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Oscars 2018: Another Word on Best Animated Feature

I did this last year and I enjoyed it. Mostly because I am in a position to have seen all (or most) of the potential nominees well before it comes nominations time. So I feel like I should go and update my thoughts now that I’m more informed.

They announced all the 25 eligible films for this category something like five or six weeks ago. And when they did, I basically spitballed based on my gut what I thought did or didn’t have a chance. But, since that time, I’ve seen 17 of the 25 films. So I’m now in a much more educated position to really be able to look at the prospects of the films.

Plus I have some time to fill before I can start talking about all the other fun stuff. So here we are.

To start, here are the 25 eligible films for Best Animated Feature.

Ana y Bruno
Early Man
Fireworks
The Grinch
Have a Nice Day
Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation
Incredibles 2
Isle of Dogs
The Laws of the Universe – Part I
Liz and the Blue Bird
Lu Over the Wall
MFKZ
Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms
Mirai
The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl
On Happiness Road
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Ruben Brandt, Collector
Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero
Sherlock Gnomes
Smallfoot
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Tall Tales
Teen Titans Go! To the Movies
Tito and the Birds

So I’ve seen 17 of those. The 8 I haven’t seen are:

Ana y Bruno
The Laws of the Universe – Part I
Liz and the Blue Bird
MFKZ
Ruben Brandt, Collector
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Tall Tales
Tito and the Birds

Normally I’d have waited until I saw more of them, but I feel like I’ve essentially seen almost everything I need to in order to make an informed decision, and I’m pressed for time. I’ve got a lot of stuff I wanna get into over the next few weeks, so I’d rather talk about that. Truly, only one of the films that I haven’t seen yet is gonna be a factor for nominations, and it’s out next week. So I’ll see it by Christmas and we’ll go from there.

Last year at this time, I’d seen all but three of the potential nominees. Which is why the article went up when it did. If by chance something miraculous happens and I get the chance to see most of these over the next day or two, I’ll update this article with that information. If not, we’ll have to just leave this as the final word until nominations time.

Right now, if I were to pick my preferred nominees (that’s my preferred nominees), I’d go with:

Incredibles 2

Isle of Dogs

Mirai

The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl

Ralph Breaks the Internet

Spider-Verse is the only one that could make it on. I’m not as in love with some of those nominees, and even though I don’t think I’m gonna love Spider-Verse, I think I could like it enough to put it on my list.

But also, to pull back and cast a wider lens on this — there wasn’t a whole lot of animated stuff that I liked this year. It’s a really weak year. I’ve said that for the year as a whole, but it’s especially true for animated film. A lot of the stuff that came out felt like, in most years, it would supplement the strong stuff and make me more excited about the overall product. Maybe some of that is because last year was exceptionally strong. I don’t know. But I’m definitely not overly excited about anything on this list.

By default, I guess my vote would have to be Isle of Dogs. That’s the only one I feel any real affinity for in terms of a category. I’d nominate The Night Is Short, but wouldn’t vote for it. The rest are there by default because I had to fill out a category. But even Isle of Dogs I didn’t love.

And then, one thing I did, just because I like doing these things to test myself — as they announced the eligibles list and I started watching some of the ones I hadn’t already, I made a giant rankings list, inserting everything I’d seen where I felt it would be on a full list of 25 and also inserting the ones I hadn’t.

What I mean is — I took the, whatever it was, twelve, I’d seen at the time, and I ranked them. But instead of just doing 1-12, I did it 1-25. Sgt. Stubby immediately went to 25, even though I hadn’t seen half the list at the time. I put stuff where I felt it would probably go based on a full list. I hadn’t seen Ralph Breaks the Internet at the time, but I figured it would end up top two based on how everything I’d seen was and how everything else to be seen looked. And then I adjusted things accordingly once I saw more films.

Not sure it matters to anyone else, but I’m just gonna post that here. Because why not? It’ll be interesting to see if the last 8 end up going where I think they’re gonna go or end up somewhere else.

(Everything bolded I’ve seen. Everything not I haven’t yet.)

1. Isle of Dogs

2. The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl

3. Ralph Breaks the Internet

4. Incredibles 2

5. Mirai

6. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

7. Maquia: Where the Promised Flower Blooms

8. Have a Nice Day

9. Ana y Bruno

10. Early Man

11. Lu Over the Wall

12. Fireworks

13. MFKZ

14. Ruben Brandt, Collector

15. On Happiness Road

16. Tito and the Birds

17. Liz and the Blue Bird

18. The Grinch

19. Smallfoot

20. Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation

21. Sherlock Gnomes

22. Teen Titans Go! To the Movies

23. The Laws of the Universe – Part 1

24. Tall Tales

25. Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero

We’ll see how close those rankings end up being to the final one.

Either way, the fact that Incredibles 2 is even in my top five tells you how weak this year has been. I didn’t even particularly like that movie. But I also didn’t like anything else over it. So there we are.

Of everything I still need to see…

Tall Tales looks bad, I didn’t like the first Laws of the Universe, Liz and the Blue Bird looks like generic anime, Spider-Verse I talked about already. Ana y Bruno looks like I could enjoy it, but it also looks like it may not be as interesting narratively as it does visually. MFKZ looks fun, but I’m not sure how much I’m gonna like it. Tito and the Birds looks middle of the road. Ruben Brandt is the only one that theoretically could make a play for top five. Maybe. I don’t know.

I think I got my list, and I think I’m pretty bored by the whole thing. If I had a vote, I’d just give it to Wes Anderson because the man deserves something at this point. (Probably should have won for Fantastic Mr. Fox, but I also get why he didn’t. Also, look at that year for a stacked category. That’s not gonna be this year.) And also because Ralph shouldn’t win for the second one over the first one, and Incredibles I just wasn’t a fan of.

– – – – –

I don’t think there’s much of anything I can say with certainty about this year in terms of what will be nominated. I assume both Incredibles and Ralph get on for lack of options. Incredibles doesn’t feel like a lock, but it seems likely. Finding Dory didn’t make it on, but they also changed voting rules after that. This is the year we find out if those had an effect or not.

If you remember, last year with the rules changes, instead of those one or two “artistic” choices, we got Boss Baby and Ferdinand. Which I guess plays well for Smallfoot and Into the Spider-Verse. And maybe even The Grinch. Outside of that, I can really only do a process of elimination as to what won’t be nominated.

I feel like I can say for sure that these films will not be nominated:

Fireworks
Have a Nice Day
Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation
The Laws of the Universe – Part 1
Lu Over the Wall
On Happiness Road
Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero
Sherlock Gnomes
Tall Tales
Teen Titans Go! To the Movies

That’s ten off the top. I could go more, but that’s a good start.

This next bunch I’d say are highly unlikely to be nominated. I can’t entirely rule them out for two reasons. 1) I haven’t seen them yet, or 2) with the category so weak, it’s hard to be that definitive, even though most years I probably would be.

Ana y Bruno
Liz and the Blue Bird
MFKZ
Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms
The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl
Ruben Brandt, Collector
Tito and the Birds

That’s another 7, leaving us with 8 top films. I feel pretty confident that your nominations list will, at the very least, be 4/5 comprised of films from this list, if not entirely:

Early Man
The Grinch
Incredibles 2
Isle of Dogs
Mirai
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Smallfoot
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Isle of Dogs seems like a complete lock all around. That’s the only one that doesn’t have to play by those weird Disney/Pixar rules or whatever it is the category has. And by that I mean — do you realize that Disney and Pixar have not been both nominated at the same time since 2012? (That was the Wreck-It Ralph/Brave year.) And it’s only happened three other times before that (2009, Up + Princess and the Frog, 2008, Wall-E + Bolt, and 2003, Brother Bear + Finding Nemo). It’s not that common an occurrence. They have an aversion to Pixar sequels a lot of the time (Toy Story 3 is still the only one ever nominated), and this is the first proper Disney sequel to be made since the category started.

So yeah, I assume Isle of Dogs is the one that for sure is on, and then we haggle about the rest. And of the rest:

Incredibles/Ralph — do both get on? Does one? Which one is it? Do we get two sequels? Do they jettison both of them in a move that hasn’t happened since 2011? In that case, they had cool foreign choices to put on instead. There isn’t really that this year (also they left Tintin off in 2011, which seemed to be more about an aversion to computer animation more than anything. Or an aversion to Spielberg? I don’t know). We gotta figure that out before we figure out anything else.

And then, as for the other stuff:

— Early Man is Aardman. They’ve gotten most of their stuff on. Arthur Christmas didn’t, but that was that 2011 year. Otherwise, Pirates! got on, Shaun the Sheep got on. It’s stop-motion, which they like. The plot — not particularly outstanding, but let’s not pretend that Pirates! was that great either. You gotta figure that probably gets on, right? Put it this way, if Early Man is left off, then you’re potentially looking at two to three of Grinch, Smallfoot and Spider-Verse getting on. Which, how’s that gonna look in perpetuity. But we’ll get to those three in a second.

— Mirai is the only one of the anime films that stands any chance. It’s the only one, as of yet, that’s been sent out as a proper screener, rather than just being a part of the streaming situation they have now for people who opt in to vote. Anime has never made it on this category unless it was made by Ghibli. While I don’t necessarily stand by “it’ll never happen because it’s never happened,” and if there was a year for that dam to break this seems like the optimal time to do it… it’s kind of a big deal that they haven’t bothered to go here yet. You have to figure that these are American voters who don’t watch a lot of anime and don’t really understand it culturally the way someone in Asia would. To me, I feel like people are more likely gonna say, “Oh, well DreamWorks made this one, so I’ll just put that on because I like (the executive who worked on it that I know).” That’s always my read of the situation. I could maybe have made a case for this back in the days of My Life as a Zucchini and Boy and the World and Chico and Rita. Now, unless they start showing me a likelihood toward stuff like this, how can I not assume they’re gonna put more Ferdinands on this list?

— Oh, also of note — there are how many Japanese films on this list? 8? Something like that? Do you really think voters are gonna 1) have watched them all, and 2) are, at large, gonna go, “Well this is the one most likely to make it, so let’s vote for that”? Think about it. You need to assume voters are gonna watch all of the possible animes, then decide en masse that one is better than the others, and still they’re gonna have to get more votes than the studio releases. Seems unlikely, but possible.

— So that leaves the three mainstream studio releases: Smallfoot, Spider-Verse, Grinch. Starting last to first — Illumination has only been nominated once for their films, and that was for Despicable Me 2. Not even 1. Secret Life of Pets, Sing, neither were nominated. They don’t generally get on here. Does that rule out The Grinch? Absolutely not. But I’m just presenting the evidence we have at hand. Plus, my rule is always — Rotten Tomatoes score. Generally films that are “rotten” don’t get nominated. The Boss Baby was an outlier last year, but outside of that, it doesn’t happen. So there’s that to take into account. Right now, I’d err on the side of 50/50 on Grinch, depending on how the next month plays out.

Spider-Verse… getting great reviews, gonna make a lot of money, seems likely that it would end up getting nominated. I’m not throwing it on just yet because I want to see it first, and because I feel like some people might have the “Marvel” aspect against it. We’ll see, but that’s my gut at the moment. And I’ve learned over these years to trust my gut. If this movie came out last year I’d say for sure it won’t get nominated. Here, 60/40 it probably does at the moment. But I need to see it first.

Smallfoot… I just feel like that’s gonna get on. It probably shouldn’t, but doesn’t it just seem like it’s gonna be the Ferdinand of this year? It got the reviews, it’s got enough sort of attention. Though it is Warner Bros. They haven’t been nominated here as of yet.

– – – – –

So that’s where we are. My gut tells me — AT THE MOMENT — your final category is gonna be:

Early Man

Incredibles 2

Isle of Dogs

Ralph Breaks the Internet

Smallfoot

First alternate: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Dark horse: The Grinch

Surprise: Mirai

That’s my gut. I have to figure Dogs and Early Man get on. Ralph and Incredibles, I’d rather have them then not. I’m not totally sold both get on, but at this point, how do you pick which gets left off? Which leaves that final spot. Smallfoot just feels like the stupid movie that’ll make it, but Spider-Verse could easily become that movie. We’ll see. The Grinch is always there too. I think that’s your category. Something in that combination. And I feel like at worst most people picking this will get 3/5, depending on how weird those final choices go. And I think that for the most part, it’ll probably end up being 4/5 the ones I have up there. But who knows. This could be that one fucked up year like 2011.

The real question is gonna be: once we have a category, what the hell wins?

– – – – – – – – – –

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3 responses

  1. I am not sure if the Marvel aspect will work against it considering that the bias against Superhero movies doesn’t seem so strong in the animated categories. I mean, The Incredibles and Big Hero 6 both won after all. And Into the Spider-verse gets rave review, not just for the story, but also specifically for the inventive animation.

    December 2, 2018 at 2:11 pm

  2. I love how you and I both rank Isle of Dogs and Night Is Short as the two best animated releases so far that are also competing for the next Best Animated Feature Oscar category. The only difference between us is that both still aren’t that great to you, whereas both are firmly comfortable in my top 10 for 2018. (And I’m sorry, but Mirai has more heart than Incredibles 2 and Ralph 2 combined.)

    December 2, 2018 at 5:12 pm

  3. And I ask again, how will it look if the Academy nominates Isle of Dogs (as much as I adore it, those “cultural appropriation” critiques are still out there) and not a SINGLE one of the record (8) Japanese submissions? How soon will people resent more and more that the Academy not only has a fixation on Pixar, Disney, and other American animation studios, but has an utter lack of awareness towards Japanese anime studios who aren’t Studio Ghibli (i.e., that studio that may NEVER release films again)?

    December 2, 2018 at 10:51 pm

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