The animation community has been rocked by news that Pixar co-founder John Lasseter has taken a six-month leave of absence from Disney after he apologised for making certain colleagues feel “disrespected or uncomfortable” in his day-to-day interactions.
While no named individual had levelled an allegation at time of writing, it will be interesting to see how the development impacts the awards prospects of Coco against the backdrop of anger and recrimination in Hollywood.
Pixar’s latest release is already Mexico’s highest-grossing film of all time on $50m and counting, and is viewed by executives as their chance to get back in the race after last year’s rare shut-out for Finding Dory. On that occasion Disney stablemate Zootopia won the Oscar and in the process ensured that animated features distributed by Disney have won nine of the last 10 Oscars (Paramount’s Rango being the interloper in 2012).
Pixar’s game-changing films have won eight animated feature Oscars and delivered some of the finest (family) films ever seen. Lasseter has been the guiding light and his significance as a professional is hard to overstate.
Yet his influence and responsibility as a leader and male colleague are also of the utmost importance. We do not yet know all the facts, but there is never any excuse for improper behaviour that makes others suffer. That said, it would be harsh on the hundreds of people who worked on Coco if voters vented their frustration with one man and tried to thwart the film’s awards prospects.
Following a rule change last spring, any Academy member can now ask to join the animated feature nominating committee. This takes the nominations process out of the hands of the experts and, one argument goes, could make it harder for the independent contenders whose distributors lack the resources of a studio to reach a potentially wider pool of nominating members.
That would be a travesty, because besides this year’s studio hopefuls — which include DreamWorks Animation’s The Boss Baby, Warner Bros’ The LEGO Batman Movie and Universal’s Despicable Me 3 — there are some very fine independent films in the mix. Loving Vincent and The Breadwinner in particular have captured the imagination.
The former, sold internationally by Cinema Management Group and distributed in the US via Good Deed Entertainment and in the UK by Altitude, relates the story of Vincent van Gogh through 65,000 individually hand-painted frames. Polish animator Dorota Kobiela and her husband and co-director Hugh Welchman have achieved something extraordinary, and what began on Kickstarter and attracted backing from the likes of Silver Reel and the Polish Film Institute deserves every success.
Nora Twomey’s Toronto world premiere The Breadwinner from Ireland’s Cartoon Saloon, Canada’s Aircraft Pictures and Luxembourg’s Melusine Productions has impressed. US distributor GKids’ films have earned nods before, including My Life As A Courgette last year. Angelina Jolie as executive producer on the film, about a girl growing up under Taliban rule, should add heft to the campaign.
Jolie has been busy — she directed First They Killed My Father, Cambodia’s submission among a record 92 films vying for the foreign-language Oscar. At this relatively early stage, it should be regarded as a contender alongside heavyweights such as Ruben Ostlund’s Swedish Palme d’Or winner The Square and Fatih Akin’s revenge tale In The Fade, which earned Diane Kruger the best actress prize in Cannes.
Some have hailed Samuel Maoz’s Israeli drama Foxtrot a masterpiece and it could go far. Expect recognition too for Sebastian Lelio’s A Fantastic Woman starring transgender actress Daniela Vega, and domestic drama Loveless from Russian auteur and Cannes jury prize winner Andrey Zvyagintsev. Robin Campillo’s French contender and Cannes grand jury prize winner BPM (Beats Per Minute) is also tipped to do well, and don’t rule out Agnieszka Holland’s Polish mystery Spoor.
These are all fine films but one or two may not even make it as far as the December shortlist. After all, the foreign-language category is consistently the most controversial, and unique work is not a guarantee of success. Look how Toni Erdmann lost the Oscar at the last gasp to The Salesman.