By Vinnie Lione-Napoli
Arts & Entertainment Co-Editor
If you’re like the rest of America, you’re going to be pretty excited about this week’s column since I’ll basically be talking about “Frozen” for the majority of the time.
That’s right, before we get into the real meat of the Oscars, I thought I would spend some time going through the miscellaneous categories that don’t really tie in or involve the major contenders.
Unfortunately, aside from the Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song awards, the films and categories that I’m going to be discussing this week are interesting to say the least.
While some of the foreign language films occasionally enter more substantial Oscar-related conversation, the documentaries and short films more often than not get lost during the night in a sea of lengthy, humorous bits and adorable Jennifer Lawrence mannerisms.
But anyway, there’s more to the Academy Awards than the Best Picture winner and Jennifer Lawrence. I, for one, am glad that time is spent to honor the smaller projects that may not have the big budgets or audiences as the powerhouses but still have the heart and vision.
“But I don’t care about the Best Live Action Film,” you say. “Just talk about ‘Frozen’ some more!”
While I will agree that I wish there were at least Wikipedia links to the movies in this category, there’s no reason to not spend time looking at what made them remarkable enough to be noticed by the Academy.
But fine, we’ll start off with the good stuff and end with more good stuff, effectively bookending the drier—–but still important—-stuff. And don’t you worry. We’ll start working our way through this bone-dry sandwich with the juicy top slice—-Best Animated Feature.
And, of course, the nearly uncontested frontrunner of this field is the latest Disney fairy tale, “Frozen.”
Oh, “Frozen.” You’ve captured the hearts of countless Americans, young and old. Where were you in the 2000s when we had to sit through movies like “Bolt?” Try to name one song from “Bolt.” If you’re like me, you can’t, because instead of any remote loyalty to what made Disney so great in the ’90s, all we got was a dog voiced by John Travolta and some wacky plot.
I’m actually thrilled that critics are comparing “Frozen” to Disney films from this 1990s “Renaissance” era. This decade-long string of relative masterpieces was composed of 10 films stretching from 1989’s “The Little Mermaid” until 1999’s “Tarzan,” at which point the studio hit a brick wall at the turn of the new millennium.
With musical numbers skillfully woven into the overall experience and a firm grasp of what an animated Disney movie should be, “Frozen”—–and, arguably, 2010’s “Tangled”—–could be ushering in a new golden era that was ever so realized when 1991’s “Beauty and the Beast” hit theaters and received the first-ever Best Picture nomination for an animated movie.
Speaking of animated Best Picture nominations, Pixar managed to grab two of these recently with 2009’s “Up” and 2010’s “Toy Story 3.” Granted, by this point, the Best Picture field had been increased from five nominees, so while the two films may not have been so lucky back in the ’90s, the recognition alone still speaks for their sterling quality.
This year, Pixar released “Monsters University” and saw mostly warm reception for its first prequel endeavor. Since the creation of the Best Animated Feature category for the 2002 ceremony, only two Pixar films have been left off the ballot: “Cars 2” and “Monsters University.”
Juxtaposing Pixar’s recent slump with Disney’s recent success is quite interesting…and a little unsettling. Are Pixar’s 2010’s going to go the way of Disney’s 2000’s? I mean, 2011’s “Cars 2” is more or less the Pixar equivalent of “Bolt” as well as the film equivalent of a Toys “R” Us commercial.
This all kind of happened all of a sudden too. Pixar grabbed four Oscars in a row for 2007’s “Ratatouille,” 2008’s “Wall-E,” 2009’s “Up” and 2010’s “Toy Story 3.” They even won last year for “Brave.”
Pixar seems to be plunging headfirst into some dark times, but there’s still some hope on the horizon. While we won’t see any new Pixar films in 2014, the studio’s brief prequel/sequel burst will be temporarily halted with two original films planned for a 2015 release. We can then only hope that 2016’s “Finding Dory” can channel even half of the charm and depth of its 2003 predecessor.
But we were talking about “Frozen,” weren’t we? Considering the Golden Globe win, widespread praise and questionable competition, this is Walt Disney Animation Studios’ best chance in years for their first Oscar.
Speaking of competitors, let’s take a look at what Disney’s wintry wonderland is up against. While I get that people did actually like the sequel to 2010’s “Despicable Me,” I don’t understand what “The Croods” is doing here. Seriously? The Academy didn’t deem “Monsters University” as better than this DreamWorks caveman fare? Come on.
The other two films are slightly more dangerous. “Ernest & Celestine,” a French-Belgian tale of the unlikely friendship between a mouse and a bear, currently has a perfect score on Rotten Tomatoes and has apparently warmed countless hearts. Japan’s “The Wind Rises” could also stir up some trouble for “Frozen,” having been directed by the same man who won Best Animated Feature at the 2003 ceremony for “Spirited Away.”
While I expect—-and want—- “Frozen” to emerge as the victor, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens in March.
I suppose I could segue into the next category, Best Animated Short Film, by mentioning the quasi-throwback Mickey Mouse cartoon attached to “Frozen.” Much like the beloved Pixar shorts that precede each of the studio’s theatrical releases, “Get a Horse!” helps get the audience settled into the whole experience by delivering a cute, clever diversion.
While Disney did win this category last year for “Paperman,” the studio hadn’t won in over 40 years prior to that victory. Not even Pixar tends to bring in the gold here, either. The animation juggernaut has gone three for 11 in its history and has gone without a win since 2001’s “For the Birds.”
This all leads me to assume that a win will likely go to the delightful “Room on the Broom” or the futuristic “Mr. Hublot.” Both have vastly different tones but seem to be the kind of shorts that the Academy has gone for in recent years.
But animated shorts aren’t the only small-scale films to be featured at the Academy Awards. A collection of brief live-action flicks populates the ceremony as well, and while I honestly haven’t seen any of them, a few of them sound quite intriguing. One of them, starring Martin Freeman of “The Hobbit” trilogy, is about a psychiatrist working with a prisoner who believes himself to be a deity, and another, “Helium,” tells a story of a hospital janitor who brings a wonderful world in the sky to life for a terminally ill boy.
While the touching plot is present in the latter Danish film, I suspect that Oscar voters will be more likely to vote for the former English-language film simply due to the star power and concise running time of 13 minutes.
The two documentary categories at the Academy Awards are split, with one field containing short films and the other comprised of feature-length films. As far as the short subject documentaries go, I don’t think stronger Oscar bait than “The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life” has ever existed. I highly doubt that a film about the world’s oldest Holocaust survivor and pianist is going to go down without a fight.
The feature-length documentary category does see an arguable frontrunner in the form of “The Act of Killing,” but other films could certainly rival this powerful perspective on the Indonesian killings of the 1960s. “20 Feet from Stardom” takes a look at the lives of the backup singers of some of music’s greats, and “The Square” details the recent Egyptian revolution. All of the nominees seem like strong Oscar fare, and I really wouldn’t be surprised if any of the five win.
Considering its recent Golden Globe win, I’m going to have to assume that Italy’s “The Great Beauty” is going to bring home Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars.
While I can’t really explain any prior disparities, we’ve seen three straight years of the two ceremonies lining up in this category, and I see no reason to believe that they’ll depart this time.
And now for the (second) moment you’ve all been waiting for: Best Original Song. Trust me, there’s more to talk about here than just “Frozen” as well.
Other than Disney’s beloved song “Let It Go,” the only other Oscar contender that was also nominated for a Golden Globe was U2’s “Ordinary Love” from “Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom,” the song that ended up taking home the prize last month.
But never fear, “Frozen” fans, because the Academy just adores sporadically agreeing with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Due to conflicting tastes or eligibility requirements, the Globe winner is sometimes not even nominated for an Oscar. One very upsetting recent example of this took place during early 2009, when Bruce Springsteen’s titular song for “The Wrestler” was snubbed for the Academy Awards.
Incidents like that even occurred this year, too, when the excellent “Inside Llewyn Davis” lost out on yet another nomination in this category when its Golden Globe-nominated song “Please Mr. Kennedy” was deemed ineligible for the Oscars. The Coen brothers just could not catch a break this year.
Coldplay’s “Atlas” from the second “Hunger Games” film and Taylor Swift’s “Sweeter Than Fiction,” not their artists’ best works, also saw no love. Instead, Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” from “Despicable Me 2” snuck onto the ballot alongside an incredibly unknown song from an incredibly unknown movie that just recently had its nomination incredibly rescinded due to promotional violations.
Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, along with “Her” director Spike Jonze, wrote a beautiful little tune for the film entitled “The Moon Song.” While this song personally captured my attention, I’m not sure how easily I can ignore the sheer quality of “Let It Go” or my adoration for U2.
Despite U2’s win, I can’t see Idina Menzel’s powerful vocals and Disney’s even more powerful message go unrewarded by Academy voters.
Thankfully, I’ll be delving into the acting categories next time, which should really shake up the Oscars conversation we’re having here. A lot of great actors and actresses are in contention this year, and I have very little idea as to which ones I want to win next month.