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a good year for animation

coraline-theater2009 was an especially good year for animated movies. Live-action movies, about normal. A few good ones, mostly crap. But the cartoons really knocked it out of the park.

The four Animated Features up for the Academy Award this Sunday are: Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Princess and the Frog, The Secret of Kells, and Up. Up is also nominated for Best Picture.

Coraline (made right here in Portland, Oregon) opened in February. Coraline has my vote for best animated feature. Its use of stop-motion filming is by far the best I’ve seen, ever. If Wallace and Gromit made stop-motion a viable art form again (and don’t forget their latest adventure is up for Best Animated Short Film), and Nightmare Before Christmas made it viable for feature-length films, then Coraline is the end result of this new resurgence. Every set is beautiful, every character full of life. Add to this the fact that they filmed it in 3D, allowing you to see the sets in all their glory, and you’ve got a true masterpiece. Coraline is a work of art, and fun to watch.

I also loved Fantastic Mr. Fox. Filmed with stop-motion animation, Wes Anderson made what may be his best movie yet. Here’s one good example (the first?) of using famous actors for voice work. George Clooney and Meryl Streep put in fine performances as Mr. and Mrs. Fox, and Jason Schwartzman really shines as Ash, the Fox’s under-appreciated son. But Wes Anderson is no animator. He basically had a good idea and got very talented people to put it together for him. And though I truly enjoyed the animation, it wasn’t groundbreaking.

I haven’t seen The Princess and the Frog or Secret of Kells. What I will say is, I’m glad none of the crap Dreamworks routinely tosses into theaters made it into this award category. I don’t know of an animation company that hates children as much as Dreamworks. Their cartoons are an affront to everything that is good in this country. They even make me question the good name of Steven Spielberg. Why would he be associated with this smut?

Finally, Up. Up should not win Best Animated Feature. Up should win Best Picture, for which it is also nominated. Nowhere else on the cinematic landscape of 2009 will you find such interesting characters or engrossing plot. A completely perfect viewing experience. Up defines what makes movies great. Like Wall-E in 2008, Up shows everybody that cartoons can tell a story better than live-action. I’m just going to put this out there: cartoons are cool.

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For Your Consideration

The announced Best Picture Nominees are:
Michael Clayton
No Country For Old Men
There Will Be Blood

I’ve seen all of these but Michael Clayton, and I think they all have a shot. I doubt Juno will win because it’s a comedy. The Academy, in its infinite wisdom, never picks comedies. Why is that? They are subversive, and they require an extra brain molecule to “get”. A good comedy, just like a good drama, will make an important statement. Comedies take it a step further and say something witty, as well.

This is not to disparage any of the movies above. I enjoyed all of them immensely, and I think the craft of filmmaking is flourishing. Personally, though, I believe comedy has always been thought of as less than drama, partly because it doesn’t appear to take itself seriously. My defense is that just because you’re smiling doesn’t mean you aren’t serious.

Announced Best Animated Pictures nominees:
Surf’s Up

I’ve seen both Ratatouille and Surf’s Up. I’m currently reading Persepolis in its original bound form.

Brad Bird is an awesome storyteller, totally in command of his talent. He makes animated movies that could be nothing else. This makes them special. He has also taken Pixar from making movies about “things” (toys, bugs, cars) to making stories as unique as their style of animation. I never thought I would champion computer animation, but Brad Bird’s pictures make the whole endeavor worthwhile.

Surf’s Up? What a strange choice. I watched it because it features Jeff Bridges essentially reprising his role from The Big Lebowski. If you want to see the Dude as a penguin, this is the movie for you. I did enjoy watching it, but it’s kind of lightweight for this kind of an honor.

Has anyone seen Persepolis yet? The graphic novel version is very good so far. The style is unique and suited to the story (although all her characters tend to look the same, so if you’ve got two girls of the same age, for example, it’s hard to tell them apart). I’d love to see the movie before the awards are given.

That’s my brief rundown on today’s announcements. Any thoughts?