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Entries in Big Hero 6 (12)

Thursday
Jan152015

Tim's Toons: The newly wide-open animation race

Tim here. As you’ve probably heard, unless this is literally the first thing you’ve read on the internet all day, the Best Animated Feature category at the Oscars got thrown for a loop when the prohibitive frontrunner, The Lego Movie, was unexpectedly denied a nomination. In the blink of an eye, one of the most boring races suddenly turned into the most unpredictable of all 24.

So why don’t we start hacking away at the five titles, and see what we can make of them, now that we’ve suddenly got some excitement on our hands?



BIG HERO 6
Directors: Don Hall (1st nomination), Chris Williams (2nd nomination)
Studio: Walt Disney Animation (8th nomination)

Nathaniel kind of liked it, I kind of liked it a bit less. Which mostly describes the reception that the film has received from everybody: nobody much dislikes the genial adventure-comedy about a boy and his charmingly soft robot, but it hasn’t inspired the kind of culture-devouring passion that Disney’s Frozen was enjoying a year ago at this point.

Path to victory: If the glow of the Disney brand name, so recently rejuvenated by Frozen’s enormous success, convinces people that this one was probably good enough to get by in an uncertain year.



THE BOXTROLLS
Directors: Anthony Stacchi and Graham Annable (1st nomination for each)
Studio: Laika (3rd nomination, 4th if we include the pre-Laika Corpse Bride)

With The Lego Movie out of the picture, this has abruptly become the critics’ baby in the race. And it’s not an unfair position for the film, which bears its rough, handmade aesthetic with pride that shades into showing-off. Those of us who love stop-motion animation really love it, and the studio has done an outstanding job of positioning itself as the home for high-tech revisions to the most ancient of animation forms. The Boxtrolls is certainly not their most sophisticated piece of storytelling, but it’s a technical masterwork. For more praise, check out this top 10.

Path to victory: It’s in a great position to do some of the "look at our wonderfully fussy homey craftsmanship" campaigning that Laika does so well, and CEO Travis Knight has deep pockets. The film will have to work for it, but it’s work that I think can be done.

 

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2
Director: Dean DeBlois (3rd nomination)
Studio: DreamWorks Animation (11th nomination)

A sequel that many people liked and only some people particularly loved. A lot of that is the side effect of having two movies' worth of plot crushed down into one, cramping things and having unfortunate repercussions in the department of making Cate Blanchett's awesome character feel like an afterthought. It's also a little too desperate to make things feel grander and more epic, at the expense of the character-driven charm of the first. Still...

Path to victory: ...it feels like the default pick, right? DreamWorks proper hasn't won since the category's very first year in 2001, and voting for HTTYD2 can retroactively feel like rewarding the original, which surely would have won against any competition less fierce than Toy Story 3. The box office and the critics are fine without being in any way exceptional, though, so this is less the one that's surely going to take the Oscar, than the one that only takes the Oscar if nobody else can be bothered.

 

SONG OF THE SEA
Director: Tomm Moore (2nd nomination)
Studio: Cartoon Saloon (2nd nomination)

I must confess to having not seen it. Both Nathaniel and Margaret were pretty high on it, though, and on the strength of 2009's The Secret of Kells, I feel that following Moore down the rabbit hole of brightly-colored Celtic mythology is a pretty safe bet. Hopefully, I'll get a chance to look at this one a bit more closely in the next few weeks.

Path to victory: Margaret puts it bluntly: "breathtakingly stunning artwork". Being the most traditional, and probably also the most striking, of the nominees can only help. The big uncertainty here is that distributor GKIDS ended up with two nominees, and it's hard to guess if they have the resources to handle two campaigns. One of them almost certainly has to give.

 

THE TALE OF THE PRINCESS KAGUYA
Director: Isao Takahata (1st nomination)
Studio: Studio Ghibli (4th nomination)

As you perhaps know - because I won't shut the hell up about it - Takahata is one of the great living directors of animation, and Princess Kaguya is a gorgeous, challenging (potential) swan song. Retelling the most ancient story in Japanese storytelling using digtital animation techniques designed to mimic pencil sketches and watercolors, the film is a smart blend of fable and domestic drama without any anachronistic modern attitudes but also without old-fashioned fustiness. It's my favorite animated feature of the year, so I get a little over-passionate about it; it's also the only one of the nominees mostly meant for an adult audience.

Path to victory: See the above issue with GKIDS' split loyalties. These seems like the stronger play - it has more critics' awards, it's probably the last Ghibli film that will have a real shot at winning, the same for Takahata - but the category hasn't favored grown-up animation yet. And this is way Japanese. Besides, how many Academy members can possibly find "But Takahata might not ever make another movie!" a compelling argument?

 

Alright, so if you had to pick, right now, what do you think will end up winning? And was The Lego Movie robbed, or is that just the cost of making a feature-lenth toy ad? Sound off in comments!

Wednesday
Jan142015

VES Nominees. Fun and Weird They Are.

I'm typing up my final predictions article so while I'm doing that why not peruse my final predictions in the Screenplay categories (my big risk is Ida there) and something completely different: the Visual Effects Society nominations.

They  looked at CG heavy 2014 on the big screen and small and declared that these were the things they most liked looking at! I do suggest hitting the jump to see the whole list because they have a lot of interesting and highly specific categories like "Outstanding effects simulations in a photoreal/live action feature motion picture" which pits that funny scene from X-Men Days of Future Past when Quicksilver runs around the kitchen in slo-mo with that looped destructive beach sequence in Edge of Tomorrow that goes on forever until Tom Cruise gets the hang of it. 

The "supporting visual effects" is always an interesting category. I'm hoping Birdman wins but I can't for the life of me figure out what effects work went into The Imitation Game (???) which is also nominated! That damn movie, showing up everywhere! I liked it at first well enough but it's one of those films that can't bear the weight of all these honors and thus you begin to turn on it. 

My favorite VES category might be "Outstanding created environment in an animated feature motion picture" because three of them are places you'd definitely want to visit for hours if you could exploring every pixel: The Boxtrolls Cavern, The Land of the Remembered from Book of Life, and Oasis (which I believe is Cate Blanchett's dragon sanctuary) in How To Train Your Dragon 2. The fourth, though, is my pick for runt of the litter "Into the Portal" from Big Hero 6 which is the weakest segment in their movie, narratively and though your eyes may disagree, I didn't care for that segment visually either.

The complete list is after the jump...

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Dec232014

Crazy Cat Lady Yearbook

Year in review. Two yummy look backs each day.

People often get my name wrong in the comments. I do not answer to "Nate" or "Nathan". "Nat" or "Nathaniel" will do.  I also answer to "Crazy Cat Lady".

Cats do not get enough screen time if you ask me but they're not pack animals so there's no cat union to promote their representation in the movies. I actually felt a bit betrayed this summer when Toothless, one of my all time favorite screen cats suddenly seemed almost doggish in How To Train Your Dragon 2. If Dreamworks wants to know why they struggled a bit at the box office there I can only point to Toothless. There was  A) Not nearly enough of him in the movie and B) He seemed to have gone to the dog side. 

So herewith the four cats from the film year I couldn't love more...

BEST SCREEN CATS 2014

04 Hairy Baby (Big Hero Six)
If Baymax weren't already off-the-charts adorable, it turns out he's also a cat person robot? (Though he probably shouldn't be petting a happy kitty who might well start kneading him since he's already sprung a leak at this point in the movie. 

03 Ghibli Cat (The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness)
From my review of the Studio Ghibli documentary... 

Particularly wonderful are the many shots of a black and white short tailed cat that wanders freely around Studio Ghibli demanding doors be open for it. This cat, who almost seems like an animated character, strangely never ventures into Miyazaki's workspace as if blocked, staring, by some invisible wall. Still, Miya-san likes him. They share a brief funny moment at a picnic table outside late in the film, the cat sleeping, the filmmaker looking on with envy; Miyazaki has since retired 

02 Felix (St. Vincent)
A veritable cloud of comfort in a sea of smelly clutter, cantankarous moods, and unhappy peoples. Felix is so fluffy, docile, well fed and people-loving that even the most misanthropic or lonely of film characters -- that'd be Bill Murray, natch -- can't remotely pretend to not worship him. (Vulture also couldn't pretend indifference, devoting a whole photo spread to him.)

01 The Cat (Gone Girl)
Every single shot of the orange tabby* in Gone Girl is perfection. He's the perfectly detached observer of all things Mr & Mrs Dunne. Even when he's allowing Nick to be comforted by him, not desperately waiting for food, or staring at the throngs of police and press circling his home, he never seems less than cool and in control. His allegiances also beautifully shift with the opposing chapters. For so long he seems to be Nick's man, until suddenly he's not. Note the way, in the film's best shot (yeah, I couldn't wait) he stares Nick down, a perfect unknowable mirror of Amy, standing just behind him, once they're all back in the kitchen. Is this tabby an "emotional marker" for Gone Girl as some claim or is he something more? An omniscient observer, perhaps? Or David Fincher in feline form, prowling around his own movie preternaturally aware of every shadowy corner, shared space, hiding place, and neutral ground. 

*the cat is never explicitly named in Gone Girl though Nick calls him "Buddy." In the novel I understand his name is "Bleecker".

Saturday
Dec062014

Screener Adventures From Big Hero to Budapest (Pt. 1)

Herewith a collection of fractured thoughts to along with my fractured toe (a piece of advice: never stub your toe so violently that your toe is swollen and purple by the end of the night and you have trouble walking for a week afterwards). I'd never have time for full articles on any of these so let's race through.

The Homesman 
Contrary to popular belief I am more than willing to praise the Swankster when she deserves it. While it's true that I was very hostile ten years ago during the Million Dollar Baby year (I struggle with hostility in any category in any year wherein the least of the five seems to have a free ride to gold... even if they've already won!) I supported her first Oscar win and you can't ever take Boys Don't Cry away from her. What we have here in  Tommy Lee Jones peculiar feminist western is her second best performance. I found her unflinching stillness whenever menfolk dismissed her as "plain" to be quite moving and she plays the saddest piano of all time, a cloth fascimile she drapes in front of her. That said, though I loved several elements of the film and found the concept and even the difficult structure intriguing, I don't think the film manages to come together well. Its parts are greater than their sum. No spoilers here but I'm a wee bit surprised that Swank has garnered as much Oscar buzz as she has - despite still being a longshot - given that her role is not as large or as fulfilling as you assume it will be in the first act.

The Skeleton Twins 
Not quite sure how I missed this one earlier in the year but it was a huge success with my friends when we finally screend it. And that "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" musical number slays - just perfection. The comedy, though, is surprisingly dark and the tone a mite unstable so it's easy to see why the movie never quite broke out despite gathering some devout fans and a lone Gotham Award nomination. It hesitates at the edge of its drama sequences as if to say 'for your consideration: serious acting from funny people' and teeters near its comic sequences like 'do we really want to do this?' before caving; you can't not let Wiig and Hader be funny. Still that "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" musical number just slays. Is anything funnier than slow burn Kristen Wiig silliness? 

Big Hero 6
While the adults talked in the other room on Thanksgiving I played this one for my friends's kids to keep them occupied. I was pushing for The Boxtrolls but, I don't know if you know this, kids turn out to be kind of stubborn; they like what they like. They were already obsessed with Baymax and rather than watching something new, they wanted the inflatable super-nurse again. I watched a few scenes again but remain only a mild fan of it. It wouldn't be on my final ballot in this competitive Animated Feature year. Nevertheless turns out it's hilarious and endearing to say goodbye to little kids after they've watched this movie. They all want to do a fist bump and will giggle like little maniacs if you play along and do Baymax's robotic jazz finger trill as their parents button them up for the cold outside. 

The Babadook
At the risk of turning this blog into The Babadook Experience (What? We like it). I'll be brief. This movie is really good. It's one of the very few movies this year that my best friend, who it might surprise you to hear does not much like movies, was willing to see and he loved it. He's been whispering at me randomly in a croaky voice "ba-ba-doooooook" without warning. The movie was just as creepy the second time but way more fun since I wasn't watching it alone. But Thanksgiving was a really really weird and, let's face it, unfortunate time to release it since a) it's probably not Oscar eligible given the Direct TV premiere and b) it could have used October's creepy crawly box office friendly trends. It makes no sense to me at all. It's not like it would have been forgotten for top ten season with a debut that was simply one month earlier? 

Grand Budapest Hotel
My friends all wanted to see this one so we rented it from Netflix before I even got the FYC screener. I can't quite figure why I was so stand-offish about it back in March when I named it Wes Anderson's second worst (just slightly better than The Life Aquatic). While I still wouldn't call it his best as so many critics did during the initial Budapest love-in (The Royal Tenenbaums remains untouchable IMO) it's so much better than I had understood. So I stand corrected, which is not something I'll admit to every day when it comes to the movies -- for example I'm totally right about Inherent Vice. I don't care how many top ten lists it makes: Blech!. On second viewing of Budapest the manic energy no longer grates or feels oppressive but intermittently flavorful and in service to its idiosyncratic comedy. And the pieces which always struck me as glorious: Ralph Fiennes out-of-time elegance and superbly pitched performance (it's a real pity he's not locked up in that Best Actor race; he should be) and the exquisitely scrumptuous production design and costumes are even better on repeat viewings.

Normally eye candy movies are better on the big screen but this one played much better for me at home. Go figure. 

Have you changed your mind about a movie recently or been surprised by one you thought you'd be cooler to? 

Sunday
Nov092014

Box Office: Sci-fi Rules the Day

Amir here, reporting to box office duty. Finally, the day cinephiles have been waiting for all year has arrived. America gets the chance to see one of our greatest working directors bring his epic vision to the screen. I speak, of course, of Frederick Wiseman's National Gallery, which opened on one screen to respectable returns. Others were too busy checking out Big Hero 6 and Interstellar. Disney's animated film actually topped the charts – I did not expect it to overcome Nolan's juggernaut, if I'm being honest – but both film finished with more than $50 in the bank. This is an incredibly rare feat: even though it's happened for the third year in a row now, it's only the fourth time that two films open with 50+ numbers. On all three previous occasions, an animated film beat a live action one: Wall-E and Wanted, Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted and Prometheus, and Monsters University and World War Z. All eight films are also more or less science-fiction, which calls for a poll:

 

 

TOP DOZEN
01 BIG HERO 6 $56.2 NEW Tim's Review / Nathaniel's Take
02 INTERSTELLAR $52.1 NEW Michael's Review
03 GONE GIRL $6.1 (cum. $145.4) The Podcast /  Jason's Review
04 OUIJA $6 (cum. $43.4) 
05 ST. VINCENT $5.7 (cum. $27.3) Michael's Review
06 NIGHTCRAWLER $5.5 (cum. $19.7) The PodcastNathaniel's Review 
07 FURY $5.5 (cum. $69.2) Michael's Review
08 JOHN WICK $8 (cum. $27.5) Michael's Review
09 ALEXANDER... VERY BAD DAY $3.4 (cum. $59.2) 
10 
THE BOOK OF LIFE $2.8 (cum. $45.2) Interview
11 BIRDMAN $2.3 (cum. $8) The Podcast Nathaniel's Review
12 THE JUDGE $1.7 (cum. $42.5) 

PLATFORM
01 WHIPLASH $.3 88 locations (cum. $1.5) The Podcast / Michael's Review
02 CITIZEN FOUR $.2 59 locations (cum. $.6) 
03 THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING $.2 NEW 5 locations Nathaniel's Review

Aside from Wiseman's film, the other big limited release of the weekend was The Theory of Everything, which returned really solid numbers on five screens and will roll out next week in search of some Oscar gold. I haven't yet seen any of this weekend's films, but I did catch up with Birdman: Or the Unex... oh, stop this nonsense, which I mostly liked, even though I found it uneven and undermined by a) Lubezki's distracting and confusing cinematography and b) Keaton's incredibly boring performance. For a performance that is similarly meta without forgetting that there is an emotional connection to be made with the material, see: Rourke, Mickey.

What did you see this weekend?

Friday
Nov072014

Review: Big Hero 6

Tim here. Something feels unmissably “off” about Big Hero 6, the 54th film in the Walt Disney Animation feature canon. It’s a film that wants to offer a little something for everybody, and succeeds, but this comes at the cost of feeling erratic and imbalanced, and curiously adrift. By now, we’re used to superhero origin stories that use up all the oxygen on setting up the heroes’ powers and briefly sketching in their personalities, but even by that standard, as Big Hero 6 started to move into what was unmistakably its endgame, I found myself sinking into outright dismay that this inconsequential scrap against a nondescript bad guy with wicked plans barely large than a city block was actually where the movie was headed, after its strong opening.

But that’s all part of the scheme: the filmmakers (including directors Don Hall, of the 2011 Winnie the Pooh) and Chris Williams, of 2008’s Bolt) know that some people want emotional tenderness, and some want big action scenes, and so they deliver both. But not in a way that’s completely satisfying to either group. It’s the same problem of every CGI animated American movie of the last decade and a half writ large and done with shockingly little attempt to disguise the joints between it narrative modules.

Click to read more ...