SOME OSCARS PREDICTIONS can be made with significantly more confidence. Such as: Chances are good that host Ellen DeGeneres will make a joke or three tonight about interacting with the disembodied voice of a sultry OS (a la “Her”); about who really is the “captain” of the Academy Awards (Ellen’s talking to you, nominee Barkhad Abdi); and about how Hollywood suits are the real inspiration behind (pick one): “The Wolf of Wall Street” (except greedier); “Nebraska” (they promise money that never arrives); “American Hustle” (they promise money you wish hadn’t arrived); or “Gravity” (they’ll cut you loose the minute you need them most).
Then there’s the somewhat easier prognostication. Such as: Disney will almost certainly go home with an Oscars statuette for animation – be it for “Frozen” (Best Animated Feature or its Best Original Song, “Let It Go”), or the studio’s “Get a Horse!” (up for Best Animated Short Film). Let’s break it down:
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE:
The most conspicuous absence this year is what had become a nearly automatic annual rite: The nomination of a Pixar film. With Pixar out of the running (the sequel “Monsters University” didn’t gain a nod), the field would typically be opened up to all the contenders. Instead, it’s a two-horse race.
For the warm “Ernest & Celestine” – which has been a winner at Cannes and by the Annie Awards – it’s simply an honor to be nominated. Likewise for CGI franchises old (“Despicable Me 2”) and new (“The Croods”), which have earned their real awards at the box office.
So it comes down to two films intertwined by animation’s version of the Circle of Life:
1. “The Wind Rises”: This stunning, visually peerless film is said to be the farewell film from the great Hayao Miyazaki – a factor that should gain this ode to artists (and their role within a bruising and brutal society at large) some votes of career respect and sentimentality. When I spoke with Miyazaki at San Diego Comic-Con several years ago, he noted how Disney animation had been such a profound influence on him.
2. “Frozen”: Unfortunately for the Miyazaki film, it must go head-to-head against a Disney film that’s trying to make some history: “Frozen” – that blockbuster that harks back to the studio’s tradition of top tunecraft – is vying to become Disney Animation’s first computer-generated feature film to win an Oscar. Intriguingly, Disney Animation is now headed by Pixar co-founder John Lasseter – who told me in 2009 that one of his main animation influences was … “Mr. Miyazaki-san.”
Even if “Wind” doesn’t win, Hayao can still polish the Oscar already at home – he won for 2002’s “Spirited Away.”
WILL WIN: “Frozen”
SHOULD WIN: “The Wind Rises”
“The Wind Rises”:
BEST ANIMATED SHORT:
This is such a fertile field that it’s a shame the short films don’t garner near the same spotlight as the features. So to illuminate each contender a moment, here are the nominees:
“Feral” is a beautifully stark film that blends narrative elements of both “The Jungle Book” and “Nell.” It’s a masterfully crafted short — but may just be too slight to top some of its deeper rivals.
This is a parable of parenthood told in gear-happy steampunk — or, in other words, a tale of the brass it takes to bring any form of bounding, boundless change into one’s well-ordered life. This warm, wonderfully framed film achieves its aim to dazzling CGI effect — but it’s smaller potatoes next to some of the meatier noms that follow.
This feudal folktale is a symphony of inventive movement as a repairman wrestles with supernatural Japanese spirits known as Yokai. If voters look away from the West, this immersive film stands a chance.
“Room on the Broom”:
“Room on the Broom,” which has its roots as a BBC special, nearly belongs in a separate category: It is far talkier than any of the other contenders, and it runs at nearly a half-hour. It is an immensely polished story of a witch and critter friends that pops in both visual execution and vocal starpower (voices include Gillian Anderson and Simon Pegg). And it would surely win if it weren’t for…
“Get a Horse!”:
Tom Hanks couldn’t score a nomination for portraying Walt Disney (in “Saving Mr. Banks”), but Uncle Walt scored a nomination for his voice nevertheless. Disney himself voices Mickey Mouse in this retro-meets-modern-color marriage of ’40s and 21st-century animation technology. This film plays like an across-time valentine to the studio’s roots — while also acknowledging, like a highlight reel, just how far the pioneering House of Mouse has come. As a thoroughbred that summons the Disney nostalgia down the stretch, “Horse” should be a favorite at the wire.
WILL WIN: “Get a Horse!”
SHOULD WIN: “Room on the Broom” or “Get a Horse!”