Thursday, January 25, 2018

Theory Thursday: My Issues With the Best Animated Film Oscar Category

Welcome to a weekly column called Theory Thursdays, which will be released every Thursday and discuss my "controversial opinion" related to something relative to the week of release. Sometimes it will be birthdays while others is current events or a new film release. Whatever the case may be, this is a personal defense for why I disagree with the general opinion and hope to convince you of the same. While I don't expect you to be on my side, I do hope for a rational argument. After all, film is a subjective medium and this is merely just a theory that can be proven either way. 

Subject: The Academy Awards were announced this past Tuesday.
Theory: My issues with the Best Animated Film category.


This past Tuesday, The Academy Award nominations were announced. As with every year, there's been plenty of antagonistic conversation about every nominee no matter how perfect they actually are. In the case of the Best Animated Film category, there was one name that people couldn't escape. As much as people are predicting a shutout win by Coco, people were baffled by The Boss Baby sneaking into the mix. It's for good reason, as it's one of Dreamworks Animation's more baffling movies in which a paranoid kid imagines that his baby brother is a business man who goes on weird adventures. It's a goofy film, but a baffling one too. However, it's the perfect jumping off point for my general issues with the Best Animated Film category in recent years. It isn't so much about quality, but what name you recognize best.

It's true that every category has this issue. Many would go so far as to argue that each category is a popularity contest. That's fair assumption, though if I can be honest: 2017 was a lousy year for American animated movies. As good as Coco was, I can't say that another mainstream film captured the same zest. What else was there: Ferdinand, Cars 3, The LEGO Batman MovieSmurfs: The Lost Village, Despicable Me 3The Emoji Movie, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie? Do any of those sound like they exemplify the medium in a way worthy of The Oscars? I'll be honest that I am a big fan of Captain Underpants, but recognize that it's more of a niche film that intellectualizes toilet humor. At most, Loving Vincent is the one other surprise that makes this year interesting.

But it raises the question: why does this category have to be overly American? While I'm not dismissing Coco, I do believe that there's plenty of global cinema that could've been recognized instead of middling CG movies. What's great about animation in 2017 is that it can be a variety of fields: hand drawn, CG, stop motion, etc. It's a wonderful time to love cartoons, but you wouldn't believe it from the past few Oscar winners. Of the past 15 winners, only five were not released by Disney or Pixar (and of those, only two were not made by an American studio). It would suggest that this is a golden age for CG animation, right? I guess so. After all, some of those winners are indisputable masterpieces (including Inside Out and Ratatouille), but what about introducing audiences to something a little more diverse?

Again, the issue comes back to how recognizable an animated movie is. It's true as well in the Best Documentary field, which favors pop hits to hard hitting subjects in recent years. But if anything could be learned from Moonlight winning Best Picture last year, it's that smaller films can get a chance to win an Oscar. As much as being nominated is its own award for publicity, imagine how much more interesting the general Oscar year would be if films from Studio Ghibli, GKids, Laika, or Aardman stood as much of a chance to win. Suddenly it would be a race as compelling as certain years for the acting categories. It's not a bold idea to reward craft over name recognition, though it would involve breaking a tradition that has existed since year one. Speaking as the recent class of the Oscars is all about change, it would make sense if this category wasn't the last remaining predictable field out there.

As I've mentioned, 2017 was a lousy year for American animation. There wasn't that many films worthy of nomination. So while one could argue that The LEGO Batman Movie should've gotten nominated instead of The Boss Baby, it's still a personal indictment against anything not made in America. The impression that animation is solely CG has become a toxic idea, and it has limited people from discovering the majesty of world cinema. While the odds are that Disney and Pixar would still dominate box office revenue, it still gives smaller films a chance to get the recognition they deserve. After all, the Best Picture field is a spontaneous one that doesn't just reward one or two studios, no matter what the Weinstein Company's former reputation would suggest. It often rewards the films that comparatively make less box office than the blockbusters, largely because they appeal to an image that they want to reward. As good as Disney and Pixar have been, they aren't the only name for quality animation. Nobody would know, largely because that's all that gets attention.

In a sense, it's why I hope Loving Vincent or The Breadwinner wins. It would be nice to not have another predictable year where Pixar wins just because it was the only film worth two cents to American audiences. There's nothing wrong with being a popular movie. However, animation is a growing field that has infinite possibilities. For instance, filmmaker Don Hertzfeldt was nominated a few years back for World of Tomorrow, which combined experimental art with stick figures. There are plenty of opportunities for The Academy to recognize someone else instead of merely nominating them. If anything, I hope this advice goes towards what gets nominated in the future. Don't be afraid to nominate a majority of films that didn't come from America. Of course, 2018 already has some interesting films coming out in the next few months (Early Man, Isle of Dogs), so maybe this problem will resolve itself. If not, we're doomed to see Wreck It Ralph Breaks the Internet win next year. It may be a good movie, even great, but I doubt it's going to be the most interesting film of the year. As long as The Boss Baby sequel doesn't get nominated, things will be fine. 

1 comment:

  1. After the Academy's recent rule revisions following the 89th Oscars included opening the nominating phase of Best Animated Feature to the entire voting membership, many entertainment and animation news outlets expressed worry that the category will skew Western and mainstream. Still, some hoped that the new voting system would have at least carried a delay in its eventual mainstream lean. The new voting system still requires an initial opt-in and thus carries some responsibility in ensuring that voters watch a minimum number of eligible animated films.

    I guess the delay hopes of the more optimistic among us didn’t pan out. The mainstream lean was already there and waiting to steal the remaining two slots (since The Breadwinner, Coco, and Loving Vincent were considered locked for nominations at this point). *gulp*

    If I Had Nominated for Best Animated Feature 2017:
    — The Breadwinner
    — Cars 3
    — Coco
    — La Jeune Fille Sans Mains (The Girl Without Hands)
    — Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni (In This Corner of the World)