Oscars 2019: Best Visual Effects Longlist

They announced the Visual Effects longlist today. I originally left this article blank to write up in the morning so I could continue working on what I was doing today, but of course the idea of rambling for 3,000 words about the Oscars is just too good to pass up, so you’re getting this article tonight.

The shortlist, as per usual, is 20 films, which will eventually become 10 in a few weeks and then we’ll eventually get a category of 5. I always love this particular longlist because you always get some of the weirdest choices on it. It’s always interesting to see what does and doesn’t make the cut (since I imagine more than 20 films are submitted for the category and the phrase ‘longlist’ implies some initial vetting). I don’t know how they figure it out, but I guess it doesn’t really matter. The list is the list. We’ve got 20 and today I’m gonna go through all 20 and then figure out what 10 will likely be shortlisted and probably have a good idea what the final category’s going to be.

So here are the 20 films up for Best Visual Effects this year:

Ad Astra
The Aeronauts
Aladdin
Alita: Battle Angel
Avengers: Endgame
Captain Marvel
Cats
Dumbo
Ford v Ferrari
Gemini Man
Hobbs & Shaw
The Irishman
Jumanji: The Next Level
The Lion King
Men in Black: International
Midway
1917
Spider-Man: Far from Home
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Terminator: Dark Fate

Wow. That’s… a surprising amount of actual quality films on there. Normally I expect complete and utter CGI crap fests to populate the majority of the list. But honestly, I’m mostly okay with this. Good on them. Though I guess this year in particular had less of the crap fests than most years. Either that or we’re becoming more discerning about bad CGI.

Anyway, let’s run through this as efficiently as possible.

We’ll start with Marvel, who has (per usual) three films on this list: Avengers, Captain Marvel and Spider-Man. Avengers will be nominated in this category, so it really comes down to which of the other two, if either, gets shortlisted alongside it. Marvel’s managed a nomination every year in which it’s had an eligible film (save 2015, which had an insanely strong category with three Best Picture nominees (Mad Max, The Revenant and The Martian), Star Wars and Ex Machina).

Going back over the last couple of shortlists… they tend to get most, if not all of their films onto the second round. Last year they had all three of their films (Black Panther, Infinity War and Ant-Man and the Wasp) go from longlist to shortlist. 2017, they only got Guardians 2 on (with the first Spider-Man and Ragnarok missing the cut). 2016, Strange and Civil War got on. 2015, Ant-Man and Ultron got on.

We know Endgame is on and almost for sure nominated. So that’s 1. They left the first Spider-Man off, but this one’s bigger. So I don’t know where that one stands. Captain Marvel is one where… kinda small, so maybe it doesn’t need to get on. But Marvel usually gets on. So I guess we’ll look through everything else and see where we are in the end. But just know that you should expect two Marvel films and then judge from there.

Disney, meanwhile, also has three films on this longlist: Aladdin, Dumbo and Lion King. Dumbo is here because it’s Tim Burton (and Disney as well). And Aladdin makes total sense. I expect Lion King to be shortlisted and probably nominated. Doubt we see either of the other two on the shortlist, especially given the ‘big’ stuff that’s here.

Okay, what’s next…

Ad Astra — love it. Love that it’s here. Lot of effects that become part of the film. I’d for sure shortlist this, and I think they will too. It won’t be nominated, and they could leave it off for some CGI abomination, but I think they’ll like how Gray made space something commonplace and didn’t try to go too nuts with it. Plus that opening free fall sequence alone should be good enough for a shortlist.

The Aeronauts — I was pretty stunned by this one. I was absolutely thrilled while watching this and loved the sense of excitement and danger it gave me. Does that mean it’ll be shortlisted? Not at all. In fact, I’m not sure what ‘effects’ they’re nominating. I mean, sure, there’s definitely effects because clearly they didn’t go up in a giant balloon to shoot all this. But I’m not sure what exactly they’re nominating from this. I’ll have to watch a featurette. My gut says this is one where I’d normally say ‘not a chance’ but that it actually does stand a chance. So right now I’m thinking I’ll keep it in that conversation but feel as though it’s unlikely. It’ll be in my top 13 or so for the shortlist. I think it’s not automatically out.

Alita — Probably not gonna make a shortlist, but that’s only because of the amount of stuff that’s up for it this year. I’m not totally ruling it out just because it’s James Cameron’s team and all that, but I think we know it’ll never get nominated, so really it’s just reverse engineering from there. I’m keeping it in that Aeronauts category for now though.

Cats — I think this is easily shortlisted. Not nominated per se, but shortlisted. Why wouldn’t you think it would be left off? I mean it could, but just because we found it creepy in the trailers doesn’t mean it’s not employing some effects that will appeal to the people who make effects. I’m for sure expecting them to shortlist this one.

Ford v. Ferrari — car effects. This could go either way. I don’t think it’s nominated, but if it’s gonna make a big Best Picture play, they’ll probably shortlist it on the fact that they love it. So I’m keeping it around my shortlisting area, but I’m not sure if it’ll actually happen.

Gemini Man — This is a litmus test. We’ve got two big cases for the furthering of visual effects here. This one creates an entirely digital version of Will Smith that is a co-character in the film. They won’t nominate it, but they could shortlist it.

Hobbs & Shaw — I don’t think any Fast and Furious movie has ever been shortlisted, so just toss this one right aside. You know it’ll never happen.

The Irishman — Put it this way, if this isn’t shortlisted, then there’s an agenda at play. At the very least this will make the shortlist. Will they nominate it? That’s a conversation at the next step. (And then the next conversation after that is, will they vote for it?) I don’t see how you don’t assume this is automatically shortlisted. The agenda factors in further on down the line. This one is easy here, though.

Jumanji — They didn’t shortlist the first one, and I can’t imagine they’ll suddenly go for this one, since it looks like more of the same. So this should be an easy castoff.

Men in Black — None of the other films have ever been nominated here, and the movie tanked. This is the exact kind of movie that you cast off here and let them shortlist and surprise you. But trust me, they’re not gonna do that.

Midway — A HA HA HA HA HA HA HA. This is a Roland Emmerich film, so I’m not surprised. Still though… my god. No. This won’t get shortlisted. I hope you understand that intrinsically.

1917 — war film. Dunkirk got shortlisted (but not nominated). Sight unseen, I can’t tell you whether it’ll get on, but I have to assume shortlist for now until otherwise.

Star Wars — literally every Star Wars film ever (save one, I think. Revenge of the Sith, I think it was) has been nominated. Don’t be stupid. You know it’s getting on. This category is gonna be so easy to guess. At this point the hard part is figuring out the shortlist, not the category.

Terminator — Again, a James Cameron team (I assume, since he was heavily involved). Effects didn’t necessarily blow me away, so this isn’t at all competing for a vote. But it should be hanging around for a shortlisting. I wouldn’t put that past it. Genisys wasn’t shortlisted, but that wasn’t good. This one… tough call. Tim Miller is an effects guy, so we’ll see if that holds any sway. Best guess is no, but I’ve been wrong before (lots of times).

– – – – – –

So, I’m just gonna do it this way. I’m gonna rank all 20 films in the order I think they have a chance at making a shortlist. And then I’ll figure out my shortlist guesses from there (which I’ll tell you right now, probably won’t completely coincide with whatever this list is about to say):

20. Midway — It’s just not going to happen. This is the only film on the list where the effects look straight up cheesy. Not cheap per se, but cheesy. They won’t got for this.

19. Hobbs & Shaw — None of the ‘Fast’ movies have ever even made a shortlist, and they’re barely a presence on the longlists. It’s not happening, folks.

18. Men in Black International — Box office bomb, plus bad reviews, plus franchise that has never been nominated is never a good sign. Plus does anyone even remember the effects here? Easy cast-off.

17. Jumanji: The Next Level — Another one. They didn’t nominate (or even shortlist) the first one, the effects are just fine and no one really remembers them. They’re just kind of there. You know they won’t go here

16. Dumbo — There are six films between Disney and Marvel. They’re not all gonna make it. Maybe you could make the case for this getting on over Aladdin, but I just feel like… actually, wait. Have any of the Disney live action remakes, save Favreau’s Jungle Book, actually made it to a shortlist? Beauty and the Beast didn’t. Maleficent. Maleficent made it on. Okay, so there’s some precedent. But does anyone see it really happening? You could make a case for any one of the ones I have from here on out to both get on and not get on, but I don’t see more than one Disney movie making a shortlist in a year like this. And if more than one does, it’s at the expense of Marvel. So I’m calling this one the most obvious cast off of the group.

15. Alita: Battle Angel — It’s FX heavy and I feel like it can make a shortlist. But it also came out early, no one really liked it, and it lost a bunch of money. I know that part shouldn’t matter here, but when you look at what actually gets nominated in the category, they’re all either established franchises, big hits or they’re obviously films with amazing visual effects. Or Best Picture contenders, which usually involves at lest one of the three things I already mentioned. Unless the guild goes crazy for this, I’m thinking it’s unlikely, albeit possible.

14. Aladdin — I just can’t see them going here. What’s so special about it? The genie? The tiger? Ehh. Even in a weaker year I wouldn’t expect them to see them bother with something like this. Honestly the only reason I rank it above Dumbo is because it was more of a hit film with better reviews. I don’t really see either making it. One could, but not both. I think with Disney, it’s Lion King and nothing else.

13. The Aeronauts — This could easily make it on the shortlist. And honestly, if it does, then it makes it easier to guess the category. If you’re guessing nominees like I am, something like this is what you want to see make it on. But in terms of likelihood… I don’t know. They’re in a balloon for most of it. So I feel like a lot of the work is all background and things like that. So I don’t totally see it, though supporting effects made to look practical are always something they like. So I’m not ruling it out, but I feel like it’s more of an alternate/fringe contender than an actual lock to be on.

12. Terminator: Dark Fate — I expected this to be a few spots lower, and honestly in my mind, I’d put Aeronauts here and this one spot lower. But whatever. It’s all the same. This one… the effects didn’t really wow me. The film was fun, but the plane crash looked digital and all the Terminator stuff I’ve mostly seen before. Plus the reviews were mostly positive but not amazing and the film opened soft. It doesn’t add up to something they’re gonna go for, especially given that none of the non-Cameron sequels have ever made it on the final nominees list. It feels like a red herring. Maybe, but I don’t know.

11. Gemini Man — Tough call. I’d have felt better about this one’s potential for a shortlist if The Irishman weren’t here. Though they’re separate things. Irishman is de-aging. This one literally… well, to quote the film, “Made a person out of another person.” The young Will Smith is entirely digital. Plus, it’s just him and not much else in the film. Plus a lot of people dind’t like the effects. I feel like, while it probably should be shortlisted for the way it furthers filmmaking, but the biases against it might be too much. So I’ll keep it here for now and then figure shit out later.

10. Spider-Man: Far from Home — Here I am, talking about how not more than two Marvel movies are gonna make it on, and yet, here we are, with all three ending up in my top ten. Most of that is because it’s Marvel, and they got three on the shortlist last year. I don’t necessarily think all three will make it, but at this point it’s easier to put them all on than to not. But this one feels like the one most likely to not make it, just because it’s all drones and shit. A couple of elementals that look cool, and some of the Spidey-vision or whatever that is for a minute, but otherwise it’s not that effects heavy. Plus I didn’t necessarily think they looked that amazing. They usually have higher standards for Marvel, so my gut tells me more likely no than yes on this (especially since the last one didn’t even get shortlisted).

9. Ford v. Ferrari — Car effects and stuff. Mostly I think that it stands a chance at getting Best Picture love votes. I don’t see it being nominated and I’m not totally sold on it even being shortlisted, so this is an interesting litmus test for the category. It’s gonna be real interesting if I see both this and 1917 on the shortlist. Conventional wisdom says at least one gets left out. But we’ll see.

8. Captain Marvel — If any secondary Marvel film to Endgame gets shortlisted, this feels like the one. It’s got a lot of space stuff, a lot of people in makeup. This feels closer to standard Marvel than anything else. So yeah, I’m comfortable in putting this on my shortlist guess.

7. 1917 — War film, plus shot to look like a single take… I feel like it stands a good chance at a shortlist. But it’s also sight unseen, which will have to be forever the case, because they’ll announce the shortlist before it comes out. So better to assume it’s on than not.

6. Cats — I’m more sold than ever that this gets shortlisted. This might even get nominated. But I’ll have to see a shortlist to know for sure. But 100% this should be shortlisted. There’s no way you’re telling me the visual effects in this are not more worthy than almost anything else on the list below it.

5. Ad Astra — I think the subtle effects will be something they go for. This seems destined to be shortlisted and then ignored in the end, because the film didn’t make enough of a splash for them to actually nominate it. And I’ll be railing about how it should over most of the other stuff. This happens every year. I’m totally convinced this will make the final ten. How could it not?

4. The Irishman — Are you insane? This is for sure getting shortlisted. The agenda to not nominate it will happen in the next stage. Not here.

3. The Lion King — The ENTIRE FILM is completely animated, save the opening shot of the sunrise. Every other shot is a digital creation. Jungle Book won this category with less than that. I think it’s safe to say they’re gonna shortlist it.

2. Avengers: Endgame — Please. Do you really think they’re gonna leave this off the shortlist?

1. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker — It’s about as sure a thing as you’ll ever have.

– – – – –

So that’s the general likelihood of being shortlisted in my mind. So now, if I had to pick which ten I think are getting on, I’d say:

1917
Ad Astra
Avengers: Endgame
Captain Marvel
Cats
Ford v. Ferrari
Gemini Man
The Irishman
The Lion King
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Alternate: Spider-Man: Far from Home

Look out for: The Aeronauts, Terminator: Dark Fate

Wouldn’t surprise me: Aladdin, Alita: Battle Angel, Dumbo

Never gonna happen: Hobbs & Shaw, Jumanji: The Next Level, Men in Black International, Midway

The more I think about it, the more I’m half-expecting to see Dumbo make it on. Alita seems more unlikely at a glance, and I still am not sold on Aladdin making it. I put all the ‘classy’ films on, leaving off the third Marvel. I snuck on Gemini Man just to see what they do. I never go 10/10 here.

My guess is that I’m good for 7/10 of these, possibly 8. I expect Gemini Man and either of the 1917/Ford v. Ferrari practical effects films to get left off in the end. But at that point, I don’t see a whole lot that feels like it fits. Spider-Man and Aeronauts and that’s it. That’s why Dumbo is making me give it second looks. I think two of my list can get left off and those first two I mentioned could make it on in the end. But I feel pretty confident about the majority of that shortlist.

Of course, that’s just based on the eye test and my general history with the category. People in the field tend to have different opinions on these things. Remember, Christopher Robin got nominated last year.

At this point, I’d be really surprised if your final category doesn’t include Star Wars, Lion King, Avengers and The Irishman. And after that, you’re just figuring out that final spot, which feels like it’ll come from one of the Best Picture-type contenders (Ford v. Ferrari, 1917, Cats). But this is all completely before any other precursor. So that’s pure speculation. But I do think we’ve got an easy 4 films on this one. I guess we’ll see how it all shakes out over the next month.

Shortlist gets announced sometime in the next two weeks, so we’ll revisit this then.

– – – – – – – – – – –

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One response

  1. I’d say you might be underestimating Alita: Battle Angel (and maybe Spider-Man too since the Mysterio-vision sequences were showy and the fact that the villain is essentially an effects whiz could give it some in-joke favour), but you’re right about The Irishman getting hit back in the next stage – that feels like an Arrival-style snub waiting to happen considering the spotty reaction to some of the de-aging work. Alita got an Annie nom for effects in a live action feature (which in the past has signalled underdog contenders like Christopher Robin or Deepwater Horizon), and even though it had a low profile the effects got good press.

    December 3, 2019 at 10:00 pm

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