Absent Animation

Inside out

The Oscars. Oh the Oscars. Those bloody golden statuettes that are supposed to represent excellence within the film industry, but instead represent the many dogged symptoms of mainstream cinemas current flaws, are being handed out this evening to whomever the elderly patrons of the Hollywood loyalty scheme declare competent enough to have one. This is not to begrudge the numerous talents on display, in a large variety of categories, who deserve their shining moment. But to highlight those who deserve recognition from, what is considered by most to be, the most symbolically revered accolade in the cinematic landscape and do not receive it. Now it has already been pointed out by many others about the lack of ethnic diversity in the acting categories, and I do believe there is an issue, and I may discuss this some other time. But I wish to highlight what I believe to be a long running exclusion of some of our finest films from being recognised for their feats of success for the arbitrary reason that the characters happen to be animated. Whether hand drawn, computer generated or meticulously brought to life by the craft of stop motion, animated films have been overlooked time and time again.

Whether you’re a fan of classic Disney animated films such as Pinocchio, Fantasia and Bambi. Or the more modern Disney classics like The Lion King, Aladdin or The Little Mermaid. Or perhaps you prefer the Pixar animated wonders of Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and Wall-e. Or do you enjoy How to train your dragon? Song of the sea? Shrek? Coraline? The nightmare before Christmas? The Iron Giant? Mary and Max? It’s such a beautiful day? Every Studio Ghibli film? Not a single one of which has earned a best picture nomination. Only three animated films have been awarded a nomination for best picture 1991’s Beauty and the beast, 2009’s Up, and 2010’s Toy Story 3. That’s it. Toy Story was awarded a special achievement award for being the first film to be completely animated by a computer, but no best picture nomination for a modern cinematic classic. When Disney completed their first ever feature, the classic Snow White and the seven dwarves, they were also given a ‘special’ award to accommodate their success without being awarded a nomination for best picture.

There seems to be a disdain amongst academy voters, and other award ceremonies in general, toward animation as cinema. As if all animation is simply ‘for kids’. This simplification of one of films most versatile and potential forms always irked me. In 2001 the academy introduced the category for best feature length animated film to allow those who work within the format the recognition and respect they deserve. It has allowed a greater number of animated films to reach a broader audience, especially important for smaller studios, but at the cost of creating a glass ceiling. Now they have their own category voters don’t seem to consider them worthy of competing with what they consider ‘real films’. This isn’t a problem simply with the Oscars. The Bafta’s have only nominated one animated feature for best film ever, Shrek. Why are animated films treated with such indifference? Why not create a best musical category? Best Comedy? Best moustache? I understand that creating a single category allows for greater recognition of form, but is this now creating more harm than good?

This year Pixar released Inside Out, a truly fabulous film and one I recommend for all ages to check out. Inside Out will win best animated feature, despite great competition from many other terrific animated fare, because it is one of the best films of the year and should have also been nominated for best picture. It has earned a best screenplay nomination, but won’t win because it’s animated. Toy story, Finding Nemo, The incredibles, Ratatouille, Wall-e and Up have all being nominated for best original screenplay in the past, without a win. The Israeli film Waltz with Bashir was nominated for best foreign language film in 2008, and also did not win. I’m not saying they all necessarily deserved to do so. I’m not saying we should be nominating every single animated film for every single category because they have not been recognised in the past. But what I want to get across is how frustrated I get by the treatment of animation come awards season.

Tonight Leonardo DiCaprio is the favourite to take home the best actor statuette after many years of missing out. Many feel he deserves it for his many great roles over the years, and I do not disagree. Leo is a fabulous actor and this is a deserved moment of success for him with his sixth nomination (fifth for acting) and many people through social media have pointed out how much he deserves it for his overall body of work. It has been 78 years since the theatrical release of Snow White and the seven dwarves, and since then thousands of animators working on hundreds of feature films have created some of the most memorable, majestic and emotionally powerful cinema of the last eight decades with three best picture nominations to show for it, a handful screenplay nominations, and a few deserved victories in the best original song, and score, categories. This year is Leo’s year, in the near future I hope animation has its moment. But if a film as brilliant as Inside out can’t even garner a nomination for best film, what are they going to have to do to win?

Words vomited by Alexander Halsall

(Extra note: good luck as well tonight to Roger Deakins who has been nominated for his 13th academy award for cinematography, having never won. Leo’s had it easy comparatively)

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The Hateful Eight – Review (No Spoilers)

The Hateful Eight – Review

The Hateful Eight, the eighth film by Quentin Tarantino (If like Tarantino you count Kill Bill as a single piece) and the second foray into the western genre for the acclaimed filmmaker following the critical and commercial successes of Django Unchained.

The film takes place in an intentionally vague amount of time not too long after the American civil war where a stagecoach carrying bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell, and his fantastic moustache), and his prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) come across a stranded U.S Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson). Warren manages to secure passage with the pair to the stagecoach lodge ‘Minnie’s Haberdashery’ where a group of other various travellers have already sought refuge from an incoming blizzard. However not everyone may be as they seem.

The Hateful Eight is blessed with stunning cinematography, with much having being made of the film being shot on 70mm film. Ralph Richardson makes the landscapes ooze off the screen and the intimate setting of the haberdashery becomes a grandiose atmospheric stage for our performers. Coupled with Ennio Morricone’s harrowingly stirring score, the end result is one of true cinematic beauty as the claustrophobic setting creates a powerfully unerring tension amongst the characters that echoes into the cinema itself. The aesthetic is the films greatest strength. However the films narrative is not as tight as its visuals. The slow build to Minnie’s haberdashery does not create enough interest through either dialogue (Tarantino’s heralded specialty) or character development. The narrative structure combined with some inconsistency in Tarantino’s usually infallible dialogue creates a somewhat uneven quality to the film. The inclusion of a somewhat indulgent and unnecessary narration sequence (voiced by Tarantino himself) was an unwelcome distraction and symptomatic of what the films main issue is. That it is too long and in need of a tighter cut version. Not to say the film doesn’t contain boisterous highlights at times, including a career reel monologue for Samuel L Jackson, who brings every inch of his incalculable charisma to the screen ably supported by Russell, Dern and Bichir in particular, amongst others. Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Oscar nomination is something of a surprise as I found her somewhat exaggerated performance to be functional, without being phenomenal. This is not meant as a slight against such a wonderful actress and is more indicative of her function in the plot as a whole, and she is certainly not the only actor in the film to succumb to this issue.

Despite its shortcomings The Hateful Eight is a worthwhile watch for its incredible atmosphere, and despite its flaws it remains an engaging, if sometime frustrating, experience. With one of Jackson’s finest performances, a beautiful score by the legendary Morricone, and Kurt Russell’s phenomenally hypnotic facial hair. I hope you find a lot to like in Tarantino’s Hateful Eight.

Review by Alexander Halsall