2014 Oscar Predictions: Animated and Documentary Features


Click on over to my 2014 Oscar Predictions page to see everything I’m forecasting in the major categories.

Today, I unveil more new categories to add to my 2014 Oscar predictions list—2014 Best Animated Feature and 2014 Best Documentary Feature. Both categories have had great, great, GREAT years over the last half-decade, and while 2013 seems like a down year for animated and non-fiction movies, one can hope the Academy will still find a great batch of nominees for each category. We’ll see.

Best Animated Feature has been dominated by Pixar since it became an Oscar category in time for the 2002 ceremony. Of the ten films the studio released in that time period, seven won Best Animated Feature, two received nominations and lost, and one wasn’t nominated at all. (You get three guesses and won’t need two.) Monsters University is Pixar’s representative in Best Animated Feature this year. I’m higher on the film than most, but even I can admit it’s not a stone-cold lock to win. At least two films could easily swoop in and steal Pixar’s thunder this year—one the highest grossing animated film of the year, the other a legend’s swan song.

Looking over past nominees, I was very surprised to learn Despicable Me didn’t receive a nomination back in 2011. (It seems that was the last time the category included fewer than five nominees.) I’m not sure Despicable Me 2 is beloved enough to win the whole Academy over, but it won over general audiences more so than almost any other big summer movie this year. I think it’s a very solid bet for a nomination and has an outside shot at the win.

Our third major contender (at least of the films folks have seen) is Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises. I hadn’t been aware that Miyazaki was ready with a new film for the fall, but as soon as I heard the news (pre-TIFF), his victory seemed to make sense. Of course he’d have a film coming out during one of the more down years for Best Animated Feature, and of course he would announce it’s his last movie. Of course, I’m not saying he’s retiring because that might give him a better chance at taking home this award, but his impending retirement is an obvious narrative that will dominate this category all season long.

Other contenders for 2014 Best Animated Feature: GKIDS’ Ernest & Celestine, Disney’s Frozen, Sony’s Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, DreamWorks’ The Croods and Turbo, and Fox’s Epic, which isn’t even getting at the likely half-dozen or so films no one will have heard of until screeners start going out this fall. And if any year is likely to have multiple surprise nominees, it’s this one.

Switching gears toward 2014 Best Documentary Feature contenders is a tricky prospect always because lord knows this branch tends to do its own thing. This year in particular, however, seems tough to project what with a lot of well-received, “genre-bending” sort of documentaries eating up press, while your more traditional serious-minded, talking-head pieces flying under the radar.

In the former category, you have Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell, which has been getting talked up for over a year as a contender for this award. Frankly, I’m not as high on the film as others, but it’s hard not to watch this film and feel a little moved over the personal nature of the story and Polley’s obvious and understandable passion toward the project. Another possibility here is The Act of Killing from director Joshua Oppenheimer. Again, it’s been in the conversation since TIFF last year, and while those who’ve seen it seem repulsed by it, they also agree it’s as powerful a documentary as we’ve seen in years.

Could Penn and Teller become Oscar nominees this year? Seems quite possible. Their Tim’s Vermeer premiered at Telluride to raves, and moved on to Toronto where it won even more fans. It doesn’t sound quite as formally playful as the films I mentioned above, but its subject matter (an inventor tries to learn more about the painting techniques of a famous artist) means it will inevitably be compared to Stories Well Tell and other documentary contenders about art and the artistic process—Salinger, 20 Feet From Stardom, etc.

“Issue” documentaries haven’t gone away, however. Blackfish prompted a major PR effort from Sea World earlier this year after Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s documentary appalled viewers all summer long. It’s probably a nominee and possibly your Best Documentary Feature winner next year. Other more thematically weighty contenders: Rick Rowley’s Dirty Wars, which tackles America’s ever-expanding covert military campaign; Martha Shane and Lana Wilson’s After Tiller, which profiles the only four late-term abortion doctors in America; and We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks, Alex Gibney’s entertaining take on Julian Assange.

Finally, two films from big-name documentarians that I wrote about last week. One is another Gibney piece: The Armstrong Lie. The other is Errol Morris’ The Unknown Known. Neither set the festival world on fire over the past few weeks, but they’re still in the mix.

So these are your Best Animated Feature and Best Documentary Feature races in September. (“The Unknown Known” seems like an apropos descriptor for both categories, incidentally.) Like I said in the outset, I’ve updated my 2014 Oscar predictions with these two categories. Some of my predicted 2014 Best Foreign Language Film nominees were changed up, as well. Outside of that, everything’s holding steady until NYFF. Next week, I’ll start to unveil my predictions for the craft categories, starting with Best Cinematography and Best Visual Effects.

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