Oscar Taps 10 Films to Compete in VFX Race

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has announced 10 films in the running for visual effects nominations for the 87th Oscars.

The films are listed below in alphabetical order:

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”

“Godzilla”

“Guardians of the Galaxy”

“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies”

“Interstellar”

“Maleficent”

“Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb”

“Transformers: Age of Extinction”

“X-Men: Days of Future Past”

There were few surprise inclusions. Among the no-shows were the year’s two biblical epics, “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” with its parting of the Red Sea and plagues, and “Noah,” with ILM’s diverse effects, from the flood to the giant-stone Watchers.

“Into the Woods” and “Unbroken” are not big VFX movies but feature interesting effects work, and there was no mention of any animated films, though “Big Hero Six” and “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” among others, featured difficult and impressive effects.

The VFX branch executive committee determined the shortlist. All members of the branch will be invited to view 10-minute excerpts from each of the shortlisted films on Saturday, Jan. 10. Following the screenings, the members will vote to nominate five films for final Oscar consideration.

The 87th Academy Awards nominations will be announced Thursday, Jan. 15, at 5:30 a.m. PT. The Oscars will be held on Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015, at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood, and will be televised live by ABC.

UPDATE: 4:35 p.m. PDT
By David S. Cohen

Because vfx tentpoles are often box office leaders, it’s been a bad sign for a studio when it has no films on the bakeoff list. This year the final 10 include three Fox titles (“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” “X-Men: Days of Future Past” and “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb.”), and Fox is tops in domestic market share for the year through Nov. 30. There are three Disney titles (“Maleficent.” and Marvel’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and “Guardians of the Galaxy”), and Buena Vista is nipping at Fox’s heels in market share. Warner, third in market share, has two titles in the bakeoff (“Godzilla” and “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies”).

But because there are so many vfx-heavy pictures nowadays, that rule doesn’t quite hold. Sony has no bakeoff films but is fourth in domestic market share. It had “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” plus “The Equalizer” and “22 Jump Street”; its troubles like elsewhere. Universal, fifth-ranked in market share, also lacks a bakeoff film, but had a big vfx hit with “Lucy” and has had a solid year at the box office. Paramount, which lags the other majors on domestic market share, has two bakeoff films. (“Transformers: Age of Extinction” and “Interstellar”). Of course, those market share rankings could easily change as holiday grosses come in, especially “The Hobbit.”

“Night at the Museum: The Secret of the Tomb” is the biggest surprise of the group, since the previous “Night at the Museum” didn’t make the bakeoff. It had to beat out “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” “Lucy” and “Noah,” all big hits with vfx galore.

With multiple vfx studios working on almost every title nowadays, lots of companies are happy today. Bubbly is surely flowing at Weta Digital, which was sole vfx studio on “Apes” and “Hobbit” and worked on “Godzilla.” Double Negative was on “Interstellar” and “Godzilla.” Industrial Light & Magic worked on both Disney/Marvel titles, as did the smaller Luma Pictures. ILM was also on “Transformers: Age of Extinction.”  Moving Picture Company worked on “Godzilla,” “Guardians,” “Maleficent” and “X-Men.” The ever-resiliant Digital Domain is represented by “Maleficent” and “X-Men.” Framestore, which made such a splash with “Gravity” last year, is credited on “Guardians.” The Third Floor has three credits in the bakeoff: “Guardians,” “Maleficent” and “X-Men.”

But the biggest celebration may be at Method Studios, which is credited on at least five of the bakeoff films: “Transformers,” “X-Men,” “Maleficent,” “Night at the Museum” and “Guardians.”

The visual effects category is becoming problematic – I’ll be writing more about that next week – and this bakeoff list shows the Academy’s vfx branch at some risk of falling into a rut. Just as acting nominations seem to come entirely from earnest middlebrow dramas (“Character-driven,” we call them.), this year’s vfx nominations are all from vfx tentpoles where the effects are front and center. Those of us who love genre films would enjoy seeing more nominations for actors in those films, and in the same way, it would be great to see more nominations for effects that are very good, but not the star.

In recent years the Acad has been willing to put films in the bakeoff where vfx weren’t the selling point: a drama with one big vfx scene (“The Impossible”) and stylish Martin Scorsese fantasy (“Hugo”). More of that, please.

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