Friday, October 9, 2009

Oscar Update: The Animated Film Race

The biggest question about the animated film race at the moment is whether we will have 3 or 5 nominees this year. In order to have 5 nominees, then you need to have 16 films qualify for the Oscar and be submitted to the Academy. When the Academy announces the shortlist in November, then we will know if we have 3 or 5 films. There certainly are enough animated movies to warrant 5 slots this year (currently there are 17 films that could qualify, and there is sometimes a shocker of an anime film or something like Alvin and the Chipmunks that squeaks onto the shortlist), so you never know what is going to happen.

So let’s look at the contenders. No matter how many nominees there are, I find it hard to believe that Pixar’s Up will not only be nominated, but will also walk away with the Oscar hands down. Since the award was inaugurated in 2001, Pixar has won four of the eight Oscars given out in this category and were nominated 6 times– the two of the years they did not get a nomination, it was because they didn’t have a film released that year. With an expanded slate of 10 Best Picture nominees, I think Up will find it’s way onto that list as well, so all the other films will become also rans.

In my second position, I see the Academy going with Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo. Both of his previous films since the category was introduced (Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle), picked up nominations, and Spirited Away actually won the award. Furthermore, Miyazaki is a God among animators, and I think even if Ponyo isn’t quite as good as many Miyazaki movies, that he’ll slide in no matter what.

It’s the third slot I am having trouble predicting, as I think there are five movies that have a legitimate chance to take it, and a sixth one on the outside looking in. My most likely nominee would be Henry Selick’s Coraline. Both a popular audience hit, and a critical success, this early year entry has a lot of fans, and fits the bill for something a little darker, than the Academy sometimes goes for. If there’s five nominees, it’s a no brainer, but with three, it may be tricky.

Disney returns to its classic animation style with The Princess and the Frog coming out at Christmas, and I think that the Academy may welcome the return. Lilo and Stitch, Treasure Planet and Brother Bear all did receive nominations earlier this decade before Disney stopped doing the classic style of animation. Only Atlantis: The Lost Empire from 2001 was overlooked. But there is already some controversy about some apparent racism in the movie, so perhaps the Academy will steer clear.

Wes Anderson’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox has received some great advance word, and with stars like George Clooney and Meryl Streep, it could only help the cause. However, sometimes branches in the Academy look down at newcomers, and Anderson has never done animation before, so I wonder if he’ll get in.

Shane Acker’s 9 is brilliant animated, so perhaps the animation branch will reach out and nominate it. But the film did receive some middle of the road reviews, and the box office was anything but bright. You have to assume its main competition is Coraline, which with better reviews and box office, certainly has the edge.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is the type of crowd pleasing animated film that the Academy often nominates over more distinguished, mature films in this category, so I wouldn’t count it out too quickly. True, it’s not quite the blockbuster that some other films are, but it seems to have more love out there for it.

Finally, there is Robert Zemeckis’ A Christmas Carol, which will surely be a huge financial hit, and probably get some good reviews as well. However, neither The Polar Express or Beowulf were able to get nominated in this category, and the branch seems to look down on the whole motion capture technique, so it could be touch and go. With 3 spots, I’d say it has no chance. With 5, I’m not so sure. After all, in the years of The Polar Express and Beowulf, we don’t know what position they came in, as there were only 3 nominations. For all we know, they could have come in fourth, and therefore A Christmas Carol would look good.

So those are the 8 films that I see really competing for the animated film nominations. With 3 nominees, I’d go with Up, Ponyo and Coraline, and with 5, I’d go with those three along with The Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Princess and the Frog. But what do I know. But now, let’s look at the other 9 films that could get qualify, but probably will not be much in play.

Astro Boy opens in a few weeks, so it will qualify, but I wonder if they’ll even bother submitting it, knowing that they do not have much a chance. The movie looks like a cheap attempt to cash in on the franchise name and I’m not hearing a lot of people clamoring for it.

Battle for Terra was one of the biggest box office bombs of the year, and I don’t hear too many people claiming that the film is underrated, so don’t count on this being in play.

Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone is an anime film with a cult following, and has already met the release requirements. I wonder though if the fact that the film was released in 2007 in Japan will effect it’s eligibility. I don’t think so, but it doesn’t matter much. If it’s not directed by Miyazaki, then the Academy doesn’t take anime seriously.

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs was a big box office hit this summer, but the critics were not overly fond of it. While the first film got nominated, it was in 2002 the only other year with five nominees, and the second film didn’t come close to a nomination, so the money will have to be award enough for this one.

If there is a sleeper among this group of films, then it is Mary and Max, a Sundance hit about a pen pal friendship between an overweight 8 year old girl in Austraila, and a 44 obese, athetist Jew in New York. An audience hit in Australia, and a critical hit everywhere, the film is apparently very dark, despite being in claymation (it deals with among other things suicide and depression), so it could be too dark for the Academy. But with five spots, who knows?

Monsters vs. Aliens was another big audience hit earlier this year, but it was not very well received critically, and I don’t think it can sustain any momentum over the course of a very long year between the time the film was released and when the nominations come out. There’s just too many stronger films this year.

Planet 51 has yet to be released, so we’ll have to wait on the critical and box office reactions to the film, but the preview certainly does strike me as being a more commercial, and less critically, geared film. Could be fun, but I don’t think it will get close to a nomination.

Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure is another Disney film, that is being granted an Oscar qualifying run in LA later this year, before heading straight to DVD. This strikes me as a rather cynical attempt on the part of Disney to try and up the number of nominees to 5, instead of 3, by placing another film in the race. They don’t honestly believe this has a shot do they?

Finally, another sleeper could be A Town Called Panic, a French film in the “puppetoon mode”, that played at Cannes earlier this year, and is apparently going to be released over here later this year, or perhaps early next. If the small studio behind the film, Zeitgeist, decides to qualify it, then it may have a shot. But they will only do so, I think, if they feel they have an actual shot at a nomination. Otherwise, it would just be throwing money they don’t have away on a lost cause.

That looks like the traditional films that will qualify for this award. As I said, sometimes a curveball has been thrown in at the last minute as some smaller, anime films qualify without anyone realizing it, or something like Alvin and the Chipmunks, which is a mixture of live action and animation, makes the shortlist. With the Squeakquel of that one coming out this year, perhaps it can make the shortlist again this year, if they decide to even try (which is a legitimate question, since if the original did not get a nomination, the sequel probably won’t). And just throwing this out there – if Alvin and the Chipmunks meets their definition of animation, what will they make of James Cameron’s Avatar? The requirements are that the film has to be released in LA before December 31 (check), be of featrure length (check), be professionally made (assuming check), and have the majority of characters in the movie be animated (which is how the chipmunks squeaked in). I doubt it very highly that they’ll even attempt it, but who the hell knows.

In closing, I would like to say that despite the fact that many people don’t like this category, as they think it marginalizes animated films to the “ghetto” of having it’s category, I love it. You know why? Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Fantasia, Pinocchio, Dumbo, Bambi, Cinderella, Lady and the Tramp, 101 Dalmations, The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Yellow Submarine, Princess Mononoke, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Grave of the Fireflies, Toy Story, Toy Story 2, The Iron Giant, Akira, Chicken Run and many more. These are all great animated films released in the years before the category was introduced, and not a single one of them got nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. The only animated film to ever get nominated was Beauty and the Beast in 1991. So complain if you want to that having its own category places animated film in the ghetto (I don’t hear anywhere near as many complaints about the foreign language or documentary categories, but whatever), the truth of the matter is that the Academy placed these films in the ghetto long before they had this category. At least this way great animators can actually win an Oscar. And to me, that’s just fine.

No comments:

Post a Comment