Oscar Primer 2014: Jiro Dreams of Oscar

During the lead up to this year’s Oscar’s on March 2nd I will be covering a lot of the nominees for the upcoming Academy Awards. This will not be your usual Oscar primer, but in fact more of a “catching up to speed” series. I will be dissecting a few films in each installment. I will be going over what the nominees are, and what chances it stands to win. In the last installment HERE I covered “12 Years a Slave”, “The Great Beauty” and “The Book Thief”. This time I will be talking about “The Wind Rises”, “Frozen”, The Live Action and Animated Shorts.

“The Wind Rises” was directed by Hayao Miyazaki, produced by Studio Ghilbi and was released on February 21st. The film has one nomination.

–        Best Animated Feature- Hayao Miyazaki and Toshio Suzuki

“The Wind Rises” is being billed as the Japanese animation king Miyazaki’s final film that he is directing, and he made sure to go out with a bang! The story follows Jiro, who has grown up dreaming of designing airplanes and he does just that. What makes this film so great is it takes a questionable period of history and makes a good story about a bad situation. Jiro grows up admiring Italy’s aviation department while they are wasting their talents designing bombers for The Great War. Unfortunately once Jiro graduates university and starts on his career of building aircrafts; it is to make bombers that will eventually be used to destroy Pearl Harbor during World War II.

This is a film that easily could have been live action. The themes were mature and nothing was too fantastical. Even the dream sequences could have been easily adapted for live action. This is a rare animated film that is entirely for adults but without crude jokes, inappropriate language or sex. The film ends just before the start of World War II in Japan, but for anyone who knows history know this isn’t exactly a happy ending.

While “Frozen” seems to be the forgone winner, if any film was to potentially steal the Best Animated Feature it is “The Wind Rises”. This could be a great send off for one of the greatest storytellers ever.

“Frozen” was directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, produced by Walt Disney Pictures and was released on November 27th. The film has two nominations.

–        Best Animated Feature- Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee and Peter Del Vecho

–        Best Original Song- Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez for Let It Go

“Frozen” follows the trend of basically every Disney movie before it of empowering tales of courage, bravery, love and being true to oneself. The difference is it is very female empowering, not that say “Brave” or other similar films are not, but the final message was family love is stronger than needing the love of a man (or partner in general). Which showing to kids is perfectly fine to me and introducing young girls to feminism ideals is always a good idea to help their confidence. While parts of the film were pretty damn funny (see Olaf the snowman and Oaken the shopkeeper), it was overall pretty predictable from the fake love interest, to the princesses saving each other. While I am not the intended target of Disney films, if I were a parent taking my kids to see it I would be bored, especially if I had to watch it two hundred more times the next few years, much like I forced my mother to watch “The Lion King” on repeat. With clean crisp animation, enough funny parts and strong feminism subject matter, this film is a lock to win Best Animated Feature, which while it wouldn’t be my choice it isn’t a bad potential winner per say.

Let It Go is a pretty straight forward tune about being self-conscious and feeling the need to put on a face that isn’t really yours, something most kids/teens can relate to at some point. It is a show tune of the highest order with sweeping orchestral riffs and booming powerhouse vocals providing by Broadway super star Idina Menzel who provides the voice for Elsa the Ice Queen. While it’s not my favourite of the group (that goes to the criminally underrated Moon Song from “her”) I’m once again indifferent to the fact that it will probably win. The closest competition is from Pharrell Williams’ Happy Song from “Despicable Me 2”.

I was fortunate enough to see the Best Live Action Shorts and Best Animated Shorts at TIFF Bell Lightbox and I will go over the nominees and who is likely to win.

The nominees for Best Live Action Shorts are the following;

–        That Wasn’t Me- Esteban Crespo

–        Just Before Losing Everything- Xavier Legrand and Alexandre Gavras

–        Helium- Anders Walter and Kim Magnusson

–        Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?- Selma Vilhunen and Kirsikka Saari

–        The Voorman Problem- Mark Gill and Baldwin Li

What is interesting of these shorts is that not a single one comes from Hollywood. We have Spain, France, Denmark, Finland and England all having shorts that made the cut. None of these films are a perfect little slice of pie though, especially compared to last year’s excellent crop. “Helium” seems like the most likely to win of the group. It is about a young Danish boy with a terminal illness who is afraid of dying and heaven. A hospital orderly tries to make him feel better by telling him a story about how there is an alternative to heaven and it is a planet called ‘Helium’. He calls it ‘Helium’ because the little boy’s room is filled with model zeppelins and blimps. Instead of dying, when it is time for you to go, a large zeppelin will take you to your own private floating house until you get better enough to return to earth. As the little boy gets more sick its tougher to understand who this story is for, the child who needs some hope in his rapidly shortening life, or the orderly who can’t understand why kids have to die and needs closure since he lost his brother at a young age. While the ending is a bit weak it is hard not to choke up watching this film.

The most complete of the films is “Just Before Losing Everything” which is about a woman who runs off with her kids to a grocery store where she works. For the first half of the film you understand something is wrong, why is she getting her boss to ‘fire’ her and help set up a walking package and why are all the adults speaking in whispered tones around her kids that they are looking after while the mother is trying to settle things? Finally we learn that her husband is abusive and hurt her one too many times and she is trying to get her and her family away from him. Eventually he shows up at the grocery store to talk to her and we see a very tense moment where this woman is afraid for her life but must keep a smile on to get him out of the way and leave the store. Eventually the family decides to make a run for it and almost run into the father in the parking garage. The film is the longest of the bunch but it is shot beautifully intimate and has the most truth to its story. It might be too long for some voters but it is the most deserving.

“The Voorman Problem” and “Do I have to Take Care of Everything?” are both very funny short films but they aren’t enough to elevate them to be winners. “The Voorman Problem” is the only film in English and stars Martin Freeman as a psychiatrist who goes to a prison to interview an inmate who believes he is God. This film is really funny including the subtle sheep’s baaing prayer done by the other inmates who do believe Voorman is God. This film was far too short and the end reveal was a bit messy and convoluted.  This would make for an interesting feature film which I know other people have suggested as well.

The nominees for Best Animated Short are as follows;

–        Feral- Daniel Sousa and Dan Golden

–        Get a Horse!- Lauren MacMullan and Dorothy McKim

–        Mr. Hublot- Laurent Witz and Alexandre Espigares

–        Possessions- Shuhei Morita

–        Room on the Broom- Max Lang and Jan Lachauer

This is a very odd category as I felt all five films were weak as well, no one film had a great story and great artwork to match it. The frontrunner seems to be “Get a Horse!” by virtue of the fact it screened before “Frozen” and is about Mickey Mouse. I saw it in 2D but have been told this film is amazing only in 3D. Unfortunately the plot seems to be ripped from an episode of ‘Itchy and Scratchy’, where Mickey Mouse must save Minnie Mouse from the evil Peg Leg Pete using lots of violence. The film starts in 2D black and white and Mickey and his horse get thrown out of the screen and into colour and 3D. This will probably win simply because it was seen by the most people.

The best artwork of the group is a tossup between “Feral” and “Mr. Hublot”. “Feral” has the feeling of a Nation Film Board short (the kind you had to watch in class as a kid or saw on CBC) with its pencil drawn technique that it doesn’t hide. Unfortunately the plot makes no sense as it is about a hunter who finds a young boy living amongst wolves and tries to domesticate him and send him to school. The boy then runs off after being picked on by his classmates and trying to bite them. That’s all there is to the plot. “Mr. Hublot” tells a simple story of a robot man who adopts a homeless robot dog. The story was very predicable but the art work was beautiful and created a very interesting alternate world where the protagonist has a severe case of OCD.

The best story of the group belongs to “Room on the Broom” which tells the story of a witch and her cat. Against her cat’s wishes the witch allow a dog, a frog and a bird to join them on their journey. A dragon comes along and tries to eat the witch but the animal’s band together to help save her. This is the longest short of the group, but it is funny and earnest with its tale of making friends. The star studded cast doesn’t hurt it either with Simon Pegg, Gillian Anderson fellow Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins among others lending their voices.

About author

Music Editor at Live in Limbo and Host of Contra Zoom podcast. Dakota is a graduate of Humber College's Acting for Film and Television. He now specializes in knowing all random trivia. He writes about music, sports and film. Dakota's life goal is visit all baseball stadiums, he's at 7.