In our fifth piece on this year’s exciting animated feature race – and its fascinating indie contenders – we turn to two under-the-radar indie films (A Silent Voice and Ethel & Ernest) which bowed at Annecy last June and remained so low profile until they surprisingly made the cut and were included on AMPAS’ eligible animated features. These two films aren’t widely expected to make the final cut of 5 – but is there any room for a surprise?
We watched both films at Annecy this year and ended up admiring both for their sincere approach – but we fell in love with one of them thanks to its honest and heartfelt adaptation of a story few outside the UK are familiar with.
Let’s take a look.
1) The Story: A reflection on suicidal motives among a group of school friends.
(2) Quick Review: Heavy, dense and very reflective, this is a thoughtful, artistic, if not overlong, film on what it means to stop wanting to live – and what it means to look back at life and want to live it in full. In a sense, it’s a film for adults who will appreciate this message, but it’s also for some teens who, especially in Japan, struggle with suicidal motives and immense peer pressure. The film works on both levels but loses momentum halfway by becoming too long (it clocks in at over 2 hours). The filmmakers dramatize the story perhaps way too much – but in the end this is a sincere attempt at making a thoughtful anime that celebrates life, friendship and sibling love.
(3) Will it appeal to AMPAS voters? Most likely not. Anime films haven’t had a stellar track record with AMPAS as of late. A few years ago, Hayao Miyazaki’s films got nominated here and it seemed as if AMPAS was finally ready to embrace Japan’s fantastic animation industry. But this hasn’t been the case for anime films outside Studio Ghibli. The last anime to earn a nod in this category is When Marnie Was There, which was believed to be Ghibli’s final animated feature until Miyazaki came out of retirement. Ghibli’s co-production The Red Turtle was also nominated, but that wasn’t a typical anime. Since voting this year is open to all AMPAS members, the subject matter and the length of the film will be problematic. It’s not a delightful screening a voter is likely to pop in over thanksgiving.
(4) Historic precedents/stats Anime films, as mentioned, aren’t really strong here. Plus, this needed GKIDS as a powerful and savvy distributor. The likeliest anime in this category is probably Mary and the Witch’s Flower.
(5) Overall chance for a nomination. We will give this a 25% chance. This year’s race is highly unpredictable and it remains to be seen how much the voting rule change will impact the final nominees. But one thing is for certain – narratively complex films like this one will have an uphill battle this year if they want to earn that nod. And with internal competition from buzzier and better campaigned anime films, this unfortunately isn’t a sure thing.
When we saw this film in the press kit at Annecy, we expected nothing. We had never heard of it and didn’t know much of its story, adapted from the beloved graphic novel by Raymond Briggs. But when we did end up seeing, we absolutely loved it – and it played so well at Annecy.
1) The Story: An author recalls the story of his loving mother and father and their ordinary lives before and during the war.
(2) Quick Review: This is such a lovely, emotional and touching film about everyday heroes whose lives may seem normal or ordinary – but within the everyday details, there’s much beauty and emotion. Like Faces Places, this is a film about ordinary people in ordinary settings. There are no fireworks, drama or harrowing plotlines. But this film never loses momentum and is able to sweep the viewer completely into the lives of this loving couple who stay together until the last breath. The film’s last 15 minutes play very much like Michael Haneke’s Amour and the result is devastating, touching and unforgettable. The film, however, does not lack humor and light moments – it’s a great exercise in tone. Sublime.
(3) Will it appeal to AMPAS voters? It will appeal to older votes – the voters who voted for quiet, emotional films such as Ernest and Celestine. The animation branch will especially appreciate this – the animation is gorgeous and manages to create a unique style that looks as if it’s a transition from the pages of a graphic novel to an animated feature. Because the film is also accessible, it will appeal to voters at large – but that’s if they end up seeing it. Some voters, however, may be put off by the lack of flashy moments in the film.
(4) Historic precedents/stats The film was distributed by Universal in the UK and is eligible in the animated race this year possibly due to a potential awards-qualifying run. We’re yet to see if Universal will handle the US run.
(5) Overall chance for a nomination. We’ll give this a 35% chance – it has the appeal, the quality, the reviews, the beautiful animation and the accessibility which may make it a possible contender. But it’s under the radar and may end up unseen by many voters. And with the rule change, voters are probably going to pick flashier films.