2011 Oscar Predictions for Best Animated Feature and Best Documentary

Apart from the shorts, arguably the most difficult categories to predict this early in the Awards season are the Documentary and Foreign Film categories. The reason they are increasingly difficult to predict is because literally hundreds of films that could be considered eligible are released every year and certain selection bodies have to narrow it down. On the other hand one of the easiest categories to predict is the Best Animated Feature category because most of the films that are expected to compete get released during the summer Box Office surge. I take a crack at all three categories in this week’s batch of Oscar predictions.

Best Animated Feature

Typically there is not much guesswork in the Best Animated Feature category because of that one magical word – Pixar. The brilliant studio is 3 for 3 over the past three years with a fourth seeming like a sure thing. DreamWorks thought they had something going when their early 2010 release How to Train Your Dragon scored with critics and audiences and earned a 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. Normally a movie that scores that well and is facing off against a summer threequel has no problem getting the win, but Pixar is proving to be invincible in this category. The only reason that I could possibly see Toy Story 3 losing this race is if the studio campaigns hard for a Best Picture win and not for Animated Feature. Even with that distraction, however, the prize is essentially on the mantle over at Pixar studios, marking their 6th win.

The question in this category is not really who will win, but how many films will be nominated. Last year there were 16 eligible films submitted in the category, which allowed for five nominees. However, this year it is not looking like 5 nominations will be likely with only 10 animated films slated for domestic release and few foreign possibilities. In the decade since the category was created only two years (2002 and 2009) have seen 5 nominees and it appears that 2010 will not be one of them.

So which films will fill out the field? I think that How to Train Your Dragon will get a nice consolation prize with a nomination and the French film The Illusionist will take the third spot. Sylvain Chomet’s film has already received acclaim at this year’s Berlin Film Festival and it is slated to play at the Toronto International Film Festival before it’s U.S. release this Christmas. Chomet, who contended for the Oscar in 2004 for his film The Triplets of Bellville, looks for his fourth Oscar nomination and second in this category.

Check out the animated charts and let me know what you think!

Best Documentary Feature

The Documentary Feature category is particularly difficult to predict because there are many critically acclaimed documentaries released every year and usually a few sneak on to the short list every year that I have never even heard of. It’s similar to the Foreign Film category in that most of its nominees get very limited U.S. releases before the Oscars and expand after the ceremony has been completed (or at least the nominations have been announced). The only way to predict which documentaries could make the cut at the end of the year is to keep an eye and an ear on the major festivals that showcase documentaries – Sundance, Tribeca, Toronto, etc. – and pay attention to which filmmakers the Documentary branch of the Academy loves to nominate.

This year there have been a few standout documentaries that have already made their way into theatres in the U.S. and been received well by audiences and critics alike. The most prominent of these is the Afghan War documentary Restrepo, which centers on a group of soldiers stationed in one of the most dangerous places on earth. The film has already won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and in its limited release it has earned over $600,000 making it one of the highest grossing documentaries of the year. Historically the films that make it onto end of the year top ten lists (The Cove, Man on Wire, An Inconvenient Truth) also fare well at the Oscars and Restrepo seems like it could be that movie for 2010.

The main competition for Restrepo is Davis Guggenheim’s yet to be released education documentary Waiting for Superman. Guggenheim has taken home one Oscar already for An Inconvenient Truth and he’s proven to be someone the Academy will keep an eye on. Education reform has moved into the spotlight as the new hot button issue with President Obama focusing on it in recent speeches. The more it moves to the forefront of the American conscience, the more the Academy will pay attention to Guggenhem’s film, which has already had a significant online presence by taking pledges for education support.

Other docs that could prove worthy adversaries include Bansky’s part doc, part narrative film Exit Through the Gift Shop, which was much-lauded by critics, but may face some eligibility issues. There could also be much attention given to the team directed documentary Freakonomics, which features segments by Academy Award winning directors Morgan Spurlock and Alex Gibney, as well as other past nominees and standouts. However, it’s release date delays have caused some concern over whether the film will come together cohesively or feel like a television series.

Check out the Documentary charts and let me know what you think!

Tomorrow – my analysis on the Best Foreign Film race.

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