"Avatar" leads with 11 nominations at the eighth annual Visual Effects Society awards fest. In the VES equivalent of a best picture race -- visual effects in a visual effects-driven feature motion picture -- "Avatar" contends against "District 9," "Star Trek," "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" and "2012."
All five of those films -- as well as "Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince" and "Terminator: Salvation" -- are contending for the three slots in the visual effects race at the Oscars. On Thursday, members of the visual effects branch of the academy will screen 15-minute excerpts from each of these seven short-listed films to determine the final nominees.
Last year, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" won the top prize with both the VES and the Oscars. However, two years ago top VES winner "Transformers" lost the visual effects Oscar to "The Golden Compass." Over the first five years of the VES kudos, the winners matched four times — in 2006 ("Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest"), 2005 ("King Kong"), 2003 ("The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King") and 2002 ("The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers"). In 2004, the VES chose "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" while the Oscar went to "Spider-Man 2."
"Avatar" contends in six other categories, landing triple noms for creative environment in a feature, double nods for both visual effect of the year and compositing in a feature and single bids for animated character in a live-action feature; matte paintings in a feature; and models and miniatures in a feature.
Winners will be announced Feb. 28 at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel. Even without all these nods, "Avatar" director James Cameron already was sure to be on hand because he is to be feted with a lifetime achievement award.
Photo: "Avatar" poster. Credit: Fox.