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Will 'Wall-E' be nominated for best picture at the Oscars?

December 19, 2008 | 10:01 am

Four films now look like good bets for best-picture nominations in the Oscar derby: "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "Frost/Nixon," "Milk" and "Slumdog Millionaire." What will get that fifth slot? Most Oscarologists focus on "The Dark Knight," "Doubt" and "Revolutionary Road."

But what about that sly, adorable, quiet "Wall-E"? I asked a slew of Oscarologists to pipe in. T.L. Stanley (Gold Rush, HollywoodReporter.com) isn't optimistic: "As much as I'd like to see it happen — "Wall-E" was one of my favorites this year — I doubt it will." Ed Douglas (Comingsoon.net) pooh-poohed the notion: "There are too many good live-action films vying for those five spots."

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However, Sasha Stone (AwardsDaily.com) is optimistic: "It's possible with that fifth slot open." Mark Harris (Entertainment Weekly) and Scott Feinberg (Feinberg Files, The Envelope) both point to a key factor — how Oscar voting works, technically speaking. "Wall-E" has a lot of passionate supporters. "When I think about the importance of the preferential ballot, 'Wall-E' strikes me as a movie that's going to get a lot of No. 1 votes," Mark says. Remember, even if two-thirds of voters don't list it anywhere among their five choices ranked for best picture, "Wall-E" can still be nominated with a small percentage of No. 1 votes.

But academy members have an obvious bias against animated films. Only one has ever been nominated for best picture: "Beauty and the Beast" (1991). That means they had the audacity to snub "Snow White," "Fantasia" and "Toy Story"! Finally, in 2001, the academy couldn't take the embarrassment any longer and opted to create a separate race just for best animated feature. However, just like nominees in the foreign film race, movies up for best animated feature are also eligible in the top race.

Susan Wloszczyna (USA Today) admits, "Sometimes those films are better than the English-language ones, but they rarely cross over." However, they do — occasionally — cross over. "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (2000) and "Z" (1969) are two examples of films nominated for best picture and best foreign-language film in the same year. Other flicks competed in both races, but in different years because of discrepancies in U.S. and overseas release dates. "The Emigrants" was up for best foreign flick in 1971, for example, and landed in the over-all best-pic race one year later.

But some Oscar gurus believe that the bias against animated fare is too strong. Academy members seem to shrug off cartoon movies automatically as kids' stuff. Kris Tapley (InContention.com) asserts, "The argument that it should be relegated to animated without a second thought is and always has been silly. The award is best picture, not best live action feature." But Pete Hammond (Notes on a Season, The Envelope) is not optimistic that things will change imminently: "I doubt that prejudiced opinion of the animated form is going to change anytime soon."

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Jeff Wells (Hollywood-Elsewhere.com) thinks Oscar voters look at movies like "Wall-E" like they're from outer space — or Mexico. Voicing their bull-headed view, he harrumphs: "There is no need for it to cross the Rio Grande and obtain American citizenship. It's fine as it is. It's a great animated film, and will win the Oscar in that category, and that's fine."

Here are the more extensive views of each of these pundits piping in on the subject:

MARK HARRIS, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Do I think it's possible? Yes, I do. I'm not saying that I think it will happen, but when I think about the importance of the preferential ballot, "Wall-E" strikes me as a movie that's going to get a lot of No. 1 votes.

I think a big difference between this year and last year is that at the end of 2007 the number of movies with some sort of passionate following was pretty staggering. There were at least three live-action movies that didn't get best picture nominations — "Into the Wild," "Sweeney Todd," "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" — that I would imagine had a substantial number of No. 1 votes. This year, I don't sense that depth of support for that many movies. "Wall-E" is one of the few that I hear people discussing with real passion. It'll be interesting to see if that adds up to votes.

SASHA STONE, AWARDSDAILY.COM: Absolutely yes. It would be a protest vote that said they didn't like the year's live action offerings.  The actors may be the largest branch, but they can still be outvoted.  "Wall-E" is likely to be a one or two and not a three or four choice.  It's possible with that fifth slot open.

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PETE HAMMOND, NOTES ON A SEASON, THE ENVELOPE: Of course "Wall-E" can be nominated for best picture and it deserves to be. I would applaud the move. Academy members often mention it as one of their favorites, but most of those who do haven't seen many of the so-called real contenders. But as is often pointed out, the academy mind-set is that the animation category itself is the equivalent of a best picture for 'toons and unless they have recently admitted Mickey Mouse, Goofy and the cast of "Cars" as voting members, I doubt that prejudiced opinion of the animated form is going to change anytime soon.

JEFF WELLS, HOLLYWOOD-ELSEWHERE.COM: "Wall-E," to use a nationalistic metaphor, is a splendid Mexican classic.  It stands tall on its own terms, and its makers have every reason to be proud.  But it's a Mexican film and not an American one, and there is no need for it to cross the Rio Grande and obtain American citizenship. It's fine as it is. It's a great animated film, and will win the Oscar in that category, and that's fine. Did Luis Bunuel need to become an American citizen in order to feel complete as a film artist?  As Sylvester Stallone said to Brian Dennehy in "First Blood," "Let . . . it . . . go."

ED DOUGLAS, COMINGSOON.NET: No, they created the animated category for a reason. Putting "Wall-E" into best picture race would create a weird situation because if it's good enough to win BP, then why even bother having an animated category? (Since it's obviously the best "picture" and it's animated.) There are too many good live-action films vying for those five spots.

SUSAN WLOSZCZYNA, USA TODAY: I agree with Ed. It's a similar situation with the foreign-language category as well. Sometimes those films are better than the English-language ones, but they rarely cross over. And with animation, you always have the problem that they don't really star actors, even if they do the voices. And in the case of "Wall-E" that is even truer for about two-thirds of the film. And as we all know, actors are the biggest voting bloc.

Besides, Pixar films usually rake in tons more at the b.o. than something like "Doubt" and "Rev Road" will. And that works against it too.

KRIS TAPLEY, INCONTENTION.COM: Can it be nominated?  Sure. The L.A. and Chicago critics have given it a legitimacy it might not have otherwise had in the academy's eyes.  And the argument that it should be relegated to animated without a second thought is and always has been silly.  The award is best picture, not best live action feature.

That said, the academy thinks like Mr. Douglas and will try to squeeze as many films into its various categories as it can.  So I think they would see nominating "Wall-E" for best picture as wasting a spot, rightly or wrongly.

T.L. STANLEY, GOLD RUSH, HOLLYWOODREPORTER.COM: As much as I'd like to see it happen — "Wall-E" was one of my favorites this year — I doubt it will. Not to say that there's an animation ghetto, but there is a designated category for those films, and that's as it should be.

But it's not a second-class, also-ran category. It spreads the love!

There are top-notch films vying for that Oscar. (There should be five contenders, but that's sort of off topic). So, in my mind, there's more bang for the buck and more chances for great films to be recognized in having two separate categories for best film.

SCOTT FEINBERG, FEINBERG FILES, THE ENVELOPE: "Wall-E" can absolutely be nominated for best picture and actually comes up surprisingly often in conversations with older academy members, in particular, who still compose a significant percentage of the academy. Most of them don't care about weeding out animated or foreign films from the best picture category; rather, they just single out the films that they thought were the best or most enjoyed and submit them as their best picture choices. Unlike many of the late releases that voters may never go to see in a theater or watch on DVD (or that disappointed them if they did), "Wall-E" has been available in both formats for months, and even if the old-timers weren't particularly excited to see it, you can bet their grandkids made them. The bottom line is that once someone checks out the film, they can't help but be impressed — kids see it on their level, and adults see it as a modern-day "2001: A Space Odyssey" meets "Star Wars" meets "An Inconvenient Truth." It's the "Citizen Kane" of animation . . . and even though "Citizen Kane" was robbed of the best picture Oscar, it was nominated!

Photo credits: Sony Pictures Classics, Disney


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