The Oscar Project
1. Blade Runner 2049
I waited quite some time to finally see this film, much longer than I originally wanted to since I love the original Blade Runner by Ridley Scott. I was not disappointed by this sequel and can fully understand why it won the award for Best Visual Effects.
The main thing that I noticed when watching this film was that the visual effects served to drive the story forward when they were employed and at no time did I say to myself, "that effect felt out of place." Yes, there were times when the effects were obvious, but plenty of others where it was hard to determine if the effects were digital, practical, or some combination of the two.
Overall, the visuals in this film are stunning and align extremely well with the visuals of the original. The use of light and shadow throughout the film lend an otherworldly feel to the future earth portrayed in the film. It also provides a sense of motion and unsteadiness, even when characters and camera are perfectly still.
I rate this a strong 9+/10 for the film as a whole and agree with the Academy in selecting this for Best Visual Effects of 2017.
2. War for the Planet of the Apes
I struggled with which film to put second in this category, especially given the two films with visual effects focused around the creation of realistic looking, non-human primate characters. In the end, my decision leaned slightly toward Planet of the Apes simply because the number of characters this film required visual effects work on was far more than Kong.
Now, I have not seen the previous two films in the remake series of Planet of the Apes so I don't have much reference other than the bonus features on the Blu Ray I watched where they showed the progression of Caesar across the three films. That progression is strong and I appreciate the increasing attention to detail in terms of facial movements and the ability to express a range of emotions in the faces of these digital characters.
In the end, it was very close between the top three films for me. Blade Runner edges out the other two by a slim margin while the difference between this and Kong is razor thin in my mind.
3. Kong: Skull Island
I really enjoyed this film, much more than I anticipated before going in. It was interesting to see a fresh take on the King Kong classic, beyond Peter Jackson's re-imagining of the original from 2005.
In terms of the special effects, there is plenty to behold here. The most obvious element is the amount of time and care put into making Kong himself appear realistic. And don't get me wrong, Kong is kind of a badass in this film, taking on much more of the role of protector, not just of Brie Larson's blonde beauty, but of the island as a whole.
There are lots of explosions, incredible creatures (all giant version of creatures we know from the "real world") and plenty of action, but Kong is the center of it all and he looks fantastic. Maybe it's just the fact that Planet of the Apes features animals closer in size to those we might see in the zoo that gives it the edge, but both films are incredibly close in terms of their visual appeal.
4. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
While I would love to put any Star Wars film at the top of the list for the Best Visual Effects category, I just couldn't do it with Rian Johnson's The Last Jedi. Gone are the days where Star Wars was on the bleeding edge of what was possible from a visual effects standpoint. There are obviously plenty of effective visual moments from the film, but few that really stand out as new and groundbreaking.
The problem here is that we've seen most of what is in this film before. Lightsabers? Overdone at this point. Space battles? Yawn. Giant walking troop transports on a white plain that looks like snow? Wait, am I describing a film that came out in 1980?
Yes there are new things in The Last Jedi, but many of them don't serve to drive the story forward and the things that do are too often very obviously effects. When the filmmakers get a little too clever with their effects, it loses the magic and takes me out of the film. For me, The Last Jedi is a distant fourth in this category.
5. Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2
I recently went back and started watching Guardians 2 again to remind myself of the story and check it out with an eye specifically on the visual effects. I have to say I was a little disappointed.
Don't get me wrong, there are some tremendous effects in this film, not the least of which are two main characters in Rocket and Groot that are completely computer generated. There are space battles, ground battles against giant monsters, and plenty of odd space aliens of all different colors, shapes, and sizes. But the one thing that held me up with Guardians is the abundance of scenes that seem to be shot on a green screen sound stage just so the effects animators could put in fanciful backgrounds after the fact.
It's not that the effects are bad, it's just that there is way too much. It's blatantly obvious when things are effects, and often there are camera movements that create blur and motion that feel like a way to cover up lackluster effects animation. Ultimately, I feel like this film is not even close to the rest of the pack in this category. It would have been a strong contender ten years ago, but doesn't push the boundaries enough for 2017.
I'm just a film buff who wants to watch great movies. Where else to find the best, than the list of those nominated by the Academy each year?