Why Ponyo Deserves a Best Picture Nomination

Why Ponyo Deserves a Best Picture Nomination
The Motion Picture Academy doubled its roster of Best Picture nominees, many believe, because of Wall-E and Batman Returns, which many critics felt deserved to be nominated. This next year, the pressure will be to include at least one such movie in the category.

Given the ways of the Oscar voting, UP would be the easy choice for a Best Picture nod. But UP is 20 minutes of heartbreaking perfection that makes up for 90 minutes of fluff. It's Dr. Zhivago tacked onto Star Wars.

Ponyo is the better movie by far. It is the work of a film master, loved by Hollywood and the critics but ignored by the public, and fiercely defends the hand-drawn animation form. It bears the marks of human hands in an age of soulless formulas.

The Best Feature Animation category nominees are as follows: Pixar, Disney, Dreamworks. Sometimes an outside movie gets in, like Persepolis. Pixar walks away with the Oscar. This category is handed out by sheer reflex, and many cynically suspect the category only shuffles animation into a box under the bed.

Does the Academy realize that CGI has completely taken over Hollywood? Virtually every blockbuster by the major studios today is an animated movie. But these are still regarded as "special effects," even though it's plain that the real actors are shrinking and shrinking. One day, only the actors faces will be mapped onto the computer-generated cartoon characters.

Within this storyline, and the Oscars' need to stay relevant, the two greatest animation studios in the world - Pixar and Ghibli - compete in the same year. Pixar, again, would be the easy choice, the reflexive choice that requires no thinking, while Miyazaki has already received his "one" Oscar for Spirited Away, but really his career. The Academy typically plays catch-up with their awards.

Two angles to consider: One, would the Motion Picture Academy make a statement against the ugly blockbuster cartoons by nominating a true animation film for Best Picture? Two, between Pixar and Ghibli, will the loser of the Best Animation Feature category be compensated for a Best Picture nod (or vice versa)?

This is why I insist that those in a position of influence within Hollywood needs to start making the case for Ponyo now. NOW. I've laid out a solid narrative that works. It just needs to be sold.


serhei said...

> One day, only the actors faces will be mapped onto the computer-generated cartoon characters.

Oh, like they already did with the Governator's face in the latest Ternimator movie without him even having to do any further acting? Dude, that dystopian future is here.

J. said...

Well, you're right that the Academy plays catch-up (though it doesn't always work, see Peter O. Toole). Which is why Pete Docter is basically guaranteed the best Animated Feature Oscar, after MONSTERS,INC. got snubbed in favour of the ridiculously inferior SHREK. Could PONYO throw a wrench into that? Honestly, I don't think so.

If there are five nominees next year, as appears likely with the number of animated releases in 2009, I predict them to be as follows: UP, PRINCESS AND THE FROG, PONYO, CORALINE, and either NINE or FANTASTIC MR FOX, depending on critical buzz. Even if the Academy members collectively decide to honour the resurging animation techniques of hand-drawn and stop-motion, what are the chances that those "against the grain" votes will all settle on the same horse, instead of cancelling each other out and thus giving the mainstream picture (which, in this pleasantly idiosyncratic group, is UP) a clear road to victory?

No, I think Docter will get the Oscar, and in fact I do think he deserves it, if more for MONSTERS,INC. than for UP.
And while it wouldn't be unheard of nor undeserved for Miyazaki to receive a second Academy Award, honestly? PONYO is not the film he should get another one for. Because no way, no how is it on the same artistic level as CHIHIRO. I know you won't agree with me here, but I believe Miyzaki peaked with that film, and we'll now have to settle for the inferior works of a waning artist. Doesn't mean that PONYO is a bad film, but it's just not as good as it could have been.

As for a Best Picture nomination for any animated feature ever again: Never. That's the trouble with the Oscars: they're peskily democratic. That's not to say that the majority of the Oscar voters are morons, though ocassionally that has been my suspicion. But most of the Oscar voters are actors, and many actors have a knee-jerk reaction to animation (where, after all, the bulk of the acting is done by artists).
I suspect instead of animated or semi-animated (i.e., a special effects film) entries, we'll see several "smaller" movies nominated that may not per se be grand enough to be typically considered for their category, but that did offer their actors opportunities to show off their abilities. SUNSHINE CLEANING, MOON, JULIE AND JULIA, 500 DAYS OF SUMMER, those kinds of films.

Sean L. said...

The Academy's act of doubling the roster... yeah, definitely a year too late. An innovative movie like The Dark Knight was shafted in favor of a little-praised movie like The Reader.

I don't think the critical support for Ponyo is deep enough to achieve a Best Picture nod, even with the concensus being 95% positive. But a nod for Best Animated Film is a sure thing, and certainly deserved.

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

@serhei - Do you mean Ahnold's face was pasted onto his movies or the governor's mansion? Either way, ohh boo hooo waahh!!!

This reminds me of all the bad experiences I've had watching movies with University of Minnesota students. Augh! Stop laughing at the violence!

@J - Great insights, and the rational side of my brain agrees with you 100%. That's why the romantic/activist side of my brain kicked into high gear.

I used to love watching the Oscars every year, but the voting is so predictable, and spontaneity so stamped out, that any pretense of fun or drama is gone. Once you learn how the voting patters, it's all so incredibly predictable.

And the animation categories are ghettos. They don't get respect. Has Pixar ever lost? Has Dreamworks ever been snubbed? The cartoon with the tap-dancing penguin won an Oscar? I think the Academy voters treat animation as the Electric Babysitter, a simple kiddy ride at Camp Snoopy, and nothing more. Yadda yadda.

I hate the way the Oscars always play catchup. The actors and directors always get the award 20 years too late, and it's always for some minor work. And then you get the one Oscar as a thank-you to your career. Which great actor was handed the Lifetime Achievement Oscar instead of a wall of Best Actor awards? How often does that happen? Augh!

Why can't an animated film be nominated for Best Picture? Why not a documentary? The Fog of War, Touching the Void, Jesus Camp, Encounters at the End of the World, Bowling For Colombine, Fahrenheit 9/11 - these movies were great achievements or they sparked great debate in America. The movies that everybody talks about, that don't involve 1980s toys or reruns - those are the movies that should be nominated.

So, yeah, rational thought says none of these things will happen, the major awards will all be playing catch-up, the Best Picture nods will be obscure Hallmark Cards that nobody has ever seen, and the Oscars will be more boring and pointless than ever.

Solo said...

"...because of Wall-E and Batman Returns, which many critics felt deserved to be nominated."

Dude i beleive your thinking of The Dark Knight.

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

@Solo - Yeah, you're right. I got the names of the Batman movies confused. Oh, well, everybody knows the best Batman movie was the one from the '60s, hahahahaha....

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