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« Pt 1: Winners. Trivia. Stats. (How'd you do on your predictions?) | Main | The Mad Six »

In Praise of Ex Machina's Win

Manuel here. One of our favorite wins from last night’s Academy Awards was Ex Machina’s triumph in the Best Visual Effects category.

We marveled at its nod when the nominations came out mostly because it seemed like the low-key supportive use of visual effects that rarely get cited in the category (why else would you pass over the effects of say, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind?). Add to that a stellar category across the board—Judy! BB-8! Furiosa! Mars!—and the A24 film win feels all the more laudable. Sometimes, it seems, “best” need not mean “most” to Oscar members. 

But two things are particularly striking to the inner number cruncher:

1. Ex Machina became the second non-Best Picture nominee to win in this category since the Academy expanded the Best Pic roster. Interstellar, as Amir reminded me in the comments, was the first. As you’ll remember, the expanded field was designed (in part) to accommodate critically acclaimed blockbusters (like The Dark Knight) and true to form, whether in direct response to this or not, Avatar, Inception, Hugo, Life of Pi, and Gravity were surely helped by their Best Pic cred. We all assumed this again would be the case this year and would help either The Revenant, The Martian or Mad Max: Fury Road (the latter an increasingly possible outcome given the film’s tech dominance). The same, of course, would have been the case had Star Wars The Force Awakens won but that win would have been more easily parsed. It is the most successful film of the past year having been printing money ever since it premiered which brings me to talk of box office.

2. Ex Machina became the lowest grossing winner in 18 years. When nominations were announced, it was worth being reminded that this sci-fi film was one of the lowest grossing nominees in quite some time. You had to go back to Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter’s $32 million haul to find a comparable box office example. With its win, the Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander film became the lowest grossing winner since What Dreams May Come ($55m). It’s quite a feat when, even as the category has been known to award the statuette to the lowest grossing nominee of the bunch (7 of the past 15 times), the winners have averaged a gross of $269 million. This is, after all, a category that welcomes crowd-pleasing blockbusters and effects-driven spectacles. A24 and Garland’s crew should be very proud of their win which really overcame many obstacles on its way to this surprise win.

And what a welcome surprise it was!

[Note: The film also recently won the Film Bitch Award Gold Medal in its category though we thought a correlative Oscar impossible - Editor]

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Reader Comments (18)

Interstellar wasn't nominated for best picture, unless I'm misunderstanding you?

February 29, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAmir

This was definitely the most surprising award of the night for me.

February 29, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRenton

Amir, I must have had my Nolan fanboy glasses on (I didn't even know I owned those!). Post has will be edited accordingly.

February 29, 2016 | Registered CommenterManuel Betancourt

Those VFX are indeed excellent and worthy, but with the movie earning less than half of what the almost 20-year-old What Dreams May Come did, I am still going to have to partly chalk it up to the Vikander (Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Supporting Category™) Effect.

February 29, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

This was my first "HOLY SHIT!" moment of the night, and probably my favorite win, when all is said and done. There is nothing to not like about this win.

February 29, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

Looking quickly through the list of Oscar winners (in ALL categories) since the turn of the century, and I'm finding it hard to think of any other win that's as big a surprise as this. Is anything comparable?

February 29, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAmir

Probably my second favorite Oscar win last night.

February 29, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Apologies but ex machina bored me senseless.a+++ for the sfx.

February 29, 2016 | Unregistered Commentermark

Amir - Marcia Gay Harden.

February 29, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

It's also the first time a non-Best Picture nominee beat a Best Picture nominee in this category since 1970, when "Tora! Tora! Tora!" won over "Patton." Only this time, it beat *three* Best Picture nominees!

February 29, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

A cinema re-release could be in order. It plays well on the home screen ( I've only seen it via iTunes on my tell) but I'd go see it in the cinema. I'm sure a lot of others would too now they know about it. There's a bit of a lull in the cinema at the moment. I suppose it won't happen since the makers will be happy for it to rake in the digital dollars.

February 29, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJoanne

It's an incredibly refreshing win. The biggest surprise in this category since The Golden Compass taking down Transformers in 2007, to the audible gasps of the audience.

I wasn't a big fan of the movie (too problematic with its sexist and racial overtones) but those effects were flawless, tasteful AND restrained. That never happens and it's a cause to celebrate, surely.

February 29, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMark The First

I'm just happy " The Prententious" oops I mean " The Revenant" lost best picture- yes "Ex Machina" FX were not only well done but they were essential to the film

February 29, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

Mark Harris labelled it the biggest surprise in *any* category for years. I'd have to agree.
Amusingly, much like MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, it seemed like the biggest struggle was simple getting the nomination in the first place. Could EX MACHINA have actually been closer to a Vikander surprise or even a best picture nod than we think? If enough people voted for it in visual effects, then it clearly has fans. And in hindsight, the Vikander win seems even more obvious. They clearly liked both movies.

February 29, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

Is this the first time a woman has won in this category?

February 29, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEz

@Ez. Third woman nominated, second female winner. First winner was Suzanne Benson for Aliens 30 years ago.

Although I don't think it was the best fx work of last year, I don't mind Ex Machina winning because they had such a small budget to work with.

March 1, 2016 | Unregistered Commentermsd

Thanks msd :)

March 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEz

So I just watched this on Amazon Prime and oh my god I love it. The effects are wonderful. I couldn't, but think as I watching it that it should be in consideration for HMWYBS.

March 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

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