And so it goes. With the completion of Ferdinand and The Boss Baby, I have (finally!) watched all the nominees for Best Animated Feature Films this 2000s decade (I know, I’m proud of myself too. Who knows watching cartoons in your 30s can be this rewarding!?!). This gonna be a massive list as I’m going through every year down below, from best nominee to worst. Before I start, there are some of my general observation over the Oscar animated feature category and its nominees this decade:
- I’ve mentioned this before that the Feature Animated Category is my favorite category from the Oscars. It’s one of the few categories where the Academy members look beyond mainstream fares for more international/ art-house picks.
- Being said that, the list is still too mainstream for my taste. And while I usually agree with the nominations, the same can’t be said when it comes down to the actual winners. Their choices are usually too safe with Pixar and Disney dominating the race. It’s understandable, all things considered, given that the Animation branch votes for the nominees, and the entire board – many of them don’t care about Animation – votes for the winners.
- The “16 or more films submitted to secure 5 slot nominees” rule is really dumb. It only happened once this decade (2010), but as a person who watches a lot of animated films, I strongly feel that we could use these slots to recognize more animated features.
- GKIDS had done a very outstanding job to get those international titles noticed *a round of applause* – Netflix seems to be picking on that as well. That being said, usually these international / arthouse gems pick up their traction in Annecy Animation Fest or Animation in Film in the last few years. My point is that, if these indie films don’t play there (as in Anime or family-friendly cases), they tend to run under-the-radar and get ignored.
- The Animation branch seems to be picky on sequels and boy, I am glad for that.
- Finally, if you still complain that they still miss out on some great gems (they sure did), I need to point out the fact that the problem itself is on the submission list, which you can find here. You can’t blame their choices for being weak and uninspiring if there is a serious lack of choices to begin with. Many of the good stuff, most notably in early years (Arriety and It’s Such a Beautiful Day come to mind), didn’t bother to submit at all.
Scroll down to hear my thoughts on the nominations each year, and the state of the race in general. I’ll keep this post sticky and update the year gradually. After this post I will rank all the 2010s nominees in another mega-post. For now, let’s start with 2010.
If there were 5 nominees: Despicable Me, Tangled
Snubs: Summer Wars
The only year in this decade where there were only 3 films nominated. It might be clear looking back now that the missing slots if they went full five would be Tangled (which just received #1 Best Films of the Decade by Animatedview – a baffling choice) and the surprise cross-over hit Despicable Me, but I remember back in 2010 the reception for Tangled for awards consideration was quite muted.
One thing that I am really on board with the Japan Academy Film Prize for Animation of the Year (their Japanese equivalent of the Oscar Best Animated Feature) is that they recognize all the nominees as “Excellent Animation of the Year”, which means that it’s already a privilege just to get nominated. Hence for me the only downside to the 2010 race is the fact that only 3 films getting recognized, and the Oscar disqualified one film and that brings the list down to 15 submissions really hurt. But as far as the nominees go, the Academy members pick the most deserving ones. A good mix of critically acclaimed hits and an art-house film from a respectable director and they’re pretty close in terms of ranking, the second only to 2012.
1. Toy Story 3 (Oscar winner)
Now, looking back, Toy Story 3 signals the last great film in a golden era of Pixar with a string of install classics. This decade of Pixar had been… not great. Tons of sequels were green-lit and while it’s not necessarily a bad thing, Pixar’s ambition had been clearly lessened compared to the 2000s. This version of Toy Story undoubtedly plays on the strengths of its predecessors, it’s another adventure from a set of multi-dimensional characters that we all come to love for years, but it doing so without betraying the spirits of its first two films, and produces a fun, thrilling journey with nostalgic perspective and a lot of heart. New characters add up to the universe, while at the same times the main characters stay relevant. The third arc, in particular, when they are literally on the fringe of death, and at this final moment they hold hands is one of the most affecting moments of the year. The way Toy Story 3 wraps up itself also elevates the whole franchise to another level. Although I’m warming up to Toy Story 4 now, I still believe that Toy Story 3 ends this franchise in the best possible way. It’s a grown-up story for kids, or it’s a kid story for grown-ups, depending on how you look at it.
2. The Illusionist
In the world of indie animation, Sylvain Chomet is the name you should all pay attention for. He’s responsible for some of the most original and outstanding animated feature films that push the boundary of what animation can achieve. I consider his debut animated feature The Triplets of Belleville to be one of the best animated films out of the 21st century. With The Illusionist, I watched it way back when it first released, and as gorgeous and beautiful as the film was, the story was so sad that I was put off re-watching it ever since. The sadness, I understand, is essential to the story and The Illusionist is excellent in every respect. The film, I have to note, is based on an unproduced screenplay by a legendary comic Jacques Tati, as he wrote it as a personal letter to his eldest estranged daughter. Indeed, the fatherly bond is one of the main themes of this film. A down-on-his-luck magician who finds that the ever-changing era no longer has a place for him, and his willingness to spoil the young girl he adopted to make her happy, all spiral down towards the end. The animation is simply beautiful and there are some chuckles along the way, making it a surprisingly easy watch despite its sad tones. This is an animated film aimed at adults at its finest, and if you simply want to see what art-house animation can be capable of, look no further than this.
3. How to Train Your Dragon
To this day, How to Train Your Dragon remains one of the closest where Dreamworks films achieve the same level as Pixar’s works (throughout their career only Shrek and Kung Fu Panda reached that level), and it’s to no surprise when the director duo is the ones behind the endearing hit Lilo & Stitch. And their first installment remains their best. It has a set of likable characters, a solid and charming chemistry between Hiccup and Toothless, and some neat visual designs and stunning action set pieces that still manage to impress after 10 years. While some can argue that the film’s structure is predictable – and yes, it’s true, it’s a standard “zero-to-hero” story – its heart is in the right place and its sense of adventure springs through. So much of the relationship between Hiccup and Toothless is communicated without words, but it all pays off at the end. If I have to pick one animated franchise that best represents the mainstream animated scene this decade, that would definitely be HTTYD.
Snubs: The Adventures of Tintin, Arthur Christmas
2011 animated race was mostly remembered for The Adventures of Tintin’s omission and no real Disney/Pixar movies on the race, making it a wide open field. Well, there was Cars 2 but that film hardly counts, right? Many point out to the fact that Adventures of Tintin is motion-capture somehow affects its chance, but I don’t think that’s the case given the Academy did nominate Monster House years before. And I thought that they can’t resist a Spielberg’s film, though I reckon War Horses hurt this film’s chance. Arthur Christmas is also a solid family-friendly fare from Aardman, but since it isn’t in Aardman’s trademark styles (full CG instead of stop-motion) the Academy members have a good reason to pass over it.
As for the nominees, the list is a good mix between commercial studio films (2 from Dreamworks – 1 sequel, 1 spin-off), 2 GKIDS international indies – the first time where GKIDS secures two spots and GKIDS would go on to be one of the most reliable animated distributors and would be a regular in this category – Chico & Rita and A Cat in Paris and the winner, Rango, a refreshing take on Western and noir films. This marks the only one out of four times that I agree with the Academy for their winner pick this decade.
1. Rango (Oscar winner)
Who would Imagine that after making it big with Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, Gore Verbinski’s next project would be a Western animated film? In a nutshell, the story of Rango the chameleon is a typical “zero to hero” tale, but Rango makes the whole concept fresh again precisely because it knows all the tropes and acknowledges or flirts around these tropes. The fact that it has so damn fun with its own story, and the fact that they’re desert animals instead of humans all contribute to its refreshing screenplay and solid gags. Verbinski’s direction is solid and the animation (the first feature film from Lucas’s motion capture studio Industrial Light & Magic) is brilliantly animated, and most of all Johnny Depp’s voice performance makes the whole film so much funnier and wittier. Rango is a film made by someone who loves the medium dearly and the more we watch it, the more we clearly see that love pouring into every little detail.
2. Chico & Rita
Jazz and romance are main elements in this dazzling and sensual tale of two lovers in Havana, Cuba in the 1940s. While the title refers to the main duo and their love that spans for decades, the film’s strongest component lies how it brings the lush backgrounds of Havana and New York to life. The soundtrack certainly enhances the unique atmosphere, and the art in general is a delight. It’s the storytelling department that doesn’t fare as well. The plot does take some contrived turns (Chico’s agent), and the montage ending doesn’t land well emotionally for me. By saying that though, both Chico and Rita are interesting characters to follow, and their sparks together, especially during the beginning, successfully put a lot of emotional weight that is necessary during later arcs. Still, the lackluster in narrative doesn’t take much away from the main strengths of Chico & Rita. Out of every film nominated for Oscar this decade, it’s one that has the strongest feel of its settings. When I think of the film I can picture Rita dancing in the jazz-filled music in that Havana setback. It’s the lavish lives of the yesteryear that are perfectly captured on-screen.
3. A Cat in Paris
A Cat in Paris, along with My Life as a Zucchini, is amongst the shortest nominees of this 2010s decade, clocking in just 65 minutes. I heard a lot of backlash regarding its placement in the nomination this year, especially the way it beat out Tintin and Arthur Christmas. I kind of see the reason, given that A Cat in Paris feels too artsy and out of left field than what Oscar usually goes for but is it good enough to warrant a slot here? Yep, I strongly feel so. For once, A Cat in Paris’s art is simply gorgeous. It takes inspiration from the European classical paintings, and it adds up to the familiar story with a fun heist/ noir twist. A Cat in Paris relies on visual-storytelling and it does magnificently without saying any line of dialogue (like the blackout sequence at the final chase, full of inventive tricks). That’s important because when the film does say some dialogues, they’re often full of cliche and exposition. The girl’s mother is the worst offender. Another great point for A Cat in Paris is the magnificent backdrops of Paris. It has so much identity that it becomes a character itself.
4. Puss in Boots
I think I’m not alone to say this but Puss stole all his scenes back in his Shrek appearance, but is that enough to secure him a whole feature-length film? Hmmm, more or less. He’s such a fascinating character, voiced perfectly by Antonia Banderas, and he has many killer lines and expressions, so yeah in terms of giving spotlight to this character, Puss in Boots does a decent job. The story keeps up with the fairy-tale settings established in the Shrek franchise, but it’s also where the film falls off a bit. This is a film that I watched quite a few times since its release (can’t resist the Feline it seems) and whenever the second act hits I always have the feeling that the plot could’ve been tighter and strengthened. The twist feels weak for me, especially on how inconsistency the main villain is. Puss is still charismatic enough to carry the weight, and the film remains witty and entertainment all the way through.
5. Kung Fu Panda 2
This second installment of the Kung Fu Panda franchise serves as a landmark for Dreamworks Animation studio in many ways. It’s the first DreamWorks film on which Guillermo del Toro served as executive producer and the first feature from any main studio with a sole female director (Jennifer Yuh Nelson). It did well in box offices and became one of the most grossing non-Shrek films for DreamWorks. Kung Fu Panda 2 offers exactly what the audience would expect, for better or for worse. On the flip side, the film is fun to watch, it’s visually pleasing especially the kung fu fights, and it offers some of the most recognizable voice-acting in full force. In addition, it does attempt to be a little darker than the predecessor with Po’s childhood flashback in which it implements hand-drawn style quite fittingly. The villain is much different from the first one, being the one who relies on weapons instead of having overpowered skills. On the negative side, the fact that it offers exactly what we want does mean that it never really surpasses our expectation, and it’s satisfied just to be a lesser original sequel . The world-building doesn’t feel as fresh this second time around, and sometimes it relies too much on gags and one-off jokes and overall familiarity is hard to shake. While it’s placed as the bottom I’m still happy with its inclusion here.
Snubs: The Painting, Hotel Transylvania
2012, more than any other year, is the most competitive race as there were no clear front runners and each of the nominees had a pretty good case for the gold statue. Even with Band of Misfits, the lowest-profile nominee, has a strong backing from critics. That makes Brave winning all the more underwhelming given it is actually my least favorite out of the pack, and certainly my least favorite Pixar originals. Out of other submitted films, only Hotel Transylvania and Rise of the Guardians have some sort of chance of getting in, and The Painting is too low-profile to be considered. In terms of styles, this year is the only instance where 3 stop motion films are nominated, something that never happened before or since.
1. Wreck-it Ralph
While Brave signals the first misstep from the household Pixar, Wreck-it Ralph for me is the film that proves Disney studio was heading on the right track. It’s an original, full of video game references, and ultimately a smart film that welcomes young audiences to its rich world and offers nostalgic feelings for adults as well. Centre around the imaginative world is the set of characters worth caring about, and the gradual relationship between Ralph and Vanellope is overall solid. The rich settings inside the world of arcade games allow multiple characters (some of them are really famous) with different art designs blend in together (and in one hilarious sequence transform from 32-bit to 8-bit), and it’s such an eye candy to look at. While it doesn’t reach the height of Pixar yet, it comes pretty close – with a colorful setting, a layered story, characters worth following and a top-notch production? What’s more would you ask for?
2012 is the year of stop-motion animation. It’s also a year of goofy “scary” animation aimed at kids (you can add Hotel Transylvania in there too), and that distinction owned a lot from the success of ParaNorman, Laika’s second project after Coraline in 2009. You can say ParaNorman is the crowning achievement of what Gothic-inspired stop-motion animated film has to offer to the mainstream. Not only the script is much tighter than Frankenweenie, it has many memorable characters and it was an entertaining ride from start to finish. ParaNorman introduces a well-worn concept (zombie rises from the dead), and then takes an original spin on it with a light-heart take on the issues of self-acceptance and a loving throwback to ‘80s cinema (think of Stranger Things). And then the technical aspect is incredible, especially the lighting that conveys its spooky mood successfully. ParaNorman is a hit that is both entertainment, smart and very well-made. It’s a proud follow up to the magnificent Coraline.
Frankenweenie is Tim Burton’s pet project (pun very much intended). It was the first project he worked as a full-fledged director, and now he revisits it again in animated form. That is to say the film has a level of emotional attachment that has been lacking in Burton’s recent live-action works. The production aspect of the film is simply gorgeous. It is stylishly shot in black and white, the animation is crisp and the character designs are a delight, especially towards the titular dog. There’s also an homage to many classic horror stories, making it even more fun to watch. What Frankenweenie suffers, like many of Burton’s projects, lies in the predictable story that embraces many Hollywood cliches. The entire story plays out pretty safe, and at any point you can be able to guess what comes next. As Burton’s magic lessens its effect in the last decade or so, Frankenweenie remains one of the few of his that is inspiring and heartfelt and reminds us that Burton still has a lot left to offer.
4. Pirates! Band of Misfits
When you watch an Aardman feature, you expect a witty, charming and a bit silly touch and Pirates more than meets all these qualities, and then some. The film features a cast of oddball but charming individuals as they engage from one silly misadventure to the next. Some might regard this film as Aardman’s minor work but for me if I have to pick a film that represents all I love about this British studio, without the obvious Shaun the Sheep in this decade, it would be this one. The film knows full well not to take our characters too seriously, and there are many moments where it undercuts its sad moments with something inappropriate for laugh, but never at the expense of the likability of our characters. This type of committed silliness is such a treasure to today’s animation scene.
5. Brave (Oscar Winner)
Brave is, seen today, a fascinating case and an odd duck among Pixar’s collection. Many would argue that this film is a first crack of the untouchable status of Pixar, and its troubled production (the would-be first Pixar woman director Brenda Chapman got replaced early in the production) still baffles fans even today. It’s Pixar’s first attempt at Disney princess, and the first film (later followed by Inside Out, Finding Dory and Incredibles 2) that feature a female protagonist. The reason I mention these is because Brave is designed as Pixar’s feminist statement in the form Merinda who is not a typically Disney princess – and its eventually fall-down corresponds to the quality of the film itself. After an impressive first act, the film feels like multiple movies at once as it isn’t sure what kind of film it wants to be. The central relationship between Merida and her mother is easily the film’s strongest aspect, but I find the supporting cast lacking. The overall message of Brave is a good one, but not a very deep one. Brave ends up to be a run-on-the-mill Pixar film.
Snubs: Monster University
There were only two years in this last decade that I consider a big letdown. 2013 is one of them (though it isn’t the worst). To this year’s defense, the list is quite diverse with 3 blockbusters, an anime and a French family-friendly film. Frozen, in particular, has become one of the best selling films of the decade. It’s the other two CG franchises, Despicable Me 2 and The Croods, that tank the list for me. In truth, I’m kind of okay to see Despicable Me 2 here, seeing how they passed off the original one. The Croods is one of the last straws for me that I eventually burnt out of Dreamworks for good. Look at the submission list, aside from Monster University (which I’m glad that it didn’t make it), there’s not much else that could threaten the top 5 nominees. Just a fancy way to say this year sucks.
1. The Wind Rises
It’s an interesting choice for Hayazaki to pick this story as his final feature (well, up to that point anyway). It certainly makes sense as Hayazaki is well-known for his love of airplanes, and here it’s all about airplanes. At the same time, of all of Hayazaki’s works, this is his most “serious”, as well as his most personal. Never before he attempted to do a biopic, or to depict something that grounded in reality like this, and this might be the only time where we see where many of his long career inspirations come from. The Wind Rises feels epic in every sense. It’s about the (heavily fictionalized) life of Jiro, an aeroplane engineer for Japan during WWII, it also covers many key historical events in Japan at the time like the Kanto earthquakes and moreover it’s about the way Jiro perceives his job and his aeroplane designs: as a work of art and passions rather than as a weapon. To Miyazaki, these planes carry with them the human soul, because they embody human dreams. While the story meanders and sentimental at times, The Wind Rises is his most morally complex, challenging and certainly his view is not for everyone. But it further proves how he still has a lot to say after all these years. When I watch a Miyazaki film, I always appreciate life and its beauty a little bit more.
2. Frozen (Oscar winner)
Although the early years of this decade found Disney picking up steams from its renaissance era (the 90s), in 2013 Disney made a big splash to the world with Frozen – a musical fairytale with a slight subversion of Disney’s own template. It has gained a fair share of supporters and detractors over the years. I sit comfortably in the middle ground for this one, and even me appreciate it for several reasons. It focuses on two strong, independent female protagonists. Its icy winter-y setting is highly detailed and the moment the tune “Let It Go” begins it still feels magical. The plot is rather straightforward, but that is actually a strength here. It focuses on giving the two princesses convincing personalities and doesn’t complicate the narrative unnecessarily, yet still managing to surprise me with some of the choices it makes. Frozen is at its strongest when it tackles the relationship between Elsa and Anna. Yes, this is a love story, but it’s a story of the love between the sisters that makes Frozen more special. While the supporting cast leaves a lot to be desired – namely Olaf as a comic-relief character is a bit hit and miss and the villain is unremarkable, Frozen stands tall as the most successful Disney title of the last decade.
3. Ernest & Celestine
Ernest & Celestine is a children animated film done right with so much love and care put into it. It’s a testament that a simple, traditional plot with simple, traditional execution can still be refreshing and inventive and heartfelt and charming. Basically everything in this film works in harmony and compliments each other. Based on a children’s book, Ernest & Celestine employs its watercolor visual, making the whole flick look soft and appealing and pleasing to the eyes. The animation is smooth and expressive, so are the characters’ small movements and facial expressions. But the charms here lie in how the film depicts a lighthearted but strong social-commentary world (of two opposing species at war), and introduces two lovable main leads and their bond is the heart and soul of the film. Ernest & Celestine is an utter delight. Ernest & Celestine’s message is simple, but it doesn’t hammer it home, instead it lets the story carries across.
4. Despicable Me 2
The only reason this sequel is in here is because they passed the first (also the better one) in 2010. At the point the franchise was a big hit, thanks in large part to the minions. This sequel contains the same cast, albeit some in much lesser roles (the kids). It has its own charm, as I like the Gru’s love interest, voiced magnificently by Kirsten Wiig, and the charms are still there. But at the same time Despicable Me 2 is not as fresh as the first one, and the kids have much limited roles, which hurts the film. In addition, the villain isn’t that interesting. Even its attempt at humour feels forced at times, the storyline follows a generic route and overall it’s a shallow but still fun ride with Gru and the minions.
5. The Croods
The Croods for me holds the distinction of being the second last Dreamworks show that I would watch unbiased, after Turbo I just feel I watched enough Dreamworks films in my lifetime. To be completely fair, The Croods isn’t a bad film, which makes it even more frustrating. It feels for me as if the studio just tries to write the safest story possible, the kind of story that you can immediately tell what their intention is when they are on the screen. Take the first act of the Croods, we will of course have the fantastic introduction (staged as a wild adventure) of the whole family hunting animals for food, and then someone comes into the picture and gives some fresh perspective. The underlying message of accepting your daughter the way she is isn’t bad per se, it’s just so conventional and full of tired tropes. Again, I can tell a dozen of other animated films that are worse than this at the top of my head, but what I am frustrated about is that it can become so much better, instead it treads the beaten path and becomes mild and harmless.
Snubs: The Lego Movie, The Book of Life
Imagine how The Lego Movie was released back in February that year by the excellent comedy duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, it smashed the box office and became a front runner for winning the race all year long, and then… it was left out in a nomination race. This was without a doubt THE most head-scratching decision for this category this decade, and to put fuel into this fire they could’ve picked the wonderful swan song Princess Kaguya as the winner, but instead they made a lazy choice with the underwhelming Big Hero 6. The rest of the field is fine with three worthy nominees Song of the Sea, HTTYD 2 and Boxtrolls. In fact, this is one of the most diverse sets of nominees in its history (2 mainstream studios, a stop-motion, a hand-drawn and an anime film by three of the most prominent independent animation studios this last decade). But yeah, they just picked the wrong winner.
1. The Tale of Princess Kaguya
Designed as a double bill with The Wind Rises, Tale of Princess Kaguya turns out to be the true swan song of Isao Takahata, who I actually more appreciate over the great Miyazaki. Unlike Miyazaki, he himself didn’t draw – he was more of a visionary and throughout his career I can argue that he was more versatile in styles and content compared to Miyazaki. The Tale of Princess Kaguya once again is simple but profound, it has boundless visual beauty that is both breathtaking and elegantly portrayed. The Tale of Princess Kaguya blends line-drawings and watercolours seamlessly, making it one of the most visually poetic animated films this decade has to offer. But his attention is not only to the art, but to the movements as well. Just look how expressive and detailed in the scene where the young Kaguya plays with her parents. Those moments right there are such a treasure that I hold it very dearly even after all this time. The story itself about a young girl who can’t find the freedom and happiness all her life is emotionally affecting and honest, if a bit overlong. In this day and age where mainstream animation is dominant by CGI features, this film proves that hand-drawn animation can still be magical and appealing. The Tale of Princess Kaguya is truly a work of art.
2. Song of the Sea
Song of the Sea is one rare family-oriented film that captures my heart, makes me tear up while still remaining as visually arresting as ever. It’s a film that is based on Irish folklore, and everything it touches is magical. The hand-drawn, watercolor animation truly makes for poetic visuals that perfectly capture the wonder of an Irish folklore about selkies. The entire story evokes a childlike sense of wonder and amazement that makes it appealing to kids, but never shy away from its mature familial emotion core. It weaves myth and folk into the fabric of reality in a seamless way, and the settings are detailed and lived-in. More than anything, Song of The Sea is a story about family and love. The mythical elements in the movie provide a framework for Moore to develop a heartwarming story about the bond between a brother and a sister. Song of the Sea is such a treasure.
3. How to Train Your Dragon 2
HTTYD 2 is a one rare Dreamworks sequel that done right. It expands its world in a more epic direction, the emotional impact is grander and it still offers thrills and excitement from start to finish. Although the friendship between Hiccup and Toothless remains a crucial element, the film is bigger, bolder and darker. The film introduces some significant new characters, and at heart it’s the story that tests the friendship of Hiccup and Toothless, and provides challenging hurdles for Hiccup to overcome and grow. The technical aspect remains up to par, especially the flying sequences that are the feast to the eyes. While this sequel is not as groundbreaking as the original, it still stands proud as a worthy follow up to it.
4. The Boxtrolls
The Boxtrolls is impressive on the visual side but it falters in the storytelling department. While the Laika stop-motion charms are certainly there, and its first arc when The Boxtrolls introduces its claymated world is detailed and remarkable, The Boxtrolls is the least critical-success effort of studio Laika so far. It’s no less enjoyable or entertaining and promises a good time but unlike Laika’s others, is certainly not a memorable story. I appreciate the way The Boxtrolls keeps its tone light despite touching a lot of darker themes, but overall the humor remains a mixed bag for me. Sometimes it works wonders, sometimes it’s just too silly and doesn’t land very well. The characters in particular are not that flesh out and in turns are not that interesting. The plot tries to tell a story about a boy finding both himself and his community, and where the longer format of the novel can tackle both of these emotional developments, the film jumps too erratically between them that it unfortunately doesn’t make an impact it aims for. Overall, The Boxtrolls’ creativity of its visualization is never quite matched by its storytelling, but there’s enough of a plot for it to remain entertaining.
5. Big Hero 6 (Oscar winner)
This might just be my hot take but I found Big Hero 6 utterly forgettable. It’s like the inferior version of Spiderman into the Spider-verse. It’s not like Big Hero 6 is a total failure since I really enjoy the settings that mix seamlessly between Tokyo and San Francisco. It brings out unique elements of both cities and the chemistry between the lead boy and his robot is solid. But the film structure is conventional and predictable. I can tell ahead every narrative beats, and it doesn’t help that the supporting cast isn’t all that memorable. Its Oscar win is the biggest letdown for me in the last 10 years. An uninspiring choice.
Snubs: The Good Dinosaur, The Prophet
I did wonder why the wonderful The Little Prince got ignored by the Academy. It’s usually the kind of film that they love to sing their praise. But the whole controversy over its US distribution – which had nothing to do with the film’s quality itself – hurt its chance and it was released in The States in 2016 instead. It’s just a matter of fate I believe, given if it was released back in 2015 I could see it making its way to the final 5. As for the nomination, this year tops any other year in term of diversity (a household studio film Inside Out, a stop-motion art-house Anomalisa, a hand-drawn art-house from Brazil called The Boy and the World, a family-friendly stop-motion from the always reliable Aardman Shaun the Sheep Movie, and the last Ghibli anime film When Marnie Was There) and the only year where there are 2 dialogue-free features. Great list all along.
From the unpredictable mind of Charlie Kaufman, who for me is easily one of the best screenwriters active today, it’s interesting to note that the animated film Anomalisa is his most realistic and hard-hitting work. While in live-action films his screenplay often employs absurdist or fantastical elements, the narrative in Anomalisa is decidedly restraint after you look past its premise: a man who sees everyone with the same face and voice falling in love with a girl whose voice and face he perceives differently. It’s such a fascinating character study since during the whole film, except for the very last sequence, we are in the main character’s point of view and experience the same things he does. I can understand why others see this as one of “the most humane films of the year”. It provides a rather unpleasant point of view of a damaged, lonely individual who seeks to break the empty facade of his everyday life. It has the sex scene that feels more real than most live-action films and moreover it’s achingly sad, raw, real and powerful.
Lisa’s singing “Girls just want to have fun” remains such an irony.
2. Inside Out (Oscar winner)
For me, Pixar stumbles this decade, but Inside Out is the closest they get to their golden era of the last decade. Inside Out has such a rich, multi-layered, and most of all, fun world that I won’t mind spending more time exploring it. For a film that is literally about emotions, it’s great to see that not only they nail those emotions right, they infuse the right conflicts and emotional response to its journey. Add to that the visual presentation is top-notch, and I love the fact that it collaborates with other styles as well during its dream sequences. It’s the film that succeeds on many levels: a rich story with depth and heart that manages to engage us and inspire us. Inside Out is undoubtedly Pixar’s crowning achievement in this decade.
3. The Boy and the World
Out of all the films that have been nominated for this category since its inception, for me The Boy and the World is the most “abnormal” nominee out there. While the film has a boy as its central character and retains his innocent point of view, the film is without any doubt for mature audiences and its style gets more and more experimental as the film goes on. It’s also a Latin-American product, quite a rarity for this category and I praise GKIDS for successfully putting the film to the Academy’s radar. Putting all this aside, is it great enough to warrant a slot in here? Yes, definitely. For one, it’s original. The art-style is a feast to the eyes and an explosion of vibrant colors. The film implements many interesting techniques such as collages, watercolor paintings and drawings with crayon. The sound is distinctive with the flute and the music that evoke such singular settings and guide our emotions since the film doesn’t have any real dialogue. The Boy and the World tells the story of a boy who goes on a journey to find his father and later tackles many serious themes of consumerism, poverty and industrialization. It’s an ambitious little film and I am glad that the Academy recognizes it.
4. Shaun the Sheep the Movie
It pains me to put Shaun the Sheep Movie down at #4 since I really, really enjoy the film. Shaun the Sheep the series remains one of the purest joys I watch on TV, there’s so much charms in it where people of all ages can just tune in and enjoy. Shaun the Sheep the movie is like an extended episode of its regular show, but all of its best qualities are there. The absence of dialogue works for the film’s benefit, for example. It elevates the storytelling style to another level as they have to find a way to show the story through characters’ expressions and behavior. The comedy is perfectly timed, the story is enjoyable and surprisingly heartfelt, and the characters are all adorable. Here in Shaun the Sheep, simplicity is the key but everything else, the humor, the love, the expert craft making shine through every minute of it.
5. When Marnie Was There
By putting it last, by no mean I disregard When Marnie Was There as terrible. It’s just that as the swan song to Ghibli’s impressive canon I can’t help but feel a bit underwhelming, especially right after their two-punch masterpieces last year. When Marnie Was There is a tender tale about learning to accept your own self by exploring the gradual friendship of the two main characters. It’s low-key, perhaps too low-key that although it’s affecting and resonating in many moments, it doesn’t really quite hold everything together. For a Ghibli standard, the story is undoubtedly at the studio’s most melodramatic, and while I don’t necessarily think it works for the film’s benefit, it serves as a bittersweet end to one of the best animated studios around in the last 30 years. When Marnie Was There remains one of Ghibli’s “lesser” films, but even then it’s still a required viewing. Its slow-burn nature also means that it can gradually grab your heart upon repeated viewings.
Snubs: The Little Prince, Your Name
Ho boy, 2016 sure is a solid year for animation. I think it can rival 2009 as one of the best years in recent memories. What makes it feel great, in addition, is how the Academy picks all the good stuff. I consider Zootopia as my least favorite out of this pack and I already have a lot of love and respect for that film. Others might want to put Your Name in here, but I’m not too wild on the film so I’m good with its exclusion. 2016 is without a doubt the best Oscar year for animation of the decade.
1. The Red Turtle
The Red Turtle, with its simple hand-drawn techniques, already feels like a timeless production, and the film is even more significant given the fact that this is co-produced by the beloved Ghibli, now on its semi-hiatus phase. While this film bears little resemblance to Ghibli’s original outputs, this is clearly a production of both the director Dudok De Witt and Ghibli; in a sense that The Red Turtle would not exist without those two. For a full length feature film with no actual dialogue, it’s a feat that the movie maintains the attention to the very end. Indeed, trying to explain the plot of a film, or trying to recapture it in words, is already a disservice to the film. The Red Turtle is a film in its purest form, a visual storytelling that will lost its impact if it gets portrayed in any other forms. And without any dialogue doesn’t mean this is a silent movie. The sound of the movie, that include both natural sound and the score, is one of its greatest achievement. The sound helps assist us to follow every steps the main character takes, really put us in his shoes as we follow him around. With so much effort put on this picture, it’s more astonishing to realize that the film had achieved something so difficult to attain: simplicity.
2. Kubo and the Two Strings
I came to Kubo with unfairly high expectations considering Laika’s track records, and yet I am still floored by how well-produced and how great the writing and characters are. First, Kubo blends seamlessly between stop-motion and CG animation and the results are breathtaking. Just look at how these folds of papers shift their shapes and come to life. Second, the themes are dark for mainstream taste but they are never overwhelming and finally, the characters are a delight. The dialogues are surprisingly good, boasted by some super strong voice performances by the entire cast and the main cast share some genuine bonds together, something that is difficult to achieve. The rich world building is another highlight, and the film’s pacing is well-executed. Not only it’s a thrilling watch from start to finish, it has some raw emotional core, it has nice chemistry from their cast and it executes everything perfectly. With only 4 features, Laika proves itself as a formidable studio and Kubo remains one of its very best.
I know that both Frozen and Tangled have their dedicated fans, but for me it’s Moana that is a definitive Disney-princess movie of this decade, and if Disney keeps going in this direction I am excited for what comes next. But let me be clear that I’m not much of a fan of the Disney Renaissance. The songs and visuals are good but the story often gets pale in repeated viewings. All that is to say that Moana is on another level entirely. It is well-written, matched up with catchy tunes and gorgeous visuals. Just look how they animate the water, for example, it’s something to behold. Moana herself is a pretty great lead. She’s strong, independent and she doesn’t pursue any love interest (the fact that Maui meta-comments her as princess did throw me off, though). While her dad’s character is a bit tropey (The Croods is just about that, for example) and the resolution is still a bit convenient, Moana’s journey is always exciting, the backgrounds are lush and the villains are memorable. Maui and Moana’s dialogues are solid as well. All in all, Moana is fantastic with a beautiful story, stunning animation, and memorable music.
4. My Life as a Zucchini
Clocking at just 70 minutes (one of the shortest entries, along with A Cat in Paris), My Life as a Zucchini is the kind of film that the kids can enjoy but there’s a level for adults to appreciate as well. Though not as dark as the book, it’s a story from a kid’s point of view that has a very adult concept and tough subject matter. The best thing about the film, I have to say, lies in its sensitive writing. Within the first 10 minutes, the film successfully establishes a solid ground of all the mishaps, all the sadness these children have gone through. Upon making this feature, the director Claude Barras insisted that he took extra attention to the eyes of the characters, and it shows in the movie, as the characters have big, expressive eyes. The bittersweet moments are all well-earned, and it’s a feat to tell a sad, dark story without being too cynical or depressing. The film actually suggests the opposite, that unfortunate things happen everywhere, but learning to bounce back and stand up from those mishaps is something worth treasuring for.
5. Zootopia (Oscar winner)
Putting Zootopia at the bottom of this list isn’t by any means Zootopia doesn’t deserve to be nominated. In fact, I don’t even mind that it wins the race. Zootopia is a blockbuster done right as it has a well-realized world where predators and preys living together. In that aspect it deals the same issues as Beastars but these two are different enough to stand on their own. I don’t even mind many “issues” others have for the film. It’s true that Zootopia uses some familiar tropes, such as “rookie makes it big” plot or her fallout with the fox, I like the way they make it quick. If you have to use the same old narrative beats, better don’t spend much time on it and use that time instead to flesh out the world. And that’s what Zootopia achieved. It also has something to say about the racial issues and I enjoy the way the film approaches it, not too bashing our head with “racist is bad”, but makes it thoughtful and engaging enough. It’s such an embarrassment of richness that it ends up at the bottom of this list.
Snubs: The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales, In This Corner of the World, A Silent Voice, Mary and the Witch’s Flower, Birdboy, Cinderella the Cat (well, the list could go on and on honestly)
Following up on one of the best years that was 2016, it feels inevitable that 2017 poses to be a disappointment. But truly, how truly letdown the final nominations are. They passed up on a lot of worthy options here, most notably The Big Bad Fox and In This Corner of the World/ A Silent Voice (guys, if there is an opportunity to recognize an anime other than Studio Ghibli’s, THIS WAS IT) for what? A tame Ferdinand and a lame Boss Baby. Yep, Boss Baby is the worst nomination of this decade, and yes, it still hurts. 2 thumbs down.
1. Coco (Oscar Winner)
“The Day of the Dead” is such a landmark cultural festival that inspires countless takes in popular culture that I am not at all surprised when Pixar announced that they’d have their own version of the festival. The whole journey of the young Miguel as he literally goes through life and death is fantastic from start to finish. Not only Coco pays special tribute to Mexican cultures, it features many strong, independent characters that bounce off each others nicely. The plot progresses neatly, and unpredictably (the only part that I found a bit too convenient is where one of the souls fades away). In a year where the Oscar Animated race hit a new low, Coco remains a solid choice as the winner.
2. The Breadwinner
The Breadwinner saves its well-nature but contrived storytelling by the sheer power in animation production. They nail it with the visual: the backgrounds get you right into the heart of this Afghan conflict, the characters are always expressive, especially in their big eyes. The story within a story in particular stands out as it uses vividly cut-out animation art style that contrast very well with its more traditional style. While in terms of flat-out gorgeous visuality and wild visual experimentation, The Breadwinner can’t compare with its earlier works, it’s the comparison I happily put aside since it aims for a much more difficult subject matter. While I have complaints with the male cast, the female cast does a wonderful job to show us what it feels like to be victims of their time, and somehow enforce the girls’ strong will to stand up for themselves and do what they like in the name of Parvana and her friend Shauzia. In the end, though the story itself can be inconsistent and heavy-handed at times, the fact that it’s willing to tackle a difficult and dark subject matter for a family-friendly audience, plus its pleasing animating visuals make it a better recommendation than your regular animated fare.
3. Loving Vincent
Loving Vincent pushes the boundary of what the animation medium can achieve. Technically, the film is a feast in itself as every frame is literally a painting, with the style resembling very closely to Vincent’s works. 65,000 oil paintings make up the entire movie, its ambition alone is already an attractive sell, and the end product is such a pleasure to look at. Sadly, the narrative doesn’t match the visual greatness, as it struggles to find a plot to display Vincent’s struggling personal life. The narrative is confusing as well, and at the end I feel like I know little from the subject matter. It is caused by the way the film approaches the narrative, as we have the protagonist who knows little about Vincent and wants to find out more about his suicide. At the end of it we don’t know more than what we already knew, and worse the lead character in question isn’t developed that well. For its technical achievement alone though, Loving Vincent is still a worthy title to check out.
Ferdinand has its heart in the right place, but it does so by walking through a road well-traveled before. Everyone loves an underdog, and here Ferdinand in every sense is one. Not only he fights the battle that he can’t win, but he also fights hard to just be who he is and not who he is supposed to be. Yeah, the message is pretty clear here, but the way Ferdinand’s utmost attention to please the mass by applying all the popular formulas is such a disheartening sign. It puts numerous musical segments where they don’t belong there as the tone is much different from the rest. It features characters that function in the service of the plot (the matador) instead of fleshing them out. Even Ferdinand’s host family feels under-developed by the end’s stretch. The whole film as a result feels conventional but there’s still charms and hearts that you can find while watching it.
5. The Boss Baby
Yep, after watching the Boss Baby (which is also the last Oscar nominated animated film I watched), it’s rightfully down there as the worst Oscar nominee of the decade. I did enjoy it more than I thought though. There are a couple moments where its jokes land in a genuinely refreshing way, like the opening sequence as the babies are being sort through like products. The underlying message of brotherly bond has some substance. In addition, Alec Baldwin is as flashy and perfectly voicing the role of the titular character. But for every genuine moment it undercuts itself by fart jokes, lame pop-cultures references, and the overall plot that has ideas but is half-baked. The Boss Baby’s motivation feels forced, for example, hence the villain doesn’t do much for me. For a DreamWorks feature I can say I enjoy it more than most of its titles, but that alone isn’t enough to for a slot here in the race.
Snubs: Night is Short, Walk on Girl, Ruben Brandt: Collector, Early Man
Well, the final nomination list isn’t that surprising, except maybe Mirai (deservingly) grabs the last spot. After 17 years since its inception, the Academy FINALLY recognized an anime that isn’t from Ghibli. Mamoru Hosoda is a high-prolific director and it’s time he gets his due, but by saying that it’s a tad bit disappointing that Masaaki Yuasa’s (which I can argue is even more famed than Hosoda) work couldn’t make it. Other than that, it makes the first time that 2 sequels made the final list – a trend that continues in 2019. Spider-man into the Spider-verse finally broke Disney/ Pixar’s winning streak, and stands proudly as one of the best animations in recent years.
1. Spiderman Into the Spider-verse (Oscar Winner)
Forget the Spider-man franchises and reboots, even forget about all the Marvel films, Into the Spider-verse proudly stands as one of the most successful Marvel-universe adaptations so far. The trick here is simple, it commits itself fully into the world, the characters, making the whole journey fun to watch from start to finish and has some character dramatic chops that sure leaves a deeper impact on viewers. There’s this sense of creativity and love run through every vein of the film. The visual is eye-popping, the plot is original but most of all our central character Miles is a full-fledged multi-dimensional lead that is worth spending time for. It is original in a way it reinvents and enriches the beaten path of portraying superheroes’s “origin” story.
2. Isle of Dogs
Wes Anderson is one of my absolute favorite directors (a statement I don’t take lightly), especially when he steps out of his comfort zone and is willing to portrait his original worlds in other animated mediums. Comes Isle of Dogs, a film that is unmistakably his, albeit one of his middle-range ones. Throughout his career he has a strange fascination for dogs, so it makes sense that this one is about dogs (who speaks English) and his saturated version of Japan who banishes dogs. What can I say more as a fan of his works? The film is very well-made, especially when it comes to set designs, character designs, and the animation. The plot is whimsical, has its elements of surprises and it has addictive dialogues that are witty and deadpan. For me if I had to fault the film, I’d say the third arc is a bit weak compared to the rest of the film, but this film is unmistakably a Wes Anderson film with all of his sensibilities and charms and for that I treasure the film with all my heart.
Watching Mirai, there are two observations that spring right up to my mind: Mirai is Hosoda’s most grounded, personal film and it plays out completely different from what I expected based from the promotional materials. My feeling is confirmed when I later learned that Hosoda based the concept from watching his own children’s react, and that his daughter is indeed named Mirai. The film centres around the 3 to 4-year-old Kun and details how he cope with the appearance of his younger sister, Mirai. While the PVs play as if this is an escapist adventure in the vein of Peter Pan between Kun and Mirai the teenage version, Mirai is instead an episodic film where Kun meets various family members in different timelines and come to learn some “life” lessons. Its more realistic setting and its small-scale family drama are a stark different from his more fantastical (and messy) previous works, but it should relate well with kids and moreover with parents who have experienced these before. To put it better, Mirai is a perfect family-oriented feature that respect the child’s point of view with all the mature sentiments behind it.
4. Incredibles 2
Incredibles 2 has a HUGE wall to overcome. I consider The Incredibles to be one of Pixar’s very best, so it’s natural to anticipate this one with sky-high expectation. The sequel finds a pretty interesting angle to expand its story. It focuses on the female figures in this second outing, and for me it mostly succeeds on that. Elasticgirl is a great character, and to find Mr. Incredible stuck in supporting household roles is a treat to watch. But the third arc kinda disregards this development for an underwhelming twist, again taking too much concentration on feminism that it feels calculated rather than naturally flowing. Although with all these issues, Incredibles 2 is still a joy to watch from start to finish, with likable characters and a natural bond from the cast that makes it both a family-friendly feature and a thriller that grabs your attention throughout.
5. Ralph Breaks the Internet
With the first one wrapped up so neatly, Ralph 2 is one of those cases where you question if the sequel is needed at all and will it add up to the whole franchise. Yes, it partly does. It finds the best way to expand its universe, quite literally in the film, with Ralph and Vanellope lost their ways to the world-wide internet world. That world allows them to flirt over and make fun of many pop cultures, especially its own – a trend I normally find distracting rather than helping, but not in this case. In particular, I find it hilarious when Vanellope interacts with all the Disney princesses. On the other spectrum, while it makes sense to see Ralph’s willingness to stay the same becomes his own, and the film’s, worst enemy, the actual character conflicts feel rather forced for me. While it’s not as rich and emotional as the first one, Ralph is still a successful second outing that fans of the original would find themselves pleased with.
Snubs: Funan, Frozen 2, Weathering With You
And we came a long way to this final year where Toy Story again faced off HTTYD (and won again). Not only a closure year for the decade, the inclusion of the (supposedly) final installments from both franchises close the decade in a bittersweet note. Elsewhere, I Lost My Body, Klaus and Missing Link are respectable choices all around. Missing Link makes it a straight five-out-of-five strike for Laika – an impressive feat. This year makes it the first time in this decade that GKIDS failed to secure any nomination, and was replaced by Netflix where they had 2 films up and running. Well done, Netflix. In a perfect world, I’d pick Funan for the top 5 but we all know the world is a terrible place that won’t grant anyone’s wish. At least not for free.
1. I Lost My Body
While I Lost My Body was on my to-watch list prior to coming here, the film still takes me by surprise just how well crafted it is. Based on the Guillaume Laurant book Happy Hand, I Lost My Body is equally profoundly moving and sharply heartfelt. It spotlights writer-director Jérémy Clapin’s strikingly beautiful animation in a story which chronicles a disembodied hand crawling across Paris in search of its young owner, Naoufel. Production-wise, it carries the theme by its strong direction and clear visual, story-wise it’s an intimate story about a guy who doesn’t know what to do with his life. Character-wise, I’m also drawn into them and the side plots interweave neatly and the leads cast some strange chemistry together and it’s a joy to watch. While this might not become as big of a hit like say, The Red Turtle last few years, it’s a goddamn solid one and I lost My Body remains a moving portrait of loss and yearning.
Klaus might be remembered for its impressive technical achievement the blends seamlessly between its 2D styles with the digital coloring and lighting, but the end result is singular, and beautiful to look at. The story itself leans a bit on predictable plot, but that’s exactly why it becomes an install Christmas classic: its themes are inspirational and the characters have some solid development. In truth, I expected much worse from its story prior to watching it, and comes off with a nice surprise. Jesper can be annoying at first but he has a solid chemistry with Klaus, and while the story is conventional, it still properly builds up rather than cheaply creates hurdles for Jesper and Klaus to overcome. Klaus is, simply, worth the hype it generates.
3. Toy Story 4 (Oscar winner)
On one hand, Toy Story 4 is another sequel done right by Pixar. It has many great qualities going for it. The animation looks better than ever (it’s neat to see how Pixar’s production has evolved through this franchise alone), it has a great character arc for Woody where he finally lets go of being a toy and leads a new life, and the film re-establishes a strong, positive role model in the form Bo Peep. On the other hand, I still can’t help but feel that this one doesn’t top Toy Story 3 in terms of closure, thus I feel less enthusiastic about it than any film from the franchise. In addition to that, apart from Woody and Bo Peep who carry the film, Forky’s character arc is a bit saggy (it deals with him considering himself as trash instead of toy and never really does anything else with that) and many old faces, most notably Jessie has little room to make an impact. I guess I’m in the minority in this but I still think Toy Story saga is perfect as a trilogy.
4. Missing Link
Laika, just like Aardman Animation or Cartoon Salon, is such a reliable studio that every output they make I am sure that I will enjoy it nonetheless. Missing Link meets that expectation, but comes right after the great-Kubo it feels like a modest success more than a breakout hit. In fact, it’s such a shame to see that Missing Link is a massive box office bomb, earning only $26 mil out of its $100 mil budget. How about the film itself? It has a solid story at heart, with the lead cast having solid chemistry together and overall Missing Link has witty dialogues. The stop motion production is smooth and highly-detailed and the character designs are above-average. For a film about adventure, Missing Link cares more about the characters having fun times than the quest itself, and that makes the film enjoyable from start to finish. I do have an issue with Lionel Frost’s character to his “friend” Mr Link, though. The show passes off his “racist” remarks as jokes, and we eventually get to the point where he considers him as friend, and thus, Frost has a massive growth in his character arc, right? I don’t think so. The fact that he regards Mr Link as his companion doesn’t necessarily solve the issues where he feels superior to other “Missing Link” beings. In addition, the villain side leans towards one-sided evil, there’s a clear black and white here. While Missing Link might not be at the same level of Laika’s greats Kubo or Coraline, it’s still witty enough and enjoyable enough to be better than most animated releases out there.
5. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
If I have to pick the most significant animated franchise of this decade, it’s undoubtedly HTTYD. The first film starts off at the beginning of the decade and it was solid enough that it could rival any Pixar-movie, then a spin-off series comes afterwards and two more movies (in a typical move of DreamWorks Animation company to milk the most out of its cash cows), the final chapter is released at the tail end of 2010’s to signify the end of this popular franchise. Just like Toy Story 4, the Hidden World also understands that the best way to end it satisfyingly is to let the main characters grow apart, each pursuing their own happiness. It’s not the only thing going in The Hidden World, however. I quite like the villain this time, and to see Toothless finds his soulmate and acts all clumsily is such a joy. This film also concerns Hiccup’s growth, mostly about his relationship to Toothless and his worthiness as the new leader. In the end, it works. It’s thrilling and emotionally satisfying, but one where I don’t think will be considered as classic or anything and frankly I would pick Frozen 2 or Funan over this. It’s still a neat film to close off this mega franchise, though.