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Tuesday
Oct232018

Which lower profile films might surprise in the Oscar Animated Feature race?

by Nathaniel R

Early Man was one of the earliest titles released. Will Oscar remember it? They do love Aardman filmsAs Oscar watchers know it requires only 16 eligible animated features to trigger a 5-wide shortlist of nominees for Best Animated Feature. That number is fairly easy to hit, making this category rather more like the Tony Awards than the Oscars or Emmys, in that it's drawing from a very limited pool. You have, statistically, quite a good chance of getting nominated if you exist. The Academy generally reveals the eligibility list between November 6th and the 15th.

Obviously we know that high profile films from studios and animation houses like Pixar (Incredibles 2), Disney (Ralph Breaks the Internet), Warner Animation (Smallfoot, Teen Titans Go!), Fox Searchlight (Isle of Dogs), Universal (The Grinch), Sony Animation (Into the Spider-Verse, Hotel Transylvania 3), Aardman (Early Man -- which was just nominated for the European Film Awards), and Paramount (Sherlock Gnomes) will be hoping to snag one of the five coveted nominations but what of the lower profile titles? History suggests that one or two of them could muscle their way into the shortlist ahead of an arguably less inspiring American option...

We've just recently reviewed Ruben Brandt, Collector here, a Hungarian picture that we think will be competitive for a nomination because it's quite accessible and fun if you have even a rudimentary love for fine art and classic paintings. It's also super weird and, thus, memorable. But there are other international titles to keep watch for.

Mirai from Japan

GKids has made it something of a mission to aim for this category which has proven receptive to low profile foreign films that offer something beyond America's primary and sometimes only mode: the CG action/comedy. The problem is that GKids picks up a lot of titles so it's difficult to know what they might push or whether it will meet the eligibility requirements. This year they have already released titles an anime called The Night is Short Walk on Girl and a genre mashup called MFKZ but we suspect their big push will be for Mamoru Hosoda's new picture Mirai which is about a four year old boy who is visited by his baby sister as a teenager from the future. Hosoda is a very respected name and the animation is adorable. The film hits theaters as a special theatrical event on November 29th, December 5th and December 8th in various locations. More on that one later including an interview with the director.

White Fang from LuxembourgAnother Day of Life

It's wise to look at festival winners and regional film awards for possible titles, too. So we have to keep an eye on the European Film Award nominees. They have nominated four films this year including Aardman's Early Man and last year's Oscar-nominated Breadwinner (because of different release timetables in Europe). The other two more obscure titles could show up on Oscar's eligibility list. They are Another Day of Life, which is an international rotoscoped title about a Polish reporter journeying through the war torn Angola, and White Fang from Luxembourg which is a reimagining of the Jack London classic.

The recently completed Animation Is festival in Los Angeles might also contain clues to the titles we'll see on the list. The winner for 2018 was the France/Luxembourg production Funan about a Cambodian woman trying to reunite with her family during the Khmer Rouge era. Definitely keep an eye on that one because of its sobering subject matter and the buzz is that it's a powerful film that could only have been told in this way. Animation Is also gave a prize to an intriguing title called Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles which is about Spain's legendary auteur Luis Buñuel during the shooting of his final film but I don't think that's a serious threat to show up on the eligiblity list because it was shown at the festival in an unfinished form... so we'll look out for that in 2019.

Hoffmaniada from Russia

Finally we should keep our eye on the titles nominated at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards. The one we're most curious about is Russia's long-in-the-making fairy tale picture Hoffmaniada because it looks Laika-esque. The other nominees at APSA were Georgia's Rezo an autobiographical animated documentary, Japan's fantasy Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms about the relationship between an immortal girl and a human man, and Taiwan's On Happiness Road which is a memoir from a first time director about Taiwanese history and her childhood.

What are you most curious about this year in the Animated Feature category?

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Reader Comments (20)

They demonstrated last year that if they allow everyone in the Academy to make nominations in this category, voters will cynically just put down the ones their kids made them see.

So realistically, Incredibles 2/Isle of Dogs/Wreck It Ralph 2/Spiderman...and whatever else makes a good amount of money. That Grinch movie?

October 23, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAR

I saw Mirai in Japan, and it wasn't as good as Hosoda's previous efforts. But then again Wolf Children, The Boy and the Beast, The Girl Who Lept Through Time, and Summer Wars are gold-plated classics, so it was probably too much to live up to.

October 24, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterbeyaccount

AR -- i dont think that's the case. They also nominated Breadwinner last year. In fact there's never been a single year (in years with 5 nominees) that all 5 were American studio pictures.

October 24, 2018 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I am reading a blog on this website for the first time and I would like to tell you that the quality of the article is up to the mark it is very well written.

October 24, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMark Stephen

Great write-up! The animation branch came such a long way, delivering great nominations. Remember when they snubbed Millennium Actress for Brother Bear? I feel like a few years later, that wouldn't have happened.

The Academy opening up the nominations process to all members is worrisome, though. Last year, The Breadwinner got in, but so did two of the category's worst nominees ever: Boss Baby and Ferdinand (note; Boss Baby is alright, IMO, but usually *much* better movies get nominated). I really do worry that we're done with the era where indie and foreign titles with little or no distribution can't get in anymore. Ruben Brandt as Sony Classics in its corner, which can help it, and Mirai is coming in with some major prestige from festivals and is releasing at the right time for awards, but other than those two, it's tough seeing a film compete since they now need wider awareness. I don't think we'll see wonderful surprise nominees like Boy and The World anymore, which is a bummer since The Night is Short, Walk on Girl could have perhaps been in play this year for a surprise in fifth slot.

I wish Your Name and Mary and the Witch's Flower hadn't done qualifying runs last year. They both grossed over a million bucks (Your Name went moderately wide naturally, and Mary did business with Fathom Events (and beyond too, I guess)). People may have heard of them this year, when they didn't last.

October 24, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

Isle of Dogs should win this. It remains my favorite movie of the year.

October 24, 2018 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

@Nathaniel - I agree that we're not going to have all-American lineups very often if only because of Aardman/Cartoon Salon/etc, but we are definitely going to have all-English language ones. There's a big difference between something like The Breadwinner (in English despite being about Afghanistan, from an English-language studio that's been nominated twice previously, executive produced by Angelina Jolie) and stuff like what GKids pushes forward (Boy and the World definitely doesn't get nominated under these new rules).

October 24, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAR

Peter: Really? Your Name wasn't happening. Remember: Kung Fu Panda 2 over The Girl Leapt Through Time. That's a choice the Academy made under the old rules. NOTHING has changed with the Academy's implicit stance on Non-Ghibli Anime. Studio Ponoc MIGHT replace them (Mary and the Witch's Flower getting nominated, which it probably would have under the old rules, would be a very "Meet the New Boss" situation), but it could also be that anime is flat-out OVER with The Academy with the new rules.

October 24, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

I only just heard about On Happiness Road, the first all-Taiwanese animated production in a long time. As the son of parents from Taiwan, I am intrigued even if it doesn't get a nomination (which it probably won't.)

As far as the category goes, I was a big fan of Wreck-It Ralph and was very upset when it lost the Oscar. I hope the sequel is as good as the first one and can snag another nomination, but Incredibles 2 would probably take it.

For what it's worth, my favorite animated movie of the year was Teen Titans Go to the Movies.

October 24, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterajnrules

My prediction:

1. The Incredibles 2
2. Isle of Dogs
3. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
4. Teen Titans Go! To the Movies (Not HUGE huge, but huge relative to its budget ($50 million gross on $10 million budget) and most who saw it, loved it. So, yeah, I think you really are grossly underestimating this one.)
5. Ruben Brandt, Collector
6. Ralph Breaks The Internet
7. The Grinch
8. Mirai (Non Ghibli anime has been consistently ignored previously for much stronger work than this. Under the new rules, it has even less of a chance.)
9. Smallfoot (Lit neither critics or the box office on fire, really. Better luck next time, Warner Bros.)
10. Early Man

(Surprised I don't have Wreck it Ralph 2 in the top 5? 1. Sequel. That matters a little less here than in most categories. But... 2. And this is the bigger problem, it looks like an only slightly smarter version of The Emoji Movie. So, I'm hedging my bets slightly on this. If it gets in? Ruben Brandt doesn't.)

October 24, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

@Volvagia: Anime definitely has an uphill battle, but Your Name. is a huge critics' hit (and won LAFCA last year, despite it just playing a qualifying run with reduced profile). This year it grossed over $5m, which is considerably more than any GKids film ever, almost grossing as much as The Wind Rises, and clobbering non-anime Ghibli's The Red Turtle. It absolutely would be in play this year, if it were eligible.

It's possible that the Academy doesn't lean towards anime, but other than the Satoshi Kon films, has there really been a non-Ghibli film that felt competitive for a nomination? The Girl Who Leapt through time was basically direct-to-video in the US, and to say a film like Kung Fu Panda 2 took a nomination away from it is kind of silly considering how well received (over 80% on Rotten Tomatoes, over $150m at the box office) it was. Kung Fu Panda 2 was always going to get nominated, and it wasn't especially undeserved. An animated sequel like Cars 2, though, would have probably been a bad film to benefit from this rule change at the expense of a deserving indie.

It's certainly possible that the animation branch has a bias against anime, but I just don't think there's much data to support it. Anime is huge and more popular, but I don't think we've really seen a film (again, other than the Satoshi Kon movies or Your Name last year) miss a possible nomination. Anime titles have cultural significance going in their favor, which certainly most indie or other foreign animated films don't have, but this isn't Best Popular Animated Film, and if it were, that would just invite more Hollywood titles in.

October 24, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

Outside the disney studios, isle of dogs is one of the most unique animated features since fantastic mr. fox. I could see miral and early man getting nominations

October 24, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

Nathaniel must have sensed something in the air... the official submissions list is out: https://variety.com/2018/film/awards/film-academy-reveals-25-animated-features-submitted-for-2018-oscar-race-1202992122/

October 24, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

Curious that Big Fish & Begonia is missing from the submissions list. I wonder if they just forgot or thought it wasn't worth the time to complete the paperwork, or if it just wasn't eligible?

October 24, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

Peter

Big Fish and Begonia played theatrically in China in 2016, thus making it ineligible for the Oscars this year.

October 24, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterken s.

@Ken: Thanks! Didn't realize there was a 2-year cut off. Is that specific to this category? I know most foreign films come out in their home country before being released here, and most are still eligible in most categories. (Foreign language plays by its own rules, I know, and a nomination there can disqualify a film from consideration in other categories for when the time would come.) Seemed like that one would have at least campaigned for a very longshot nomination, if it could have.

October 24, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

DAMNIT. They're two weeks ahead of schedule making this post instantly irrelevant. argh.

October 24, 2018 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Peter -- the two year cutoff would also apply to foreign films in that category (essentially) since they have to have opened in their home country between October the previous year and September of the year in which they're being submitted. So the earliest time a 2018 foreign film submission could have been theoretically been eleased in its home country would be October 1st, 2017.

October 24, 2018 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

@Nathaniel

On the contrary! You started the conversation in the nick of time!

To all the discussion above about last year's nominees, I'd also like to point out Loving Vincent also got in besides The Breadwinner. Though I'd argue that it's an odd year to fully grasp how the new voting would've affected the nominees since it was such a weak year. Coco was basically the only option. Breadwinner and LV had pedigree but underwhelming reviews (or let's say, less acclaim than the foreign entries here usually get) while basically all major studio movies had gotten such underwhelming response Boss Baby and Ferdinand (both of which were seen as bad nominees in general) were not even among the worst possibilities. Like, voters had so few options of putting together a respectable lineup anyways movies not favored (or that we suppose aren't favored) got attention anyways.

We'll see how it pans out this year but it seems Isle of Dogs, Incredibles and Ralph are all good. As a last note I'd venture to say more the new rules less than affect the smaller movies, help out more the "product' movies that the animation branch was shutting out (Lego Movie, Tin Tin): Spider Man this year.

October 24, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAlexD

Nathaniel -

The rule you refer to is correct as far as eligibility in the Foreign Film category goes. As for the other categories, a foreign film may have been exhibited outside the U.S. as early as January 1, 2017, so long as it was not exhibited in Los Angeles County before January 1, 2018 (Rule 3 (3)). In fact, American films that played in the U.S. outside of Los Angeles County in 2017 are also eligible under the same circumstances (Rule 3 (2)). There are special eligibility rules for Animated, Foreign, Documentary and Short Films,

October 24, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterken s.

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