Welcome to the first State of the Race column of the 2008 season. What does that mean? Not a whole lot, full disclosure. It is still way too early to count any chickens or Oscar contenders, despite how good they look on paper. We start this year as we‚Äôve started every year for the last ten, with the presumption that in summer and until December, hope springs eternal. While it is springing eternal it is also the thing with feathers and that means it‚Äôs ready to fly out of town any time, which it often does when things get ugly.
We also start the year with one film shimmering with true Oscar potential, Wall-E. This is not a difficult call to make and anyone who loudly proclaims this film the defacto winner is simply stating the obvious. What it means, though, is that we‚Äôre officially watching a film that isn‚Äôt either a Big Summer Movie or a studio dump. This is a film that is being cradled like an egg; it is a precious thing, a hopeful thing, a symbol of the new.
Wall-E begins its run at midnight. Some peripheral chatter is focused on it being not kiddie fare or it being a target for conservatives for having a ‚Äúmessage.‚Äù If the message ends up being that we as a culture have a disease of consumerism and that it will end us in pathetic ruin, that is not a great leap in logic. Look around.
But if the conservatives do start whining about it that only means its Oscar chances shoot through the roof, as if they haven‚Äôt already. We have here a ‚Äútoo big to ignore‚Äù film, a Schindler‚Äôs List of the animated feature category and if anything is to take it down it‚Äôs only going to be a shocker at the box office, an extremely unlikely scenario.
In a few months, probably, as with Ratatouille last year, we‚Äôll start getting those ‚Äúwhy can‚Äôt an animated film be nominated for Best Picture‚Äù pitches. Some of us might be seduced into thinking it could happen this year with a film as good and as entertaining as Wall-E.¬† It may feel like it is simply too grand and too good to be ghettoized in its own category.
In fact, it‚Äôs sort of silly, really, to segregate either the animated films or the foreign films. You could go further and say even documentaries ought to be considered for Best Picture. But they never are. You could even say that its sexist to consider ‚ÄúBest Actress‚Äù and ‚ÄúBest Actor‚Äù and not just plain ‚ÄúBest Actor‚Äù for both. The Oscars have categories. Full stop.¬† Wall-E has a category and it will dominate that category. Like Ratatouille and others, it will have multiple nominations, like screenplay for Andrew Stanton, score for Thomas Newman, maybe a sound nod or two. Can it crack Best Picture? The only way that could happen is if everyone said no way could it happen. Voters get rebellious when people start treating the race like a foregone conclusion or presuming to know how they will vote.
As far as the claim of false advertising goes, it‚Äôs understandable, isn‚Äôt it. It reminds me of that line by Jerry Lewis in King of Comedy where he says, ‚Äúyou don‚Äôt say ‚Äòhere‚Äôs the punchline,‚Äô you just deliver the punchline. You don‚Äôt say, ‚Äúthis is a message movie,‚Äù you just deliver the message.
Here are what a few critics are saying about Wall-E, which will likely go down as one of the best films of the year, a la Ratatouille:
Daring and traditional, groundbreaking and familiar, apocalyptic and sentimental, “Wall-E” gains strength from embracing contradictions that would destroy other films. Directed by Pixar stalwart Andrew Stanton, who co-wrote and directed the Oscar-winning “Finding Nemo,” “Wall-E” is the latest Pixar film to manage what’s become next door to impossible for anyone else: appealing to the broadest possible audience without insulting anyone’s intelligence.
What‚Äôs more, I don‚Äôt think I‚Äôve quite captured the film‚Äôs enchanting storytelling. Directed and co-written by Andrew Stanton, who wrote and directed ‚ÄúFinding Nemo,‚Äù it involves ideas, not simply mindless scenarios involving characters karate-kicking each other into high-angle shots. It involves a little work on the part of the audience, and a little thought, and might be especially stimulating to younger viewers. This story told in a different style and with a realistic look could have been a great science-fiction film. For that matter, maybe it is.
So, what other films can challenge Wall-E’s dominance? Kung Fu Panda is a likely nominee in a year when we’ll probably have a five-film category. But it can’t touch Wall-E in any respect. The Tale of Despereaux, Animated Dog, Igor, Opus: The Last Christmas.