In our third piece analyzing this year’s indie contenders in the Animated Feature Oscar race, we focus on two interesting films. One has a very strong narrative, good box office and mostly positive reviews, the other has almost no buzz, a low profile but a fantastic quality and resonant themes previously nominated in this category.
Let’s take a closer look at their Oscar chances.
Days before we watched this film at its hotly anticipated world premiere at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival, buzz was sky-high for the world’s first fully painted animated feature. And at the premiere, standing ovation lasted for over 10 minutes for the film. The reception was crazy good and many attendees, mostly animation and arts students, were already throwing the famous O word here and there.
1) The Story: The film explores the life and death of Vincent Van Gogh, the world’s greatest painter.
(2) Quick Review: 7 years in the making, this is an audacious artistic attempt that pays off visually and will pay off thematically and narratively depending on your preferences as a viewer. For us and the audience at Annecy, the film succeeds at being accessible and artsy while not alienating those who don’t really care to know about Van Gogh’s life. In a way, the film turns its story into an Agatha Christie-style story where suspicions are aimed at several characters as to whether they had a role to play in Van Gogh’s death. This style put off many viewers in the US, more than in Europe, who perhaps felt this approach made the story slightly misguided, heavy-handed and underdeveloped. While there’s no doubt the film is very much accomplished visually, it’s divisive when it comes to its story approach.
(3) Will it appeal to AMPAS voters? This film reminds us, strangely of, Nocturnal Animals, a film we saw at the Venice Film Festival last year and got to sense how much Europeans loved its narrative style. On the other side of the pond, US critics weren’t that much enthused about it – and Loving Vincent seems to be very much a film that appeals to Europeans more (fact: many of the AMPAS Animation branch are European animators). However, there’s one big difference here: unlike almost all other indie contenders this year – perhaps except The Breadwinner (GKIDS), this film has a very strong narrative and curiosity factor: it’s the world’s first fully-painted animated film. That alone may push some voters to just check it off as a nominee just to reward the labor of love this film is or to try to reward a film that has a snob appeal and doesn’t pander. If you’re a voter, say in the sound branch, and haven’t bothered to watch any animated pics this year but want to vote, you’ll probably have heard of ‘that fully animated film that’s never been done before.’ Wanting to reward art, you may vote for it, even if you weren’t that enamoured by it. Another point we’re sure of: this film may very well earn a BAFTA nomination which will help more than not. Box office wise, it has surprisingly found an audience in the US, surpassing $2 million so far with an untested and unknown distributor like Good Dead.
(4) Historic precedents/stats Good Deed Entertainment, who are handling this film, lacks the Oscar track record of other distributors such as GKIDS. Can they pull off a nod here?
(5) Overall chance for a nomination. This is a tricky one – but we’ll go ahead and give Loving Vincent a 65% chance of earning a nod – less than The Breadwinner and slightly less than The Big Bad Fox. Why is that? Well, it’s because it’s not as crowd-pleasing like the studio fare in contention or even indie fare as The Big Bad Fox, nor as important as, say, The Breadwinner. But it has the narrative and we shouldn’t underestimate that. Plus, it’s probably in for BAFTA. For these reasons, the percentage isn’t below 50%. But why isn’t it above 70%? It’s because state-side reception is a bit iffy at the moment and the distributor is unproven. And never ever underestimate GKIDS who will pull all their stops to get their films nominated before this one.
This small film from Spanish directors Alberto Vázquez and Pedro Rivero was not on anyone’s radar until GKIDS picked it up for North American distribution. Soon after, the film was scheduled to screen at the company’s Animation Is Film Festival, a new film festival in LA that targets Oscar voters. Soon after, some Oscar pundits began to consider the film as a possibility.
1) The Story: In a post-apocalyptic world, a huge industrial disaster almost kills all inhabitants of a deserted island. This is a story of three friends trying to escape their cruel world, in hopes of finding a better life elsewhere.
(2) Quick Review: It’s becoming increasingly rare to find animated films that take big risks. This is one of them. It’s a film that is definitely not for children – and within its first 15 minutes or so, you’ll surely realize you’re seeing a Spanish Anomalisa of sorts. There’s no way kids will identify with this – it’s pretty heavy and draining stuff right there, but adults will surely identify with the film’s themes of alcoholism, injustice, environmental concerns and love. It’s striking work that smartly uses animation as a medium to tell a fictional story about our world today – and the importance of transcending pain to find the joy that sometimes can seem too far and impossible, yet can just be within our reach if we really want to get out of comfort zones and embrace our better selves. It’s almost the opposite of Disney animated films. Nothing here is cute or fairy-tale like. This is harsh, brutal and emotional stuff that is honest, impressive and very artistic.
(3) Will it appeal to AMPAS voters? First of all, for those who never heard of this film, think of it like this: it’s a blend of My Life As A Zucchini (a film that also dealt with alcoholism and the cruel world in which children exist) and The Boy And The World, another Latin animated feature that sends a strong environmental message. Both these films ended up earning nods in this category – but that was a different time: animators of AMPAS’ animation branch were the only ones voting here. And oh how times have changed. This year, everyone is voting. And to put it simply: as wonderful as this film is, it’s a downer. The animation branch will adore it, no doubt here, but other members may not even seen. We just can’t imagine this being a Christmas screener that voters rush to watch.
(4) Historic precedents/stats As we previously mentioned, no one knows how to play the Oscar game for indie animated pics like GKIDS. They know how to get their films noticed and they’re masterful campaigners. But we have to also consider the internal competition this film faces – it’s the #3 priority for GKIDS at the moment – after the sure-fire nominee The Breadwinner and the acclaimed and commercially accessible The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales.
(5) Overall chance for a nomination. The film has the quality, the reviews, the themes, the importance – but, and that’s a big factor – it lacks the visibility and accessibility that other indie contenders have (and let’s not even talk about the far more commercial studio films that we will address in later articles but stand a better shot at earning noms because they’re much more widely seen). We’ll give this film a 40% chance at the moment. If this was 2016, its chances would have been much stronger.