By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist December 9, 2013 at 4:51PM
Last week, the Academy announced the longlist for their visual effects awards, from which five nominees will be picked. The list is made up of "Elysium," "The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug," "Iron Man 3," "The Lone Ranger," "Oblivion," "Pacific Rim," "Star Trek Into Darkness," "Thor" The Dark World" and "World War Z." Oh, and one more, which overshadows all of the others: "Gravity," which bar some immense shock is certain to take the prize. It's a solid front-runner in cinematography too bu does it have the rest of the technical awards—editing, sound design and sound mixing—sewn up in the same way?
Let's look at Visual Effects first. Eyebrows were raised by some omissions from the longlist—while "47 Ronin," "Rush," "Oz The Great & Powerful" and "Ender's Game" were among those left off, the real surprise was "Man Of Steel," which many had figured as a potential nominee. For the answer to why the film was left off, you have to dig into the politics of the visual effects world: when Rhythm & Hues (last year's winners for "Life Of Pi") hit financial trouble Warner pulled the film from the company, arguably hastening their bankruptcy. As such, the film likely got some blowback from that, hence its absence.
So what else could join Alfonso Cuaron's film? Given that every Middle-Earth adventure to date has earned a nomination in the category, expect "The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug" to figure in. Similarly, both "Iron Man" films, and "The Avengers," made the cut, so "Iron Man 3" is likely to take precedent over Marvel's other film, "Thor: The Dark World." Beyond that, it's harder to tell. You can probably rule out "The Lone Ranger," a surprise nominee, and one with less CG work than the others, while the creatures of "World War Z" were criticized by some, so we think it won't have a ton of support.
That leaves "Elysium," "Oblivion," "Star Trek Into Darkness" and "Pacific Rim" fighting for the final two slots. The first "Star Trek" was a nominee, but this one doesn't bring anything new to the table, beyond this year's umpteenth thing-crashes-into-city shot, so it's probably an outside bet at best. "Pacific Rim" wasn't always entirely convincing but there was more character to the work than most of the films on this list, and the gorgeous coloring and design work should tick some nerd boxes and see the film become a nominee. It'll be tight between "Elysium" and "Oblivion" for the final space, but our money's on the latter, if only for the more rigorous and attention-grabbing look of Joseph Kosinski's film.
So what about editing? Some might assume, given the number of lengthy takes, that "Gravity" might have a tougher battle, but the precision work in the pacier sequences is impeccable. Alfonso Cuaron and Mark Sanger are thus more or less locked for a nod, and probably front-runners for the win. It's a tougher battle here, though. Paul Greengrass has fared well in the category before, with "United 93" a nominee, and "The Bourne Ultimatum" a winner. As such, Christopher Rouse's work for "Captain Phillips" will certainly figure in and could even be a dark horse to win Rouse another statue. Beyond that, the category's harder to predict.
It's always worth remembering that, famously, no film has won Best Picture without an editing nomination since "Ordinary People" in 1980 (and only nine films in total), and that's likely to affect your predictions to some degree. The craft on "Rush" or on "Lone Survivor" is unquestionable, for instance (and it's worth noting that "Black Hawk Down," which has much in common with the latter, won the category a decade ago), but with neither film a serious Best Picture contender, it's possible that they'll be pushed out in favor of films with more support for the main prize.
Of those films, the sturdy work of Joe Walker on "12 Years A Slave" seems the safest, though that does depend on whether the film can keep up momentum after a few weeks in which it's taken a hit. "The Wolf Of Wall Street" may yet prove too out-there for the Academy, but Thelma Schoonmaker's been nominated for every one of Scorsese's films since the turn of millennium bar "Shutter Island," and seems like a pretty good bet here. Beyond that, "American Hustle," "Nebraska," "Inside Llewyn Davis" and "Saving Mr Banks" will all be battling for nomination—whichever ones miss out are likely to take a hit on their chances at the big prize. We'd probably give 'Hustle' the edge, with "Nebraska" not far behind, but it's still possible that the editors will go with "Rush" or "Lone Survivor" ahead of them. Were we casting a ballot, we'd be favoring the immaculately-timed cutting of "Frances Ha" by Jennifer Lame ourselves, but she's sadly unlikely to figure in.
Finally, and relatively briefly, the sound categories, which are usually a mix of blockbusters and Best Picture hopefuls. In case you've forgotten, Sound Editing is the actual design and creation of the soundscape, while Sound Mixing awards how well they've been put together in the final track. But still, there usually is a fair amount of overlap, though not In both cases, "Gravity" is again the front-runner, and rightly so, given the importance of sound to the final film.
In general, there's a fair amount of overlap in the category, although they rarely match up exactly. Given the strength of the work there, expect "All Is Lost" to figure in both, and maybe even be a dark horse for the win, while "Captain Phillips" is sure to figure in both. "Lone Survivor" and "Rush" will both be serious contenders here, as well, with "Man Of Steel," "Iron Man 3," Star Trek Into Darkness," "The Hobbit" and "Pacific Rim" very viable in Editing too. Meanwhile, musicals have a certain head start in Mixing, so look for a potential nomination for "Inside Llewyn Davis," with any luck.
Full predictions in all categories on the next page, along with this week's Best Picture Chart, taking the temperature of the race after the first run of precursors awards.