OSCAR COUNTDOWN: Best Animated Feature and Best Documentary Feature

FrankenweenieThroughout Oscar season, Film Misery will be offering almost daily breakdowns of the categories in the Oscar race. Today we continue with the Animated Feature and Documentary Feature categories.

Best Animated Feature

The Nominees:
Brave
Frankenweenie
ParaNorman
The Pirates! Band of Misfits
Wreck-It Ralph

This year’s Oscar race truly has been the most competitive in some time, even in the often predictable animated feature category. Pixar has made it all too easy in past years to predict the winner, but their winning streak came to another halt last year when Cars 2 failed to even make the nominations list, a first for the company. Its mild reception upon release in June, and even milder since, is worthy reasoning to discount Brave‘s chances this year. That didn’t halt the film from picking up wins at the Golden Globes and the BAFTAs, and while the former hasn’t always been so accurate a precursor, the British Academy has yet to disagree with their American counterparts.

The squiffy variable in that situation is Wreck-It Ralph, which wasn’t an option on the BAFTA ballot. Many would say Disney Animation’s latest in-house CG effort hits the Pixar code of family charming entertainment more honestly than Brave does. Few of us at the site are over the moon about the film, but I doubt any would disagree Wreck-It Ralph hits more of the emotional, comedic, and stylistic marks that it sets out for. It’s certainly the most endearing film of the batch, and the Academy has most often gone with the friendlier diversions.

Wreck-It Ralph Review (2012) Fix-It Felix, Jack McBrayerEven with cultural favor skewing towards candy-coloured CG fare these days, that the humble medium of stop-motion garnered three nominations this year is a triumph for old-fashioned artists. Of the three, The Pirates! Band of Misfits sadly appears to be the most disposable, and was likely included out of sympathy for Aardman Animation. It’s fresh studio Laika that has the potential to garner a reputation in stop-motion that Pixar built for itself in digital. After giving Up a run for its money in 2009 with Henry Selick’s Coraline, ParaNorman may not have hit quite the high mark they set out with, but plenty have taken to the vibrant zombie comedy, giving it the most critics awards of any animated film this year.

While that may be the most agreeable of the handmade animations this year, there’s not only been passion for Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie, but purpose behind it. Auteurist visions haven’t had the best track record in this category, costing Persepolis, The Illusionist, and Coraline the prize for being more artistic accomplishments, rather than mainstream ones. Rango broke that streak last year, earning Gore Verbinski what may turn out to be his only Oscar. It’s startling to think that Academy might turn their nose up on what may be their last chance to reward Burton for his creative contribution to the film medium for arguably his most honest and deeply heartfelt project in ages. The odds are in Wreck-It Ralph‘s favor, but if there’s a film that could merit an upset, I do hope it’s Frankenweenie.

Predicted Winner: Wreck-It Ralph
Preferred Winner: Frankenweenie

The GatekeepersBest Documentary Feature

The Nominees:
5 Broken Cameras
The Gatekeepers
How to Survive a Plague
The Invisible War
Searching for Sugar Man

Against all attempts at the contrary, this year’s lineup of nominated documentaries seems deceptively small in focus. That may be partly due to The Gatekeepers not having much time to gather momentum, having landed with a bang amidst the Toronto Film Festival. Not receiving a U.S. release until just recently, it’s more likely the Israel Shin Bet story will find appreciation after the awards season dust has settled. Deeply personal Palestinian documentary 5 Broken Cameras seems to hit along that similar wavelength, using the documentary format to bring our sight to something we’d otherwise have ignored. Unfortunately, it too has been oddly left in the dust, with few expressing active enough interest to push it into the public consciousness.

With all the topical advocacy docs in competition, it’s still somewhat difficult to believe the award is probably going to Searching for Sugar Man. The film was a sensation during its summer run, astonishing viewers with the mystery and resurgence of musician Rodriguez’s disappearance. It’s really an underdog tale, which is probably what appeals to such a wide array of voters. There are still two documentaries which could conceivably supplant it, both of which touch on deeply American issues.

I could see The Invisible War taking this if it had more heat going in its direction, and I’m surprised campaigners haven’t jumped on the synchronicity of Zero Dark Thirty there. How to Survive a Plague has had quite a marathon season with critics, but given the cultural adversity that makes it such a rousing success, it also makes it tougher for the broad spectrum of voters to latch onto it.

Predicted Winner: Searching for Sugar Man
Preferred Winner: The Invisible War
Write-In Vote: The Imposter

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