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Academy Announces Oscar Visual Effects Shortlist

'Lone Ranger' makes the cut; 'Man of Steel' doesn't

Updated 3:30 p.m. Variety has obtained the Academy’s short list for the visual effects Oscar. These 10 films will compete at the vfx “bakeoff” in January. In alphabetical order:

“Elysium,” “Gravity,” “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” “Iron Man 3,” “The Lone Ranger,” “Oblivion,” “Star Trek Into Darkness,” “Thor: The Dark World,” “Pacific Rim,” “World War Z”

The inclusion of Disney’s much-ballyhooed flop “The Lone Ranger” is a mild surprise, given how unpopular that picture was.  “World War Z,” by contrast, survived bad buzz and a troubled production to meet critical and box office success, and remains alive for the Oscar.

Notable vfx pics that didn’t make the cut include  “Man of Steel,” “Ender’s Game,” “Rush,” “47 Ronin” and “The Wolverine.”

Because visual-effects tentpoles usually dominate the top grossing pictures of the year, the visual- effects Oscar race is often an indicator of which studios are doing well at the box office and which are not. Though this year’s bakeoff list includes both hits and disappointments, it is still somewhat telling about the state of studio pictures.

Warner fared well in the Oscar race with “Gravity,” “Pacific Rim” (made with Legendary) and “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.” “Gravity” is a hit, “Pacific Rim” did solid if unspectacular business and a sequel is likely. “The Desolation of Smaug” is part of a trilogy and is a nearly sure bet to score close to a billion dollars in grosses.

Disney also has three releases in the race: “Iron Man 3” and “Thor: The Dark World” along with “The Lone Ranger.” Two of the three are big hits. Paramount has two pics in the bakeoff: “Star Trek Into Darkness” along with “World War Z,” both big grossers.

Universal has only “Oblivion” in the race; its “Fast & Furious” franchise has never found love with the Academy’s vfx voters. Sony has only “Elysium” and Fox was shut out.

Though the days when a single company would create the visual effects for a tentpole are seemingly long gone, Weta Digital is the sole vfx studio on “The Hobbit.” Weta also has “Iron Man 3” in the race.

The bakeoff slots are still dominated by the top companies. Industrial Light & Magic showed its clout within the Acad’s vfx branch with slots for “Pacific Rim,” “Star Trek Into Darkness” and “The Lone Ranger.” Framestore has “Gravity” and “Thor: The Dark World” in the race. Double  Negative also worked on “Thor: The Dark World.” Digital Domain has “Iron Man 3” and “Oblivion.”

Image Engine and Method Studios of Vancouver, much smaller companies, worked on “Elysium.”

Also notably missing from a prominent place among this year’s remaining contenders: Rhythm & Hues Studios, which was the lead vfx studio on last year’s Oscar winner, “Life of Pi.” R&H has fallen on hard times since its bankruptcy.

Sony Pictures Imageworks has also had a quiet year, as it was working on “The Smurfs 2,” which didn’t make the bakeoff, and the next “Spider-Man” picture, due for release next year.

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