Animated Oscar nominees 2014


Let’s talk about Oscar nominations!
It’s that time of the year again: the time when Academy Awards nominations are announced and everybody realizes they need to root for someone and suddenly scrambles to see the most talked-about movies of last year in the short amount of time left until the ceremony. Red carpet gossip, glamour, predictions, the Oscars have it all- except we are now going to talk about the often unsung categories for animated films, which don’t tend to stir the same amount of passion (except for us, animation lovers). Let’s see the list of nominees and discuss them:

“Frozen”- 3D/CGI; directed by Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck; Disney;
“The Croods”- 3D/CGI; directed by Kirk De Micco and Chris Sanders; Dreamworks;
“Despicable Me 2”- 3D/CGI; directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud; Illumination Entertainment;
“The Wind Rises”- 2D; directed by Hayao Miyazaki; Studio Ghibli;
„Ernest and Celestine”- 2D; directed by Stephane Aubier, Vincent Patar and Benjamin Renner; Les Armateurs

The feature nominees for 2013 are quite interesting compared to last year, when we had only big studio, English language productions to choose from. The Academy gave two nods to 2D “foreign” films: the delightful Ernest and Celestine (which I have already praised extensively and would be my pick for the win, but I am aware of the impossibility of such a thing happening) and Hayao Miyazaki’s “The Wind Rises”, the only feature nominee I have not yet seen, but let’s face it: even Miyazaki’s weakest film so far (which is, perhaps, his pre-Ghibli work on “Lupin III”?) is still pretty good, so it’s likely that “The Wind Rises” is also a worthy candidate. Miyazaki’s film is, however, a lot more “grown-up” in theme than the others, and would have probably been a better candidate for Best Foreign Film instead of being lumped together with “The Croods”- but that would have meant that the Oscars actually show respect to animation as an art form. The nomination for Ernest and Celestine, however, is heartening, and hopefully it will bring more attention and success to a film that is not very well known, though it certainly deserves to be.

As far as US animation goes, it was a pretty dismal year, which explains filling the slots with mediocre fare like the aforementioned “The Croods” and the sequel to “Despicable Me”. Sure, both films were commercial successes, but so was “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”, and you don’t see it nominated for Best Picture. It seems that as far as US animated features are concerned, the only requirement in order to get an Oscar nomination is to be moderately competent and not altogether horrible. I am puzzled as to why Pixar’s “Monsters University”, a better film than “Despicable Me 2”, didn’t get the “sequel” spot, but it’s only strengthening my impression that Pixar is not everybody’s darling anymore and its future may not be that bright. I would say that Disney’s syrupy “Frozen” pretty much has the Oscar in the bag.

“Get a Horse!”- directed by Lauren MacMullan
“Mr Hublot”- directed by Laurent Witz and Alexandre Espigares
“Feral”- directed by Daniel Sousa
“Room on the Broom”- directed by Max Lang and Jan Lachauer
“Possessions”- directed by Shuhei Morita

I feel like mentioning at this point that I’m happy about the fact that both Feature and Short categories include anime nominees. I think that anime has often been unfairly stigmatized as poorly animated, too weird, too kinky, too nerdy, too mecha-cyberpunk, and other such accusations that overlook the huge variety in genre, content and theme that can be found in animated films made in Japan. That being said, I have not actually seen Shuhei Morita’s nominated film “Possessions”- the screencaps and extremely short trailers have only served to tell me that it uses cel-shaded CGI and that it seems to be about a samurai. It was released in Japan in an omnibus called “Short Piece”, headlined by “Akira” director Katsuhiro Otomo, and judging by the Otomo connection and by Morita’s previous work (his strange and dark short “Kakurenbo” can be easily found online), it seems like a bizarre pick for the Academy. The other nominee I haven’t seen is “Feral” by Daniel Sousa, the tale of a boy raised in the wild and brought back to civilization. Obviously, I can’t comment on the story, but its visual style, as showcased in the trailer, is by far the most interesting of all the nominees, strongly graphic and stylized. Judging by its long list of festival awards, this is the most “artistic” and prestigious film of the pack, and could very well win the category.

On the other hand, the award may also go to “Get a Horse!”, since Disney’s recent return to making theatrical shorts has been received with tremendous praise. I talked about this short in my “Frozen” review- in a nutshell, I found it too shrill for my taste.

“Room on the Broom” , the story of an extremely friendly witch that welcomes all kinds of misfit animals to fly with her, is a sweet, harmless adaptation of a children’s book; it made me smile, but it seems more like a television special than an Oscar-worthy short, and the animation looks a bit cheap.

Also sweet, smile-inducing and harmless: “Mr Hublot”, about a man with OCD and his messy mechanical dog living in a mechanical world. The steampunk setting looks good and is interesting from a design point of view, but ultimately not adding much to the story, which, by the way, is not very well paced; I liked it well enough but it’s hard to believe that this was the best 2013 had to offer in terms of short animations. As far as upsets are concerned, the National Film Board of Canada (which has a reputation for producing quality animation) had no less than three shortlisted films, including one by previous Oscar winner Chris Landreth, and all of them did great in festivals, yet none of them made the final cut for Oscars. I had the chance to see “Gloria Victoria” and “Hollow Land” at the Encounters festival in Bristol, and while I didn’t necessarily love them, they were more accomplished films than some of the Academy’s safe, crowd-pleasing choices. Still, unlike with last year’s Maggie Simpson short, I don’t there is any full-on head scratcher in this batch of Oscar nominees.
It is also worth mentioning that two songs from animated films made it into the Best Original Song category: “Let It Go” from Frozen, sung by Idina Menzel, the film’s only good song, and “Happy” by Pharrell Williams, from Despicable Me 2, an awesomely catchy pop tune that is the only one on the list to be a success independently from its use in the film.

All the winners will be announced at the Oscar ceremony on the 2nd of March 2014.