I so want to try that soup.

The 80th annual Academy Awards, for the film year 2007.  The nominations were announced on 22 January, 2008 and the awards were held on 24 February, 2008.

Best Animated Film:  Ratatouille

  • Persepolis
  • Surf’s Up

Most Surprising Omission:  The Simpsons Movie

Best Eligible Film Not Nominated:  The Simpsons Movie

Rank (out of 16) Among Best Animated Film Years:  #3

Oscar Score:  91.7

Alternate Oscar Score:  98.4

non-nominated Oscar-Eligible Films (alphabetical):

  • Alvin and the Chipmunks
  • Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie for Theaters
  • Bee Movie
  • Beowulf
  • Meet the Robinsons
  • Shrek the Third
  • The Simpsons Movie
  • Tekkonkinkreet
  • TMNT

note:  The presence of Alvin and the Chipmunks will forever make it confusing how much animation in a film is required to make it eligible.

The Complete List of Animated Films I Have Seen from 2007 (ranked, with stars, director, studio):

  1. Ratatouille  (****, Bird, Disney (Pixar))
  2. Persepolis  (****, Paronnaud / Satrapi, Sony Pictures Classics)
  3. Blood Tea and Red String  (***.5, Cegavske, Cinema Epoch)
  4. 5 Centimeters Per Second  (***, Shinkai, CoMix Wave)
  5. The Simpsons Movie  (***, Silverman, 20th Century-Fox)
  6. Shrek the Third  (***, Miller, Paramount (DreamWorks))
  7. Surf’s Up  (***, Brannon / Buck, Sony)
  8. Bee Movie  (***, Hickner / Smith, Paramount)
  9. Princess Iron Fan  (***, Guchan / Laiming, Cinema Epoch)
  10. Meet the Robinsons  (***, Anderson, Disney)
  11. TMNT  (**.5, Munroe, Warner Bros)
  12. Tekkonkinkreet  (**.5, Arias, Sony)
  13. Beowulf  (**.5, Zemeckis, Paramount)
  14. Oopsy Does It  (**, Doi, Kidtoon Films)
  15. Alvin and the Chipmunks  (**, Hill, 20th Century-Fox)
  16. Happily N’ever After  (**, Bolger, Lionsgate)
  17. Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie for Theaters  (*, Maiellaro / Willis, First Look Pictures)
  18. The Ten Commandments  (*, Boyce / Stronach, Promenade Pictures)

Note:  Princess Iron Fan is a 1941 film finally being released in the States.  Persepolis would have been the easy #1 if it had been released the year before.

Consensus Awards:

  1. Ratatouille  (328 pts – Oscar, Annie, PGA, Globe, BAFTA, BFCA, NBR, LAFC, CFC)
  2. Persepolis  (156 pts  –  Oscar, Annie, BAFTA, BFCA, NYFC, LAFC)
  3. The Simpsons Movie  (92 pts  –  Annie, PGA, Globe, BAFTA, BFCA)
  4. Bee Movie  (72 pts  –  Annie, PGA, Globe, BFCA)
  5. Surf’s Up  (40 pts  –  Oscar, Annie)
  6. Shrek the Third  (20 pts  –  BAFTA)
  7. Beowulf  (16 pts  –  BFCA)

Note:  Ratatouille sets new high for wins (9), noms (9) and points (328).  Wall-E will tie the record for wins the next year and beat the other two.  The wins record will stand until 2015.  This is the first of five straight years where the #1 film blows away the other films at the Consensus.

The Race:  The first potential contender came out in March, with Disney’s Meet the Robinsons.  It had better reviews than the last few Disney animated films (Home on the Range, Chicken Little) but the box office couldn’t reach $100 million and the reviews were still mixed.  Then came Shrek the Third, which had very solid box office (eventually settling at #2 for the year) but not a lot of excitement about it and the franchise seemed to be stalling out creatively.  The summer brought Surf’s Up, a mockumentary about surfing penguins that seemed like it was cashing in on March of the Penguins and Happy Feet but which had actually been in production for five years.  It had solid reviews but its box office was pretty weak compared to the other contenders.

Things really began to heat up with the release of Pixar’s latest: Ratatouille, which didn’t have great box office (for Pixar) but had great reviews and was easily seen as the shoe-in for the Oscar.

The next two contenders were long-awaited projects.  The first was The Simpsons Movie and the second was Bee Movie, Jerry Seinfeld’s animated film.  Both films had solid (but not great) reviews and very solid box office.

The last two contenders brought forth the question about whether the category would remain geared towards kids or also bring in adults.  The first was Robert Zemeckis’ latest motion-capture film, Beowulf.  The second was Persepolis, the film adaptation of the critically acclaimed and much beloved graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi.

By this time, the awards groups were chiming in.  The Annies had nominated Ratatouille, Simpsons, Bee, Persepolis and Surf’s Up.  The BFCA dropped Surf’s Up in favor of Beowulf.  The Globes, with only three noms, went with Ratatouille, Simpsons and Bee as had the PGA while the BAFTAs, also with three, went with Ratatouille, Simpsons and Shrek (Persepolis would earn a nomination the next year).  The critics had heaped their love on Ratatouille (NBR, LAFC, CFC) and Persepolis (NYFC, LAFC tie).

With the Oscar noms coming, Ratatouille was widely expected to win, Persepolis to probably earn a nom (though it had stumbled by not even making the semi-finalists among the Foreign films) with the third spot going to either Simpsons or Bee.

The Results:  The Academy had thrown a curveball yet again.  They had passed over both The Simpsons and Jerry Seinfeld (dissing all the television I watched in college) and gone with Surf’s Up.  The winner ended up Ratatouille, much to no one’s surprise.

The Films:  This year is almost the same as 2003.  It has a Pixar winner among the best ever, a great French film as the second nominee and a third nominee about talking animals that didn’t belong among the nominees.  This year ends up just slightly better because the film score average is exactly the same (83.33) and the rank average is .67 better because Ratatouille is two spots above Nemo (Persepolis finishing one spot above Triplets cancels out Surf finishing one spot behind Brother Bear).

Because both The Simpsons Movie and Bee Movie are mid ***, neither would have changed the year’s ranking.  The only film that could have changed the ranking is Blood Tea and Red String and it wasn’t actually eligible.  So I don’t think the Academy got it right in nominating Surf’s Up but they didn’t get it that wrong either.

My favorite Pixar film.

Ratatouille

  • Director:  Brad Bird
  • Writer:  Brad Bird  /  Jan Pinkava  /  Jim Capobianco
  • Producer:  Brad Lewis
  • Animation Studio:  Pixar
  • Distribution Studio:  Disney
  • Stars:  Patton Oswalt, Ian Holm, Brian Dennehy
  • Oscar Nominations:  Animated Film, Original Screenplay, Original Score, Sound, Sound Editing
  • Oscar Points:  145
  • Length:  111 min
  • Genre:  Kids
  • MPAA Rating:  G
  • Box Office Gross:  $206.44 mil  (#11  –  2007)
  • Release Date:  29 June 2007
  • Metacritic Score:  96
  • Ebert Rating:  ****
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #5  (year)  /  #5  (nominees)  /  #5  (winners)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Animated Film, Picture, Original Screenplay, Original Score, Original Song
  • Nighthawk Points:  205

The Film:  Ratatouille is not the best film that Pixar has made; that would be Wall-E, followed by Inside Out.  But it is my favorite Pixar film and one that I have watched dozens and dozens of times.  When we first got a DVR we didn’t yet own the film on DVD and we recorded it off ABC Family and Thomas and I would watch it every single day after he got home from school.

Part of it, of course, is the food.  Though, ironically, I don’t even like ratatouille, the film makes me desperately hungry for good food.  I listen to Remy explain to his brother Emile about the way certain foods go together (I explain this to Veronica all the time, though, with a palate not anywhere close to as sophisticated as Remy’s, I’m explaining why you put raisins between two potato chips and how the salt from the chips goes perfectly with the natural sweetness of the raisins) and I look at that creamy soup that Remy makes when he first arrives at the restaurant (god, I leave creamy soups, especially without a lot of stuff in it) and I just want to eat and eat.  I get to the end of the film and I want to know what dessert Remy is going to make for Ego because I know I will want to eat it.

Part of it, is the lines in the film.  Whenever Veronica does anything remotely risky with a recipe, I’m in there going “You’re the one who was gettin’ fancy with the spices!”  Or, I’ll come into the kitchen and declare “Let’s do this thing!”  Let’s not forget Horst’s list of what his possible crime might have been, like “I robbed the second biggest bank in France using only a ballpoint pen” or “I killed a man, with this thumb!”  And yet, in some ways, my favorite exchange of lines isn’t even in the film – it’s in the scenes made especially for the teaser, with the perfect interactions between a frustrated father and son (“He’s right you know.”  “Let it go, Dad!”).  That teaser, one of my all-time favorites (and the film itself is one of my all-time favorites, ranked in my Top 10) is wonderful because it contains animation made just for it and not for the film itself, and it makes me even hungrier, looking at the cheese trolley.

Part of it is the way that this film so perfectly understands the way we interact with people.  The film, which if you have never seen it, I’m not going to bother with an explanation of the plot, because there’s no excuse for not having seen it, has one of the most realistic depictions of a father and his two very different sons ever presented on film, the way the brothers bond over things that matter to only one of them, how the father simmers with his resentments, but in the end, is desperately concerned for his son, looking after him, trying to protect him, willing to do whatever he has to, first to rescue him (“No!  My other left!”) and then to help him (“Stop that health inspector!”).  But the humans themselves, with the way they can bond (the way the chefs come together to burn the microwave food or how Horst throws out Skinner, showing him that potentially fatal thumb), can resent each other (the way Colette thinks Linguini no longer needs her) or care for each other (the way she comes back).

All of that is part of why I love the film so much as an overall film.  But we should also look at this film as an animated film and one of the most beautiful ever made.  Look how delicious all that food looks, from the “lightning-y” mushroom and cheese (which, frankly, looks delicious) to the soup and the ratatouille.  Look at all the intricate details of the kitchen that allows you to feel every inch of it and know how cramped or spacious it can feel at any one time and how it all has to work together to function properly.  But most of all, look at Remy and what an intricately animated character he is.  Sometimes he can talk and we can understand him.  But at other times, when the point-of-view is on the humans, he can’t talk him and we can still understanding him just as well.  He’s got great shrugs, can roll his eyes and, of course, his eyes and cheeks bug out when he thinks he’s going to puke after smelling the mess Linguini has made of the soup.

I recently wrote a long piece about my favorite television character of all-time, who is of course, Leslie Knope, because I’m essentially married to her.  I was asked if I would write a similar piece about film characters.  That piece would probably end up being about Han Solo or Indiana Jones.  But, with his intelligence, his amazing touch as a chef, his humor and his magnificent expressions, Remy the rat (who is also great in the short film “Your Friend the Rat”, especially at the end when the disclaimer comes on) would be a very top contender.

The animated voters are smarter than the Foreign film ones are.

Persepolis

  • Director:  Marjane Satrapi  /  Vincent Paronnaud
  • Writer:  Marjane Satrapi  /  Vincent Paronnaud  (from the books by Marjane Satrapi)
  • Producer:  Xavier Rigault  /  Marc-Antoine Robert  /  Kathleen Kennedy
  • Animation Studio:  Celluloid Dreams
  • Distribution Studio:  Sony Pictures Classics
  • Stars:  Chiara Mastroianni, Danielle Derrieux, Catherine Deneuve
  • Oscar Nominations:  Animated Film
  • Oscar Points:  20
  • Length:  95 min
  • Genre:  Drama
  • MPAA Rating:  PG-13
  • Box Office Gross:  $4.44 mil  (#186  –  2007)
  • Release Date:  25 December 2007
  • Metacritic Score:  90
  • Ebert Rating:  ****
  • My Rating:  ****
  • My Rank:  #18  (year)  /  #17  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  Animated Film, Foreign Film
  • Nighthawk Points:  40

The Film:  We should all be careful what we wish for.  If you wish for a man with no government experience to run the federal government, well, you get an incompetent fool who tries to destroy everything he touches.  But sometimes you get the extreme when you’re just hoping for moderation.  Like, if you have an autocratic ruler who is holding your country back and you’re in the middle class and want something different, well, when the autocrat becomes sick and is ousted you might find yourself with a horrifyingly repressive theistic regime that makes your lives much worse than you could have expected.  A family member who was jailed by the previous regime might end up executed by the new one.

That’s not a what if, of course, but part of the life story of Marjane Satrapi.  Like Walt Whitman, I am large and contain multitudes and thus contradict myself.  When I worked in bookstores for years, I was notorious for being resistant to memoirs (“I don’t give a shit about your whiny life” I would say, or “I don’t give a shit about your made-up life” if we were discussing Augusten Burroughs), yet two books that I have recommended with serious gusto since the day I first read them are Fun Home and Persepolis, both of them black-and-white graphic novels that tell tales of growing up that are very different from mine.  Do I tolerate them as memoirs because they are graphic novels?  Or do I just love them because they are written and drawn by phenomenally talented women who have lead interesting lives that helped shape them into those self-same artists.

The filmmakers originally didn’t want to make Persepolis as an animated film, but how could it be anything but that?  The way Satrapi brings her story to life is part of the charm of it and she rightly insisted that it be animated (and co-directed the film).  We follow her through her early days of chanting anti-Shah sentiments without really understanding why, to the changes that befell Iran after the revolution to her escape to Vienna.  Her story has always been a reminder that while Iran was demonized by the States during the 80’s, they were enduring a war and there were many in the country who were firmly opposed to the role of the Ayatollah.

The film is brilliant, from its early and late use of color (which I had completely forgotten), to the changes in Marjane’s body as she grows, to her marching along, singing “Eye of the Tiger” to the way she so casually mentions about how much she went through to almost die because of a failed love affair.  The filmmakers rightly didn’t try to make the animation too fancy, instead sticking quite closely to Satrapi’s original work.  Satrapi’s works don’t all need to be animated (her brilliant Chicken with Plums was made into a very good live-action film with the always fantastic Mathieu Amalric) but it was good that this one was.  The voters in the Best Animated Film category rightfully recognized it as one of the best of the year.  The idiots who vote in the Best Foreign Film category made it, along with 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days and The Orphanage one of three films that rank in my Top 5 that couldn’t even make their semi-finals list.

One of the biggest surprises in the category’s history.

Surf’s Up

  • Director:  Ash Brannon  /  Chris Buck
  • Writer:  Ash Brannon  /  Chris Buck  /  Don Rhymer  /  Christopher Jenkins  /  Christian Darren
  • Producer:  Christopher Jenkins
  • Animation Studio:  Sony Pictures Animation
  • Distribution Studio:  Sony
  • Stars:  Shia LaBeouf, Jeff Bridges
  • Oscar Nominations:  Animated Film
  • Oscar Points:  20
  • Length:  85 min
  • Genre:  Kids
  • MPAA Rating:  PG
  • Box Office Gross:  $58.86 mil  (#43  –  2007)
  • Release Date:  8 June 2007
  • Metacritic Score:  64
  • My Rating:  ***
  • My Rank:  #132  (year)  /  #57  (nominees)
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none
  • Nighthawk Points:  n/a

The Film:  I had it in my head that Surf’s Up was a terrible nominee, the kind of film where the Academy just blew it, like nominating Shark Tale or Bolt.  But there are two reasons why this is not actually the case.  The first is that it’s a better film than I had remembered (though I never thought it was that bad – I always had it at a 67, which is mid-to-low ***); it’s more of a mediocre choice like Brother Bear than a completely undeserving one like Shark Tale or Bolt (both of which I had at **.5).  The second is that, unlike in 2004 when they could have picked Ghost in the Shell 2 or in 2008 when they absolutely should have picked Waltz with Bashir, there wasn’t actually a clear film that the Academy should have gone with.  Yes, it was a surprise that they didn’t pick The Simpsons Movie or Bee Movie but both of those films were only mid *** to begin with.  The only film that really deserved that third spot, Blood Tea and Red String, wasn’t even eligible.  So, the nomination of Surf’s Up is more acceptable than I had remembered.

Surf’s Up, like my memory of it, seems like less than it is.  That’s not to say that it’s great, or even all that good, for as I said, it’s a mid-to-low range ***.  But when you first look at it and you see elements of the Christopher Guest movies combined with the film popularity of penguins that had been evolving over the previous few years with Madagascar, March of the Penguins and Happy Feet, you might think the producers took some film tropes and made a film with them.  But the fact is, this film had its roots long before those individual films and while it might have been inspired by the Guest film, so were a lot of other films.  This is a mockumentary, the story of a young Antarctic penguin who wants to become a championship surfer, inspired by Big Z, the legendary hippie surfer who is now thought to be dead after wiping out in a massive competition with Tank.  So, the young surfer, Cody Maverick (they weren’t real subtle with the names) heads off to Hawaii (Pen Gu Island, but really, Hawaii) heads off to a competition.  If you can correctly predict that Cody will fail against Tank, be nursed back to health and mentored by Big Z who it will turn out is not dead and then will beat Tank at the end, then congratulations, you could written this movie, or really, a lot of movies that Hollywood makes.  The movie was co-directed by Chris Buck (who had made Tarzan and would go on to make Frozen) and Ash Brannon (who would go on to make Rock Dog), so I’m gonna lay some of those cliches on Brannon.

So what is it about this film that works?  Well, it really gets the feel of things right.  They do a solid job with animating the various aspects of this world, from Antarctica, to Hawaii, to the more shaky, questionable camera work of a documentary crew.  As the main voice of Cody, they got Shia LaBeouf, who was rather appropriate casting since he wants to plow ahead with his life and not listen to anybody and he’s got that cluelessness built into his voice.  And, of course, for Big Z, they got Jeff Bridges, in yet kind of another version of Lebowski and he’s really what helps hold the film together.  The plot is rather cliche, but whenever Big Z is talking you at least want to listen, even if it’s all a bunch of silly platitudes.

This is a pretty harmless film, a nice little talking animals film with a lot of really great music on the soundtrack and a rock solid voice performance from Jeff Bridges.  The Academy could have done a little better with some of the other options, but not a lot better and they’ve certainly done a lot worse.

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