Last year’s Gravity, and Life of Pi the year before, have flipped-flopped the traditional way Best Picture and Best Director have split. When I stood with Steve Pond in the tent at the Spirit Awards the day before the Oscars and I was trying to convince him why I had changed my mind about Gravity winning Best Director and 12 Years a Slave winning Best Picture he was continuing the line of thinking that made the most sense: the uplifting crowdpleaser wins Best Picture and the film that is more artistically daring wins Best Director. This has been the case throughout Oscar history when looking at the split vote.

There was one year, however, that was the better example for last year and that was In the Heat of the Night vs. The Graduate. Combing through the split years, only one year mirrored last because it was an agreed upon split from the outset. Almost every available precursor was giving In the Heat of the Night Picture, and Mike Nichols for The Graduate Best Director.

Of course, in this instance, almost everyone looking back on that year would say The Graduate was the popular crowdpleaser, just as they would say Gravity was the more crowd pleasing of the two films last year. The obligation to reward the more historically important film, In the Heat of the Night, was in conflict with what the heart wanted to do – to pick the most beloved film: The Graduate.

But Steve Pond, and everyone over at Hitfix, was not going for it. It was going to be Gravity and that was that. The rest is the kind of history that will be smeared and debated for years to come. We won’t yet know how either Gravity or 12 Years a Slave will stand up in ten years time. The distance is necessary to see what’s left after the party evaporates.

What won’t be debated, however, is how good Alfonso Cuaron’s direction was. The same can be said quite easily with Ang Lee’s Life of Pi. In both cases, the Academy picked a visionary director who had depended almost completely on visual effects to deliver their masterpiece.

Last year and this year is the first time in all of Academy history that visual effects driven films took the place of the traditional visionary auteur in a split vote.

Let’s go back and look again at the splits, shall we?

In bold are the years they used the preferential ballot, in red the years where the director of the Best Picture winner was not nominated.

2013-12 Years a Slave/Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity
2012-Argo/Ang Lee for Life of Pi
2005-Crash/Ang Lee for Brokeback Mountain
2002-Chicago/Roman Polanski for The Pianist
2000-Gladiator/Steven Soderbergh for Traffic
1998-Shakespeare in Love/Steven Spielberg for Saving Private Ryan
1989-Driving Miss Daisy/Oliver Stone for Born on the Fourth of July
1981-Chariots of Fire/Warren Beatty for Reds
1972-The Godfather/Bob Fosse for Cabaret
1967-In the Heat of the Night/Mike Nichols for The Graduate
1956-Around the World in 80 Days/George Stevens for Giant
1952-The Greatest Show on Earth/John Ford for The Quiet Man
1951-An American in Paris/George Stevens for A Place in the Sun
1949-All the King’s Men/Joseph L. Mankiewicz for A Letter To Three Wives
1948-Hamlet/John Huston, Treasure of the Sierra Madre
1940-Rebecca/John Ford for The Grapes of Wrath
1937-The Life of Emile Zola/Leo McCary, The Awful Truth
1936-The Great Ziegfeld/Frank Capra, Mr. Deed Goes to Town
1935-Mutiny on the Bounty/John Ford, The Informer

Of all of these splits listed above, only two — arguably three if you count Saving Private Ryan, which I don’t think you can, are big budget effects-driven films.  That is quite a significant change in how voters are viewing both visionary directors and visual effects.  In terms of Oscar history, it is as unusual as Annie Hall winning Best Picture and George Lucas winning for Best Director for Star Wars.

Though the entire membership has yet to really embrace effects-driven films for the big prize you can see how it’s edging closer and closer.  What Gravity and Life of Pi suffered most from was their lack of dependence upon actors.  Actors rule the Academy as the largest branch. They really don’t want to see their jobs disappear. Thus, Best Picture still now and for a long while will likely favor actor-driven films.  That is, unless you can find a way to meld them together as Peter Jackson did with the Lord of the Rings films, still the only film to really win Best Picture when it was so dependent upon its visual effects.

You could put Gladiator in the same category — it was, despite being heavy on visuals, driven by its ensemble. Gravity was one actor, basically, in a space ship with green screen behind her pushed around by 100% visual effects.  Life of Pi was one actor, basically, in a boat with green screen behind him, manipulated entirely by visual effects.  Neither was the case for Return of the King or Gladiator, despite the prominence of visual effects. They could still be considered background information.  But the effects took front and center for these last two, which were given the Best Director Oscar along with the other major tech awards those films won.

Leading up to 2012, when the Academy could not give their Best Director prize to Ben Affleck (which they would have) they had a choice of either Steven Spielberg or Ang Lee. Life of Pi was the more emotionally resonant and memorable film therefore it won.  But had Affleck been on the ticket, this odd mutation on Academy evolution would not have taken place and would not have opened the door to look at the Best Picture/Best Director split quite that way.

Now, directors are being given more freedom to exercise their pure artistic vision and be credited for it rather than dismissed.  Had the stigma been removed a long time ago, Scorsese could have won for Hugo in 2011.  Christopher Nolan could have won for Inception in 2010.  And Jim Cameron could have won for Avatar in 2009.  David Fincher would have won for Benjamin Button in 2008.  Remember how many were predicting Avatar to win Best Picture and Kathryn Bigelow to win Best Director? That is the more familiar way the splits go down.  And yet, here we are, with an entirely different way of looking at the race.

I have been carping for a long while about the need for a separate category for Effects-Driven Best Picture. I don’t think that’s ever going to happen. What will happen is that an effects-driven film will win and then maybe the filmmakers in Hollywood will start to chafe, the actors will maybe chafe and then they might put in a separate category the way they did with foreign language and animated.

Either way, there are two films I can think of that might fit the bill this year for that effects-driven Best Director slot.  Matt Reeves for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (possibly) but more likely, Christopher Nolan for Interstellar.  Nolan, in fact, could be credited with this move away from crowdpleasing effects-driven films towards effects driven auteurism.  The trick is locked in with human emotion. Both Gravity and Life of Pi were dazzling in the effects department but they were more overwhelming in the emotion department. And that is where Nolan and Reeves would falter when it comes to winning Best Director.

The one who really has it coming is Jim Cameron for Avatar’s sequel.  That is where I’d put my money as the potential for an effects-driven film to win Best Picture.  Now that the seal has been broken, I’d put my faith in Cameron to finally shatter the boundary between films driven by effects and performance capture and the reluctance of actors to abandon the thing that they have built their careers on: their faces.

Actors have been driving the Oscars for decades. As the biggest voting block, films are usually centered around them as stars. Most Best Picture winners and nominees are led by a male lead, sometimes a female lead.  And almost always a movie star. They like big movie stars, profitable stars, pretty and sexy stars. This drives the box office, the film industry and the Oscars. Or does it anymore?

It seems to me that visual effects have taken over in many regards to the power of celebrity, particularly since the dependence is now almost completely on international box office. Only some movie stars are still profitable world wide. But visual effects? Films with little or no dialogue, like Gravity do very very well internationally as they must be dubbed into different languages.  Therefore, the plug and play model is working well for profit, and yet the Oscars are still stuck in the former model, the actor/star driven Best Picture.

Despite there being up to 10 slots for Best Picture, there are still only five slots for Best Director. For the third year in a row the DGA will announce their nominees AFTER Oscar ballots have been turned in.  That could lead to a confusing year like 2012, or not.  But with only five slots it’s hard to imagine many of the effects-driven movies getting in for Best Director, with the possible exception of Christopher Nolan.

For Best Director this year, we’re looking at (so far):

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Birdman
David Fincher, Gone Girl
Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
Christopher Nolan, Interstellar
Angelina Jolie, Unbroken
Paul Thomas Anderson, Inherent Vice
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
J.C. Chandor, A Most Violent Year
Steven Daldry, Trash
David Ayer, Fury
Ava DuVernay, Selma
Mike Leigh, Mr. Turner
James Marsh, Theory of Everything
Jean-Marc Vallee, Wild
Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game
Ridley Scott, Exodus

As you can see, only one of these so far comes from an effects-driven film and that’s Christopher Nolan.  Very likely this will be a year unlike 2013 and 2012.  Will it be a split year? It’s hard to say.  We have no way of knowing what any of these films will do until these films are seen.

This list will likely change in the coming months, but probably one slot is already taken for Richard Linklater for Boyhood, and I would add Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher and possibly Mike Leigh for Mr. Turner.  That potentially leaves only two slots open. It will be, as usual, a very competitive year for Best Director. The word you’ll be looking for is “masterpiece.”


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  • Kane

    Well written, Sasha! Though it’s hard to call Nolan’s film effects-driven considering much of it (I’m assuming) will take place on Earth. I’m going from that trailer…then again Nolan would hold off showing the grand space shit until the next trailer. I guess compared to Gravity, Interstellar looks less effects-driven. But it’s also interesting to note the movies that are effects-driven that could’ve won such an Oscar (Gravity, Life of Pi, Hugo, Inception, Avatar) have all won best cinematography. Could Interstellar already be our cinematography winner if we are to follow that trend?

  • Bryce Forestieri

    I’m curious to see whether Morten Tyldum/Graham Moore tandem have the cojones not to let Weisntein turn the ‘biopic’ into MY WEEK WITH MARILYN. They certainly don’t have the clout.

    Now re this piece I’m happy to report from my everyday interactions that the reputation of the much-maligned GRAVITY is improving just months after the awards wankfest ended. The future will treat the film MUCH MORE kindly!

  • Bryce Forestieri

    No offence, but “effects-driven” still sounds ignorant.

  • In regard to this issue, I’m not wild about the term “effects-driven” either, but if you truly mean no offense, Bryce, I’m even less enthusiastic about the term “ignorant.”


  • Bryce Forestieri

    Ryan, I know. Regrettable. What I mean is “incorrect”

  • Yogsss

    I don’t think that calling them “effects-driven” is ignorant, as a huge selling point of those kind of films for the mainstream are the visual effects and the innovation behind it. It is, however, a term that tends to ignore the fact that this movies have more than just a hundred of guys working creating 3D models, composing backgrounds and replacing green screens. Didn’t you cry with Life of Pi, Sasha? Did no one here rooted for Bullock’s character on Gravity? They are effects driven, but they are also both films that are driven by just one actor on screen.

    Can you believe having that kind of responsability? Being the only visible name of a film with a 150+ millions budget? It is, like I said, a way of not recognizing the wonderful job that the rest of the crew does, let alone the actor on screen dealing with green screens, dozens of dots around and just orders from the director and a lot, lot of imagination.

    I like my traditional films as much as the next guy, but visual-effect “driven” films feel for me like the evolution of films when they went from silent films to having actual sound. It will blend so often and so well that you won’t even divide them between “traditional” filmmaking and effects driven one. It has always been there as a supporting method, from photomontages to background replacement, to even creating living, breathing characters that feel real. They are the tools filmmakers needed and they have finally evolved so well that they can tell stories on their own. Now more than ever it has evolved into a form of storytelling tool. If you put this tools on hands of skilled filmmakers and maybe some more used to traditional methods you end up with a compelling piece, both visually breathtaking and admirable as a new art form. Both Lee and Cuarón are the PERFECT examples, and once released, Matt Reeves will join the realm with Dawn of the Planets of the Apes, Oscar nomination or not.

    At least on my side, I’m happy with this new way of telling stories that before were almost impossible to nail like they do today. I agree that a blend of character/ensemble and effects-driven film is the perfect combo to get Best Picture one day for genres that have been overlooked for decades. I’m happy it can co-exist with traditional filmmaking, or whatever you want to call it. I want to see Foxcatcher and Gone Girl as much as I want to watch the next “effects-driven” film that gathers both love and admiration from AMPAS, audiences, critics and more.

  • Richard B

    I think the back-to-back Best Director wins for CGI films is a coincidence at this point. For me, the Academy’s model of awarding character-based films (larger casts and literate screenplay) is best because those are the films that actually hold up. If a CGI film aspires to win then it must actually be substantial aka NOT Gravity IMO.

    This early in the game I’m only sure of Bennett Miller’s slot and I’m fully prepared to eat my words. Fincher and Inarritu, I’m pretty sure will also be included in the final line up. Anderson is too unpredictable and I have doubts about Jolie in Unbroken. The rest are pretty easy to believe the Academy will ignore, regardless of quality so we shall see.

  • continuing the line of thinking that made the most sense: the uplifting crowdpleaser wins Best Picture and the film that is more artistically daring wins Best Director. This has been the case throughout Oscar history when looking at the split vote.

    I’m sure everybody is sick of me saying this. But this crowdpleaser vs artistically daring thing has always rung false to me. I don’t buy it. There’s a better explanation.

    Best Director is an award for the man who is the director. In split years it goes to the most popular man, the most distinguished man, the man with the best name recognition.

    In a split year, the Brand Name Director will always beat the lesser known director. Nearly always this is the case.

    There are almost no exceptions in Oscar History. In a split year, a less distinguished director will never beat a director who has established himself as a longstanding reliable Name Brand.

    Look at the relatively weak names of some of the directors who lost Best Director in split years.

    1930: Wesley Ruggles lost BD. His movie Cimmaron won BP.
    1935: Frank Lloyd lost BD. Mutiny on the Bounty won BP. (BD winner? John Ford.)
    1952: Cecil B. DeMille lost BD. The Greatest Show on Earth won BP. (BD winner? John Ford)
    1956: Michael Anderson lost BD. Around the World in 80 Days (BD winner? George Stevens)
    1936: Robert Z. Leonard lost BD. His movie The Great Ziefeld won BP. (BD winner? Frank Capra)
    1937: William Dieterle lost BD. The Life of Emile Zola won BP. (BD winner? Leo McCarey)
    1949: Robert Rossen lost BD. All the Kings Men won BP. (BD winner? Joseph L. Mankiewicz)
    1956: Michael Anderson lost BD. Around the World in 80 Days won BP. (BD winner? George Stevens)
    1967: Norman Jewison lost BD. In the Heat of the Night won BP. (BD winner? Mike Nichols)
    1981: Hugh Hudson lost BD. Chariots of Fire won BP. (BD winner? Warren Beatty)
    1989: Bruce Beresford not even nominated for BD. Driving Miss Daisy won BP. (BD winner? Oliver Stone)
    2002: Rob Marshall lost BD. Chicago won BP. (BD winner? Roman Polanski)
    2005: Paul Haggis lost BD. His shitty movie Crash won BP. (BD winner? Ang Lee)
    2012: Ben Affleck snubbed for BD nomination. Argo won BP. (BD winner? Ang Lee)

    Time and time again, in a split year, Best Director goes to the most reliable, most legendary, most distinguished Brand Name director. Regardless of who directs the crowdpleaser).

    Notice something about about most of these Best Director losers? Almost all of them are famous for just ONE movie. They never again were able to catch magic in a bottle. They didn’t have what it takes to rise to legendary status. Meanwhile ALL the directors who won in split years have entered the Pantheon of Hollywood’s Best Directors of all time.

    Notice something else about Best Picture winners that were directed by relative nobodies? They rarely age well. Those movies might wow voters for a couple of weeks during Oscar ballot month, but that wow factor is shallow and it doesn’t stick.

    At least half the BP winners that won without the help of a great director now look like turds on a pedestal in the Oscar BP gallery of history.

  • Bryce Forestieri

    Since some of you have to have “driving” force. Here: All films are driven by the director’s vision. From dialogue-heavy chamber pieces, where one might foolishly think all the credit should go to the script or a performance, to the most esoteric formal explorations, where one could again wrongly attribute it to the invention of the steadi-cam, a lens capable of deep-stage, the mothers of Simon & Garfunkel, or a computer geek — if a film is anywhere near great it’s because of the director first and foremost. Just like with those elements, VFX are useless unless there’s someone who knows what to do with them. No, they are not a “new way” to tell stories, just a new tool — “new” because I’m sure we’re talking exclusively about the lesser form of Vfx that is CGI and not about mixing milk with detergents in a bathtub to simulate the big bang because that one is a noble “art”. I don’t go about my day calling BREATHLESS “insert-driven” or “jump cut-driven”, THE SHINING “steadicam-driven”, or PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID “Bob Dylan-driven”. No, they are not “costume-pieces”, not every film where Piero Tosi worked ended up being the THE LEOPARD.

  • Let’s not forget that a movie like FIncher’s Zodiac has hundreds and hundreds of effects shots. Two of the most breathtaking shots in 12 Years a Slave and in Lincoln were effects shots.

    Effects are not going to hold the attention of any audience unless there’s a screenplay to string things all together.

    Frankly, reducing a work of art like Life of Pi with a label like Effects-Driven is pretty repugnant to me. It dismisses and even discredits the power of the writer’s imagination.

    That power of imagination is the reason Life of Pi is a masterpiece. It’s not the special effects in Life of Pi that touched my soul. It’s the genius of the literary conception.

    I cringe to see movies like August Osage County that are a flat-footed visual mess. John Wells doesn’t know where to place a camera and his visual clumsiness is what wrecked that adaption for me.

    Great directors have always utilized cutting-edge visual effects to elevate their movies to jaw-dropping artistic heights. Great directors know how to gracefully implement every visual trick in their toolbox. Mediocre directors who fail to do so will inevitably churn out bland and lifeless films.

    Citizen Kane was a technological marvel in its day, packed with optical effects.

    How about a special short-bus category for Best Picture wannabes directed by guys whose fanciest camera trick is tilted framing and off-center compositions.

  • Jeremy

    You mention Lord of the Rings and Gladiator as one of the few “effects-driven”(don’t like that term either but you get what I mean), but I also like to mention Titanic. People compare it to Gone with the Wind cuz its fancy period sets and weepy melodrama, but its REALLY the best Irwin Allen disaster movie ever made. We’re talking about one of the greatest technical achievements in cinema history here, a resolutely convincing mixture of huge models, tremendously ambitious set design, and some of the last really outstanding CGI before CGI became de rigeur and unconvincing in the ’00s. I mean, not to belittle the affection that some people have for the movie as a whole, I think that most of us can probably agree that the second half of the film (actually, it’s a touch under half, but close enough), the sinking, is of significantly higher quality than the first half, the “character” stuff – a better tell that this is a disaster first, a love story second, I cannot think of. Its quite the spectacle.

    And like those two, its got a big ensemble of actors, many MANY more than Gravity and Life of Pi, including those two lovebirds of DiCaprio and Winslet.

  • Scott

    I feel that Gravity won Best Director because the gut feeling as you leave the theater is “holy crap, the man behind that movie did a phenomenal job” juggling the immense scope of all that goes into filming something like that.

    Where as with 12YAS there’s no doubt the direction is great, but that’s not what makes the movie what it is. The best thing about Gravity is it’s direction and the best thing about 12YAS is the sum of it’s parts.

    I don’t mind the idea of an effects-driven Oscar category but I’d prefer to see more special/visual effects categories added instead. When it was introduced the idea of special effects was very generalized, but look at technology now. Idk that I need 45 categories to honor every facet, but having awards to honor things like “scenic visual effects” (a la Great Gatsby), “extended take” (for specific sequences) or “character/element design” for specific parts (ie the aliens in Avatar).

    If there was a category for best effect driven film, it wouldn’t honor the actual best effects, imo, the voters would just vote on their favorite, despite what work into it, and what that achievement looks like. How can you compare something like Trasformers to Life of Pi? Duh Pi is the better film, but there are elements to the VFX of Transformers that may be better, for example.

    (The same thing happens in the Animated category – some voters go for their favorite movie, some go for the best animation, making the point of the category ambiguous).

  • ‘How can you compare something like Trasformers to Life of Pi? Duh Pi is the better film, but there are elements to the VFX of Transformers that may be better, for example.’

    I disagree. On a technical level, in terms of how convincing the VFX are, I can understand that argument. There’s so much incredible detail in Transformers’ VFX. But even still, I prefer Life of Pi’s VFX on that level. Look at the breathtaking accuracy of Richard Parker, how lifelike he is, how much detail there is in the textures and the colours in that film. And this is where I think Life of Pi particularly excels. On an artistic level, there’s no competition. Life of Pi is an exceptionally well-designed movie in terms of its CGI (and in other terms also). Transformers is, as such, just decent. Stunning artistry + stunning accuracy vs. decent artistry vs. good accuracy. Life of Pi is the better film in this regard (and in so many others, naturally).

  • Steve50

    “That power of imagination is the reason Life of Pi is a masterpiece. It’s not the special effects in Life of Pi that touched my soul. It’s the genius of the literary conception.”

    Exactly. The best FX are the ones that go unnoticed because they enhance the story and don’t exist just as an entity of their own. Life of Pi was the first film with such elaborate effects yet never managed to knock you out of the story. Gravity was successful because it gave a very matter-of-fact sense of being in space without a lot of dazzle, except in the crash sequence. The same is true of Titanic – probably the only thing Cameron did that will be worth remembering.

    I have high hopes for Caesar and gang, as well, although Oscar probably won’t be too bothered with it.

    (OT – Bryce – why aren’t you on Twitter? You must be going nuts tonite)

  • Al Robinson

    Ha ha! Steve50, I thought I was the final holdout with Twitter. I have joined the party, and can’t imagine stopping now. (As you’re already aware.)

  • Q Mark

    The Avatar sequels and Cameron himself have NO shot at any major Oscars for the simple facts that….

    1) many more people hated the original than loved it, box office notwithstanding.

    2) Avatar’s greatest (only?) strength was its visual effects and production, and even those underachieved on Oscar night. The film only won three actual Oscars, nothing close to the sweep of the tech awards like a truly beloved film like Gravity or ROTK.

    3) Cameron may be respected in Hollywood but he isn’t well-liked.

    4) Had Avatar been ANY GOOD AT ALL, it would’ve/should’ve easily beaten Hurt Locker. On paper, Avatar was a slam-dunk Best Picture winner and yet at the end of the day, it was such a mediocre film in everything but the CGI that the Academy instead gave Best Picture to a little-seen war movie that made no money. AMPAS certainly has a history of rewarding big empty epics (Titanic, Braveheart, Gladiator) over superior ‘smaller’ pictures (LA Confidential, Sense and Sensibility, Traffic) but Avatar was just so blatantly empty that not even the Academy could see it take the top prize.

  • Scott

    @Paddy I agree fully that Pi is superior, but I just wanted to throw out the thought that even if the academy instituted a category honoring best special effects driven film, the winning film would always be the “better” film overall, not the film that is best because of it’s VFX achievements, if that makes sense…

  • Al Robinson

    Scott, I understood what you meant. You’re probably right.

  • Al Robinson

    I just want to add, some movies I want to forget they have special effects. I want to pretend that what’s happening is real, and not edited and computer generated.

    Other movies, I just can’t help thinking that what I’m seeing is supported by computers and special effects. It still doesn’t take anything away from the plot.

  • If an “effects-driven” movie wants to win Best Picture then it should aim for being a “script-driven” movie that has tons of effects.

    That’s the path I’d rather see “effects-driven” movies take. Instead of giving them a ghetto category where the bar is set low. How about we simply hope that effects-driven movies reach the same high bar that every other “best” picture is supposed to pass.

    And then we can just call them “movies” instead of “_____-_____ movies.”

    Animated movies are a different art form. And anyway, do we really need another Oscar category reserved for movies that can appeal to 8-year-olds? Let’s please not encourage movies to win Oscars by aiming that low.

    In fact, I wouldn’t give you a nickle for all the movies I can name that are nothing but “effects-driven.”

    If “effects” are the primary distinguishing characteristic of a movie then I can guarantee you that movie is shit.

    Start with a screenplay. If filmmakers can’t write a screenplay that deserves to be Oscar-nominated then they should forget about winning Best Picture.

    Sorry, but what the fuck would Christopher Nolan want with an Oscar for Best Picture Except, You Know, Not the REAL Best Picture.

    “Nothing would disgust me more morally than winning an Oscar for Best Effects-Driven Picture. I wouldn’t have it in my house.” – Christopher Nolan

    Who’s going to be the one to tell the Ghost of Stanley Kubrick that he didn’t really direct a masterpiece. No, in retrospect we’ve re-categorized 2001: A Space Odyssey as merely an Effects-Driven Masterpiece? Somebody else break that news to Kubrick. I’d be embarrassed to death trying to explain that to him.

  • Is the Academy going to retroactively say that Forrest Gump won Best Effects-Driven Picture?

    Or will we get another category called Best Gimmick Picture?

    Unless there’s documented evidence that James Caan was shot full of 80 real bullet holes, then The Godfather is an effects-driven movie.

    Every movie that’s not Dogme 95 relies on artificial visual effects. 80% of the movies ever made utilize visual effects to convince us of the veracity of the onscreen worlds they create.

    Why is suddenly CGI any different than larding up Meryl Streep’s face with a Thatcher fright-mask?

    Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon would have looked pretty ridiculous if nearly every frame of that film had not been retouched with CGI.

    Finally, anyone who doesn’t expect Ridley Scott’s Exodus to have at least 150 essential and gorgeously seamless effects shots which will make that movie a stunning thing of beauty to behold doesn’t know the Ridley Scott I know.

    CGI enhancement has been an essential visual component in almost every epic movie over the past 15 years. It’s essential because there’s no other feasible way for these movies to create their epic illusions. So if those illusions couldn’t exist without CGI effects then none of those movies could convincingly exist either.

    Look at Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

    Without CGI, hundreds of serious movies we admire would fail and that means all those movies are essentially “effects-driven.” Which to me means none of them are. They’re just like every movie ever made: they’re driven by movie-magic.

  • Bob Burns

    why not create an “actor-driven” category instead? free BP from its dramatic acting obsession? call the category Best Ensemble.

    Comedies are the most neglected group of films by the Academy. Dramas and “effects-driven films” get lots of statues. Why not BP Drama, BP Comedy and BP VE?

    The desire to push effects out into another category is driven by a desire to create a special reservation wherein acting driven dramas have their own safe ghetto to compete within, but the drama genre still gets the entitlement of being called “The Best Picture”.


    BTW, the popularity of LotR was and is based on the underlying story. Its Oscar success was based on the breadth of its accomplishment… art, technical achievements, the ensemble and, most importantly, the writing. When we see another “effects-driven” film with writing and dialog as good as LotR we will see another powerful BP contender.

  • …the popularity of LotR was and is based on the underlying story. Its Oscar success was based on the breadth of its accomplishment…

    agreed, Bob. Similary, I still maintain that a movie thick with brilliant special effects is still NOTHING with effects alone and will never deserve to be considered for any special category of Best Picture — UNLESS there’s a screenplay and acting to match the quality of the effects work.

    I thought that’s why we so admired Sandra Bulluck and Suraj Sharma, right? Gravity and Life of Pi would be empty husks without them.

    I’d like it if we could please stop regarding movies with CGI effects as nothing more than teenage “fanboy” bait and begin to acknowledge that GREAT acting and GREAT writing and GREAT directing can easily coexist with GREAT visual effects in the same great movie.

    If all those components do not exist together then the movie shouldn’t win any sort of Best Picture prize.

    But if all those components DO exist together, then that movie has every right to be considered for full-fledged Best Picture and not be pushed into some little fringe secondary best effects-film category.

    The best of these “effects” movies shouldn’t have to sit at the children’s table.

  • We ALREADY have an awards group that hands out 9 different sub-categories of Best Picture. They’re called the Broadcast Film Critics Awards and we snarl every year at how they try to cover all the tacky bases.

  • Ugh! No!

    AVATAR was horrible. Terrible script, bad acting. It was a glorified B-movie. A MOVIE and not a FILM. There’s a difference. Not to mention it was downright ugly from an aesthetic point of view. The avatars were misshapened monstrosities, derivative of George Lucas’ worst creation, Jar Jar Binks, combined with what looked like doodles made by a C- student in a high school graphic arts class (who clearly doesn’t understand proportion).

    And why feel sorry for effects movies? They have gotten way too much acclaim, and in fact have entirely taken over the box office and studio slates.

    No. As long as the Academy still has any sense, you can expect that they will continue to reject the typical commercial popcorn movies as having any real shot at best picture. James Cameron will have a hard time pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes again (is anyone really clamoring for a sequel anyway? Ugh). He and Michael Bay may have to settle for their job(s) as high tech box office bank robbers. As they say, slap me once shame on you, slap me twice shame on me. The knuckle-dragging, popcorn-munching audiences may be willing to be slapped more than once, but probably not the Academy (or anyone with half a brain). No, no new category will be created — they will only give out the consolation prize to the cavemen, “Best Visual Effects.”

  • Bob Burns

    May be that the actors branch is beginning to understand that GI-heavy films employ lots of very fine actors. This could be generational…. the older actors in the Academy have not acted in front of green screens, but they are dying out.

    You only have to look at the Harry Potter Films and the LotR films….. dozens of fine performances in both. Same studio, more or less. But one was repeatedly nommed and one rarely. The difference was the dialogue.

    Agreeing with Ryan. I want better big movies.


    btw: I argue that Hollywood epics are the forebearers of today’s cgi-films. And the epics were Academy favorites.

  • Bryce Forestieri

    “Bryce – why aren’t you on Twitter? You must be going nuts tonite”

    Seems like a lot of work, but maybe I’m missing out…my mom is on twitter.

    And thanks for asking! I only got a couple hours of asleep last night so freaking out I was; now I’m just heartbroken (partially). In fact I’m tearing up as I type this because of what happened and because of what’s coming. I’ve lost all appetite. Keep you posted.

  • Pete

    Can we stop with the suggestions that different Oscar categories be created because Christopher Nolan can’t break through? The overreaction to Dark Knight’s not undeserved snub resulted in a horribly watered down BP category.

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