They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don't They?
Below The Line, Part II
By J. Don Birnam
February 20, 2018
Oscar voting began yesterday with essentially all precursors in the bag and under two weeks to go until the big night. Indeed, the BAFTAs have been handed out and most precursor guilds have spoken, even for the tech categories. We looked at some of the tech categories two weeks ago, but with all the information we have learned since, we can take a look at the five remaining tech categories for the 90th Academy Awards.
Although there is room for some error at the margins, this seems like an easier year in terms of predicting these. At the very least, most people have reached consensus, so most of us will rise or fall together. You have probably read me say, over the years, that the Oscars are becoming more and more predictable. After how badly I did last year and the Moonlight stunner, I’ve been obviously wearier. Still, it seems like we are headed for such a year again.
Last year, I went 3/5 here, missing Editing and Visual Effects, except I stupidly switched some of the correct predictions at the last minute despite having more guild information. D’Oh. Still, I feel like this year should be a 4/5 or even 5/5 year here unless there is a left field spoiler. Let’s take a look and follow me on Twitter and Instagram if you disagree.
Best Visual Effects
Let’s do these more systematically since all the players are in: we can give some precursor stats first, then apply to the five nominees. Since the preferential ballot expansion in 2009, the VFX Society has predicted the eventual Best Visual Effects Oscar 5 out of 8 times in their “Effects Driven” race, considered their most important. Two of their misses are when they picked the first two Planet of the Apes sequel, the third for The Force Awakens. Their pick this year? Again Planet of the Apes. The BAFTAs have done better, going 6 out of 8 (and never for the Apes), missing Ex Machina when they picked The Force Awakens. Their pick this year? Blade Runner 2049.
Meanwhile, over with the Academy, some things to note. The last time a movie won its sole nomination in this category was actually last year, when The Jungle Book’s motion capture won. Before that, it was over 25 years ago, when Death Becomes Her did it in 1992. Best Picture nominees have only lost to a non-nominee one time, the year of Ex Machina, but this year the branch decided to avoid the obvious nominations for movies like Dunkirk and went with straight effects-driven films.
The foregoing means that you can safely count out Kong: Skull Island and Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 from contention. Both scored their only nomination here and have received no precursor love. It would be a huge upset to see either of them crowned.
What about Star Wars: The Last Jedi? If you look at the history of the franchise, the first three entries walked away with Oscars in this category. But despite getting both the VFX and BAFTA awards, the first of the third set of trilogies lost the Oscar in a hyper-competitive year. Then, three Best Picture nominees faced off against each other, even though the Alicia Vikander futuristic movie prevailed over all four. I guess they could look to recompense Star Wars, and the effects in the movie are pretty good, but I would not count on it.
This brings it down to the last Apes sequel, War for the Planet of the Apes, and the Denis Villeneuve movie, Blade Runner 2049. While you can make a good case that Apes is overdue, etc., they have had a chance to reward it twice and passed. Several trips to the nominations did not help the Harry Potter franchise, for example, ever get recognition. Apes has only one nod across all categories, and they do not seem to respect those movies. Blade Runner, by contrast, has several nominations, is by an “auteur,” and is considered high-brow by some. It is not a sure thing by any means but you can probably feel pretty confident.
Will Win: Blade Runner 2049
Could Win: War For the Planet of the Apes