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This Is the Least Deserving (Likely) Oscar Winner of 2015

This Is the Least Deserving (Likely) Oscar Winner of 2015

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.

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Comments

alex

I don’t think that was an overreaction at all. I’ve just finally watched both Song of the Sea and Princess Kaguya. I can understand how Big Hero and HTTYD2 are likeable films that have strong public appeal, but artistically these two are also the weakest. I am not saying that Oscar should always stick with films with highest artistic achievement, but you can feel while watching PK and SOTS that the emotions are natural and real, while in the two produced by the American studios are formulaic (although they are still decent cinema). The issue with the animation category is similar to that of foreign picture (which is actually getting a lot of better in recent years) – that is, American audience are unable to connect with aesthetic outside the US. In other words, American audience largely remain shallow in general.
In any case, next year will likely belong to Inside Out, which I have faith in. I just hope nothing like BH6 or HTDYD2 ever wins the category again.

Matt

I disagree with JR. Princess Kaguya is an absolute masterpiece. Easily my favorite film of the year, and also one of my favorite films of all time. Some people may find the plot slow or boring, but it was still the most emotional and beautiful animated film I have ever seen.

Josh Leitzel

@JR, No, Princess Kaguya is definitely a masterpiece. It’s as flawless as a film can get. The film has a leisurely pace to add to the theme of life that runs throughout the film and is clearly intentional, it’s not a flaw at all. I have no idea what you’re using to back up those claims since you didn’t specify. But a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes will disagree with you, and I’d tell all the people who’ve read your comment to watch it for themselves and form their own opinions of it. I’m sure they’d feel differently than you did, and it’s unfair to assume your opinion is the end-all of the matter. And before you retort by saying that critics’ opinions don’t matter, the audience score is also very high.

Willy

Well this is awkward…..

Kate H

Can this piece be retrospectively rewritten so it’s all about how ‘Big Hero 6’ didn’t deserve to win a prize that really secretly (God Himself actually thinks this) belongs to ‘The How to Buy Lego Movie’ instead?

Rite

These people, apart from Susan, are ridiculous. Kaguya is a masterpiece, you’re all wrong and HTTYD2 sucked. Js.

No

CORRECTION: "Burn After Reading"

No

Yes! This is one of my favorite J.K. Simmons’ performances: a befuddled CIA official in "Burn This." Thanks, Sam!

Daniel Zelter

Though Kaguya could be *Takahata’s* last film.

Daniel Zelter

Kaguya won’t be the last Ghibli film, ‘cus they still got Marnie for next year’s race. But *that one* might be their last.

Skippy

Yes, Around the World… is pretty bad, but have you seen The Greatest Show on Earth? Don’t–save yourself. (And of course there are plenty of other examples of dreadful Best Picture winners.)

Emily Redstone

This is a weird article that seems to amount to someone saying "a film I didn’t respond to particularly might win an award – and it’s not fair!" That’s a perfectly valid opinion but hardly the basis for a whole article, and certainly not one that requires the sour grapes title you’ve given it.

Loomis

True, Hitchcock never won in the Best Director category, but his Rebecca won the Best Film Oscar in 1940.

giangnguyen

Please,The tale of princess Kaguya is far better than any other films in animated film category. It’s the only film in this category which has deeper meaning and it is better than a bunch of films in Best Picture category. This is the only film could compare to Spirited Away, Up and it is far more superior than almost every Pixar films!

agreed. i haven’t seen song of the sea yet, but it can’t possibly be worse than dragon 2. the others, though, are so much better.

Claudio

I hope Kaguya lose in the category. The Oscar is such a lousy award it should be kept away from the last Takahata’s masterpiece.

ocean babin

It was a terrible year for animation, especially The Tale of the Princess Kaguya was outright horrible. i could not make it through it. The animation is gorgeous but that is all. Lego Film was great, but it was not nominated. i hope Big Hero 6 wins.

Genaro

When the 2015 Oscar nominations were announced, many observers were shocked and surprised to discover that what had been largely considered to be the odds-on favorite to win the award for Best Animated Feature, "The Lego Movie," did not even make the cut for the final five. This was an inexplicable result, all the more so since even the most ardent animation buff would have to admit that the past year did not exactly yield a bumper crop of worthy animated films, but the controversy surrounding this decision wound up overshadowing something even more significant—the happy fact that the animated film that actually was the best of the year managed to get a nomination despite the relative lack of hype, product tie-ins or singing snowmen to lure viewers in. No, it is clear that "The Tale of the Princess Kaguya" made it in solely on the basis of its own artistic merits and if that is the central concern of Academy voters, as it should be in a perfect world, then they will hopefully come to the same conclusion as those of us at the site here and give it the prize that it so richly deserves.

Sosage

The Theory of Everything is going to win something. So no, your are wrong sir.

Brian

Susan, none of those great films were nominated in 1956, so saying it "won over" them is odd. The films it actually beat were The 10 Commandments, Giant, The King & I and Friendly Persuasion.

Susan

I know its not animated, but might as well be, the worst Oscar winning undeserving film of all time was Around the World in 80 days. It won over Fellini’s masterpiece la Strada, Hitchcock’s second version of The Man Who Knew Too Much (Hitch never won a competitive Oscar if you can belive it, only an honorary one) and John Ford’s legendary classic, The Searchers. Yep, the Searchers.

JR

Because most who read this article will not have seen Princess Kaguya, don’t let the writer fool you. It’s a good movie, but far from a masterpiece. Incredible visuals, intriguing characters and concept, but the story has serious issues in terms of connecting events, motivations and actions properly. To be honest, I thought this was a weak year for animated films, perhaps cause there was nothing from Pixar.

GustavoHR

HTTYD2 is so good it wouldn’t look out of place among the Best Picture nominees. Someone’s butthurt over the LEGO snub. What an overreaction.

Kate H

‘The Lego Movie’ wasn’t nominated. Boo hoo. Now grow up and get over it.

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