(Awards season) At the Movies: Revisiting recent Oscar snubs

  • The Tree of Life for Best Visual Effects

The Tree of Life is, hands down, one of the best films of recent times. If not the best. After several years in development and missing 2009 and 2010 release dates, it was released in 2011 to widespread critical acclaim and modest commercial success. It was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director and Best Cinematography. It was also criminally left out the Best Visual Effects race.

The story behind The Tree of Life‘s visual effects is pretty interesting: director Terrence Malick disliked the look of computer-generated imagery, so he went old-school with the help of famed special effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull, who had been retired for nearly thirty years at the time (note: it really shouldn’t come as a surprise since everything in 2011 was kinda throwback-y, also confirmed by the success of The Artist). In an interview, Trumbull said that he and fellow visual effects supervisor Dan Glass “worked with chemicals, paint, fluorescent dyes, smoke, liquids, CO2, flares, spin dishes, fluid dynamics, lighting and high-speed photography to see how effective they might be”. Fluid-based effects were also developed by Peter and Chris Parks, and additional effects were provided by Double Negative in London. The film also credited Thomas Wilfred’s lumia composition Opus 161 as the source of the “shifting flame of red-yellow light” at the beginning and the end.

The final product definitely benefits from the back-to-basics route: the effects have a very distinctive, natural look, bewitching quality, boldness and fluidity that’s hard to find and draws you in. They add another dimension to the narrative. They can be breathtaking and somewhat mystical, and in their old-schoolness, they perfectly fit with the movie’s settings in the past. They contribute greatly to The Tree of Life‘s singularity and should be held in high regard for being very imaginative in a way that few are in a period where the most common special effects involve mindlessly blowing up stuff…

… You know, the Michael Bay School of Filmmaking

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2 thoughts on “(Awards season) At the Movies: Revisiting recent Oscar snubs

  1. Good call, and a very good film. A bit of a departure for Cronenberg, but excellent to see how he allowed the plot to develop through actors talking to each other, trusting their body language and the things they said to keep it going instead of inter-cutting with superfluous action scenes e.g. some visual representation of their dreams.

    As for Keira Knightley, she really did shine in it. Quite something to come out of a film starring Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender as the most memorable performance, but then she stole it with the development of her character, the facial and bodily contortions in the early scenes of her hysteria blending into controlled poise, whilst the emotions are writ just as large.

    A shame about the Oscars snub, though in fairness I think the voting process within the Academy often has so little to do with the best work and performances that who gets it is rendered meaningless. This was the year that Meryl Streep won it for playing Margaret Thatcher, wasn’t it? Not a bad impersonation, not a patch on this, but then it’s Meryl Streep playing Margaret Thatcher. It was a shoo-in.

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  2. There’s no denying there’s some real issues at the moment with the awards. And as you pointed out – it’s not just BLACK or WHITE. I had this discussion with a friend earlier about race and cinema. The idea of a black James Bond. Fair enough, but…what about an Indian James Bond? Or Hispanic? Or Asian? The awards highlight such issues even more, focusing so much on race….in many ways when clearly it should just be a case of the winner goes to ….whoever was the best, so open up the flood gates and start to recognize more films and talent from all over the planet. It’s mad isn’t it?

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