'Avatar,' 'Star Trek,' 'District 9' get visual-effects Oscar nods

Although no one should be surprised about the three films that were nominated for visual effects, the folks behind '2012' are probably feeling pretty sore today.

On Tuesday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the 2010 Oscar nominations. Among them were three nominations for visual effects and five for best animated feature. Fox

In case you weren't paying attention, 2009 was a banner year for big, big visual effects movies.

And the teams that crafted the most impressive work were honored Tuesday morning, along with all the best and brightest in filmmaking, when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the nominations for the 2010 Oscars.

Here at CNET News we have a special place in our heart, as you might expect, for visual-effects-heavy movies because of the fantastic amounts of technology and computing power that goes into them.

As usual, the Academy chose just three films as visual-effects nominees. That number seems smaller this year, given that it's the first time that 10 movies were singled out as the potential best film of the year.

Still, to those who follow visual effects, there's probably little shock this morning in the fact that the three nominated films were: "Avatar," James Cameron's record-breaking anti-colonialism epic; "Star Trek," the latest, and some would say the best, in the long history of movies of the Gene Roddenberry franchise; and "District 9," from director Neill Blomkamp.

Perhaps the only real surprise was that "2012," Roland Emmerich's fantasy about an apocalypse long foreseen on the Mayan calendar, wasn't nominated. But in a year with several very strong candidates, it was clear that not every one of them would earn a nomination.

Also gracing the nominations was a CNET favorite, Pixar's " Up ," for best animated feature. That film, Pixar's 10th straight big hit, was joined by several other strong contenders: "Coraline," Wes Anderson's "Fantastic Mr. Fox," "The Princess and the Frog," and "The Secret of Kells."

From this corner, "Avatar" looks to be as big of a sure thing to win the visual-effects Oscar as I can remember. It's not that the work ILM did on "Star Trek" or that Image Engine did on "District 9" wasn't great. It's more that "Avatar" has taken the world by storm, breaking the all-time box office record--previously held, of course, by Cameron's own "Titanic"--and pretty much blowing everyone away with the creation of the fantastical moon of Pandora. I will be completely surprised if "Avatar" doesn't walk away with the Oscar on March 7.

As I've written previously , if "Avatar" wins the Oscar, it could be the big public coming out party for Weta Digital, director Peter Jackson's visual-effects studio. Within the industry, to be quite sure, Weta is well-known for its work on Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy and on his "King Kong," but my argument is that the company is not well-known by the public for its projects, which have already earned it four Oscars.

Either way, with nine nominations, including for best picture, best director, art direction, and cinematography, March 7 looks to be a big night for Cameron and the countless people who made "Avatar." After all, while 2009 was a pretty good year for movies, Hollywood loves a smash, especially one that makes people look at things in an entirely new way. And for that, visual effects may well be the true star of Oscar night 2010.

 

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