Bring out the history books kids, and witness one of the strangest races in this category since its inception, if not the first actual race. The Best Animated Feature award (aka the award the Academy uses to honor Pixar) has not had a competitive lineup due to the fact that the Disney/Pixar powerhouse has dominated the field winning 6 out of the 11 awards given in its short life. This year is particularly peculiar for a series of reasons that make this, one of the toughest awards to predict.

1. No Unbeatable Pixar Film: In past years Pixar’s features have won the award almost by default, having no real competition in terms of artistic accomplishment, and critical praise. Some of these films even managed to earn a Best Picture nomination, which made them virtually undefeatable (e.g. Up, Toy Story 3). This year the story is different. Even though Brave is a strong contender, it is not at the level of its predecessors, which translates into an open field where anything could happen. Good news for the rest of the nominees.

2. No Foreign Entries: This year the Academy went against its own unspoken tradition of nominating at least one feature produced in a foreign country/language. These entries, although with no real chance at gold, benefit from the exposure an Oscar nomination gives any film. Most of these films bring back the forgotten art form of hand-drawn animation, something that is often beautifully refreshing to look at in our 3D/CGI dominated world. (E.g. A Cat in Paris, Persepolis, The Triplets of Belleville, The Secret of Kell.)  The absence of this type of films means that there is really no weak links, which translates into a tougher competition.

3.The Domination of Stop-Motion: Move an arm, take a picture, move it a little more, take another one. Such “impractical” way of making animation is seen very sporadically because of the labor and painstaking work involved. Therefore, it is almost unimaginable to think that this year, in baffling turn of events, three of these gems are nominated. Clearly the Academy is paying attention to the technique, which is honestly marvelous. Only one film made using stop-motion has won the award: Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Prior to this year only three others have been nominated (Corpse Bride, Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox). Here are the nominees:
 

Brave

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After winning the Golden Globe for Best Animated Feature, and being the most successful film at the box office among the five nominees, Pixar’s latest could, on the surface, seem like a minor frontrunner. Nothing short of what’s expected from the studio who is a heavyweight in modern animation. No matter what they come up with they are always a threat. The red-haired heroine will have to battle down some tough competition, as it is not one of Pixar’s massive hits. Thanks to this, the Oscar is up for grabs.

Can it win? On a scale from 1 to 5 Brave would be a 3. It has the advantage of the its studio’s hegemony and it is a beautiful film; however, this time nothing is set in stone.
 

Frankenweenie

Frankenweenie

A stop-motion animated film in black and white, inspired by one of the most influential novels of all time, and directed by Tim Burton? Yes, this smells like Oscar. Indeed, like I’ve mentioned in previous posts, this would be the perfect, and most feasible chance for the Academy to bestow the honor on the eccentric director. It would be a sort of redeeming lifetime-achievement award. The film is extremely detailed, and smartly entertaining on the tradition of the rest of his filmography. Although not a smash hit with audiences, the film did well among certain critic circles. That’s always a significant plus.

Can it win? Yes, of course it can win. Duh! It’s Tim Burton for God’s sake. From 1 to 5 Frankenweenie’s triumph seems like a 4. I leave room for uncertainty because this is an extraordinarily strong set of nominees. Nevertheless, I would be surprise if Burton doesn’t pick up his first statue on Oscar night.
 

ParaNorman

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In full disclosure, this is my personal favorite, and if the Academy granted me the righteous power to singlehandedly choose the winner, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second to choose Norman and his gang.

Now that I’ve expressed by unprofessionally biased predilection for Laika’s latest, let me try to justify my selection. The story is about horror-film-loving kid who sees ghosts, and its ostracized because of it.  Then there are also zombies (I love zombies!), Victorian stop-motion zombies that is (even better!). That’s not enough? How about beautifully created sets, daring comedy, and a pro-sexual diversity character.  Probably ignored by many, is the fact that ParaNorman has won over 14 awards from an array of critic’s circles, more than any other animated film this year. Despite this, its chances are incredibly, and sadly, slight. I still commend Sam Fell and Chris Butler on creating a true new classic in the genre.

Can it win? Even if I would love for it to win, it is a very, very long shot due  to the incredible lineup. On a scale from 1 to 5 I would give its possibilities a 2. Oscar gold appears unlikely for Laika, but not for lack of merit.
 

The Pirates: Band of Misfits

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The Pirates what? Definitely the unpredictable nominee on the list, this film came out of nowhere. Having been released early last year, and with a moderately successful box-office, the film deserved its slot, but surely took many by surprise. In a year with several good quality foreign animated films (The Rabbi’s Cat, The Painting, From Up of Poppy Hill) , the decision to include a third stop-motion animated film testifies of the fondness the Academy has for the medium this year. Nevertheless, The Pirates nomination is no luck. The film comes from the already Oscar winning studio Aardman Animations, which won in 2005 for the previously mentioned Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Really a nice and charming film, but this year those qualities will most likely not be enough to defeat the big-name adversaries.

Can it win? No. The nomination in its case is the real victory. The film will benefit from the “Academy Award Nominee” title, which hopefully will translate into greater exposure. From 1 to 5, it is a weak 1. Yet, I wouldn’t dare to say it has zero chances because you never know with the Oscars. After all it did get enough support to be nominated, eliminating other more likely contenders.
 

Wreck-it Ralph

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The only other non-stop-motion film on the list (feels so weird to write that) comes from the Disney machine, which has yet to win the award without a Pixar co-production. This product-placement darling of a film pays homage to the beloved word of video games. The story benefits from really cool cameos from gaming icons, and the voice work of John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman. Apart from a very clever style and enjoyable comedy, the film doesn’t push the art form forward. To its advantage, it has connected with audiences and a great number of critics. Therefore, it can’t be discarded as a possible winner, but it wouldn’t be the best representation from the field.

Can it win? Technically yes; however, it would be very strange for the Academy to highlight the stop-motion technique so greatly and then present the award to the less accomplished 3D animation film. From 1 to 5 Wreck-it Ralph earns a 3. Just like Brave, it has a privileged position but not enough of an edge to be considered a certain winner.

 

Who will win?  For the reasons mentioned above, I would lean towards declaring Tim Burton the most likely man to hold the golden trophy on Oscar night. As much as I would like to see ParaNorman take it, it is just wishful thinking from this writer’s part. If your faith on Burton is not strong, then bet on Wreck-it Ralph, as it seems to be the strongest possible spoiler to rain on Frankenweenie’s (gray) parade.
 

Road to the Oscars Series

January 14: Best Visual Effects – Ian Murphy

January 16: Best Sound Editing – Ian Murphy

January 18: Best Sound Mixing – Michael Benedict

January 21: Best Cinematography – Scott Youngbauer

January 23: Best Costume Design – Ian Murphy

January 25: Best Makeup and Hairstyling – Rebecca Susmarski

January 28: Best Film Editing – Dan Schindel

January 30: Best Production Design – Scott Youngbauer

February 1: Best Animated Feature – Carlos Aguilar

February 4: Best Documentary Feature – Dan Schindel

February 6: Best Documentary Short Subject – Dan Schindel

February 7: Best Live Action Short – Carlos Aguilar

February 8: Best Animated Short – Kit Bowen

February 10: Best Foreign Language Film – Carlos Aguilar

February 11: Best Original Score – Adam Spunberg

February 12: Best Original Song – Adam Spunberg

February 13: Best Original Screenplay – Dan Schindel

February 14: Best Adapted Screenplay – Jeremy Martin

February 16: Best Supporting Actor – Angela Stern

February 17: Best Supporting Actress – Hiko Mitsuzuka

February 18: Best Actress – Andrew Payne

February 19: Best Actor – Kit Bowen

February 20: Best Director – Andrew Payne

February 21: Best Picture – Kit Bowen

February 24: 85th Annual Academy Awards