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Oscars: Will 'Life Of Pi' Sail Away With The Visual Effects Award?

by Oliver Lyttelton
November 20, 2012 1:59 PM
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Life Of Pi

It's taken Yann Martel's best-selling novel "Life Of Pi" close to a decade to come to the screen. Directors including Jean-Pierre Jeunet, M. Night Shyamalan and Alfonso Cuaron all flirted with the project, but for various reasons, elected not to shoot it. And it's fair enough, really, because it's difficult material, driven by a single character, mostly set in a single location at sea, and crucially, with the second lead is a wordless, enormous Bengal tiger.

Even with the technology of the early 2000s, it seemed almost impossible to make it happen, but thanks to the evolution in CGI in the last few years -- and the advent of 3D -- the film is finally hitting screens tomorrow (read our review here), with the great Ang Lee directing. The film is generally expected to be a big Oscar player, with Picture, Director and technical nods likely to happen, but perhaps its strongest chance at a victory comes in the visual effects category, thanks not just to that tiger named Richard Parker, but a host of other CGI animals, and plenty of other effects besides. As such, it seemed appropriate to focus our category microscope this week on the Best Visual Effects contenders as well as its closest cousin, Best Make Up & Hair Styling (which 'Pi' is unlikely to be contesting).

The Hobbit, Martin Freeman

In terms of effects, there's no doubt that 'Pi' is the front-runner. In a year without the obvious innovations of an "Avatar" or "Inception," 'Pi' has the most immediately impressive stuff going on, thanks to its expressive, near-photorealistic animals. It might not be pushing the craft forward especially, but it's grabbier than some of its tentpole competition. Most crucially, it's also all but certain to be a Best Picture contender. Since visual effects got their own category, a Best Picture nominee, when up for an effects awards, has always won, even when up against more traditionally effects-driven films. Take last year, for instance, when the less showy effects of "Hugo" triumphed over "Rise of the Planet of the Apes."

So one could surmise that the only film that could beat it would be another Best Picture nominee, and there are a couple that should be competitive in the category. The "Lord of the Rings" trilogy won all three of the effects awards it was nominated for, and while its innovations with huge battle scenes and performance capture aren't going to be quite as novel with the first part of "The Hobbit: An Expected Journey", it's still certain to be a nominee. It's definitely the biggest challenger facing 'Pi,' but will certainly stand a better chance at upsetting it if it nabs a Best Picture nomination (something that we're far from sure of at this point in time).

The Impossible Naomi Watts Tom Holland Ocean

The other awards-chasing film in this particular race is "The Impossible," and given that Clint Eastwood's "Hereafter" managed a nod a few years back for its similar scenes of tsunami destruction, we'd expect the film to contend. Even if it does sneak into the Best Picture field, it probably won't challenge for the win, and as an independent, mostly Spanish-backed project, could end up being a surprise omission from the bake-off shortlist, but we think its chances are pretty good. Also a possibility is "Flight," thanks to its impressive plane-crash sequence, but it's a longer-shot; films reliant on a single sequence, "Hereafter" aside, are less common as nominees, though it could end up making it in. Probably better placed is "Cloud Atlas," but again, it's far from a sure thing.

Otherwise, we're looking at blockbuster fare. Sometimes Best Visual Effects can be confused with "most visual effects" in this category, but there needs to be a veneer of quality of sort, so films like "Battleship," "The Amazing Spider-Man" and "Snow White & The Huntsman" can probably be counted out, while "The Hunger Games" isn't quite effects-driven enough to make it in. Despite underperfoming, "John Carter" shouldn't be excluded from the possibilities; it arguably had some of the most impressive effects of the year, and Andrew Stanton's animation heritage will carry it a certain way. A dark horse, perhaps, but one to keep an eye on.

The Avengers The Hulk Jet

Though "Inception" won two years ago, with its mix of highly publicized practical effects, few nominees since the advent of computer effects have made it through on that (a nomination for "Cliffhanger," in 1994, being one of the last, by our count). So it will be interesting to see how "The Dark Knight Rises," which takes a similar approach, factors into this race. That leaves two other big summer movies, "The Avengers" and "Prometheus." Effects were crucial in both, but neither feel like absolute home-runs either; "The Avengers" had some slightly patchy moments, while "Prometheus" was darker and dingier. Still, we suspect both will make the cut when it comes down to it. So, our five predictions for now:

"The Avengers"
"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"
"The Impossible"
"Life Of Pi"

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  • boobytrap | November 27, 2012 4:00 PMReply

    Blech! "My, look what they can do with computers, these days."

  • Ally | November 24, 2012 5:34 AMReply

    Life of Pi deserves to be considered in all categories, including the acting department, most of time Suraj Sharma was acting opposite nothing, and Pi's transformation from a youth to a man fighting to survive is not just knee-jerk reactions; an actor must have fully understanded the material he's given and inhabited the role to have such wisdom gradually showing in his eyes, and of course, this film will will definitely sweep the effects awards; there's a tremendous amount of love and respect from the filmmaker and everyone involving in the making of the movie, and the audience can feel that in every wave of the monstrous ocean and every hair of the CG-tiger Richard Parker.

  • Yessir | November 22, 2012 2:27 AMReply

    Life of Pi will defintiely sweep the viz effects awards, no question.

  • Dryer | November 21, 2012 3:35 PMReply

    You know why Pi deserves Visual effects Oscar ? The scene involving the flying carp (?) , it's simply astounding in 3D ! To describe further would take away from the experience, but I would pay to see again just for that scene on a big screen.

  • Life of pi | November 21, 2012 8:51 AMReply

    yes, life of pi is gonna be big

  • Kyle | November 21, 2012 12:35 AMReply

    So I can only assume that Life of Pi actually looks good on the big screen because the CGI animals look terrible in the trailers. Of the things I've seen Prometheus is easily my number 1.

  • Josh Slater-Williams | November 20, 2012 2:11 PMReply

    Considering its potential nominations elsewhere, I'm curious as to whether 'Rust and Bone' might also manage to score an effects nod.

  • Driver | November 20, 2012 2:15 PM

    Exactly! Probably one of the most suble effects of the last year. Overlooked by most, but Marion Cotillard does have two legs.

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