As the December chill sets in and people sit curled up on the couch with a nice cup of hot chocolate, invariable their thoughts will come to "Who's going to be nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar?" Well, AWN is here to help answer that question with some wonderful educated guesses. Our learned staff has pooled our collective brainpower to gauge the buzz around the industry and distill it into an easy-to-read list. While we're not saying it's as valuable as other lists, like the Bill of Rights, or even your holiday shopping list, we think it's pretty good nonetheless.
1) Up  (Disney-Pixar)
It's no surprise that the latest Pixar film is a shoo-in for a nomination (or even the win). The real question left to be revealed is whether it will make the Big Show of 10 Best Picture nominees, where Pete Docter has more of a chance of winning a door prize at the Governor's Ball than beating out nine other "actors-in-the-flesh" productions. Nonetheless, the acknowledgement of animation would be spectacular even if they had to double the amount of nominees to make it happen again.
John Musker and Ron Clements are the go-to guys when you want someone to revive a dying medium. With this new 2D production, they have brought a touch of class back to Walt Disney Feature Animation and it will rightfully be honored come nomination day.
Henry Selick's latest dark stop-motion affair has a great deal of love around the industry. Just look at it's leading 10 nominations at this year's Annie Awards. While the Annies predict Oscars about as accurately as a 1-800 psychic predicts whether I'm going to win an Oscar or not, the love does prove something. One can pretty much consider #1-3 locks.
This is where those educated guesses really start to kick in. There is also a lot of love for this quirky stop-motion flick. Those that say its indie auteur director Wes Anderson won't get love in the animation branch forget that George Miller received no slights for being an animation novice when he soft-shoed his way to an Oscar for Happy Feet. The snobbery over the style has died down, so it boils down to whether this oft kilter adaptation of Roald Dahl will connect with enough older Academy voters to make the cut.
Sony's hit is really on the bubble, but the love is growing. What a great time to peak. Sony is pushing hard for this nomination and they've done it before. Surf's Up was a big surprise, so you can't count Sony out of this race.
Another person who you can't count out of the Best Animated Feature category is Hayao Miyazaki. Ever since the category was created, he has been nominated for his latest film. He's won in the past and his status as a living legend won't hurt his chances. As for Ponyo itself, the buzz is luke warm and the youth-skewed story will not help keep it in the minds of voters over more in-your-face productions.
One cannot count out Oscars' love for the cash makers. This global phenomenon earned $196.6 million in the States and it's staggering $682.2 million foreign market haul puts it only behind Titanic and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in the history books. That's crazy success. But where's the love? While everyone apparently paid money to see it, they have forgotten about it come award season. But I'm sure Fox will remedy that problem. And everyone loves Scrat.
This DreamWorks spoof actually did better at the U.S. box office than Ice Age 3. But again, where's the love? DreamWorks is pushing, but they're going to need marketing muscle more akin to Insectosaurus rather than Dr. Cockroach to make the final cut.
Now does Shane Acker's underrated 9 have one slot's worth less of a chance than Monster vs. Aliens? Not really. But it was cute to put 9 at #9 wasn't it? However, what MvA does have, that 9 doesn't, is box office coin. The industry buzz is respectful for what Acker accomplished, especially visually, but others weren't wowed by the story. Without the voice of consumers' wallets, it's probably going to get drowned out by the behemoths.
This quirky stop-motion feature won both Annecy and Ottawa, the two biggest animation fests in the world. It also received a Crystal Bear - Special Mention at the Berlin International Film Festival. So how does this help it's chances of an Oscar nod? Not at all. But what it does have going for it is an Oscar-winning director in Adam Elliot (Harvie Krumpet). But one big thing it has going against it is that it has no U.S. distribution. So you'd have to call it the strongest dark house out there.
The Other Contenders
1) Partly Cloudy , Peter Sohn, director (Pixar Animation Studios)
Can Pixar take a year off and give someone else a chance? While it's nowhere near a leader for the win as Up is in the feature category, I'd say it's a sure bet for a nomination. Then again this is the Oscar Best Short Animation category where educated guesses go to die.
2) A Matter of Loaf and Death , Nick Park, director (Aardman Animations Ltd.)
It's a new Wallace and Gromit short. What do you think its chances of a nomination are? Even a weak Wallace and Gromit short is a contender.
3) Runaway , Cordell Barker, director (National Film Board of Canada)
It's a new NFB short. What do you think its chances of a nomination are? It's also a very good, topical, NFB short from a director whose previous shorts The Cat Came Back and Strange Invaders were both Oscar nominated. He's in the #3 spot for his chances to go three for three. Now how cute is that?
4) The Lady and the Reaper  (La Dama y la Muerte ) , Javier Recio Gracia, director (Kandor Graphics and Green Moon)
Antonio Banderas is behind Green Moon and Kandor Graphics has The Missing Linx up for Best Animated Feature as well. This is where the Spanish firm has its best shot. A bit morbid, a bit sentimental and funny at the same time, the story follows an old woman who wants to join her husband in heaven but is constantly thwarted by an eager young doctor's battle with the Grim Reaper. It's also in 3-D!
5) The Kinematograph , Tomek Baginski, director-producer (Platige Image)
Platige Image and Baginski have been to the Big Dance before with The Cathedral and Baginski received great admiration for his second short Fallen Art. The message about neglecting one's loved one in the pursuit of making a film might hit Academy members right in the heart. Could be the sentimental choice of the year.
6) Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty , Nicky Phelan, director, and Darragh O’Connell, producer (Brown Bag Films)
As they say — to get an Oscar nomination in this category you have to have heart, or humor. This short is really funny. A dramatic grandma tells the tale of Sleeping Beauty's christening party to her scared grandchild. It plays really well with an audience. But with so many other funny shorts, it might be the one left out.
7) The Cat Piano , Eddie White and Ari Gibson, directors (The People’s Republic of Animation)
This Australian short narrated by Nick Cave has a lot of fans. The dark tale with its anime style and poetic voice over would be the cool pick of the year. But it could be overshadowed for belly-laugh shorts and the voice over doesn't emotional engage like some of the others.
8) French Roast ,  Fabrice O. Joubert, director (Pumpkin Factory/Bibo Films)
This SIGGRAPH winner has its fans. It's funny and the CG is gorgeous. Follows a man who drinks coffee after coffee at a café because he has lost his wallet. There's also a bank robber in there too. Critics think the story is too obvious and the pacing too slow.
9) Variete , Roelof van den Bergh, director (il Luster Productions)
il Luster Productions has won awards all around the world for their work, but has never picked up an Oscar nomination. Is it their time? It might be a tough road for this one where a plate balancer balances all the elements of his life from girlfriend to friends to children atop plates.
10) Logorama , Francois Alaux, Herve de Crecy & Ludovic Houplain, directors (Autour de Minuit)
[Correction] Buzz is so unreliable. When originally writing this article I wrongly refered to this film as mo-cap and that I doubted that it would be the first mo-cap film to reach the final five. Logorama is a CG film and not mo-cap. When I was putting together the list that was what I was told from Academy members. The filmmakers later put a comment on this article setting the record straight and wondering why technique should matter. It shouldn't, but sometimes it does. Prejudices still exist that influence the way voters vote, whether the prejudice is based on facts or not. Since writing this piece I've had a chance to talk to more Academy members and some of the same members I talked to before and the word on Logorama has changed. The chances are looking much better for this savage satire.
* As is the case with any year in the Best Animated Short category, predictions chosen by expert panels and randomly picking names from a hat have the same accuracy.
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.