They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don't They?
The Other 'Best Feature' Races
By J. Don Birnam
February 6, 2017
The Directors Guild of America awarded La La Land’s Damien Chazelle this year at their ceremony, cementing that film’s march to the Best Picture Oscar later this month. The winner of the DGA has gone on to win the Best Director Oscar every year since the expansion in 2009, except the year of Ben Affleck being snubbed by the Academy.
With that, the main guilds have spoken, and other than BAFTA and the Writers Guild, the Oscar race is pretty much set. So here are our updated power rankings for the main categories, which we will update once more before the big night.
Today, we handicap the three other “best feature film” races - the foreign films, the documentaries, and the animated features. The coverage of the obscure technical races from last week is here. You can also read my coverage of these three races last year here. I went 3/3, which is not very hard to do typically in these fields. Sometimes there are surprises, but it’s been a while - Big Hero Six taking the Oscar from the How to Train Your Dragon sequel comes to mind. The races are slightly unnerving this year but not incredibly so.
Let me know if you have differing thoughts on these three races: Twitter and Instagram.
Politics Part I: The Animated Feature Films.
The animated branch did what is has been doing for years now - rewarding commercially successful, big tent movies, but also more independent or eclectic ones from smaller fare. This year the lauded five were Zootopia, Kubo and the Two Strings, Moana, The Red Turtle, and My Life as a Zucchini.
This is arguably a tough-ish race simply because critics and fans have been so warm to Kubo from the beginning. And the fact that it received a nomination in the Visual Effects category shows that it is strong in the Academy. Indeed, as I mentioned last year, no movie that has received a nomination outside of this category has ever lost the Animated Feature Oscar. That is about to change, of course, as Moana is also up for Best Original Song, so both can’t win.
Will Zootopia, up only for this award, pull it off? Likely. It won the night at the Annie animators’ awards over the weekend - though Kubo did take editing, and was also nominated by the Costume Designers Guild. Zootopia also won the ACE editing award, and the Globe. It is the likely winner, but it is not without a doubt.
The other films are definitely along for the ride only. Zucchini is a Swiss movie that made the final nine in the foreign language race only to miss out a nomination in that category, and it is a sweet tale told in claymation about an orphan boy and the adventures he encounters with other children in an orphanage.
The Red Turtle is also a solid entry, a Studio Ghibli co-produced silent film about a man stranded in a deserted island and a mysterious Turtle that prevents him from escaping. The story is sort of strange and mythical, but the animation is beautiful and the emotion genuine. Still, few people will see this film, and nothing this esoteric has ever won there.
The same can be said for Disney’s Moana which, while good, did not achieve anywhere near the level of popularity that past winner Frozen did. The arc of the story, of a brave female leader taking her people to find prosperity in the outer world, perhaps seemed timely in 2016 and would have been so had a different outcome occurred in November, but it is notably obsolete in a sense.
So why do I think Zootopia still has it? Well, it’s the most accessible, and it’s also heartwarming. And there is also a bit of politics, to be fair. The movie is about differences between races and people, about accepting each other, about not letting fear of that which is different drive you apart and let it set policy. Is it somewhat clichéd? Sure, many animated tales tell this tale. But in a year where the awards race has gotten quite political, and where Zootopia arguably benefits from being the family-friendliest of the bunch (and therefore most likely to be seen by voters), I’d be surprised if the artsier Kubo pulled it off.
Will win: Zootopia
Could win: Kubo and the Two Strings