As many pointed out in Criticwire’s best case/worst case Oscars survey, getting emotionally invested in who wins and who loses is a fool’s game. Oscars almost never go to the most deserving candidates, and when they do, it’s often for the wrong reasons. You might as well pick a fight with a stiff breeze.
So I’m reconciled to the possibility that “Boyhood” will lose Best Picture to “Birdman,” an engaging but basically fraudulent movie that never misses a chance to remind us how bold and daring it is. (In a year when “The Theory of Everything” has even a small chance, “Birdman” is infinitely preferable.) “Still Alice” is lousy, but Julianne Moore is lovely in it, as she always is, and while I’ve loved J.K. Simmons in many, many things more than “Whiplash,” he’s a deserving enough actor, even if this isn’t the role I’d recognize him for. (Try this one.) It pains me a little that Eddie Redmayne is now the favorite to win Best Actor for “The Theory of Everything”: I don’t have a dog in that particular fight — there are so many great lead actor performances last year that cutting them down to five for my year-end ballot was agony, yet none of them ended up on Oscar’s list — but the possibility of the Academy awarding yet another physically showy impersonation of a famous figure prompts an involuntary eyeroll. But, you know, Oscars gonna Oscar.
There’s one likely injustice that rankles, though, and that’s in the Best Animated Feature category. Based on every prediction, from Indiewire to Mark Harris to the Gurus of Gold, the likely winner is “How to Train Your Dragon 2.” Vegas puts its odds at 2 to 7, which puts it ahead of all but presumptive winners like Simmons and Moore; I can’t find a single slate of predictions that doesn’t have “Dragon” as its pick, although most feature “Big Hero 6” as a potential dark-horse spoiler.
The problem isn’t that “Dragon” is a terrible movie — it’s not — but that of the nominees in its category, it’s the least deserving by a substantial distance. “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya,” by Isao Takahata, is a flat-out masterpiece, possibly the last to be released by Japan’s famed Studio Ghibli; “Song of the Sea,” by Tomm Moore, who was nominated for “The Secret of Kells” is close behind. “Big Hero 6” has a lazy superhero plot at its center, but the details around it are enchanting, especially the characterization of the squishy robot sidekick, Baymax, and “The Boxtrolls,” while relatively disappointing compared to its Laika predecessors “Coraline” and “ParaNorman,” still bristles with visual invention.
That leaves “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” a fine but unremarkable sequel that in all honesty I don’t remember well enough to muster specific criticisms against. It was enjoyable while it lasted, but forgotten almost immediately thereafter. If you’ll pardon the pun (and you probably shouldn’t), it’s utterly toothless. I’m baffled as to how anyone find it superior to even one of its fellow nominees (with the possible exception of “The Boxtrolls,”) let alone all four. Its presumed win seems to be the latest triumph of a category that overwhelmingly favors studio product over individual expression, and which has been shameless rigged to shut out innovative techniques like the interpolated rotoscoping of Richard Linklater’s “Waking Life” and “A Scanner Darkly.” Even when movies that play with the form aren’t explicitly cast out, they’re shunned the way “The LEGO Movie” was this year, deemed unworthy for failing to hew to the most conservative definitions of “real” animation.
With the documentary and foreign film categories’ overhaul, Best Animated Feature now has the dubious honor of being the Oscars’ most compromised and questionable category. If “How to Train Your Dragon 2” wins on Sunday, it will be just the latest example.