Usually, by the time the hum of excitement around cinema's award season has grown deafening, the year's biggest movies have been discreetly split in two. On one side are the real contenders - the rousing dramas and lavish biopics, filled with epic speeches and flawless emoting. To their side stand the effects movies - spectacular tales of superheroes and distant worlds, often wildly successful at the box office but which find, come Oscar night, that they're herded away from their peers into what are called, with an audible sniff, the 'technical categories'.
This year may be different. Gravity, the new film from director Alfonso Cuaron, is an effects movie to its core, sending astronauts Sandra Bullock and George Clooney into the cold void of space at its most ferocious. It even comes in that most reviled of things, 3D.
Yet only by a howling injustice will Cuaron's movie fail to hoover up awards not just as a technical wonder, but a triumph of big-screen storytelling - a movie that says something profound about being human at the same time as it's making you feel like you're being spun upside down in a tumble dryer. In any sane world, it will be the film to finally end the two-tier nature of Oscar night.
Which would be long overdue. Throughout my film-going life, effects have been if not quite a dirty word for certain audiences, then one met with a weary roll of the eyes. But I've also always felt the snottiness around effects arose because they reminded critics in particular of the movies' origins as a circus entertainment, a trashy diversion designed to thrill sensation-hungry crowds.
But movies are effects - what we see on screen is never real, not really, and that's something to be embraced. The history of cinema is mapped out in technical vaults forward. Once, the innovators were the great German cinematographer Karl Freund, who manhandled his cameras on numerous silent classics, or the much loved Ray Harryhausen with the stop-motion creations that lit up the likes of Jason and the Argonauts. Now, their heirs sit at unremarkable looking computers with the power to create new realities or tweak the usual one so subtly we wouldn't even know it's happened - one of the most frequent tasks for the 21st Century effects industry being quietly removing signs of modern life from period movies.
And their work now shapes a vast expanse of filmmaking. I think back to the Hollywood movies that have meant the most to me in recent years and I think of Ang Lee's Life of Pi, a film built on the bewitching realism of its computer-generated tiger star, and the underrated Rise of the Planet of the Apes with its scores of raging simians.
But Hollywood isn't the whole story - the gloriously odd French arthouse hit Holy Motors used digital effects with expert precision, just like Lars von Trier's beautifully apocalyptic Melancholia. In 2013, show me the film lover who claims to hate effects, and I'll show you someone in a state of deep confusion.
It may be a sign of changing times that London is about to host the second VFX Festival, a celebration of the effects industry involving public screenings, panel discussions, and a focus on how to train the next generation of effects wizards in an area of the film industry where Britain currently excels. Though as a writer it gives me a certain pang to admit it, right now I'd encourage any creative young soul with at least a dash of technical confidence that if they wanted to get into the movies, then learning their way around the right software might just be their best bet.
The arrival of a film like Gravity only strengthens that conviction. With a spirit that dates back to the birth of cinema, it also points us to the future - one where there will no longer be Oscar movies and effects movies, but just movies.
Tickets for the VFX Festival on 4 - 13 November are available at: http://www.thevfxfestival.com/
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