The LAMB Devours the Oscars 2020 – Best Visual Effects

by Rob · January 17, 2020 · LAMB Devours the Oscars, Periodic Features · 2 Comments

Every day until the Oscars ceremony we’ll be highlighting a different category or movie here on the LAMB! Here’s a link to all the posts written so far:

Today, Jeanette Ward from The Mundane Adventures of a Fangirl is here to look at the nominees for Best Visual Effects.

Thanks Jeanette!


The Academy Award for Visual Effects (VFX) honors the ability of the filmmakers to create on-film environments, creatures, situations, or objects that would otherwise be too dangerous, impractical, expensive, or flat out impossible to film.  In terms of semantics, “special effects” describes stunts and action sequences or the practical effects that include set and creature building – puppets, animatronics, and such.  “Visual effects” tends to refer to using computer-generated imagery (CGI) for the same purposes – Jar-Jar, Thanos, and such.  Honestly, I feel like they should be two separate awards, because there are talented folks working in both areas and they each cover different areas of the production.  This is one of the ‘technical’ categories and the one that often has the best chance of having larger, summer, tent-pole type movies nominated. This year, there are five nominees for the award:

Avengers: Endgame (Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Matt Aitken, Dan Sudick)

No shock here, but this team was nominated last year with Avengers: Infinity War.  This is essentially the second half of that story where the Avengers must recover from devastating loss to try to pull victory from the jaws of defeat.  Or, more accurately, from Thanos’s gloved hand.  The effects in this movie are beautiful and almost too many to mention:  The Milano listing in space, a time-heist to pre-collect infinity stones, Banner-Hulk, and all of Josh Brolin’s performance as Thanos.  The epic final battle sequence should be enough to walk away with this award (should be – but won’t).

The movie goes from digital planet to digital planet and while the majority of the effects are digital, a lot of the battle sequence was practically shot on greenscreens to add digital enhancements and background later.  See Valkrie above sitting on a non-horse. Brolin should have been nominated for his performance in Infinity War. Here, younger Thanos is less compelling, but that’s the way it should be – the last movie was his, this one is more Avengers-centered. As powerful as the effects in this movie are, the stars that shine the brightest are Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. turning in some very human performances.

The Irishman (Pablo Helman, Leandro Estebecorena, Nelson Supulveda-Fauser, Stephane Grabli)

The Irishman is Martin Scorsese’s three and a half hour Netflix movie tracing the life of World War II veteran Frank Sheeran.  He worked as a hustler and a hitman as he circled around Jimmy Hoffa and others.  Here, the visual effects are used to de-age the actors as the film stays with them throughout many years. Previously, this would have been done by hiring younger actors to portray the characters during different timelines. Instead, groundbreaking effects house Industrial Light & Magic stepped in and brought the de-aging CGI they’ve perfected in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to young-ify these grumpy old dudes.

Now, I haven’t watched the movie yet as I don’t typically care for Scorsese’s films. Add that to the negative comments he made about the MCU movies recently and that combines to me having little to no interest in this.  I do find it a bit incredible that the movie is now nominated for an Oscar using a crew and technology that was used throughout the Marvel movies. Speaking strictly of the effects, it looks as good here as it does in previous appearances – which is fine. It’s still not great, and you can certainly tell the younger Robert DeNiro looks a little suspect and rubbery – but definitely impressive.  It’s an interesting discussion whether it’s better to de-age the actor to give one performer the ability to trace the character they are working on through various times or if it would be better to find a younger actor who could mimic the older actor’s presence and mannerisms to cover the timeline.  In either case, this technology is not going away and it will only continue to improve.

The Lion King (Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones, Elliot Newman)

This is another interesting entry.  This movie is the “live-action” remake of Disney’s animated Lion King. However, the reality is that this movie is basically an animated film as well. It just happens to be computer animated as you can’t really get real lions to hit marks and deliver lines – not yet anyway.  The story follows Simba as he Hamlets his way through the death of his father at the hands of his uncle, his exile, and triumphant return.

The effects are stunning and the animals look incredible.  However, many fans were disappointed that their faces didn’t convey the same emotion as the previous animated version.  In a way, this is a testament to how real they look.  Should this instead be nominated for best animated movie? Perhaps.

1917 (Guillaume Rocheron, Greg Butler, Dominic Tuohy)

This movie covers the story of two British soldiers who are sent on a dangerous mission in World War I.  The movie is incredibly immersive and many of the shots look practical but were accomplished with incredible effects work.

This movie has a lot of ingredients that the Academy loves – historical, based on true events, war movie, and character-driven.  In particular, they love given the effects Oscar to a movie that uses effects in a more subtle way to enhance the reality of the film as opposed to more impressive CGI world or character building. This would definitely win a ‘special’ effects Oscar, but should it win a ‘visual’ effects Oscar? Since there is only one, that’s not a discussion we get to have at this point.

Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (Roger Guyett, Neal Scanlan, Patrick Tubach, Dominic Tuohy).

This team was nominated in this category last year for Solo: A Star Wars Story.  Here, they help bring the Skywalker saga to a close.  Because of the size and scope of this movie, this is again one where effects dominate the movie.  From the spaceships hurtling through atmospheres to alien crew members and battles on different planets, the effects are integrated perfectly.

There are several sequences in the movie that incorporate CGI and practical effects in a really wonderful way. Rey and Ren’s fight on the bridge while force-jumping over giant waves is fantastic. Rey’s cave-test is also great.  As impressive as the giant final space-battle is, more impressive is Ian McDiarmid’s make-up, prosthetics, and lightning fingers as Emperor Palpatine. His performance layered with those enhancements is ultimate evil personified by a character that revels in his evil.  Also, the practical effects of Babu Frik, that should be enough to win right there.

Who Should Win:

My heart wants Endgame to win, because that final battle sequence is incredible. I have watched the sequence between “On your left” and “Avengers assemble” nearly 100 times at this point because for me it demonstrates that the CGI effects are lovely and magnificent, but they are nothing if they are not grounded by great performances from the actors. Watch it again and pay close attention to the emotions that are all conveyed non-verbally as the Returned step through their portals.  But, especially watch Hemsworth’s reaction to Evans saying “Avengers assemble” – it’s the reaction of a man who has waited ten years to hear his friend say that phrase equally as much as it is the reaction of a depressed and fallen Asgardian King finally seeing hope after five years of darkness and loss – who of course then channels lightning through his body. Perfection. 

Who Will Win:

I don’t think anyone can beat 1917 here. It has all the Academy’s favorite ingredients at play.  Of course, they also love Scorsese but I think that 1917 is the safest bet for your office Oscar pool.

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