In spite of everyone's deep angers usually incurred by the Oscar nominations, mostly involving films that we didn't want to see and now must out of obligation, things still operate in a forward motion as we hurtle towards the eventually depressing ceremony. And what safer way to head into the predictions than with visual effects, which seems set predictably in stone months in advance. The fact that "The Tree of Life" isn't here clears up competition to a predictable fit for what it always has been. What are the flashiest, showiest, and most obnoxiously sparkly films in play? They don't really care about technique so much until they really have to make a decision.
The inclusion of "Hugo" just seems to be riding on a wave of buzz for it to clean up house entirely. I have considerable doubts about it, but it could very well take this and many others if it proves to be an inexplicable sweep. "Real Steel" is only here for flash points, and it does have some admittedly stylish moments, but they are amongst a great deal of nonsense going on. Even though the film would be nothing without it, it doesn't feel like they really fuel the film. It would go on without them, though not nearly as convincingly. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" is a mixed bag, as there are times when it is kind of pretty, but the rest of the time it just looks utterly stale and lifeless. It's not a manifestation of magic so much and computer engineering, and you can feel that.
No, the race really goes between the films that utterly rely on their visuals to tell their stories, or whatever passes off as them. I'd prefer to see this one go to "Transformers: Dark of the Moon", because it is absolutely a rollicking good time because of every second that goes into the explosions, the mechanism, and the machines, no matter how dunderheaded their use is, although to my eyes it is gleefully dunderheaded. But I know that it will most likely end up with "Rise of the Planet of the Apes", assuming that they don't have too much of a problem with motion capture. They had no problem with "Avatar", so they shouldn't have a problem here. I think they're of the mind that it's the computer artists and not the actors, so I'd say this is a pretty solid give for them. But this is really between the top two players and "Hugo", and as such could go any number of ways.
WILL WIN: "Hugo"
SHOULD WIN: "Transformers: Dark of the Moon"
SHOULD REALLY WIN: "Immortals"
PERSONAL RANKINGS: 1. "Transformers: Dark of the Moon"
2. "Rise of the Planet of the Apes"
3. "Real Steel"
4. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2"