Why was 1917 given the nod over Avengers: Endgame for the Best Visual Effects award at the 2020 Oscars? The Academy Awards are notoriously unwelcoming when it comes to superhero movies, with the likes of The Dark Knight and Black Panther not always getting the recognition they deserve, and the “superhero” tag is generally considered to be the Academy’s main bone of contention. A comic book movie in name only, Joker was widely represented at this year’s shindig, netting the Best Actor gong for Joaquin Phoenix, but other superhero ventures were typically overlooked,
This year’s main omission was Avengers: Endgame. The culmination of the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far, the 2019 effort brought a decade-long story arc to a dramatic close, broke box office records and was roundly praised in reviews. As expected, Tony Stark’s last stand was only recognized for its technical achievements, nabbing a nomination for Best Visual Effects, but Marvel were widely expected to be taking that statue home as reward for their groundbreaking venture. However, it wasn’t to be. Sam Mendes’ 1917 had been tipped for Best Director but, despite tasting disappointment there, picked up several other wins, including in the Best Visual Effects category.
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In terms of contrast, it’s difficult to imagine two movies with such wildly opposing visual styles as Avengers: Endgame and 1917; one a comic book-inspired blast through outer space and the multiverse, the other a grounded and unflinching World War 1 epic. One might think the former would offer more opportunity for dazzling visuals, but 1917 more than deserved the victory on this occasion. Avengers: Endgame is unarguably a visually stunning piece of work. Josh Brolin’s CGI motion capture performance as Thanos is one of best examples of the technique, the jam-packed final battle is sleek and utterly believable, with just the right sense of chaos, and the time travel mechanic gives a seamless Captain America vs. Captain America fist fight. But as wonderfully fluid as these effects are, they’re largely tricks that can be seen in other modern blockbusters, if not quite as well executed.
On the other hand, 1917 might not have had a flying Brie Larson or a teenage talking tree, but its visual effects were innovative, and pushed the limits of what could be achieved in film. The impression that 1917 is all one single shot is a cinematic marvel, and the methods used to achieve this effect won’t be seen in many other releases this year, if any. Pieces of set would move away to allow the camera to follow Schofield and Blake’s mission uninterrupted, the camera unit itself would be passed from crane, to vehicles, to operators, all without cutting, and purpose-made flares were used to ensure the correct lighting effects would go off at the specified time. 1917 took a detailed practical approach to its visual effects, and this served to make the journey of the two lead characters all the more immersive for the audience.
In the modern era, it’s easy to associate “Best Visual Effects” with “Most Impressive CGI” because that’s the direction the film industry has taken as a whole, but the Academy’s official rules state that the category is judged on “the artistry, skill and fidelity with which the visual illusions are achieved.” By this measure, the painstaking lengths Sam Mendes and cinematographer, Roger Deakins, went to in order to create the illusion of a single shot were always likely to be considered more Oscar-worthy by the Academy that the outsourced CG effects of Avengers: Endgame, especially at a time when practical effects of the kind seen in 1917 are becoming ever rarer.
Key Release Dates
- Black Widow (2020) release date: May 01, 2020
- Eternals (2020) release date: Nov 06, 2020
- Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) release date: Feb 12, 2021
- Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2021) release date: May 07, 2021
- Spider-Man: Homecoming 3 (2021) release date: Jul 16, 2021
- Thor: Love and Thunder (2021) release date: Nov 05, 2021
- Black Panther 2 (2022) release date: May 06, 2022
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