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!

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.