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]