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Even though it doesn’t get the prestige that the other top categories get, the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature is one of my most anticipated categories, as it’s one of the few Oscars that actually takes an entire feature-length film into perspective, along with Best Picture, Documentary Feature and Foreign Film. And this year’s list of entrants for the Academy’s consideration, via THR, is a whopping 19 titles strong, and will eventually be whittled down to the five strongest choices (hopefully) by January 16th, when all the nominations will be announced.
To be expected, there are a few immediate standouts positioned alongside several entries that seem like desperate attempts from animation companies to remind people that their films still exist. I don’t feel comfortable living in a world where people hold the assumption that The Smurfs 2 or Despicable Me 2 are worth any kinds of awards. Any sequels that aren’t as good as their predecessors, especially when their predecessors didn’t win the Oscar, should be immediately cut. In my opinion, that would also include Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 and Monsters University. Pixar would appear to have a leg up on the competition, with Brave stealing the trophy away from ParaNorman last year, but M.U. just isn’t exemplary of the year’s best animation by any means.
And what of the other more frothy entries? I can’t see The Croods, Turbo nor the recently released Free Birds making any big waves, and it seems like Planes is only included to remind people that Disney Animation put something out this year, as the also included Frozen hasn't hit theaters yet. I’m glad they’re confident it’s one of the year’s best, but Josh Gad’s insipid snowman character is more than enough to keep me away from it until it hits cable deep into 2014.
To be expected, the foreign films are the meatier bits, and the clear frontrunner to me is Hayao Miyazaki’s historical fantasy The Wind Rises - even though I haven’t seen it yet. It’s the last film for the legendary director, whose Spirited Away took the prize back in 2001.
Two more strong entries to me are Fernando Cortizo’s dark stop-motion fantasy O Apóstolo and Sang-ho Yeon’s depressing class drama The Fake. When compared to the stories these films tell, it’s hard to imagine anyone thinking Dane Cook’s cropduster or Ryan Reynold’s racing snail are good enough for the gold. The heartwarming animal friendship showcased in Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar and Benjamin Renner’s Ernest & Celestine is enough to make one forget that DreamWorks exists for a little while.
The list is rounded out with Hiroyuki Okiura’s mysterious drama A Letter to Momo, Luiz Bolognesi’s futuristic drama Rio 2096: A Story of Love and Fury, Anthony Silverston’s Khumba, Chris Wedge’s fantasy Epic, Nancy Florence Savard’s The Legend of Sarila, and Akiyuki Shinbo and Yukihiro Miyamoto’s Rebellion, the third film in the Puella Magi Madoka Magica trilogy.
You’ll be able to see who the winner is when the 2014 Oscars are held on March 2, 2014, hosted by Ellen DeGeneres.