Each year I talk with people in the know and gauge the wind to take educated guesses at who has the best chances as getting to the Big Show. Last year I went two for three with the features and four for five with the shorts. But this year I could miss the mark completely easily. There hasn't been such an open field in features and shorts in years.
1) The Adventures of Tintin — Steven Spielberg, director (DreamWorks Pictures & Sony Pictures)
Outside of the U.S., the film is already a big hit. People are calling it an animated Indiana Jones. And who would be better at the helm of such a film than Steven Spielberg. With Oscar politics the way they are his name alone helps lock a nomination and with War Horse in the running for Best Picture, possibly, Spielberg in another category helps spread the wealth if he is nominated for Best Director as well. Being a very good film doesn't hurt it either.
2) Rango — Gore Verbinski, director (Paramount Pictures & ILM)
The more adult an animated film skews the better chance it has of getting a nomination. Out of all the major releases this year, this is certainly the most adult. It's also the most unique wide release to come out in some time. ILM's animation is breathtaking. There really has never been anything that looks quite like it before, which is all the more reason for people wanting to reward it. If there is any other lock, it's this one.
3) Arthur Christmas — Sarah Smith, director (Sony Pictures Animation & Aardman Animations)
Aardman won an Oscar for the stop-motion flick, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, but its CG feature Flushed Away didn't get a nomination at all. Their second CG film is decidedly better though. It's adult and funny and it even has a dose of heart, which are all the top requirements to get nominated. But its lackluster box office doesn't help its case, but that didn't stop Sony from getting a nod for Surf's Up. I wouldn't call it a lock but of all the bubble films it's on the nice list for sure.
4) Winnie the Pooh — Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall, directors (Walt Disney)I'm going to go out on a limb with placing this one as high as I am. This one skews as young as you can get. But this might be the last 2D animated feature coming out of Disney Feature Animation. At least the last in a long time. Voters know that. Therefore it makes for the perfect honor to Disney 2D to nominate a film that harkens back to earlier films as well. Being based directly on A.A. Milne's text gives it pedigree as well. Plus it's a solid film with equal amounts of heart and humor.
5) Puss in Boots — Chris Miller, director (DreamWorks Animation) Here is where the real bubble starts. If all 18 films entered get approved there will be five nominees. If three fall off for whatever reason, there will only be four nominees. That puts a film like Puss in Boots right on the edge. It was largely well-received, but it could easily fade in the mind come voting time. DreamWorks has been pushing Guillermo del Toro involvement as an advisor, which will help.
6) Kung Fu Panda 2 – Jennifer Yuh Nelson, director (DreamWorks Animation) Not helping either DreamWorks release is that neither stands out from the other, which could create camps and ultimately keep both out of nominations. I'm giving Puss in Boots a slight edge because frankly it seems like Kung Fu Panda 2 came out a year ago and it didn't live up to the lofty expectations of the original. But the positive news of it receiving the most Annie nominations gives it a late push that it needs.
7) Rio — Carlos Saldanha, director (20th Century Fox & Blue Sky)Without the uniqueness factor that Rango has, the earlier in the year release of this Carnival-themed feature will have one thing going against it. Another thing it has going against it is that it skews young. But what it has going for it is that when you look over the major releases of the year, it is one of the better animated film released this year. But it's going to need a push from Fox to get voters to remember that.
8) A Cat in Paris — Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol, director (GKIDS & Folimage)GKIDS knows something about having its small released films getting into the Big Show. If there is going to be a Secret of Kells of 2011, it most likely will be this film. The house cat by day cay burglar by night story is fun. It's played at festivals around the globe so it has been seen. And certainly with the higher profile releases being a tad weaker this year, it is certainly conceivable that a quality smaller film steals a spot.
9) Wrinkles – Ignacio Ferreras, director (Perro Verde Films)If it's not A Cat in Paris in the "where did that film come from" slot, it could be this one. But it has a steeper row because it has no U.S. distribution yet. It has no one in the States really pushing it. But the nomination committee has to see it and the word is it is very good. It has both humor and heart in a story about two friends in a retirement home where one tries to keep his friend out of the dreaded Alzheimer's ward.
10) Cars 2 ‑ John Lasseter & Brad Lewis, directors (Pixar Animation Studios)With a Tomatometer of 38%, the film is the worst reviewed Pixar film to date. Pixar still has lots of love going for it, but it's going to be hard to overcome the negative campaign that is brewing against the film. If the film fails to get a nomination it will be the first Pixar film since the Academy began the Best Animated Feature category to not be nominated.
11) Gnomeo & Juliet – Kelly Asbury, directors (Touchstone Pictures) While it received better overall review than Cars 2, it still split critics down the middle. That's not the kind of reception that lands a nomination. It also was released in February, which is a long time ago.
12) Chico & Rita – Tono Errando, Javier Mariscal & Fernando Trueba, directors (GKIDS)This Spanish romance is another well liked foreign production, but it's just a matter of numbers. If a smaller release is going to get in this one would have to jump over A Cat in Paris and Wrinkles.
13) Happy Feet Two ‑ George Miller, director (Warner Bros. & Dr. D Studios) When the original Happy Feet won Best Animated Feature it beat out Cars. Now the sequels are battling it out in the same year for a nomination. Both will probably be disappointed.
14) Alois Nebel ‑ Tomás Lunák, director (Negativ, Ceská Televize & Pallas Film)This Czech murder mystery is another one that doesn't have any U.S. distribution yet. With no U.S. entity to help push it, this rotoscoped feature is more like DOA.
15) The Smurfs ‑ Raja Gosnell, director (Columbia Pictures) Only one live-action film with animation has been eligible before. Stuart Little 2 didn't get a nod and The Smurfs aren't smurfy enough to get past the prejudice of a "vfx" film in the animation category.
16) Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked ‑ Mike Mitchell, director (20th Century Fox) See #15.
17) Mars Needs Moms ‑ Simon Wells, director (Walt Disney Pictures & ImageMovers)This mo-cap production bombed with critics and movie goers alike, so it has no chance of getting nominated.
18) Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil ‑ Michael Disa, director (The Weinstein Co.) If any of the films above gets disqualified, it will still have a better chance of getting nominated than this one.
Animated Shorts1) La Luna ‑ Enrico Casarosa, director (Pixar Animation Studios) Pixar has its best shot of a nomination (and win) for this delightful short. Even in a strong year for shorts, this one stands out.
2) The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore ‑ William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg, directors (Moonbot Studios LA, LLC)
Joyce's name gives this one cred and its whimsical story about the love for books is inspiring. Along with La Luna, this SIGGRAPH winner is as close to a lock as this category gets.
3) Wild Life ‑ Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby, directors (National Film Board of Canada)
When Forbis and Tilby worked together on a short before, they were nominated for an Oscar. The When the Day Breaks filmmakers have brought the same whimsical painterly style to their latest, which follows an Englishman's rough encounters with the Canadian frontier.
4) Luminaris ‑ Juan Pablo Zaramella, director (JPZtudio)
The Audience Award at Annecy is a top-notched crowd pleaser. It's also been awhile since we've seen such an ambitious pixilation production. It's use of light is remarkable.
5) Paths of Hate ‑ Damian Nenow, director (Platige Image)
Those that have seen it have all raved at how powerful it is. Its adult factor is high as well. This strong mix of visuals and sound about the darkest realms of the human soul is a tough sell. But is it too dark for the Academy?
6) I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat ‑ Matthew O'Callaghan, director and Sam Register, executive producer (Warner Bros. Animation Inc.)
This loving tribute to Mel Blanc in the form of a new Looney Tunes cartoon (only in CG) seems like a likely nominee, but there have been a lot of likely big studio films that have been left out the nominations in the past. Think loving tribute to classic Goofy shorts, How to Hook Up Your Home Theater.
7) Magic Piano ‑ Martin Clapp, director and Hugh Welchman, producer (BreakThru Films)
Word is that BreakThru is going to make a big push for this 3-D puppet adventure. In this field it could transform a flying piano into a nomination.
8) A Morning Stroll – Grant Orchard, director and Sue Goffe, producer (Studio AKA)
The Junior Jury winner at Annecy is a mixed medium production that has the innovation factor going for it. At this point it’s a numbers game.
9) Dimanche/Sunday ‑ Patrick Doyon, director (National Film Board of Canada)
This humorous, nostalgic short could easily have the heart factor that gets a nod. But it just could easily fall into the "other NFB short" trap against Wild Life.
10) Specky Four-Eyes ‑ Jean-Claude Rozec, director and Mathieu Courtois, producer (Vivement Lundi!)
Why is this short the last on the list? Because there has to be a film at the bottom. Just like its main character it could be the awkward kid who ends up the hero in the end.
Rick DeMott is the director of content for Animation World Network, VFXWorld and AWNtv. Additionally, he's the creator of the movie review site, Rick's Flicks Picks, which was recently named one of the 100 best movie blogs by The Daily Reviewer. He has written for TV series, such as Discovery Kids' Growing Up Creepie and Cartoon Network's Pet Alien, the animation history book Animation Art, and the humor, absurdist and surrealist website Unloosen. Previously, he held various production and management positions in the entertainment industry.