*With Oscar voting in full swing and the ceremony less than two weeks away, I'm taking this week to spotlight a handful of nominees in the technical categories. These are not frontrunners in their category, but they are worthy of our consideration. Welcome to FYC Week.*
Look, there's no real use in arguing this point: Gravity is going to win in this category. Anyone who's seen that film - or even a commercial or trailer for the film - understands how groundbreaking and stunning the visual effects are, and how they are, quite simply, the best of the year. And come the night of March 2, the VFX team will be justly rewarded for their accomplishments.
But that doesn't mean that the other four nominated movies - The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Star Trek Into Darkness, The Lone Ranger, and Iron Man 3 - are complete rubbish. I personally haven't seen The Hobbit or The Lone Ranger, so I'm not really qualified to speak about their effects work. But while Star Trek's visuals were terrific, they never really "popped" quite the way they did in the first film (and this being a movie in which the Enterprise literally falls out of the sky).
Iron Man 3, however, features some of the franchise's best visual effects work to date. Check out the gritty realism of the destruction of Tony Stark's mansion/Batcave. Yes, the collapse is visually impressive, but what makes this scene so impressive is that the rubble feels like it has weight and dimension; in other words, it's rendered so well and looks so plausible that it's easy to forget that these are pixels in a digital environment, not an actual house sinking into the Pacific. Similarly, the mid-air rescue sequence is stunning in how it utilizes all of it's digital elements - the plane going down, Iron Man, the appearance that real people are falling thousands of feet to certain doom - in ways that obey the physics of this world while also building to a rather terrific punchline. And while the film's big finale certainly feels out-of-place compared to the rest of the narrative, the effects in this sequence are dynamite, building coherent action that packs in the eye candy.
If there's anything that Iron Man 3 has in comparison to Gravity, it's that the visual effects in both films carry weight, making them feel like real objects in the worlds of the film. You'd be surprised at how many big VFX films fail to accomplish the same task. All three Iron Man films have been nominated in this category; Gravity will prevail, but on the slight chance it doesn't, Iron Man 3 is definitely a worthy alternative.