Friday, January 31, 2014

And the Oscar goes to... a 3D film?

This year's Awards Season is gearing up for its main event: the 86th Academy Awards. Many cinephiles justifiably find the concept of 'Awards Season' horrifying. They can validly cite examples through the years where Oscar was wrong  (My Fair Lady over Strangelove? Crash over Good Night and Good Luck? Shakespeare In Love being allowed in the same room as the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan?) and they can cite many more examples where films "should at least have been nominated!" Thankfully, the Academy broadened the nomination pool after universal outcry at The Dark Knight's nomination snub in 2008, and that's alleviated those tensions a little. It means we get a more balanced summary of the year in cinema: edgier films get nominated (District 9, Amour), and broader-playing fare (Up, The Help) makes the cut as a nearer summary of what movie-goers... go to the movies for in the first place.

The Nominees

2013's nominees are typical of the post-Dark Knight era: a David O. Russell "actor's movie"; a film about American racial discrimination; a couple of films about elderly people; a movie about finding love in an unlikely place; a smattering of biopics and... a 3D film. Wait, what was that? A 3D film, nominated for Best Picture? You got it. Every year since 2008 there has been at least one 3D film nominated for Hollywood's biggest accolade. In 2009, there was Avatar and Up. In 2010, Pixar stayed the course with Toy Story 3. Scorsese's Hugo literally popped out of the screen in 2011. Life Of Pi followed in 2012, and now we have the big kahuna: Gravity. We'll get to Gravity's chances later though.

For now, let's discuss what this means for the acceptance of 3D in Hollywood and the 'mainstream'. Does it mean anything at all? Given the post-Dark Knight boom in Oscar nominations, it seems easy to discredit any significance a 3D-focused site like ours might impose. So, we've decided to go one further. Today we're going to look at broader trends within The Academy Awards for the nomination of 3D films in the modern age, to see if we can read the tea-leaves for Hollywood's true view on 3D movie-making.


From 1928 onwards, every Academy Award for Best Cinematography was given to a 2D movie. Depth was communicated with focus pulling, the mono illusion of parralax, or a savvy combination of both. Those two concepts were fundamental to how cinematography "worked". At least, that was how it "worked" until 2009. That year, Mauro Fiore took home an Oscar for his revolutionary work on the 3D film Avatar. Two years later (enough time for Hollywood to hastily revisit this whole 3D business) Robert Richardson deservedly earned his third Oscar for his stereo work on Hugo. The 85th Academy Awards officially made it a trend: Claudio Miranda and his team were rewarded for working with the ocean & kids & animals & 3D on Life Of Pi. And guess what? 2013's Best Cinematography Oscar has another 3D film nominated: Gravity. We'll find out how realistic Emmanuel Lubezki's chances are after the American Society of Cinematographers announce their Award for Outstanding Achievement later tonight.

Visual Effects

So, we've established there's a trend underway for 3D Best Picture nominees, and 3D Best Cinematography winners. What about any other categories? As it happens, 3Defence has done deeper digging to reveal other surprises. The Academy Award for Best Visual Effects has been inundated with 3D films. This isn't that surprising: visual effects are expensive, and 3D is where the money is these days. The exponential growth in this field is surprising though. In 2006, Superman Returns was the first (partial) 3D film to be nominated in the category, Avatar was the first to win, and then - like the cinematography field - two years later a veritable deluge arrived. 2010 had one 3D nominee (Alice In Wonderland), while 2011 saw a 3D winner (Hugo) and 2 nominees (Transformers 3, and Harry Potter 7.5). 2012 saw another 3D winner (Life Of Pi) and 3 nominees (The Hobbit 1/3, The Avengers 1, and Alien 0.5 Prometheus). 2013... 4 of the 5 nominees are 3D movies (The Hobbit 2/3, Iron Man 3, Star Trek 12 2, and of course, Gravity). While we're a wee way off from 2014's nominees, it's fair to assume that we'll see a similar ratio of nominees this year (likely contenders are The Planet of The Apes 8 2, The Hobbit 3/3, Maleficent and Transformers 4), and probably the following year too. 3D is here to stay in the visual effects category.


You'd imagine that, having exhausted the two most obviously 'visual' categories, we'd be done with the 3D-focused trend at the Oscars... but then you'd be forgetting Best Animated Feature. Guess what? Since 2008, 4 out of 5 Animated Feature winners were 3D films (WALL-E, Up, Toy Story 3 and Brave), and in addition to that, 10 of the nominees were 3D films too. It's a hard call who will win this year; will the 2D Miyazaki effort The Wind Rises reward the animation legend for his years of long-service, or will the Academy bow to the populist choice and reward the 3D hit musical Frozen? At this point we'd peg the chances for both at 50:50.

Other Technical Categories

Following on from these trends, 9 Oscars for 3D films have also been dealt out amongst the Production Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Original Score,  Costume Design, and Best Original Song categories. Notable absences can be found in the editing, hair & makeup, costume and two screenplay categories. It's possible Gravity will buck the trend for editing, and The Great Gatsby does the same for Costume Design, but we wouldn't recommend betting the house on either!

A 3D Film For Best Picture?

Which leads us back to Gravity's Best Picture nomination. Will it be the first 3D film to win the industry's most coveted of awards? It's got good chances. In its director, Alfonso Cuarón, the film has a 'career come-back' narrative that Academy voters love (his last film, Children Of Men, was well regarded critically, but poorly attended at the box-office). The film has the 'popular vote' sewn up, with wider audiences still paying millions to see it on the big-screen, despite it being 3+ months into its cinematic release. The Director's Guild of America gave its top honour to Cuarón, and the Producer's Guild gave a rare tie to Gravity and 12 Years A Slave. The scales are weighed in Gravity's favour, save for one thing: it's not got many actors in it. 22% of Academy voters are actors, and they have historically bestowed Best Picture awards out to, well, 'showy' films with large casts (see Crash, for example). It's certainly possible their enduring love for Sandra Bullock will help out Gravity's chances, but we at 3Defence would be weary of giving the film more than 60:40 odds to take out the Best Picture Oscar.

Still, the very fact this conversation is possible is amazing. Within a month's time, either 3D movie-making will either finally be legitimized, or we will have to wait for another year to have this debate all over again. No matter what happens, it's clear that - from Hollywood's perspective at least - 3D is here to stay. The movie industry's own voters are recognising the technical excellence being used to pull off stereo movies convincingly, and are rewarding their talented crew and studios accordingly. Fingers crossed Gravity helps break some more records on March 2nd!

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