A long time ago in a galaxy far far away this category had a different name at the Academy Awards. From 1939 to 1962 the award was called Best Special Effects and was shared with the Sound Effects nominations. This may explain why the famous burning scene did not clinch this award for Gone with the Wind in 1939, but I still am baffled as to how this film lost this award. I digress. In 1963 the award was called Best Special Effects, and from 1964 through 1971 the award was called Best Special Visual Effects. Ironically in 1972 the category received the name it has today Best Visual Effects. From 1972-1997 the visual effects award was a special achievement award, but in 1977 the award also was formed to be what it we know today
What film helped launch this category to what it is today? In 1977 George Lucas brought to life the visual masterpiece (at the time) Star Wars. When audiences saw what Lucas had done with these visual effects creating a whole new galaxy filled with a death star, tie fighters, wookies, light sabers and so much more the world was blown away. Audiences lined up and made this film a phenomenon. Star Wars changed the landscape for visual effects and made audiences, and people continue to push the boundaries further and further. Lucas took audiences to a new galaxy in a way that was never done before, and this made film makers who had an interest in working with this technology push studios to spend more money to make films that not only explosions but made the extraordinary possible.
Star Wars was the first winner of the Best Visual Effects Academy Award (award with that title), and that is fitting. in the following years the award went to Superman (1978), Alien (1979), Empire Strikes Back (1980), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), E.T. (1982), Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) Jurassic Park (1993), Titanic (1997), The Matrix (1999), The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003), Avatar (2009), and Inception (2010).
Each of these films listed above is pretty impressive. These films are also some of the highest grossing films of all time. Audiences love visual effects and if you look at this category today the 5 films in this category for 2012 have almost doubled the gross of the 9 Best Picture nominees. So the big questions are, is Hollywood missing something and where is the disconnect? Since 1977 when the category became what it is today 13 of the winners have been Best Picture nominees. 13 out of the the last 35 years. Sure there have also been Best Picture nominees that have been in this category that did not win, but usually when a Best Picture nominee was in this category it won.
I feel as though this problem speaks to a much larger disconnect within the Academy. Awardsdaily.com released statistics of the Academy voters and it was no surprise that most of the voters were old white men who had not been nominated or won an award themselves. How does this effect this category? Most of the films that fit within this category would be cited as genre films, like Rise of the Planet of the Apes or Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. Beyond Lord of the Rings the Academy has proven to avoid genre films like the plague. Voters go for films centered around the Holocaust or wars rather than the earth being overrun by apes or a boy wizard because they think this means people will take them more seriously. the problem with this logic is that people, the American public would rather see them nominate/honor films like this years Apes and Harry Potter not The Artist. I hope the Academy takes a look at this delineation and does something about this problem. Note: The solution is not to create genre awards like at the Broadcast Film Critics Awards, but to realize that genre films have a place in the film time capsule.
Onto this year's nominees in this category, and here they are:
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Transformer: Dark of the Moon
Logically the winner will be Hugo. Since 1977 there has been no film that was nominated for Best Picture and did not win this award. Hugo would be the first to lose. Before I tackle who I think will win, I am going to rule out the obvious. Real Steel is the first to get crossed off, this has no shot. Transformers is out too, if neither of the first two films could win, the third film is out. This leaves three. I would pick Potter, but bloggers and journalist seem to have a strong yearning for Apes. Based on history I am going to go with Hugo and Apes as a very close second.
Very Close Second: Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Spoiler: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2