Friday, March 1, 2024

Will “Godzilla Minus One” Become The First Film In The “Godzilla” Franchise To Be Nominated For An Oscar?

“Godzilla,” one of cinema’s most important and beloved creations, has never had its franchise nominated for an Oscar. Seventy years of our favorite chunky boy, ninety-plus years of the Academy’s existence, decades of Best Visual Effects nominees, Best Sound nominees, and, of course, Best Picture nominees, and the greatest monster in cinematic history has never been acknowledged once by the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences.

Sure, the original Toho classics were never taken seriously in their time, but in the last few decades, the iconic plus-size lizard has come incredibly close to achieving Oscar glory. In 1998, disaster director Roland Emmerich’s maligned take on the character was a gargantuan feat of post-“Jurassic Park” visual effects and received an Annie Award nomination. Regardless of its critical reception, the film was enough of a big-budget extravaganza to warrant at least a mention on the Academy’s shortlist alongside “Babe: Pig in the City,” “The Truman Show,” and “Small Soldiers.” Alas, with three nominees at the time, it was bested by the likes of “Armageddon,” the eventual winner “What Dreams May Come,” and, of course, another giant-animal remake, “Mighty Joe Young.”

Given their reputation, accessibility, and overall low-quality effects work, the following Toho “Godzilla” films never stood a chance in a field that would include “Gladiator,” “The Lord of the Rings,” and “Spider-Man 2.” It wasn’t until the trailer for the 2014 remake of “Godzilla,” directed by Gareth Edwards, debuted that eyes began to shift towards what easily looked like our next Best Visual Effects winner or at least nominee. Featuring Godzilla at a scale more massive and more immersive than ever before, far more faithful than the 1998 version, with an insane ensemble of A-list talent packaged to the project, “Godzilla” 2014 was projected to revive and reinvigorate the franchise for American eyes…That is until people actually saw it.

Yes, the effects work was largely praised alongside Edwards’ enormous vision as a director. Still, audiences were left feeling a bit empty, supremely underwhelmed by the lack of the titular monster and especially the grating human characters anchoring the story. “Godzilla” would go on to open huge, with a modestly positive critical reception, but its box office drops were steep and ultimately, better and more commercially successful films such as “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” and that year’s Best Visual Effects Oscar winner “Interstellar” would swallow up the eventual five slots.

The film did successfully start a new franchise (unlike Universal’s Monster-Verse), but “Godzilla’s” sequels received even more mixed reactions, with 2019’s “King of the Monsters” being a critical dud and commercial disappointment. 2021’s “Godzilla vs. Kong,” the film many credits for being the first to revive movie theatres after the pandemic began, was blessed with unreasonably kind reviews. But that film was a finalist for a Best Visual Effects nomination, ultimately losing out to “Free Guy,” “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” “No Time to Die,” and the obvious winner, “Dune.” Ironically, the only movie in the new American Monster-Verse films not to feature Godzilla was “Kong: Skull Island,” which did receive an Oscar nomination in 2018. It was a cruel twist of fate for the franchise, which has millions of fans and has carried over through generations. Beyond the Monster-Verse, the only other recent live-action “Godzilla” film was 2016’s “Shin Godzilla,” which was critically praised but had noticeably ridiculous effects work and was a film that would never be on the Academy’s radar.

Decades of “Godzilla” films later, both American and Japanese, our mutant atomic dinosaur still has dust on his shelves where a gold, engraved trophy should be. Not even a plaque. Not even a participation ribbon. However, enter Takashi Yamazaki’s “Godzilla Minus One“. 

Produced on a reported budget of $15 million US dollars (although Yamazaki himself recently commented on that being a wishful amount), “Godzilla Minus One’s” effects work was immediately praised right off the bat, with a genius combination of real sets, real locations, replicas of real aircraft, boat carnage, and aerial dogfights seamlessly blended with a ferocious new take on Godzilla himself, the work is downright outstanding. The film itself is turning into quite a phenomenon. Not only is it being bestowed the honor of being the best “Godzilla” film ever made, but it’s also making bank at the US box office, with its initial limited run being expanded due to consistent word-of-mouth praise. It truly is a little movie with a big heart (emphasis on BIG).

Indeed, a $15 million budget works a little differently in Japan (“Shin Godzilla” cost $6 million), with labor costs being exponentially different than what’s included in the typical American budget. And does it look perfect? No. The overweight reptile still looks CGI pretty clearly to the human eye, and green screen work is occasionally noticeable. However, it looks as good as any American blockbuster with a $200 million budget. And it still has an appropriate amount of Godzilla himself featured throughout the film’s runtime.

Just as the film is building tons of steam, it managed to squeeze into the list of 20 finalists for the 96th Academy Awards (and even managed a Best Foreign Language Film nomination from the Critics Choice Awards even though it’s not Japan’s official selection for the prize this year). Now had “Dune: Part Two” stuck to its original date, we would most likely see the obvious rotation of future “Dune” and “Avatar” films snag the gold year after year, but thanks to the SAG strike causing the second half of Villeneuve’s adaptation to postpone to 2024, this category is strangely vacant of a frontrunner. Even a substantial technical achievement like “Oppenheimer” didn’t have enough noticeable work to qualify for the top twenty competing for those final five slots.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” the only successful live-action superhero film of the year, seems to only be worthy of a bridesmaid nomination given its reliably good CGI with little “wow factor” that the Academy tends to want to honor. “Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves,” with its creative use of long-take visual trickery and mix of practical effects creatures, is not a technical breakthrough. “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” with its plastic-like de-aging and bombastic finale sequence, is not beloved enough. “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” has the disadvantage of its medium being an animated film where the argument of what constitutes a visual effects achievement goes typically unrewarded.

The two biggest challenges of the prize are the Best Picture-contending “Poor Things,” whose effects work is mainly attributed to the creation of its bizarre environments and tiny creatures, and “The Creator,” a film by “Godzilla” 2014’s Gareth Edwards, which is another film with impressive visual effects done on a slim budget. Much talk has been about “The Creator’s” effects work since the first trailer, achieving photorealistic AI robotics amongst a grand backdrop of a dystopian future. With those elements under an $80 million budget looking dramatically better than “Fast X,” “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” or “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny’s” inflated $250-300 million costs, it’s a film that brought the most attention by the public to the work done by these artists who can achieve amazing things when the time, the resources, and the care by their leadership is there to assist them.

However, despite the lower budget, the film made pennies at the box office and received dismissive criticism for its lack of originality, even as an *original* film. Rarely do we see such forgotten films, no matter how good the technical elements are, get their roses. In fact, “Poor Things” might truly contend for the win based on its status as a Best Picture Oscar contender and is one of the most visually sumptuous movies of the year, as 2011’s “Hugo.” So why aren’t we considering “Godzilla Minus One?”

Just last year, another international phenomenon, “RRR,” managed to come up from behind Lady Gaga and Rihanna to win Best Original Song at the Oscars. It had the assistance of being a piece of music that could be judged and listened to even by those who chose not to watch the film; it blew up on TikTok and social media and played at every Indian wedding reception. Despite not even being shortlisted for Best Visual Effects, it still managed to find success within the Academy.

Another comparison to make would be “Ex Machina’s‘” shocking Best Visual Effects win, besting three Best Picture nominees “The Revenant,” “The Martian,” “Mad Max: Fury Road” and the more obvious frontrunner for that competition, the triumphant return to a galaxy far, far away, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” A tiny film like “Ex Machina” was able to kick the keister of what is still the highest-grossing film of all time domestically. But “Ex Machina” was also the surprise awards contender of the year, receiving a nomination for Best Original Screenplay. “Godzilla Minus One” isn’t even in the conversation for other nominations, along with its disqualification to compete for the Best International Feature Film nomination with Japan. So, Best Visual Effects is the film’s only hope.

And what would a Best Visual Effects win mean for “Godzilla Minus One?” It would be the first-ever international film to win the category, coming one year after “All Quiet on the Western Front’s” rare nomination in the same category. As stated before, it would be the first nomination and win for the “Godzilla” franchise. It would go to the person most attributed to the film’s success, its director, Takashi Yamasaki, as he is the film’s visual effects supervisor. And a first win for “Godzilla” would be pretty neat being handed to a Toho version, the company that started it all, instead of one of the American film versions of the legendary movie monster.

That said, “Godzilla Minus One” has to make the next bake-off list, and if it doesn’t, what a waste of an article this will be. Forget everything you just read and maybe look forward to a possible nomination next year for *checks notes* “Godzilla X Kong: A New Empire,” I guess?

Do you think the Academy will nominate Godzilla Minus One” for Best Visual Effects? Could it win the category if nominated? Please let us know in the comments section below or on Next Best Picture’s Twitter account and check out their latest Oscar predictions here.

You can follow Jakob and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars & Film on Twitter at @jakobkolness

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