On one hand, the Best Visual Effects Oscar has felt like it should go ahead and be engraved since before the season really took off. On the other, the frontrunner from afar crashed on the rocks of some divisive critical opinion in November, leaving some question as to how things might actually shake out. Let's take a look…
It seems more than apparent that Marvel Studios' “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and Fox's “X-Men: Days of Future Past” won't be going any farther than the nominations stage, and that's fine. Both teams probably consider themselves lucky to have pushed into the field, particularly the “Captain America” crew after the first film's dazzling “Skinny Steve Rogers” work failed to find a spot. So this is really a race between three films.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” is a popular pick for those who think the prestige player in the bunch will be a tough pill to swallow for voters or that the other summer blockbuster in the fray just doesn't have the support elsewhere to substantiate a win. Not one Marvel Studios film has won an Oscar yet, however. Yes, “Guardians” led the 2014 box office for a time (it was recently usurped by “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” and both may be surpassed by “American Sniper” in time), but that wasn't enough for “The Avengers” two years ago. Granted, “Life of Pi” was far stiffer competition than “Guardians” faces, but still, it would simply be a surprise.
“Interstellar” won the BAFTA award, which ought to be a little telling. Only twice in the last 14 years has the BAFTA winner gone on to lose the Oscar. The Brits even correctly foreshadowed “The Golden Compass” in 2007. (Though it's worth bringing up the fact that the British Academy has shifted its voting process in recent years, rendering its history somewhat moot when weighing the options.) Either way, this is a prestige film from a respected blockbuster filmmaker and, of considerable note, it's the film with the most nominations in this field (five).
Which brings me to “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” Like “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” which lost this award to “Hugo” in 2011, Best Visual Effects is the film's only nomination. That hurts because it shows a lack of support elsewhere. Naturally, the film dominated the Visual Effects Society Awards (where “Interstellar,” too, won a prize), but that was specifically voted upon by visual effects artists, who understand that the work done on this film is probably more meaningful to the future of the business than anything present in the other nominees. But at the Oscars, the film needs to sell other artists besides just those in the visual effects community, and as well-regarded as this series is, it might be too steep a hill to climb.
Biggest campaign moment: As soon as it became apparent that “Interstellar” wouldn't be an across-the-board Oscar player – basically immediately after the first press screening – it's “sure thing” status took a big knock here, no question. It's largely why there's still a conversation in the category at all. And on the inside baseball side of things, Warner Bros.' overall lack of campaign support for former financier partner Legendary's “Godzilla” was sort of deafening and unfortunate.
Should have been here: Certainly “Godzilla,” but the eerie, truly singular work done on “Under the Skin” could have used some love here as well.
Will win: “Interstellar”
Should win: “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”