the year. That alone deserves recognition, but the whole film was visually stunning. The main missteps would be the CGI goblins in the Misty Mountains. I thought the taller, more humanoid orcs of Moria had a stronger, realer presence. Peter Jackson wanted a lighter feel for these films, and that works, but for me the Misty Mountain goblins stepped a toe over the line from light to silly.

2. Prometheus

Lots of people hated this movie, and plenty of people loved it. It basically depends on how much you choose to focus on the plot holes. I would also argue that since it's a film about human origins and cosmogony and religion, how much one likes the film is dependent on one's interests in that subject matter. But no one complained about the way the movie looked. The production design and especially the realization of that design by the FX team is near flawless.  Again, at times I felt like I was looking at real, tangible sets and creatures and sand storms, etc.

1. Life of Pi

Life of Pi, though, managed to find a brilliant balance between that real, tangible sort of effect (those flying fish look like they're hitting you in the face) and the fun, more colorful sort of effects like in Avengers (the gorgeous "Tiger Vision" scene).  Then consider the backgrounds and seascapes, the shipwreck, the "God Storm," and it becomes clear this movie had the best visual effects of the year. And all of that goes without mentioning Richard Parker, who this year trumps even Gollum as the best animated creature on the screen. That tiger was a thing of terrifying beauty and subtle character which all by itself earns this award. Just watch the trailer below for proof. The most visually stunning film of the year.

Will win: Life of Pi
Should win: Life of Pi
Should have been nominated: Cloud Atlas, instead of Snow White and the Huntsman

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