Why The Oscars’®©™ Best Picture award is a farce

Toy Story 3 didn’t win Best Picture this year. I wouldn’t mind so much if I thought it ever had a real fighting chance. It didn’t win for one simple reason: It’s animation. No other reason.

While I haven’t seen all the other nominees this year, I have seen True Grit and Inception. TS3 was much better than Inception – Christopher Nolan’s characters always have about as much depth as they did in Dark Knight Returns. I won’t say TS3 was definitively better than True Grit. It’s a point on which I could have a long enjoyable debate and not feel bad if I didn’t change the other person’s mind.

But TS3 deserved to win because it’s a great movie and because the Academy owes Pixar for years of other snubs. Find me another company that has consistently produced so many great movies. Everything they’ve done except for the horrible (by Pixar standards) Cars and the not-bad-but-not-great Bugs Life, has been amazing. WALL*E is a movie that will be taught in film classes a hundred years from now. Ratatouille is one of the great movies of ideas of all time.

Now WALL*E  didn’t get a best picture nod in 2007 but it was up against a pretty amazing crop of moviesNo Country For Old Men, There Will Be Blood, Juno, Atonement and Michael Clayton. I love Juno but it sure as heck wasn’t in WALL*E ‘s league. The following year Ratatouille ran into a similar problem. So I am willing to cut the Academy a little slack for not nominating them. Last year the list of nominees expanded to 10 and Up got a nomination it deserved. Looking at the list of movies it should have gotten a nomination even if the list had been the usual 5 flicks. (Avatar? I’ve seen soap stains that made a better film. I really like District 9 and I don’t think it should have been on the list. Unless, of course, they set the bar so low that Avatar was included.)

So this year who wins the Best Picture but a movie seemingly designed to do nothing but. I am sure The King’s Speech is a fine movie – but it won mostly because it was a British royalty handicap story. Those accents! The Merchant-Ivory like class factor. A noble, physically attractive handicap!

As good as it undoubtedly is, it isn’t better than TS3 and the collected body of work Pixar has turned out. TS3 like Godfather II, and yes I believe they deserve to be discussed together, was able to be as good as – if not better – than the great original movie. (TS2 was 50% of a great movie and certainly not in a league with the other two. Drop me a line and I’ll explain why.) The depth of character, the incredibly mature story it told, the writing, the storytelling, the acting were all of a quality seldom matched. And it’s nomination was nothing more than tokenism. Feh. A pox on all The Academy’s houses. (And BTW, The Illusionist –  another of this year’s nominees for Best Animated — should also have been a best picture nominee. But that would have meant TWO animated movies on the list and that would never be allowed to happen.)

Toy Story 3 was robbed 

Thanks to The Whatchamacallit and BrokeHoedown for tipping me to the picture above!

News article about the master, Hayao Miyazaki

He discusses his new movie Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea. And the overuse of computers in animation:

“I think animation is something that needs the pencil, needs man’s drawing hand, and that is why I decided to do this work in this way,” the silver haired, notoriously shy director told reporters after a press screening. “Currently computer graphics are of course used a great deal and, as I’ve said before, this use can at times be excessive,” he added, speaking through an interpreter. “I will continue to use my pencil as long as I can.”

I was pleased to be reminded that the great one is only 67 & so there are many more years of his creations yet to come.

Hey Pixar-heads — when is it being released in the US?

SAVE THE TOTORO FOREST!!!

As regular readers know I am slavishly devoted to master animator Hayao Miyazaki and consider his movie My Neighbor Totoro which was released 20 years ago to be one of the greatest films ever made.  Now Sayama Forest, also known as Totor Forest, which inspired Miyazaki to create the movie is the focus of an effort to save it from further destruction by developers.

In artistic terms this wood is the equivalent of Monet’s gardens at Giverny or Arles for van Gogh and Gaugin.

The Totoro Forest Project is the brainchild of Enrico Casarosa and Dice Tsutsumi and has not surprisingly received the enthusiastic support of Pixar.

I quote from Animation Magazine:

Artists from around the world were asked to come up with artwork inspired by the gentle creature depicted in the landmark movie. Over 200 original pieces from internationally acclaimed artists and animators—William Joyce, Andreas Deja, Timothy Lamb, Ronnie del Carmen, Ralph Eggleston, Pete Docter and Peter de Seve, to name a few—are featured in this one-of-a-kind event which tries to answer the question “What is your Totoro?” The auction will be held at Pixar Animation Studio on September 6th. A companion art book, edited by Karen Paik (The Story of Pixar), will also be available at the event. Selected artwork from the Totoro auction will be featured as two special exhibitions at The Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco (Exhibit A: Sept. 26-Dec. 7; Exhibit B: Nov. 6-Feb. 20).

The website is truly awesome: Totoro Forest Project.

Now to figure out how to get to San Francisco.

WALL*E is amazingly good

In no particular order the greatest animated movies I’ve ever seen are:

All of these are among the greatest movies ever made PERIOD.

Add to that list, WALL*E. Even by Pixar’s admittedly high standards, WALL*E is exceptional. If it doesn’t have the characters as complex as some other movies it is because it is a fable. In that respect it has a lot in common with Edward Scissorhands.

WALL*E is tells a fine, simple (not obvious) story superbly. (I’m going to stay away from plot synopsis. Go see it. We’ll talk.) It is essentially a silent movie, a great and bold decision (and something it shares with Triplets). In addition to being a fine filet of consumer culture, W also includes an extended comment on the sterility of life in a controlled environment designed for nothing but amusement. That would be the bread and butter of Pixar’s life-partner Disney. Is this:

  1. a cynical comment by a company that makes its money from these parks; or
  2. a truly subversive effort to sway the people who make The Land of Mouse so profitable?

Not sure. But I do know it’s great.

I could go on but I’m tired and heading off for vacation. See you all in a week.

Three summer blockbusters = 2 good movies

Much to my own surprise I have seen the three big action flicks released so far — Ironman, Prince Caspian and Indiana Jones & The AARP. Much to my even greater surprise, two of them are good.

Caspian is by far the best of the bunch. I don’t remember the book well enough to assess how much the movie deviates from it and I really don’t care. Movies are different than books and if you don’t try to adapt the story to the medium you are screwed. (See the first Harry Potter movie for example.) Caspian tells a good, solid story with actual emotional underpinnings that makes the action deeper without diverting from it. Caspian also has the added advantage of having Peter Dinklage, in my mind the most charismatic actor working today. I first saw him in the wonderful movie The Station Agent. He is perhaps best known for his role in Elf as the little person who beats up wannabe little person Will Farrel. I will watch anything he is in. I hope more directors are catching on to his possibilities. Someone cast him as Hamlet, quick. Not ironically or anything like that. In Caspian, Dinklage’s character is the moral center of the movie, doubting everything until he comes to believe.

Next on the ranking list is Ironman. Ironman continues a very hopeful trend in action movies — casting really, really good actors. The most obvious examples here are Robert Downey Jr. and Jeff Bridges, but it continues through the entire cast. Great acting helps the audience past those plot stupidities that seem to be required in most big budget action movies these days. The biggest example in Ironman is when the terrorist villain goes from being supersmart to superdumb for no apparent reason. Downey is so totally charming and wonderful as Tony Stark he alone covers up for several movies worth of dumb plot devices. Bridges takes a boilerplate bad guy and makes him real. The only real acting flub is Gwyneth Paltrow who isn’t actually bad but just flat in a dumb role.

A debate is raging as to whether Indy vs. The AARP is the worst sequel ever. No. It isn’t even the worst George Lucas sequel ever. That honor goes to the last three Star Wars movies. While you can make a plausible case for Phantom Menace being he worst sequel ever — the stupidity of the writing and directing is only surpassed by the racial stereotyping — for me that honor goes to Godfather III. The Star Wars movies were fun but nothing else, so disfiguring the brand really was no great wrong. Godfather III was — and I don’t use this word lightly — a desecration. Indy isn’t even in the same category of bad as either the Star Wars mistakes or GF III. Actually cut out 30 minutes and its a pleasant action movie. Sadly at two hours all the flaws become more evident and boredom really set in. That said, Collateral Damage Jr. loved it. He’s 11.9 which makes him the target demographic so his vote will count more than mine. See his full review here at his blog, The Watchamacallit. Just realized that on the horrible sequel list I also left out the Star Trek series which at my last count had only two (maybe three) good movies in the entire sequence.

Actually a more useful list would be sequels that are actually good. I’ll start: Henry IV, Part 2.

Mostly, I’m just killing time until WALL-E comes out, though.

Ratatouille: A love story

1Earlier this year I saw Paris J’Taime, 22 short films by 22 directors (Gus Van Sant, Alexander Payne, The Coen Bros., Gerard Depardieu, etc.), all about love and guess what city? They were trifles, mostly, as they should be. Pleasant and touching looks at the City of Light — if it wasn’t commissioned by the Paris Tourist Bureau then they just got a freebie. What I remember most is Gena Rowlands and Ben Gazzara and Fanny Ardant (right) and Bob Hoskins. Not only are they great actors but they were all portraying something almost never seen in American movies: Passionate crazy love among men and women of certain age.

rat2Paris J’Taime is postcards from Paris. Ratatouille is the novel. Its story and sense of place is both deep and surprising. Unlike other Pixar movies, this was actually a movie I’d never seen before. I love Pixar and think they have made some of the best movies I’ve ever seen but the others were all riffs on familiar themes. Toy Story is a buddy movie — a great buddy movie to be sure — but still we knew going in that the Woody and Buzz were going to wind up as friends. Finding Nemo is a superb story of love, loss and letting-go, but even so I’d seen its basic idea before (for more of my thoughts about Nemo go here). Ratatouille, the story of a rat who becomes a chef, could easily have been another “fish-out-of-water makes good” movie but it isn’t.

(WARNING: Lots of spoilers below)

It never takes the obvious route. It is never hack (which is comedians’ name for the easy and cliche). It isn’t “HEARTWARMING.” Every choice made by the people involved is true to the story and the characters and not just what the audience expects. As a result it gives the audience so much more than mere easy laughs. The big challenge that our hero (voiced by the wonderful Patton Oswalt) overcomes is not will he become a chef, it’s how to make peace between being a rat AND being a chef. When his family comes to his aid it’s not a big sweeping emotional moment, it’s a much more realistic “yeah we’re family and this is what family does even when they’re angry at each other” moment. In other words: It’s a true moment, not a Hollywood one.

One of Ratatouille’s greatest strengths is that it never forgets that rats and people eating food are not something that go together. Even when the rats ride to the rescue and run the kitchen, the movie is smart enough to include a stomach-jarring shot of rodents swarming. If this had been made just by Disney Ratatouille would have had an ending where the restaurant is saved, the rat and the human both get the girl and snoooooore. That sort of happens, but not in the predictable way that ruined so many of Disney’s later animated movies.

Also it’s hard to imagine the later Disney movies including the scene where our hero and his father walk by the exterminator’s shop in the Marais whose window is decorated with dead rats in traps. (I’ve been by that store a number of times, it is quite wonderful.) Pre-Pixar animation at Disney long ago gave up being willing to actually upset the audience. For all that Lion King was willing to show the father’s death, it did it without the terror and darkness that makes Pinocchio one of the greatest and scariest movies I’ve ever seen.

ratdollThe only complaint I have with the movie has to do with its marketing. Disney/Pixar missed out on the perfect tie-in: A celebration of the wonderful Musée des égouts de Paris, the museum of the sewers of Paris. It is a truly unique place and the only museum in Paris whose gift shop already had plushy rats in stock.