According to The Hollywood Reporter, the 2003 visual effects Oscar race began Friday with the announcement of seven films that made the first cut. New Line Cinema's The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Universal Studios' The Hulk and Peter Pan, 20th Century Fox's Master & Commander and X2, Buena Vista Pictures' Pirates Of The Caribbean, and Warner Bros. Pictures' Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines will compete Jan. 21.

The seven will go head-to-head at a "bake-off" Jan. 21 when 15-minute clip reels will be shown and each film's respective supervisors will make their case before an audience of their peers at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The final three nominations will be announced Jan. 29. Most noteworthy in this year's race is the range of effects -- from one of the most massive CG battles in movie history to more than an hour of unidentifiable visual effects on the open sea.

"Visual effects nominations don't have to go to the big, so-called 'visual-effects movies'," said Richard Edlund, visual effects branch governor. " Master and Commander is a very mature decision by the committee. It could not have been done without extensive and sophisticated visual effects work." The bigger surprise, however, is that Warners' The Matrix Revolutions is missing from the 2003 race. The original "Matrix" won the visual effects Oscar for 1999.

Brian B.