Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

Oscars 2012: Best Visual Effects

Note: This is my personal ranking, listed in order from best to worst, with #1 being my favorite. Prediction for the actual winner is in orange.

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

1. HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2

2. RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

3. HUGO

4. TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON

5. REAL STEEL

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is the clear winner that won’t actually win: consider the computer-generated Hogwarts that took 18 months to design, an operatic battle between Voldemort and Harry & co. and that adrenaline-fueld dragon-led escape form the Ministry of Magic. This franchise consistently set the bar for visual effects and then, helmed by Oscar-winner Tim Burke (Gladiator), surpassed that, with the kind of visual splendor that you pause to marvel at because it’s just so beautifully and — believe it not — subtly achieved. If the Academy decides it wants to show the franchise some love, this is where it will happen. But I doubt it.

On the other end of the spectrum is Transformers: Dark of the Moon, which appears to giddily and rather shamelessly shout, “look at me! look at me!” through its intentionally flashy effects (so many robots battling, so many robots crushing and spiraling through buildings at breakneck speeds).  The problem with this cash cow is that it never wants you to forget it’s doing cool things, which kind of takes away from the awesomeness of the cool things it’s doing.

You’d think Transformers would be enough of a robot orgy for the Academy for one year, but apparently not: Real Steel would like to present for your consideration, the ‘Bot Battle with Heart — the kind that relies more on the aw-shucks factor of the father-son story than the super-shiny gadgetry. Unfortunately, robots with emotions have no shot against robots with Michael Bay’s money, no matter how nifty the motion capture techniques utilized by robot-expert Erik Nash (who also did the effects for I, Robot).

That leaves us with really only two contenders: the film with the most nominations this year and the film with just this one. While Academy favorite Hugo could be the spoiler due to its seamless integration of effects into the overall story, next to Real Steel, it’s the least obvious candidate, lacking the wow factor of the other nominees. The Rise of the Planet of the Apes, on the other hand, balances the flashy with the subtle with its motion capture mastery of lifelike primates. And without a nomination for the green-screen king himself, a vote for Apes here is as close as the Academy can get in acknowledging the extraordinary, and snubbed, Andy Serkis.

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