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The Oscar ceremony is just a few days away. With dozens of films under our belts it’s time for us to weigh in on this year’s nominees. We’ll be doing our usual in depth analysis for the major categories, but we’ll give some of the ol’ Grouch treatment to the smaller and technical categories as well.

Today, I (John), tackle Visual Effects and Film Editing. Feel free to make your preferences known in the comments, especially if you happen to know more about these subjects!

Visual Effects

The nominees:

  • Alice in Wonderland
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part 1
  • Hereafter
  • Inception
  • Iron Man 2

By seeing Hereafter on a whim months ago and Tron: Legacy getting a surprise snub here, I happen to have seen all the nominees. Hereafter is the one that strikes me as behind the others. It’s nominated based on an opening sequence where a character is caught in the Boxer Day tsunami. It’s a terrifying sequence and very effective from a film making standpoint. You really feel in the middle of the swell and experience its power. I know the sequence is well-respected in the field and I know water is particularly hard to work with in effects, but I must admit it set off my realism sensors. It’s hard to explain, but little things let me know it wasn’t real, like little errors in physics or the interaction between the animated water and filmed background. Also, it’s a support sequence up against four films reliant on visual effects.

I don’t have much to say about Iron Man 2, Alice in Wonderland, or Harry Potter except that they have good and frequent visual effects in films that are bad, very bad, and mediocre, respectively.

I choose Inception as my winner. It uses its effects mostly cleverly (though as a very clever film one would hope the visuals would also be clever). I also like that it’s a mix of computer generated and more traditional special effects. There’s a city that folds onto itself, but they also built an actual spinning hallway and blew up a model winter fortress.

Film Editing

The nominees:

  • Black Swan
  • The Fighter
  • The King’s Speech
  • 127 Hours
  • The Social Network

I won’t pretend to be an expert in editing. It’s one of those things you don’t usually notice unless it bothers you or if it’s flashy. The Oscars often reward Best Picture contenders or films that have the most editing, like the Bourne Ultimatum debacle.

The editing in 127 Hours provides some necessary pizazz. The guy’s stuck under a rock. You gotta get some energy from somewhere. Black Swan ratchets up the intensity. But I’ll go with The Social Network for maintaining clarity during fast-moving scenes with rat-a-tat dialogue and nailing all its dramatic and comedic beats.

Snubs: Forget a nomination snub, the winner here should be Lee Smith for Inception. The film is an editing marvel, weaving together multiple dream narratives moving at different speeds and keeping it all coherent, especially at the end.

I’ve said before in this blog that you can’t underestimate Clint Eastwood come awards season. But I’m beginning to think that’s not the case any more. Changeling and Gran Torino had little effect on awards season while Invictus couldn’t ride Eastwood to Best Picture as plenty thought it would.

And now Hereafter has quickly dropped from memory. I’m not going to say that fate is undeserved, but it’s a more ambitious and memorable film than Eastwood’s recent works. I had loads of problems with it, but it has still hung around in my head the past few months.

The plot ruminates on life after death via three characters. Matt Damon has some sort of visionary power that allows him to see people’s departed loved ones, a skill he sees as a curse since it prevents him from living a normal life. Cécile De France is a French journalist who narrowly survives the Asian tsunami in the film’s harrowing opening. She experiences a glimpse of the afterlife and uses her journalistic skills to investigate. Finally, Frankie and George McLaren play grade school twins. One is killed and the other looks for answers.

The film has some real narrative problems and the usual Eastwood problems. Each thread is beset by problems and dull stretches. When the stories finally meet it’s unsatisfying. Really everything feels like it needs a tightening up, which makes sense since it was apparently shot off an early draft of Peter Morgan’s script. Some of the acting is suspect.

"Act sadder!"

But even as I fidgeted in my seat during the story’s missteps, I was still taken in by the film’s thoughtful address of its themes. The characters’ struggles, particularly Damon’s and De France’s, are affecting. De France’s segment looks at the science behind the common “peace and bright light” near-death experiences while Damon’s wonders if we should even strive to know the answer to the afterlife.

Don’t go into Hereafter expecting an answer. Perhaps at his age Eastwood knows that answers don’t come easy. And while I would understand if the film’s story problems kills it for you, I found viewing to be a rewarding experience, albeit one I like better to look back on than I did while sitting through it.

July 2020