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Can sly 'Fantastic Mr. Fox' sneak into the Oscars' hen house?

November 16, 2009 |  7:39 am

Now that it seems like there will be 16 or more entries in the Oscar race for best animated feature, there probably will be five nominees for only the second time since the category was created in 2001. "Up" leads the way to win, of course, but another Pixar front-runner stumbled in the past ("Cars"). What could beat it this year? Which films will be the other four nominees?

Fantastic Mr Fox news

The finalists are chosen by an academy screening committee; then everybody in the academy, all 5,900 members, vote for the winner. Considering the traditional tastes of judges, "Coraline" and "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" have a good chance to be nominated. "Ponyo" too. Judges usually like to throw in art-house options, especially by Japanese anime icon Hayao Miyazaki, whose "Howl's Moving Castle" was nominated in 2004 and whose "Spirited Away" won in 2001. Miyazaki's victory was noteworthy because it marked only the second time in the category's eight-year history that a winner wasn't one of those big Hollywood studio productions such as Pixar's "Wall-E," "Ratatouille," "The Incredibles" and "Finding Nemo" or Warner Bros.' "Happy Feet." The only other time a smaller, artsy production sneaked in was "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" (2005).

So that leaves one spot open on the upcoming list of five nominees for best animated feature. Pete Hammond claims it may be Disney's "Princess and the Frog." Read his views at this Notes on a Season blog item.

But it could also be "Fantastic Mr. Fox," which opened this past weekend in limited release in New York and Los Angeles prior to rolling out wide at Thanksgiving. The Associated Press reports that the film "drew big audiences with $260,000 in four theaters, for a whopping average of $65,000 a cinema."

I agree with the assessment of EW's Dave Karger, who says, "Wes Anderson’s whimsical take on Roald Dahl’s 1970 book stands a great chance of competing against the likes of Pixar and 'Ponyo.'"

"Fantastic Mr. Fox" is one of several films I caught up with late this derby season due to suffering a torn Achilles tendon in my right foot. Ouch — getting around has been agony! I missed early industry screenings, so I managed to catch up with it this past weekend at the AMC Lincoln Square theater conveniently located close to my new Manhattan co-op apartment. On Saturday night, I tried to purchase a ticket about 6:30 p.m. No luck. Despite heavy rains that should've discouraged moviegoers from leaving home, performances sold out for 7:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., so I had to settle for a late showing at 9:50 p.m., which turned out to be jam-packed. I managed to grab one of the few empty seats.

No wonder. Anticipation to see "Mr. Fox" is fantastic. Director Wes Anderson ("Rushmore," "The Royal Tennebaums") attempts stop-motion animation for the first time while adapting the wry book by Dahl about a naughty fox who refuses to conform to a law-abiding life in a tree house with his wife and son. This fox family is supposed to be living like happy suburban folks, except with fur, but he can't keep his deep-down animal urges in check. Not when there are big chicken ranches and cider distilleries nearby to be raided at night while donning a ski mask.

This movie has a high Creep Factor that's hard to explain. It has something to do with how Anderson puts his camera lens up too close in his foxes' faces as they talk. It makes you think that they're talking to you. Kind of, except that the intense close-ups dramatize the clumsiness of the stop-motion filming technique, reminding us that these are just toy foxes. Kind of. Makes you wonder if Mr. Fox isn't a little bit like Chucky.

This movie's high Creep Factor gives it a high Cool Factor too. All that plus it's a devilish film to watch. Very appealing. Oscar judges may dig this.

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