They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don’t They?

Document This: A Look at the Documentary Races

By J. Don Birnam

February 24, 2014

Call me the tumbling diiiiiiiiice.

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We finish off this year’s look at each Oscar category with the two documentary awards, and brief foray into Best Animated Feature. The latter is one of the easiest calls of the night, with the surefire winner about to make Oscars history, while the documentary categories are somewhat confounding and difficult. As we shall see, in both the shorts and feature-length documentaries, we see the usual healthy dose of Holocaust tales, repentant Nazis, uplifting and eccentric artists, political commentary, and current world affairs. Figuring out the winner from amongst them will depend, once more, on whether you believe that the fact that all Academy members can now vote in these races will affect the outcome or not.

Best Animated Feature

No one really stands a chance to beat Frozen here, so it is not worth spending too much time on this category. The Internet has made rumblings that some votes will go to The Wind Rises, given that it is the final chapter of a beloved animation master’s oeuvre. As usual, I am skeptical. Honestly, who has heard of or seen this movie? Do we really think members of the Academy have? The guy who does movie lighting and sound effects? I seriously doubt it. Moreover, the movie, although beautiful, tells the story of a Japanese boy who constructs airplanes later used against the United States in World War II. Again, do we really think something like this has a chance against a movie that has captivated American audiences and that has likely made the children of Academy members drag their parents repeatedly to? Don’t bet on it.

The rest of the field is happy to be nominated, and stands even less of a chance (full disclosure: I have yet to see Ernest & Celestine).


More interesting to discuss about this race is that it marks the first time in the history of the category, which dates to 2001, that Pixar has failed to receive a nomination. More stunningly still is that if Frozen does win, it will be the first time in the history of the award that Disney wins the trophy. Thus would be written the next chapter in a pretty remarkable story. Many argue that the category was an indirect result of Disney’s Best Picture nomination for Beauty and the Beast in 1992. Due to fear that an animated movie could one day win Best Picture, a ghettoized category, so to speak, was created.

A less cynical view is that it was created to reward and encourage movies that are otherwise not going to receive Academy-wide acclaim because “serious” minded voters will resist it. Still, some argue, the existence of the category allows the Academy to avoid recognizing animation in the Best Picture race, like “Best Foreign Language Film” has permitted them over the years to avoid rewarding a foreign language film for Best Picture.

Whatever your view regarding the usefulness or desirability of the Best Animated Feature category, what is remarkable is the resurgence the genre has enjoyed in the last decade. Academy rules state that there will be five nominees for Best Animated Feature only if 16 or more eligible films are submitted for consideration in a given year; otherwise, the list of nominees is shortened to three. Four of the last five years have resulted in five nominees, whereas that happened only once in the first eight years of the award. So, things are looking up for animation, whether the actors’ branch likes it or not. Frozen is set to join the list of amazing winners, from The Incredibles to Up and WALL-E, and represents a worthy and admirable entry as the category reaches its teenage years.

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