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A Few Random Thoughts on the 2010 Oscar Nominations

The 82nd Academy Award nominations have been announced, with Disney/Pixar’s Up getting a nod for Best Picture in addition to the expected Best Animated Feature nomination. I have to admit that as much as I liked the movie, I don’t think it’s the one I would have picked among Pixar’s total output to get the nod for Best Picture. However, it was a pretty good if not great year for movies, it seems, and to paraphrase the parable about life on the African veldt, the Best Picture of the year only has to be better than all the other movies released in the same year, not the Best Picture ever.

In any event, I think the question of whether Up will become the first animated feature to win the Best Picture Oscar is moot once you look at its competition. The good news about animation being seated at the big kids’ table is that it’s another acknowledgment, however small, that animation is a serious medium capable of making great art and not just the kiddie stuff that a good portion of America (or at least a good portion of Hollywood) seems to think it is. The bad news is that this year’s animated film has to stand toe-to-toe with the work of Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers, as well as with the very highly acclaimed The Hurt Locker, Up in the Air, and Precious. This would be tough competition for any movie, regardless of medium, and to be honest I’d eliminate District 9 and Avatar as possible winners in this category as well. Science fiction and fantasy fare about as well as comedies in the Best Picture race, with barely a dozen movies from those genres getting nominated in the past 40 years and only The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King‘s winning in 2003.

Avatar also happens to sit right in the crux of a few different issues I’ve been grappling with for the News. As our readers will have noticed, the headlines Avatar has been grabbing in the mainstream press are not reflected on our News Ticker. Like King Kong, the later Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and modern video games in general, I think Avatar uses similar techniques to more traditionally animated features, but that doesn’t make it an animated movie in my view. At best, I’d call Avatar a hybrid film (at least from the clips I’ve seen — I have not watched the movie and judging by the movie’s phenomenal box office success, I may be the only person who was never that interested in it). I don’t think many people would call Who Framed Roger Rabbit? or Mary Poppins “animated” movies, either, despite their heavy reliance on animation. In this, I’m afraid I break with our friends over at Cartoon Brew, who are congratulating Avatar for being the second animated movie in the Best Picture race. In any event, Avatar director James Cameron himself insists that Avatar is not animation, with an attitude that I think is merely another variation on the, “Cartoons are just for kids” mentality, so I’m happy to lock him out of the clubhouse. He will just have to find solace from my peevish snit in the billions of dollars he’s made on the movie so far.

The second issue that Avatar brings up relates to the lack of recognition of actors in animation. Cameron himself has complained over perceived snubs at the acting of his Avatar performers in the SAG awards, and the movie’s acting was bypassed by year’s Oscars as well. I would point out the notable absence of acting award
nominations for Cameron’s films in general and humbly suggest that
perhaps the technology is not to blame for the snubbing of the acting in Avatar, but he can gripe much more loudly about a point that animation fans have felt for some time: voice actors are routinely treated as second-class citizens to their on-camera equivalents. The shoddy treatment of the cast of Space Jam at the movie’s premiere is a visible example, as is Cameron’s own brusque dismissal of Meryl Streep’s performance in Fantastic Mr. Fox. There is also the issue that the animators themselves are as responsible for the “acting” of a character as the voice actors, which begs the question of who exactly should get the credit for a particularly good performance. I would like to see wider recognition of a good performance in animation, but I must admit I don’t really know how to get there. However, such nuances are probably well beyond the Academy members, and this is why we have the Annie Awards anyway.

I don’t have any serious complaints about the nominees for Best Animated Feature. I think it was a very good year for animated movies in general, and I think swapping in a different movie released last year would shortchange one of the other nominees. I can say little or nothing meaningful about the Best Animated Short category.

In any event, no ruminations on the Oscars would be complete without predictions, although I openly admit mine are blissfully unencumbered by any biases that might arise from actually seeing many of the movies nominated. But hey, I’m just a guy on the Internet exercising his right to spout off about things he knows nothing about. As I mentioned, I don’t think Up has even a long-shot chance at winning the Best Picture Oscar. Unfortunately, it will probably have to settle for the honor of being nominated, because I also suspect that Fantastic Mr. Fox will be the winner for the Best Animated Feature due to the Academy’s general adoration for the works of Wes Anderson. It would be something of a shame if Pete Docter walked away from the ceremonies empty-handed, especially since I still believe he was robbed of an Oscar in 2003, but it looks like it might happen again this year. At least he won’t be losing out to such a vastly inferior movie like Shrek. I don’t hold out hope that the Academy will recognize the movie in the Best Original Screenplay category. This marks the 6th time an animated movie has been nominated for a writing Oscar (the other 5 being Toy Story, Shrek, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, and WALL-E; the number goes to 6 if you want to call Mary Poppins animated), but none of them have ever won and again, Up faces some very stiff competition.

In any event, I would still like to congratulate all the nominees and wish them the best of luck. We’ll see you all on Oscar night.

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