Here’s why ‘Napoleon’ could be stealth Oscar front-runner for Best Visual Effects

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According to Gold Derby’s current combined predictions, “Godzilla Minus One” is the frontrunner to win Best Visual Effects with 17/5 odds at this year’s Oscars. Meanwhile “Napoleon” is in fourth place with 9/2 odds. However there’s a trend with winners in this category that may benefit the latter film.

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So far this century, 20 Oscar winners for Best Visual Effects also had a corresponding nom for Best Production Design. They are:

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2000 – “Gladiator”

2001 – “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring”

2002 – “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers”

2003 – “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”*

2005 – “King Kong”

2006 – “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest”

2007 – “The Golden Compass”

2008 – “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”*

2009 – “Avatar”*

2010 – “Inception”

2011 – “Hugo”*

2012 – “Life of Pi”

2013 – “Gravity”

2014 – “Interstellar”

2017 – “Blade Runner 2049”

2018 – “First Man”

2019 – “1917”

2020 – “Tenet”

2021 – “Dune”*

2022 – “Avatar: The Way of Water”

*also won Best Production Design

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Since 2000 there have only been three exceptions to the rule. In 2004 “Spider-Man 2” won Best Visual Effects over “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” and “I, Robot”; none of those films had a corresponding Production Design bid. In 2015 three of the nominees — “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Martian” and “The Revenant” — were also up for Production Design. Yet they all lost to “Ex Machina,” which only had one additional nom for Best Original Screenplay. In 2016 “The Jungle Book,” which had no other nominations, won this category; again none of the nominees that year were recognized for Production Design.

Of this year’s Best Visual Effects nominees, none of them have a ton of academy support. For “Godzilla Minus One” and “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” this is the only category they showed up in. “The Creator” and “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” have one other bid apiece, Best Sound in both cases. “Napoleon” has a slight lead with three overall noms: Its two others are for Best Costume Design and Best Production Design.

So judging from history, that Production Design bid may be helpful to its chances of a win here. Plus, of all the Best Visual Effects nominees, it is the film with the greatest prestige factor as it is a biopic about Napoleon Bonaparte directed by Ridley Scott. Prestige has proven to be an advantage here with Best Picture nominees and winners tending to prevail: “Gladiator,” “Lord of the Rings” times three, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” both “Avatar” films, “Inception,” “Hugo,” “Life of Pi,” “Gravity,” “1917” and “Dune.”

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Christopher Nolan’s 2014 film “Interstellar” didn’t have a Best Picture nom but managed to beat out more populist fare like “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “X-Men: Days of Future Past”; “Interstellar” had the most academy support with five noms overall. In Denis Villeneuve’s 2017 sci-fi sequel “Blade Runner 2049” prevailed over bigger blockbuster hits “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” “Kong: Skull Island,” “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and “War for the Planet of the Apes”; “Blade Runner” also had the most support with five noms overall.

Damien Chazelle’s “First Man” (2018), which had four bids overall, won over bigger special effects extravaganzas that had support nowhere else: “Avengers: Infinity War,” “Christopher Robin,” “Ready Player One” and “Solo: A Star Wars Story.” And Nolan’s “Tenet” (2020) beat out four other films with minimal academy support such as “Love and Monsters,” “The Midnight Sky,” “Mulan,” and “The One and Only Ivan”; “Tenet” wasn’t loved by the academy, but it was the only one with that corresponding bid for Best Production Design.

So could “Napoleon” likewise pull off a huge surprise with a Best Visual Effects win on Oscar night?

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