Two Sides of the Fence

New York‘s Vulture guys, assessing the so-far universal praise for Pixar’s WALL*E, are trying to kick-start a campaign to give it a “real” Best Picture Oscar next February instead of — in their minds — an allegedly downgraded substitute tribute in the form of a Best Animated Feature Oscar.

This is wrong, fellas. The animated realm means an emphasis on digital as opposed to organic raw-grain realism, and the Best Picture realm still means more or less the opposite. We’re obviously living in a world of increasing overlap between them — reality ain’t what it used to be — but distinctions must be recognized and the electric segregation fence must be respected and fortified. Question is, on which side of the fence is the grass greener in terms of creative possibility and realization? It’s debatable.
WALL*E is a glorious film, but there would be nothing the least bit diminishing if it takes the Best Animated Feature Oscar. It would be honorable and appropriate and a good thing all around. The Chicago Tribune‘s Michael Phillips has called WALL*E “the best science-fiction film so far this year, the best romance so far this year and the best American studio film so far this year.” True, but it doesn’t belong in the raw reality arena and its admirers (myself among them) know it.
“Could this be the year that the Academy finally realizes that Pixar movies are the closest Hollywood comes anymore to the great, classy populist entertainments that used to be nominated for a gazillion Oscars?,” the “Vulutre” piece says, “the kinds of movies that everyone complains have disappeared from the Academy Awards?”
That’s a largely true statement, I feel, but WALL*E is, I feel, an exception to the animation realm. The Pixar economy, invention and poetry bestow an unusual profoundity and a universal appeal, but it’s still — get real for a second — fundamentally made for and aimed at families, kids, X-factor moviegoers and film critics. And it uses a certain kind of paint and paint-brushes that are specifically intended to stir the imagination and summon metaphor.
In a certain way, WALL*E obviously reflects and recreates the world that we’ve built, that has been given to us, that we’re stuck in for better or worse. But only in that way. It’s fundamentally (and to its enormous credit) a dreamscape movie, and creating in that world requires a very specific discipline and sensibility that doesn’t vote, doesn’t pay bills, doesn’t enjoy the string and the brass on Miklos Roza‘s El Cid soundtrack, doesn’t drink good Pinot Grigio at parties, doesn’t pay $4.40 for a gallon of gas, doesn’t buy sour cream-and-onion potato chips at a 7-11 at 11:45 pm and doesn’t recoil from the lack of hygiene at a gas-station restroom.
There is an enormous high and an unfettered dignity that comes from simply aiming a camera at real people and real locations and making it all sing. Every now and then it happens. We all know there’s magic on the animation side of the fence, but the people who work it need to invest in their own land, sing their own songs, beat their own drums, wave their own flag and stay the fuck out of Reality Nation.

  • corey3rd

    animated films will never get the Best Picture (outside of Beauty and the Beast) because the actors understand that they don’t make fat dollars doing voices. They do animated films at a discount rate for the sake of something their kids can watch. They don’t want their charity projects to turn into their main work.
    This is the same reason why it is rare for the composers to nominate a score that doesn’t feature a full orchestra. The Oscars are an industry award and the people in the industry want to keep working.

  • Mark G.

    I’m sure that by the time the Oscar season really starts, there will be a WALL-E backlash because of the gazillions the movie will have made by than. Everybody academy member will think: “Gee, $1 billion worldwide plus merchandising and now they want the real Oscar as well?”
    It’s not gonna happen…

  • p.Vice

    Hmmm… “great, classy populist entertainments that used to be nominated for a gazillion Oscars”? Yes, I long for the days when films like The Greatest Show on Earth, Around the World in Eighty Days, Peyton Place, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, The Alamo, The Guns of Navarone, etc. were considered top of the class by the Academy!

  • BurmaShave

    It’s a ghetto, simple as that. By your logic in a few years we’ll have a Best Comedy at the Oscars. Best Picture is the best film period, or should be.

  • LFF

    DEATH TO EXISTENZ! LONG LIVE REALITY!

  • Balthazar

    If Spirited Away doesn’t deserve best picture, then nothing does

  • http://reno-rambler.blogspot.com/ renorambler

    “but distinctions must be recognized and the electric segregation fence must be respected and fortified”
    I get what you’re saying but simply don’t agree. A great film is a great film is a great film…no matter what. I don’t know if Wall-E is a great film but I don’t like any film being ghettoized based on use, of lack thereof, of technology. It’s like saying the best album of the year can’t possibly have synthesizer on it because everyone knows that real music is created by sweaty human fingers moving on strings, wood, and metal.

  • TheCahuengaKid

    Balthazar (above) speaks a great truth…

  • gruver1

    Wells to Renorambler: You’re ignoring the point. I explained it very carefully above. I don’t how else to get through to you and yours. It’s like there’s wax in your ears.
    I don’t know that Slovakia is a ghetto-ized nation, or that people in the Czech Republic look at it in this way or vice versa. A “ghetto” is a definable recognizable thing in some instances, but the concept, essentially, is all in your head.
    “Dignity lies in the man, my prince, not in the towel.” — Thomas Becket to King Henry II in Jean Anouilh’s “Becket.”

  • bluefugue

    I’ve always had mixed feelings about the creation of a “Best Animated Films” category, because it formally ghettoizes cartoons. The tradeoff is that it allows animated movies a chance to be honored more visibly in their own right. But at what cost? I wonder if the high-water mark of Beauty and the Beast’s nomination will ever be matched, even though superior animated films have come and gone in the last 15 years.
    There have been some Best-Picture-worthy cartoons over the years (probably starting with Pinocchio), and only an aesthetic dimwit would insist that cartoons are by definition merely for children (though many happen to have turned out that way) or are innately incapable of rising to the highest ranks of film art.
    In short, what renorambler said.
    If Wall-E is as good as everyone says it is, I say Pixar should swing for the fences nomination-wise. The Incredibles certainly wouldn’t have been out of place as a 2004 Best Picture nominee.

  • bluefugue

    >but the people who work it need to invest in their own land, sing their own songs, beat their own drums, wave their own flag and stay the fuck out of Reality Nation.
    Filmmakers have been “staying out of Reality Nation” since Melies. I consider this an arbitrary distinction. Many of the greatest flights of fancy have been in live-action films, and conversely animated films are capable of great depth and emotional realism, honesty, etc.

  • Chris Willman

    The best picture is the best picture. I can’t believe you wrote this after your effusive praise for the movie, which it now turns out is qualified because it’s “only” an animated film. Jeff, you have never been more wrong in your life.

  • appleman

    Has anyone discovered Wall-E’s alternative reality website – http://www.buynlarge.com.
    Check out its privacy statement and tell me how Disney could ever be this cool in a million mouse years?

  • bmcintire

    Appleman – thanks for the link. Awesome website.

  • Richardson

    If they don’t want “Best Animated Feature” to be a marginalized category, viewed as significantly lesser than “Best Picture”, then why do they give it out in the middle of the ceremony, lumped in with “Best Animated Short”? The fact is, the entire ceremony builds to “Best Picture”, and “best Animated Feature” is just a quick stop along the way. They tend to give as much or more time to the winners of “Best Song”.

  • Richardson

    “By your logic in a few years we’ll have a Best Comedy at the Oscars.”
    Well, animation isn’t *really* a genre. It’s more like saying, “Hey, let’s face it, black and white movies look good, but only color movies can sufficiently capture reality, so we’ll make “Best Black & White Feature”, but it’s seperate-but-equal. And we’ll give it out during the technical awards, but it’s still not a marginilization in any way.”

  • http://reno-rambler.blogspot.com/ renorambler

    I’m simply stating that the “enormous high and an unfettered dignity” you speak of CAN occur in the animated realm and it should be acknowledged as such. If it’s the “Best Picture” it’s the BEST PICTURE, regardless. Technology is just a tool. I understand that putting the camera on real humans and making them “sing” does seem more real, organic, connected, whatever…but to not even allow for the possibility … that’s just sad. But, gosh, I’m a dumb rube apparently because I dare to disagree. Sheesh.
    Sidenote: this discussion begs the question: what if an animated film ever did get nominated and win BP is there a rule that by default it would also get the Animated BP?

  • http://rahoi.com Jon Rahoi

    BEST PICTURE = BEST PICTURE.
    How much of The Return of the king was, in fact, animated? 70%. How much of each Best picture nominee is manipulated thus?
    Every frame of every single movie is fretted over as much as any animation; every hair on Meryl Streep’s head; every pore on Nicholson’s face; every line is looped, sets chosen, lighted, streets cordoned off, many takes to get the right facial expression, then “we’ll fix it in post!”
    What’s the difference? Animation is simply another storytelling technique. Another way to get exactly what you want in every frame.
    The real reason is, if the academy opened it up to animation, Pixar would win very other year, because its stuff is golden compared to the rest of HWood.

  • Richardson

    “what if an animated film ever did get nominated and win BP”
    By that time, people will be more concerned with stopping porcine aviation and re-sparking the fires of Hell.

  • John Y

    The reason WALL-E won’t get nominated for Best Picture is because too many people in the Academy think like Wells. They think animation, wonderful as it may be, is still somehow a lesser form of filmmaking, a form of filmmaking not intended for serious adults.
    But animation isn’t a genre. It isn’t a category. It’s a tool, the same way costumes, sets, CGI, make up, music, shot composition, and editing are tools filmmakers used to serve a story.
    Certain stories demand a live-action approach, and certain ones demand an animated approach, but it’s not the mere choice of tool that determines the film’s quality. It’s how creatively those tools are used to achieve something special.
    And having said that, I’d rather watch all the Animated Oscar winners (Shrek, Spirited Away, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Wallace & Gromit, Happy Feet, Ratatouille) again than the Best Picture winners of the past 7 years. Collectively, the animated winners are a stronger group of films.

  • http://reno-rambler.blogspot.com/ renorambler

    “And having said that, I’d rather watch all the Animated Oscar winners (Shrek, Spirited Away, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Wallace & Gromit, Happy Feet, Ratatouille) again than the Best Picture winners of the past 7 years. Collectively, the animated winners are a stronger group of films.”
    I think this group of films you cite speaks volumes. I hadn’t thought about this list before but I think you are right as far as the comparison to the BP winners (in general). I’ll be surprised (even with the anti-animation sentiment that is rampant) if The Incredibles doesn’t show up on many critic lists of the best films of the past decade when we reach 2010. It’s a phenomenal film.

  • wildphantom

    Gotta disagree with you hear Jeff
    A film is a film. All films deserve to be judged side by side – no matter how they are made.
    I think we were inevitably going to reach this point where Pixar, clearly the most consistently brilliant filmmakers on the planet, were going to produce something that was unanswerable.
    They deserved a Best Picture nomination for Ratatouille last year, and although I’ve yet to see Wall-E it looks like its really got a shot at getting in the final five.
    I mean really, I haven’t read reviews like it since…errmm…their last movie.
    They are raising the bar for everyone else no matter whether live-action, hand-drawn or computer animated. If A Beautiful Frickin Mind can win Best Picture then you know what ever these idiots decide is irrelevant where Wall-E is concerned.
    Does Best Picture really matter that much anymore? Does anyone really look back at Shakespeare in Love or Crash and consider them masterpieces and the best films of their year, because they certainly won’t. Sometimes the Academy gets it right, but mostly those ad-campaigns and politics show the way.

  • Zac Bertschy

    Aside from featuring cute robots, I fail to see what’s really “populist” about WALL-E (aside from perhaps the film’s ultimate uplifting message). It is so single-minded in its artistic intent and seems to have no concern for what animated films traditionally concern themselves with, like they threw out the manual completely and just created a work of art.
    It’s a masterpiece but saying it’s like the empty-headed spectacles of Oscar-winning past is incorrect.

  • ed2ward

    “If A Beautiful Frickin Mind can win Best Picture then you know what ever these idiots decide is irrelevant where Wall-E is concerned.”
    A-Men.
    I’m not at all a fan of the separation of ‘Animated Feature’ and Feature, being of the school of thought that a film is a film is a film, but the Oscars utterly and completely lost me at the point they gave ‘A Beautiful Mind’ best picture. I initially realized how little respect I had for the ‘Oscar’ opinion in that season when I became conscious of the fact that it was the first year I could remember as a film fan where I thought that there was an actual case to be made for the nomination of four of the five best picture contenders.
    With the nominees consisting of Gosford Park, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, In the Bedroom, Moulin Rouge, and A Beautiful Mind you had four nominees that were very-good to excellent and one nominee that was completely dishonest, trite, by-the-numbers garbage.
    The one gawdawful nominee won the gold, and I haven’t paid much serious attention to the Oscars since.

  • ed2ward

    Also:
    “We all know there’s magic on the animation side of the fence, but the people who work it need to invest in their own land, sing their own songs, beat their own drums, wave their own flag and stay the fuck out of Reality Nation.”
    Really????
    Do you REALLY think that REALITY has ANY bearing on or is any component of the Oscar winning pictures?
    Really??????
    It strikes me that there is a lot more ‘reality’ (in the sense of human truths and perception of the world we actually live in) in work like Princess Mononoke and Ratatouille than there is in crap like Crash, Gladiator, or A Beautiful Mind.

  • JHRussell

    I beat the drum loudly last year for Ratatouille to make it to the Best Pic category, and having just seen the fantastic WALL-E this afternoon, I will beat the drum again this year.
    Great movie. Period. No qualifiers needed.

  • Legowombat

    I’m officially Sick of this before i’ve even seen it.
    The fact that that lousy rat movie was considered to have adult depth when it was full of generic stock characters, such as the fat comic relief sidekick; the token sassy love interest in a male dominated field to prove ‘girls can do anything!'; and the bumbling, clumsy, idiotic completely-unfunny partner in crime that we’re supposed to care about seeing succeed says more about the severe dearth of adult movies in the marketplace and our desperation to clutch at substance in the most intellectually puerile of works.

  • berg

    I just saw it a second time … there was a 10 am screening of Kit Kitteridge and after that I walked next door to where WALL-E had just started … I was just going to stay for a couple of reels but by the time the space ship takes off from Earth I decided to stick it out, it was worth it … although this time around I found myself thinking what a dork (wall-e cox?) he is and how cool under firet EVE is

  • http://www.antidisartsandent.blogspot.com K. Bowen

    Wall-E is a very good film, but the egregious praise being heaped on it is starting to make me vomit.