You decide: What film will win Best Visual Effects at the Oscars?

The Visual Effects Branch Executive Committee narrowed the list of contenders to 10. On Jan. 19, all visual effects branch members will have the opportunity to view 10-minute excerpts from these shortlisted works to determine the five films that make the Oscar ballot.


The final “Harry Potter” film will surely work its magic on the Oscars’ visual effects branch. “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” (2004) and “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1” (2010) were both nominated. Featuring dragons, magic wands, giant serpents, and other showy effects, it would a shock if this final installment in the franchise missed the final five. Consider it a lock.

The motion capture used in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” will wow Oscar voters. They’ve monkeyed around with similar techniques before, giving the award to “King Kong” in 2005. Andy Serkis was the actor whose performance was digitally captured in that film, which is also true of “Apes.” He also appeared in digitally enhanced form in the Oscar-winning “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

Superhero movies make a regular showing in this race. “Iron Man 2” was here last year, as was the first film in 2008 alongside “The Dark Knight” (2008). “#Captain America#” has somewhat more cartoonish effects than those films, but there was much hubbub made about the digital transformation of the muscular Chris Evans’ into a pipsqueak.

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That rule does not apply to the “X-Men” franchise. While earlier “X-Men” films have made the shortlist for this category before, none has ever gotten a nomination. Indeed, no “X-Men” film has ever been nominated at the Oscars. They may just have a bias against mutants which will keep “X-Men: First Class” out of the running. 

The Oscars like robots, from “Transformers” (2007) to “I, Robot” (2004) to “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence” (2001). “Real Steel” has fighting robots, which makes it particularly interesting.

“Transformers” sequel “Revenge of the Fallen” (2009) got snubbed even though the first film got a nod. Of course, that was back when there were only three nominees in this category and now that there are five “Dark of the Moon” may squeak in. Voters are almost never bored with automatons, but they also could favor those in “Real Steel” over this sequel.

With impressive tracking shots, a train derailment, and a recreated Paris of the 1930s, there is enough to marvel at in “Hugo” for it to be one of the most prestigious nominees ever.

Arthouse favorite “The Tree of Life” may get lucky and make the ballot, too. Featuring the creation of the universe and dinosaurs, the film has a considerably lower budget than the blockbusters that usually make the cut. However, emotionally driven effects like those in “Hereafter” (2010) mean there is a precedent for such a nod.

The first three “Pirates of the Caribbean” films all were nominated for Best Visual Effects. “Dead Man’s Chest” (2006) even won. But “On Stranger Tides” has a new director on board with a lower budget. This could be the first of the franchise to miss out on a bid.

None of the first three “Mission: Impossible” films reaped Oscar bids. As with them, “Ghost Protocol” also utilizes mostly practical effects. A digital sandstorm is especially showy. There’s also a dazzling scene where Tom Cruise scales a building might give this a boost.

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