December 10, 2008

Can Wall-E Really Win an Oscar?

It's not as crazy as it sounds. A few months ago, Wall-E seemed destined to be left behind in a year full of heavy-hitting Oscar contenders, including The Changeling, Milk, The Reader, Frost/Nixon, and about 19 others. But with all those awards-heavy dramas falling somewhat short, Wall-E's award buzz is steadingly gaining momentum, as evidenced by LA Critics Awards, which named it Best Picture of the Year.

Of course, an animated movie hasn't been nominated for Best Picture since Beauty and the Beast in 1992. But in my opinion, there have been a couple animated movies that definitely deserved that recognition since - especially Finding Nemo and Ratatouille, two of Pixar's most beautiful acheivements. As with those movies, Wall-E's Oscar chances are hindered by one big roadblock that Beauty in the Beast didn't have.

A Best Animated Feature category.

Full disclosure: I used to work in specialty film publicity, concentrating on the very same types of Oscar-mongering dramas that are underwhelming critics this year. And I can tell you that the sentiment around nominating Wall-E for Best Picture will be "Oh, it will win Best Animated Feature, so that's good enough for them." It's the same reason why you rarely see the winner of the Best Foreign Language Film category in the Best Picture race.

That logic is, in a word, ridiculous. Just because a film is animated shouldn't mean its quality is any less than live action films. Hell, Wall-E has more expression than Nicole Kidman does. And to not allow it to compete with the big boys in the Best Picture race showcases the kind of archaic, increasingly irrelevant approach to film that the Academy has showcased in recent years. With its serious message, complex use of irony, and almost complete lack of dialogue, Wall-E is more artistic, thoughtful, and groundbreaking than any of the studio-manufactured suck-the-fun-out-of-life dramas this year. And no, it is not a "kids film" either, although no one seemed to care when this label was applied to E.T. It infuriates me that this is Pixar's tenth film and the Academy has still not recognized them for their outstanding contributions to cinema with a Best Picture nod.

But there is hope. With the announcement of the National Board of Review, NY Film Critics, and Broadcast Film Critics awards, no clear frontrunner has emerged. Once bright stars like Doubt, The Reader, and Frost/Nixon are garnering tepid reviews, while Wall-E remains the best reviewed movie of the year. And Wall-E was a popular movie that did well at the box office. If you'll recall (or maybe not), last year's ceremony was a indie-laden lovefest that no one watched because most of America hadn't seen any of the nominated films. Putting Wall-E in the Best Picture race would change that, and give us something to actually root for.

Beyond that, Wall-E is good. Not just good, but groundbreaking. It's the kind of movie that forces you to reconsider what an animated movie can be - how it can make us laugh, cry, and think. With Wall-E, Pixar has subverted the genre it came to define, and in doing so, created the most original, thought-provoking, poignant movie of the year. And that, if nothing else, deserves an award.


Midgard Dragon said...

Thank you for bringing a bright spot of intelligence to the "blog-o-sphere". I run and we've been rejoicing over the awards, but somewhat disappointed in the fan comments and reactions to these awards. It's nice to see an intelligent, well-spoken blog about WALL-E and why it deserves a win. Thanks for your contribution to the cause!

Vanessa said...

Best film of the year, absolutely. Will the Academy have the courage to give WALL-E what it deserves and once and for all break the "only live action is real film" glass ceiling? We shall see.