Sunday, January 22, 2012
2011 Oscar Contenders - Animated Film & Best Picture
It might surprise you that the Academy Awards have seven different Best Picture awards. There are three for Live Action Short Film, Documentary Short Film, Animated Short Film, Documentary Film, Foreign Language Film, Animated Film and, of course, Best Picture. I do not bother predicting the nominees for the three short film categories because I usually don’t get to see those until months after the awards ceremony. The labyrinthine rules, restrictions and regulations for the Documentaries and Foreign Films make it virtually impossible for anyone but an Academy member to figure out. So I will concentrate my efforts on the last two.
BEST ANIMATED FILM
Rules state that a minimum of 16 animated films must have seen a theatrical release in Los Angeles and been submitted to the Academy for there to be a full roster of five nominees. This year, 17 movies made the cut so we will have a full five. However, this category has an annual bake-off, which sees the full list being whittled down to a smaller number from which the five nominees will come.
~The Adventures Of Tintin – The Animation branch of the Academy thus far has resisted even calling motion capture an animation technique (they call it visual effects instead), but director Steven Spielberg and producer Peter Jackson are a formidable pair and it just won the Producers Guild Award for this category. Also, animated films tend toward some warm and fuzzy sentiment, but this one is all action, so it feels different, fresh and new.
~Arthur Christmas – With a lot of animated sequels feeling like just more of the same, this goofy holiday comedy became a big hit.
~Puss In Boots – While it’s a spin-off of the Shrek movies, the movie has a lot of its own franchise potential and with Antonio Banderas’ dryly funny interpretation of the fairy tale cat as a self-professed Latin lover I will be happy to go back.
~Rango – This parody of old westerns is probably the funniest of the potential nominees.
~Rio – While it lacks some of the storytelling smarts of the others, it is colorful and lively, two attributes the Academy typically honors in this category.
~Cars 2 – A big box-office hit but really Pixar’s first critical flop.
~Chico And Rita – A Cuban-flavored indie hit about a pianist and singer may not have been seen widely enough to trump the big budget studio competition.
~Happy Feet Two – Probably slightly better than the original, but still a sequel to an Oscar-winning original.
~Kung Fu Panda 2 – As lovely to look at as the first movie, but again a sequel. Still a hit, though.
~Winnie The Pooh – Really lovely from start to finish, but perhaps too gentle in its storytelling, which reflected in the dismal box office performance.
New rules this year switches this top category to a preferential voting system. Voters must rank five films in the order that they preferred them and the highest ranking will receive the most points on that particular voter’s ballot. Once all the 6,000 member ballots are collected, the Academy is looking for those films which a clear majority of voters love best. It’s too complicated to explain, but there is no guarantee there will be a full 10 Best Picture nominees. There will be no fewer than five nominees and not more than 10, but it could also be 6, 7, 8 or 9 nominees. This year, most critics and Oscar bloggers are predicting only 6 or 7 nominees. I think it was a strong year and I’m predicting 9. The thing to remember about the Oscar for Best Picture is that every single one of its members gets to vote on this big prize. The films that stand the best chance of landing here are those that have solid acting opportunities (actors are the Academy’s largest voting block – a full one-fifth) and have significant achievements in the tech and design fields. It’s not really about best or biggest, but it is about production!
~The Artist – The critical favorite also won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy, and it’s celebrates the movies, a topic very dear to the Academy’s hearts. Also Harvey Weinstein is promoting and he’s the best at this kind of thing.
~Bridesmaids – A hit comedy with a lot of heart, a bit of raunch, a funny script and a killer cast of actresses.
~The Descendants – This comedy-drama had a modest budget and modest ambitions, yet its supporters have been fanatical in its praise. I’m not convinced the Academy is going to feel the same.
~The Help – The year’s biggest surprise hit will also appeal greatly to the Academy’s penchant for message pictures. It’s also funny with several great performances.
~Hugo – Like The Artist, this impressive production celebrates the earliest origins of cinema with the latest technology of 3-D by one of the world’s master filmmakers – Martin Scorsese. Slam dunk.
~Midnight In Paris – Writer-director Woody Allen’s biggest hit ever will see him back up for the big prize for the first time since 1986 (Hannah and Her Sisters). It opened early in May but has stayed in the Oscar discussion all year. Scooping up all the precursor awards for Best Screenplay solidified its Oscar prospects.
~Moneyball – The film is terrific, but it's hard to know if a sport movie really has such passionate fans that will want to place it at #1 on their ballots.
~My Week with Marilyn – This third film to celebrate cinema and one of its greatest icons is my out-of-left-field, no-way-this-can-happen prediction. It’s got the shameless Oscar hound Harvey Weinstein and he has often managed to get double nominees in this category.
~War Horse – Steven Spielberg’s World War I war drama didn’t do so well with the guild honors, but those guilds don’t represent the Academy. Typically, this kind of historical epic is right up Oscar’s alley (one of their preferred genres) and the film moves people to the point of tears. Also it has the largest historical canvas and emotional sweep of any film in the past year.
~Beginners – This warm comedy-drama could be a suitable replacement should The Descendants prove not so Oscar-friendly, but it’s probably too sweet and quirky to make the cut.
~Drive – It's a cool genre piece, but probably more so to critics and bloggers than more traditional Academy members.
~Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close – It opened way too late and didn’t get the rave reviews that many were expecting. However, Stephen Daldry has been nominated for everything he has directed on screen so far, so there is always a chance.
~The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – Critics and bloggers point the movie’s sustained box office success as proof of its Oscar potential, but it’s too dark, ugly, violent and downright unpleasant to score big. Anal rape, anyone? Gang bang? Brutal torture of female prisoners? I THINK NOT.
~Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two – If this were a stand-alone finale, I’d say yes it would make the cut as a way to honor the end of the decade-long franchise. But it is only half a film for which the first half got virtually ignored by the Academy just this past year.
~The Tree Of Life – Terrence Malick’s all-over-the-map, eons-leaping metaphysical rumination on life and death is not my cup of tea, but fans of the film are rabid about it. If it gets enough #1 votes it’s in, and Malick has been here before back in 1998 (The Thin Red Line) so it wouldn’t be that much of a surprise.
~The Ides of March – The Golden Globe nominations were more likely a nod to George Clooney’s huge celebrity than for anything special about the film.
~Melancholia –It won a single critics’ award and at Cannes last May, but it’s too European, non-linear and unstructured.
~Rise of the Planet of the Apes – A great action movie with real dramatic heft, but probably not serious enough.
~Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – Very British, very dry, very slow.
~J. Edgar – Biopics are the Academy’s favorite genre, but this one underwhelmed and the blind adulation of Clint Eastwood’s every move and movie seems to be over. Whew.
~The Muppets – If I were really gutsy, I’d predict this as a 10th Best Picture nominee, but contemporary cynicism may consider this old-fashioned, nostalgic movie musical as a more of a museum piece than serious contender.