Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Oscar Politics

I don't consider the Oscars anything more than a marketing opportunity. Certainly, I never assume that because a film has won the award in a category it actually represents the "best" in that area for the year.

The N.Y. Times has an article on the dilemma facing Disney over positioning Ratatouille. Do they go for a best picture Oscar, as the film has been financially successful and so well-reviewed, or would that risk winning the award for best animated feature?

Members could vote for the film in both categories. But Oscar campaigners assume that many would choose just one — a dangerous situation, given the small voting pool and the razor-thin margins that can determine a winner. Such a split could leave even a film as widely admired as “Ratatouille” — A. O. Scott, co-chief film critic for The New York Times, called it “a nearly flawless piece of popular art, as well as one of the most persuasive portraits of an artist ever committed to film” — without a prize. Meanwhile a strong competitor like, say, “Persepolis,” about growing up in Iran, might slip into the animated winner’s circle.

The studios’ reluctance to advance their animated wares as candidates for best picture is enforced by a perception that actors, the academy’s largest branch, with about 20 percent of the membership, are reluctant to honor movies without live performances. Additionally, the academy has a definite allergy to family fare, like the G-rated “Ratatouille”: 28 R-rated films have been nominated for best picture in the last 10 years, while only two PG-rated movies — “Finding Neverland” and “Good Night, and Good Luck” — have. And none with a G rating have made the cut.

So if you have any doubts about the Oscar as a standard of excellence, remember that the best picture nominees will most likely feature live actors and be rated R, regardless of what other kinds of films are out there. Knowing that, should Disney shoot for the big award and most likely lose, or should they stay within the animation sandbox where their chances are better? Does Disney shoot for the big payday or take the smaller one? Increased revenue will be the inevitable result of an Oscar win and that's what will drive the decision.


Benjamin De Schrijver said...

And being the second "Best Motion Picture" nominated animated film ever won't increase revenue? Maybe not as much, but still... if they've got artistic pride, they should go for Best Picture. If it's purely bussiness, perhaps Animated only. Sure, winning an oscar doesn't mean you actually were the best that year, but it does mean you were rather good and certainly well-respected. Plus, wouldn't it be fantastic for the art and industry if there were both an animated Best Picture and animated Best Foreign Picture nominee, even while the gettho-like Animation Oscar exists?

On another note, how can there be only 30 nominees in the past 10 years when there are 5 nominees each year?

Pete Emslie said...

This category of Best Animated Feature was created largely in reaction to the near miss of "Beauty and the Beast" in that year's Best Picture category. Just as The Golden Globes has a Best Dramatic Film award and a separate Best Comedy or Musical award in order to accommodate lighter films that likely would be shut out of the main category, so too has The Academy created this new awards category to specifically recognize excellence in the medium of animation. I think we should all accept this distinction graciously and stop believing that it is a form of ghettoizing animation. Therefore, I believe too that Disney should offer up "Ratatouille" in the Best Animated Feature category only, where it will very likely win. Keep in mind also, that there has long been a separation between "Best Short Subject" and "Best Animated Short Subject", so why should noses be put out of joint by making this same distinction between feature length films? I refuse to think that it in any way implies that animation is a second rate medium, and I honestly believe that The Academy acted in good faith in creating this additional category.

Benjamin De Schrijver said...

Many animated shorts have an almost entirely different visual language than live-action. One is much more free in many ways in a short. As a result, most feel like an entirely different artform. With feature films, at least so far, the language is very similar to that of live-action, and so are other aspects of it.

I don't think the category was created as a form of ghettoizing animation, but I do think it's a result of it. It's even proven by this very post. The idea is that if they're already applauded in one category, why also do it in the other? As a filmmaker I would much rather have to compete with the whole spectrum of films than only our sub-group. Brad Bird himself mentioned in an interview on The Incredibles (I believe it was taken before the Oscars back then) that if he had the choice, he'd rather won the screenplay than the animated award for that film.

Benjamin De Schrijver said...

Oh, and there's a difference between drama/comedy-musical and film/animated film. One is a difference in genre, the other is an overall and a subcategory of medium.

Pete Emslie said...

I understand the difference, Benjamin, but my point is that in both cases, a secondary category was opened up to give films that are excellent on their terms to have a fair shot at a "Best" award. Besides, given that most animated features are usually at least somewhat, if not outright, comedic in tone, they seem to share the same handicap as live-action comedies/musicals when it comes down to the voting habits of most Academy members and, in the case of the Golden Globes, foreign critics. In both cases, it's just a sad reality that heavy dramatic films seem to have an unfair advantage with the voters, with some exceptions of course.

Benjamin De Schrijver said...

Can't disagree with that. But I personally really don't feel the need for an extra category to give a pat on the back to an animated film when it keeps them away from being one of those exeptions you mention.

Stephani Soejono said...

In an ideal world, Ratatouille would have gotten Oscar for Best Picture any day. But obviously it isn't.

I would disagree with Pete on best animated feature category should be accepted gracefully as a recognition.

Mostly because it' an easy solution from The Academy to recognize the animation "genre". Animation isn't a genre and frankly, had there been more risk-taking studios tackling more serious subjects or even just making characters that have believable pathos and personality, I'm pretty damn sure animation won't be recognized as a "genre".

There really isn't a "limitation" per se to make an animated feature. It really is the medium without limits, you can draw/make anything up from crazy psychotic rapist to some milquetoast fop. I would even go as far as saying A Clockwork Orange could be animated and could bring better result than the Kubrick film. (not that the Kubrick film isn't good already) But, of course, an animated "Clockwork Orange" wouldn't be "marketable" for the kiddies and no studio would want to make it, because they'd get backlashes from ignorant idiots who takes their kids to animated movies so those movies can "babysit" them.

(true story: I went and watched Ratatouille and there are a few parents who dragged their kids away from the movie, about 20 minutes in (i think it was that scene where the old lady started shooting the rats) deeming that the movie isn't "safe" for them.)

Bottom line: Ratatouille for Best Picture and animation shouldn't be ghettoised into "Best animated category", if we get better scripts, character and story, I'm sure all of us could outperform the live action movies. Also, animators and voice talents should be enabled to compete in best actor/actresses category, because, again, animators are basically actors with tools but that doesn't mean we're "lesser" than other fellow actors.