BEST ANIMATED FEATURE:
In his first directing effort since Synecdoche, New York, Charlie Kaufmann makes his first animated feature alongside co-director Duke Johnson. Based on his play of the same name, the film centers around Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis), and a self-help author on a tour to promote his book. He has become so disconnected from everybody that they are starting to look the same. As further emphasis on this, every other character is voiced by Tom Noonan, even Michael’s wife and kids.
His worlds’ turned upside down when he meets and falls for Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh), an insecure woman. Though average looking, Michael finds something special about her and pursues an affair. What makes this love story stand out is the fact Lisa’s no bathing beauty. She’s more like the kind of woman you work with at an office. So it’s not just based on looks. And yet, Michael finds something special about her.
You know you shouldn’t expect the usual from Charlie Kaufmann, who has made himself a rare celebrity screenwriter with his surrealistic scripts. He always pens an original and unusual tale to tell, from a puppeteer finding a tunnel in the wall that takes him in the mind of actor John Malkovich in Being John Malkovich to Nicholas Cage playing Kaufmann himself and his fictional twin Donald as Charlie tries to adapt Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief in Adaptation. The power of Kaufmann’s writing is how he finds something relatable underneath the weirdness. It’s best portrayed in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, an anti-romance of a man(an unusually low key Jim Carrey) who tries to hold on to the memories of a lost love (unusually hyperactive Kate Winslet) after hiring a clinic to erase them. Through all the bizarre images, the film does a brilliant job conveying the memories one goes through after a breakup.
Though you never think of his material as animation material, I’m now starting to wonder why we didn’t. I think his material would be more fitting for animation, with more freedom to create surreal storylines. At the same time, animation can blend a lot of heart into the strangeness. And in this case, it seems to blend well.
This one is definitely the least known of all five films. Made in Brazil, the film is also the most artistic film on the list, blending a lot of Brazillian culture and artwork to tell a simple tale of Cuca, a little boy in a mythical country. When his father heads to the city in search of work, Cuca finds himself transportated into a mysterious world.
And that’s the plot in a nutshell. It’s all about a little boy looking for daddy. I haven’t been able to see the movie. But from what I could gather from the trailer, he also encounters a group of very musical people where we get to hear some Brazillian music. There’s also seems to be messages about globalization, the environment and industrialization. It reminds me of Disney’s Latin American films, especially The Three Caballeros. It seems like a fun movie to see.
After years of bringing us one beloved, surprisingly mature animated family film after another, winning Oscar after Oscar. But then they released the weak as hell Cars 2 and the studio seemed to start going downhill. They seemed more concerned with making sequels than the original films they were known for. Even their Oscar winning film Brave is arguably subpar compared to their earlier works. Meanwhile, Disney got its groove back with critically acclaimed animated films Wreck-It-Ralph, Frozen and Big Hero 6. Everyone was quick to brush this film off, especially due to a bad teaser. Not only did this film bring back the originality and magic Pixar is known for, but many are calling this the best Pixar movie ever.
The film literally goes inside the head of an eleven year old girl, with emotions embodied in 5 characters. Leading the headquarters of Riley’s mind is Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler), a glowing, plucky sprite always determined to make Riley happy as much as possible. Alongside her are Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Fear (Bill Hader). Each person serves a purpose for Riley, except for Sadness, who’s often placed in the sidelines. So far, Joy’s successful in keeping Riley happy.
That all changes when Riley and her parents move to San Francisco and a vast different world from their hometown of Minnesota. After a disastrous first day of school, Joy and Sadness are accidently sucked out of the headquarters along with Riley’s core memories. Now Joy and Sadness have to walk through a maze of long term memories to get back to headquarters, while Anger, Disgust and Fear hold the fort. But without her core memories, Riley begins to crumble under a combination of external problems and internal mood swings. Worst of all, Riley begins to make bad decisions under Anger’s control.
Though this premise has been done by Herman’s Head and Osmosis Jones, Inside Out lets their creativity run wild. Through their journey, Joy and Sadness encounters one originally designed world after another, including a film studio of dreams to a city of clouds. My personal favorite is a room of abstract thoughts, which turns Joy and Sadness into Picasso artworks. These scenes provide tons of comedy, especially with the constant reappearance of an annoying catchy bubblegum jingle. The actors further the comedy, especially Sadness’ hilarious exchanges (“I love that comedy where the dog died”).
At the same time, it supplies an emotional portrayal of growing up and going through changes. In Riley’s world, it’s embodied by the uneasiness of changes with living in a new town. In the emotion’s world, it comes from Riley’s changing interests. This is most embodied by Riley’s former imaginary friend Bing Bong (Richard Kind). In lesser hands, Bing Bong would have gotten annoying really fast. King brings a charm to this chaotic embodiment of childhood imagination, who makes us laugh while allowing us the feel for him, even though he cries candies. Long forgotten by Riley, Bing Bong reminds parents of things their children left behind. And his last line is so heartbreaking Kind himself would cry every time he read it.
The true strength of the film is what it says about sadness. When she walked into the frame at the end of the first teaser, waved at the audience and walked away, I knew Sadness was going to be a key character in the film. At first, Joy can’t figure out what Sadness’s purpose and sees her as someone who always hurts Riley. But through her journey, Joy begins to realize the positive contributions Sadness serves for Riley. In a world where people drug themselves to avoid sadness, it’s wonderful for a movie to acknowledge not only is it okay to feel sad, but it might be the most important emotion to feel at the moment.
The other animation studio frequently winning Oscars is Aardman animations. With their trademark clay animations, this British studio has won multiple best animated shorts for Creature Comforts and the Wallace and Gromit series, which was adapted into a feature length film that won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. And now they bring adapt another popular series Shaun the Sheep. This series centered on the misadventures of the title character living in Mossy Bottom Farm. It’s always a challenge to adapt a seven minute short to a feature length movie. How about a feature length movie with no dialogue? Now that’s a lot of weight to pull. Thankfully, directors Mark Burton and Richard Starzak meet the challenge head on and pull it off.
As the film begins, Shaun has grown tired of his everyday routines. So he tricks the Farmer to leave so they can have a party in the house. But things escalate, which someone lands the Farmer in the city with amnesia. Loyal sheepdog Bitzer goes into town to get him back. With live unbearable without the farmer; Shaun decides to sneak into town to find them. Meanwhile, the Farmer finds success as a barber.
With zero dialogue, there’s physical comedy galore. From the flock using the counting sheep trip to put the Farmer to sleep or trying to disguise themselves as humans to blend in, the film has plenty of sight gags. There’s also lots of action as Bitzer, Shaun and the Flock try to avoid a dog catcher.
The problem I find with Aardman’s films is that they tend to be more kid oriented. And for some reason, the jokes don’t work me. And yet, I enjoyed this film.
Another beloved animation studio often nominated in this category comes from the land of the rising sun. Studio Ghibli is brings some of the greatest animated films from Japan, if not in the world. Since 1985, this studio has made many unforgettable fantasies like My Neighbour Totoro and Princess Mononoke as well as some animated dramas like Grave of the Fireflies. They would win in this category for Spirited Away, which would go on to become the highest grossing film in Japan. There is some concern for the studio after founder and director Hayao Miyazaki announced his retirement. Fortunately, When Marine Was Here shows the studio can still deliver the goods.
The heroine of our story is Anna (Voiced by Hailee Steinfeld), a 12 year old foster child. After suffering an asthma attack, Anna is taken to a seaside town to live with her foster mother’s relatives. Due to depression, Anna is emotionally distant towards her caregivers and her classmates. She doesn’t even know who her real family is. The only positivity in her life seems to be her sketches.
Her life changes when she finds an old mansion across a lake. That’s how she meets Marine (Kiernan Shipka), a free spirited girl confined to the mansion. Through their secret meetings, Marine gets the friend she’s never had and Anna finds some ray of positivity. But with this friendship comes a mystery they must solve for them both to get what they need. There’s a good chance you can figure out this mystery from the start, but it’s still entertaining to see said mystery unfold.
As always with Ghibli, the setting’s animated with beautiful attention to detail. They realism the animators put into the village buildings and the seaside makes it look so inviting. They also placed the same details with the extras. Even with seconds of screen time, everyone looks like they have their own story to tell.
But the focus is of course on the main story. Though there is a hint of the supernatural, the film is definitely one of their more grounded films. I admire the film’s willingness to focus on depression. Through Anna, the film acknowledges how hard it is to express one’s feelings and how it can make people say and do regrettable things. Then to contrast this with a free spirit who’s externally imprisoned ads more range to the story. Plus, we see Anna open up more with Marnie’s help.
Studio Ghibli has placed itself on hiatus to cope with Miyazaki’s retirement. There are rumours this will be their last movie. If it is, it’s a great movie go end on.
Who Will Win?
It can be no other film than Inside Out.
There’s a joke that Pixar movies entertain the children while emotionally traumatizing the parents. The former is thanks to the effort the studio makes into creating unforgettable character from Buzz Lightyear to Merida and building creative worlds from the endless doors in Monster’s Inc. to the inside of Riley’s mind. The latter is because Pixar’s movies often deal with themes that hit close to home for parents, from a midlife crisis in The Incredibles to the death of a loved one in Up. The theme of Inside Out looks at dealing with changes. Watching Riley go through mood swings will remind many parents of their own children going through the same phase.