Well my friends I have finished my series of watching all of the Oscar nominated films for Best Animated Feature Film. Last year I said 2014 was one of the best years in animation in a long time and now after seeing films going back to 2001, I stand by that claim. You can make an argument for 2009 and 2010 but for not having a Pixar movie it was pretty darn good- and really diverse in style, tone and everything else.
So here is my video breaking down my thoughts on the 2014 nominees:
This is the first year I was doing this blog and have reviews for all of these films, so my thoughts probably aren’t a surprise to any of you. Nevertheless, here is a little summary:
How to Train Your Dragon 2-A rare sequel that improves upon the original. An epic feel to the story and some of the best animation Dreamworks has ever done. I find the story with the 2 alpha dragons to be a little confusing and I think they give the Mother too much of a free pass for leaving her family. But still a very satisfying, entertaining, exciting film.
Big Hero 6- A film with real heart from Walt Disney Animated Studios. I love the character of Baymax and the relationship of Hiro and Tadeshi. I found the villain to be clever and surprising and Sanfransokyo was extremely creative.
Boxtrolls- A wonderful stop motion film about a town whose leadership gets to wear white hats and eat cheese. Snatcher the villain wants to wear the white hat and be respected which I think is a unique motivation and a good lesson for kids about labeling through clothing and other items. The Boxtrolls are sweet and the humor worked for me. The ending didn’t 100% work for me and the lead Eggs is a little flat and I don’t love the drag queen segment but it is very entertaining.
Tale of Princess Kaguya– A movie that has improved each time I’ve seen it. A true artistic masterpiece and a story unique to Japan. It is about a girl found in a bamboo stalk who is trained to be a princess. She has independent instincts but she chooses to be obedient. At first that was challenging to accept but now I love it’s different perspective. It is so gorgeous to look at and uses music very well. It’s a little bit of an artistically challenging movie but worth the effort.
Song of the Sea-A true masterpiece. Even with Inside Out, Song of the Sea is the best film I’ve seen this year. It’s got the emotional depth of Inside Out with Ben trying to deal with the loss of his mother but the hand drawn animation is stunning. Ben’s sister is a Selkie and Ben must get her back to the sea before it is too late. Along the way they meet an Owl Witch and other creatures so it is exciting, heartbreaking and tense. It made my Top 10 Favorite Animated Films. The music is stunning and I wish I could convince everyone to see it. I love it so much .
So if I was giving away the award I would pick Song of the Sea, despite my liking all 5 films. Of the mainstream nominees I do think Big Hero 6 is the best so in that sense the right film did win; however, I think Song of the Sea is the best of 2014.
What about you? What do you think of these 5 films and which would you pick as best of the year?
All these movies are deserving of nominations but I really think Tale of Princess Kaguya belongs in the place of Book of Life. These will probably be the 5 at Oscars and they are all good movies. Four I gave A+’s too so no argument there. I think out of those 5 either Big Hero 6 or The Lego Movie will win. I’m a little surprised Everything is Awesome didn’t get nominated for best song and the music in Kaguya should have been nominated. Joe Hisaishi’s score is one of the best I’ve ever heard. You would think the Hollywood Foreign Press Association would recognize achievements by foreign animation companies not just domestic productions.
Oh well. It does say something about the year when a list that strong is nominated and Kaguya and Song of the Sea is left off (haven’t seen it but heard great things). Kaguya still has a 100% on rotten tomatoes. That is almost unheard of. Usually there is some idiot who detracts from the crowd. Kaguya is a stunning visual masterpiece and it deserves to be recognized. Hopefully maybe the Oscars will nominate it but probably not. I did like Book of Life but it is no masterpiece. Sigh…
So glad to see Boyhood get lots of nominations. Well deserved. A brilliant movie. Richard Linklater should win for best screenplay and director because what he did required vision and was incredibly smart. He didn’t just create a story and characters but he created whole lives. It is a film that sticks with you and makes you examine your life in a new way.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Guardians of the Galaxy get nothing which I thought were both so brilliant. Boo!!! And I really think that Andy Serkis deserves to be nominated for the great ACTING he does!
Into the Woods has 3 nominations including Meryl Streep who seems to get nominated no matter what movie she is in. I think if she did a tampon commercial it would get nominated, but I am very excited to see that movie because I love Sondheim and I hope it is one fairytale retelling I can buy into. Johny Depp’s presence makes me nervous but the trailers have been good.
Annie got a lot of love which makes me even more excited to see it. It was nominated for best song and best supporting actress for Quvenzhané Wallis. The early buzz for that film has been really strong and I love the trailer.
These awards are total junk so I don’t know why I care but occasionally they get it right and honor the right thing and that is nice to see. This they got some right but some wrong. I guess that is too be expected.
What do you think of the nominations?
“The Imitation Game”
“The Theory of Everything”
“The Grand Budapest Hotel”
“Into the Woods”
Wes Anderson, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Ava Duvernay, “Selma”
David Fincher, “Gone Girl”
Alejandro González Iñárritu, “Birdman”
Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”
Best Actress in a Drama
Jennifer Aniston, “Cake”
Felicity Jones, “The Theory of Everything”
Julianne Moore, “Still Alice”
Rosamund Pike, “Gone Girl”
Reese Witherspoon, “Wild”
Best Actor in a Drama
Steve Carell, “Foxcatcher”
Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Imitation Game”
Jake Gyllenhaal, “Nightcrawler”
David Oyelowo, “Selma”
Eddie Redmayne, “The Theory of Everything”
Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy
Ralph Fiennes, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Michael Keaton, “Birdman”
Bill Murray, “St. Vincent”
Joaquin Phoenix, “Inherent Vice”
Christoph Waltz, “Big Eyes”
Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy
Amy Adams, “Big Eyes”
Emily Blunt, “Into the Woods”
Helen Mirren, “The Hundred-Foot Journey”
Julianne Moore, “Map to the Stars”
Quvenzhané Wallis, “Annie”
Best Supporting Actress
Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood”
Jessica Chastain, “A Most Violent Year”
Keira Knightley, “The Imitation Game”
Emma Stone, “Birdman”
Meryl Streep, “Into the Woods”
Best Supporting Actor
Robert Duvall, “The Judge”
Ethan Hawke, “Boyhood”
Edward Norton, “Birdman”
Mark Ruffalo, “Foxcatcher”
J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash”
Wes Anderson, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Gillian Flynn, “Gone Girl”
Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, and Armando Bo, “Birdman”
Lets talk some Studio Ghibli specifically their latest film The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. Studio Ghibli if you are not aware is the Japanese animation team that has produced anime films such as Spirited Away, My Friend Tottoro, Howls Moving Castle and Princess Mononoke. They are most known for the works by Hayao Miyazaki, the amazing artist and director.
There has been some talk of Studio Ghibli taking a break with the retirement of Miyazaki but he has talked of retirement before and then finds a reason to make another film so we will see what happens. In the meantime there is still plenty of talent at Studio Ghibli to draw upon as can be seen by Kaguya which is directed by Isao Takahata. By the strength of this film, I am very excited to see what Takahata has for us in the future! (I guess Takahata directed Grave of the Fireflies which is also dark and beautiful).
This is a very different kind of movie than the Miyazaki films and honestly it is going to be a tough sell for some western audiences. It is very slowly paced. The only thing I can think to compare it to is maybe Bambi. There isn’t a strong plot to Bambi but it is beautiful and it tells the tale of a deer growing up to be a prince. Kagayu is kind of like that.
It has a very different look than other Studio Ghibli films and reminds me more of The Secret of the Kells or Ernest and Celestine the way it uses watercolor and hand drawn animation to tell the story. Some may have issues with the film but, nobody can deny that Kaguya looks stunning.
Take a look at the trailer.
It tells the story of a bamboo farmer who finds a little girl in the bamboo. It looks like a doll but he takes it home to his wife and the baby miraculously grows very quickly as it is taken care of.
Kind of like with Bambi when you see him learning to skate or playing with Thumper, in this story you see the baby called Little Bamboo frolicking with her friends. There are multiple scenes with babies bottoms and women breastfeeding which I guess could bother some people but I think breastfeeding is beautiful so that didn’t bother me. You see Bamboo playing with frogs, eating melon, chasing pigs, scenes like that which are sweet but some may want more story.
Little Bamboo’s father finds gold in the bamboo and great silks and kimonos and he feels this is a sign from the Gods that she is of noble birth and must be trained as such. This leads us to the second half of the movie (it is a very long 2 hours and 17 minutes and it is slow paced so like I said some will find it boring) where Little Bamboo is trained as a lady and renamed by the naming man to be Princess Kaguya.
This part of the movie is so Japanese and may be a tough sell for western audiences. In Western films such as Mulan or Little Mermaid, our heroines Mulan and Ariel rebel against their fathers and cultural customs and find happiness. In this film Kaguya repeatedly agrees to do as her father directs whether it is moving to the city, painting her teeth black, listening to suitors, or plucking her eyebrows .
There is only one moment where she refuses to submit to the Emperor and be his concubine (all the suitors in the movie have multiple wives and concubines so that’s not the reason she refuses). She has a moment of free spirit that is gorgeously drawn but in the end even the God’s force her to submit.
This is such a different character arc than I am used to and it was challenging because it didn’t seem like she was a happy person. She’d have glimpses of happiness but then it would be taken away from her a second later; however, I know that is because I come from a culture that see’s happiness and life very differently, so I try to learn from this culture presented and not be too judgmental of their choices.
Like I said I think The Tale of Princess Kaguya is a tough sell for the average American audience. It is long. It has minimal plot and the characters make choices that go against our modern sensibilities. However, if you can set all that aside you are in for a treat. It is so beautiful. The music by Joe Hisaishi is one of the best scores I’ve ever heard. There are whole sequences when Kaguya is running or when a character is at sea and faces a monster that are stunning.
There is also something to be said for obedience and submitting your will to a higher power’s plan, even if it makes you temporarily unhappy . As a Christian, I certainly believe that is often the case. There are many things I do not do which at least seem to give others pleasure because I want to be obedient. So it does have a valuable lesson to teach. It’s just not the independence and strong will power we value so much in Western and particularly American culture.
I’d be very curious to know what any of you think if you get to see it. The US Dubbing is good with Mary Steenburgen, Chloe Grace Moretz, James Caan, Lucy Liu, Beau Bridges, James Marsden and others. As with all Studio Ghibli films they manage to merge the languages so that it feels like the characters have always been speaking English.
It certainly strengthens my argument of how wonderful 2014 has been for animation because nobody can deny The Tale of Princess Kaguya is one of the most beautifully animated films of this or any other year. It is gorgeous. Some people will definitely have issues with pacing and character’s choices but I was able to move past those barriers and really was blown away by it.
See it in the theater if you can not only to get the most beautiful viewing experience, but to support hand drawn animation when you can because the box office is where it really counts. DVD and blu-ray sales help but when studios are deciding whether to produce movies they look at box office sales, so if you love hand drawn animation it’s time to put your money where your mouth is like I did. If it is not playing at a city near you (25 cities so far) than follow them on facebook and contact your local theaters. Let them know you want to see it.
It is going to be extremely difficult to determine this year’s Best Animated Feature for the Oscars because I don’t know how you don’t include this film. It is awe-inspiring to look at. I think either Boxtrolls or Book of Life is going to lose its spot which is a shame because they are both so inventive and great to look at. I don’t care if I’m the only one who feels this way I just love this year’s films! If Song of the Sea is as great as people say than the Oscars noms are likely to be Song of the Sea, Tale of Princess Kaguya, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Big Hero 6 and The Lego Movie. I would love to see Hisaishi get a nom for best score because it really is outstanding but it’s been a great year in that department too. A great year for movies!
Here are some more clips if you are still trying to decide whether to see it or not.
As far as a recommendation for kids it is tough. Certain kids will be very rambunctious throughout the film and like I said there are breasts, baby butts and talk of wives and concubines if that is a concern for parents. Other than that there isn’t any content that would be offensive. Nothing is scary or violent. There are some kids who really love artistic films and sometimes it’s the adults that get antsy! I’ve seen that happen many times.
My niece who really loves Japanese culture and art I think would love it, so it just depends on the kid. Maybe watch the trailers with them and gauge their interest? But I think it is good for kids to see challenging films on occasion and not the easy to digest but fun films mainstream Hollywood gives them. It’s good for the brain to have to work a little bit harder to appreciate what we view from time-to-time.