Rick DeMott dives into the rocky waters of Oscar buzz to see what information he can fish out.
During our coverage of feature and short films, AWN likes to take a look at the Oscar buzz that surrounds the Best Animated Feature and Best Animated Shorts categories. Just by the nature of the category and the pre-nomination time of year, theres more talk going on about features, but were also going to take a look at some of the leading short films that have been making the festival rounds this year.
Ten films have been ruled eligible for this years Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. Because there are less than 16 eligible films, the category will contain three nominees. Disney has three eligible films in the running with Chicken Little, Howls Moving Castle (via Studio Ghibli) and Valiant (via Vanguard Films). The only other company with more than one contender is DreamWorks with Madagascar and Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (via Aardman Animation). Foxs Robots and Warner Bros. Corpse Bride are the only other wide released films to make the list. Triumph Films has entered Steamboy and Pentamedia and the Weinstein Co. will release Gullivers Travels and Hoodwinked!, respectively, before the year is out.
This years competition seems a little closer than the previous two years when Finding Nemo and The Incredibles seemed like instant shoo-in winners. However, there is still a clear frontrunner in this years race. Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit will ride critical acclaim into the awards season. Wallace and Gromit also have a track record with Oscar, having appeared in two Oscar winning shorts for Aardman Animation. As one of the best reviewed films of the year (live-action or animation), its going to be a hard course for the other contenders to trump the cheeky optimism and overall entertainment quotient that Curse of the Were-Rabbit delivers.
Around the time of release, Corpse Bride looked like a lock for at least a nomination, if not a sure win. But an inventor and his dog and a chicken with father issues have changed the landscape for Tim Burtons puppet-poluza. The fact that the film is stop-motion may help it or hurt it when nominations come around. The anti-CG crowd may embrace it, but the love for Wallace & Gromit may push the other stop-motion film right out of the red carpet. However, another thing the Warner Bros. film has going for it is respect. Some will argue about story problems, but almost all will agree that the animation is top-notch. Its tone, look and technical achievements are its best shots for appearing on the coveted Oscar nod list.
With the two stop-motion features leading the pack, it may be a bloody battle between the CG films for the final spot. CG may rule the box office, but doesnt rule the Oscars. CG films only lead non-3D films in Oscar nominations eight to six. For arguments sake, lets say Curse and Corpse ride their current buzz to nods. Whos got the best shot at nabbing the last spot?
Disneys Chicken Little and DreamWorks Madagascar seem to be the most viable contenders. Disney also has Howls and Valiant, but no ones talking about them. Hayao Miyazakis Howls has the past Oscar winner as pedigree, but that wont overcome low exposure, no major critical cry and the old Oscar political game of Miyazakis already won one so lets give it to someone else. Valiant will have to threaten a pigeon-style bombardier campaign against Academy members to have any chance to see its name on the Oscar ballot.
Though the look is great and the box office was solid, Fox/Blue Skys Robots really falls into the category of did that really come out this year. Steamboy will suffer the same fate as other art house released anime films it will go unnoticed despite its quality or popularity with its core audience. Weinstein Co.s indie pick-up Hoodwinked! comes out right before Christmas on Dec. 23. The recently released trailer shows potential for solid laughs and animation work, but it just seems like its late push is too late to pose any real threat. Pentamedia has entered the Oscar race before with its India-produced CG features and its past track record of zero nominations will not change with Gullivers Travels.
So with Madagascar and Chicken Little seemingly the best of the rest when it comes to landing a ticket to the big show, how do they stack up against each other? First, its not out of the realm of possibility that both make the list and leave Corpse Bride a bridesmaid but never a bride. As to date, Madagascar is the top grossing animated feature of the year. And the Academy loves a winner. Last year DreamWorks nabbed two nods for Shrek 2 and Shark Tale with the latter being a sign of the Academy going for the popular pick over more critically acclaimed, but smaller films, like Ghost in the Shell 2.
Up until the opening weekend numbers were released, Chicken Little looked like an outside shot for Oscar gold. But with two weekends at #1, the film starring the little bird who thought the sky was falling is a real player. Being in recent headlines will help the film generate word of mouth, which has died off a bit for Madagascar. However, DreamWorks CG entry was arrived on DVD, putting it into homes. The Disney legacy may also be a factor in the game. Will Disney haters take it out on the studios first foray into CG?
The studio did opt to not even enter its own in-house 2D film, Poohs Heffalump Movie, which had a worldwide gross of $52 million against a $20 million budget versus Valiants $55 million worldwide gross and $35 million budget. However, Academy members remembering the golden days of Disney outweigh the naysayers and may reward the studios success in the new medium with a tip of the hat and an Oscar nod.
With the feature race looking like it has only four fillies in the running, at this point the shorts category seems wide open. The real buzz for the shorts doesnt really hit its stride until the short list arrives, but this year a bunch of films have made people already sit up and notice.
After winning Annecy, Anthony Lucas The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello looks like one of the top contenders. The 20-minute-plus running time really doesnt hurt its chance in the Academys short category for Oscars tend to like mini-opuses. In an interesting note, Monster Distributes have picked up the rights to the film to release it on DVD. Monster also distributes the Academy Award-winning short film, Harvie Krumpet. Does Monster have psychic abilities?
Some other big films that played at Annecy are also in the hunt. Igor Kovalyovs somber ode, Milch, has been gaining praise and awards as it has made the festival rounds this year. The Ottawa Festival winner may be the only other safe bet outside of Morello for the Oscar. Gaëlle Denis City Paradise picked up a special distinction at Annecy, which is high praise for a film that had little word prior to the event. Louise by Anita Lebeau won the Annecy 2005/Canal J Junior jury award for short film and has gone on to win prizes at other international events. Melina Sydney Paduas Agricultural Report has been a crowd-pleaser wherever it has played. Famed animation historian John Canemakers The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation has been well received at many festivals and the filmmakers name alone puts him in contention.
There are other animation superstars that have new films, which cant be overlooked as well. Oscar-nominee Bill Plympton has his new short, The Fan and the Flower. Likewise, fellow Oscar-nominee John Dilworth has his new short, Life in Transition. Koji Yamamura received an Oscar nod for his film, Mt. Head, and his Old Crocodile, a rendition of a Japanese folk story, puts him in the race again. Don Hertzfeldt earned a past nomination for his hilarious short Rejected, but only time will tell if Academy members will accept his epic short, The Meaning of Life. Patrick Smith is a well-respected animator with a distinctive style, who might land his first ticket to the dance with Handshake.
Laughs are always a plus when it comes to Oscar animated shorts consideration and Candy Kugel and Vincent Cafarellis Command Z delivers with satirical wit. Famed New York filmmaker Michael Sporn, whose work is available on DVD, is back with a new film called The Man Who Walked Between the Towers. The bizarre and highly inventive CG style of Rostos comicbook inspired Jona/Tomberry may entrance Academy voters or scare them to death. On the lighter side, Disney animator Mike Blums The Zit has been making the festival rounds and could fall into the slick, conventional slot that Blur Studios Gopher Broke nabbed last year. And last but not least of the superstar contenders is Henry Selick with Moongirl. In a year of stop-motion, this special jury winner from Ottawa has a big advantage.
Likewise, there are big studios entering shorts, as well as a newbie that needs to be watched. DreamWorks Madagascar Penguins In a Christmas Caper, which screened before Wallace & Gromit and appears on the Madagascar DVD, will have the most exposure. Pixar has a new short, which isnt a guaranteed nomination, but its Pixar. The film is One Man Band and it debuted at Annecy, but wont be seen by a wider audience until it screens in front of Cars next year. Studio Ghibli has a short in contention called Dore Dore no Uta and Canadas National Film Board has The True Story of Sawney Beane.
Another interesting contender that has quietly emerged is Warner Bros. new Tom & Jerry short, The Karateguard. As for that newcomer I mentioned Shane Acker has won multiple awards at Annecy and took the top prize at SIGGRAPH for his student film 9. With a feature deal in the works, Acker has a great shot at adding an Oscar nomination to his already impressive résumé.
All talk is relative and things can change. The features competition looks like Wallace & Gromit is the film to beat and that Corpse Bride, Chicken Little and Madagascar will have to slug it out for the final two slots. Until the short list comes out for the animated shorts, its pretty much anyones guess who will be nominated. The answers to these and many other intriguing Oscar-related questions will be known by all Jan. 31, 2006, when the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences announces its nominations for the 78th Annual Academy Awards.
Rick DeMott is the managing editor of Animation World Network. In his free time, he works as an animation writer for television. Previously, he held various production and management positions in the entertainment industry. He is a contributor to the book Animation Art as well as the humor, absurdist and surrealist short story website Unloosen.