Sense of Wonder: Oscars snub cinefantastique – again

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ARGO and LIFE OF PI won big at the 85th Oscars.

Hopefully, the above headline needs no explanation, but in case you have any doubts, we’re talking about cinefantastique the genre, not Cinefantastique, the online magazine of horror, fantasy, and science fiction cinema. Although there have been a few exceptions in recent decades (e.g., a Best Picture win for THE LORD OF THE RINGS: RETURN OF THE KING), the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences traditionally under-represents imagi-movies at each year’s Oscars, and the 2013 ceremony was no exception – and no surprise, since few horror, fantasy, and science fiction films were even nominated.
It is not as if there were not some worthy contenders from 2012: CLOUD ATLAS, RISE OF THE GUARDIANS, ROBOT AND FRANK (especially Frank Langella’s performance), THE SECRET WORLD OF ARIETTY, and THE DARK KNIGHT RISES – to name a few. However, even in categories that traditionally offer a glimmer of hope (technical areas such as special effects), the genre went ignored.
ARGO: Ben Affleck directs John Goodman as John Chambers, the real-life makeup artists who won an Oscar for PLANET OF THE APES.
Best Picture ARGO: Ben Affleck directs John Goodman as John Chambers, the real-life makeup artists who won an Oscar for PLANET OF THE APES.

The only solace, such as it was, took the form of two borderline titles that won in several categories: ARGO and LIFE OF PI. The former is a fact-based political thriller, but its plot is based around using a phony science fiction film as cover to spirit hostages out of Iran, and the film actually uses the concept of sci-fi fantasy heroism in pop culture as a yardstick by which to measure real-life accomplishment. The latter uses effects-heavy imagery to recount one person’s lonely trek aboard a lifeboat in a way that questions the reality of the events, which may be just a personal fantasy.
ARGO took home the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Film Editing (William Goldenberg), and Adapted Screenplay (Chris Terrio). I cannot exactly argue with ARGO’s Best Picture win – it is a great movie – but I would have preferred to see THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (obviously impossible) or at least LES MISERABLES.
LIFE OF PI earned Oscar gold for Visual FX.
LIFE OF PI earned Oscar gold for Cinematography and Visual FX.

LIFE OF PI won for Cinematography (Claudio Miranda), Directing (Ang Lee), Music (Mychael Danna), and Visual Effects (Bill Westernhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer, Donald R. Elliott).
The win for Visual Effects is not a big surprise, but it is something of a disappointment since this is one of the few categories in which outright science fiction films have a shot at the gold statuette. This year’s nominees included THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY, THE AVENGERS, PROMETHEUS, and SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN. Presumably, THE HOBBIT and PROMETHEUS lost because voters felt they had seen the effects before in LORD OF THE RINGS and ALIEN, respectively. THE AVENGERS looked too much like TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON. And SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN lost because it was simply a bad movie, and the Academy seldom singles out isolated pockets of quality in otherwise undeserving films.
Merida in BRAVE from Disney-Pixar
Merida in BRAVE from Disney-Pixar

In the Animated Feature category, voters apparently could not decide on a good film, so they gave the award to BRAVE for being a Pixar Production. Personally, I think nominee FRANKENWEENIE is seriously flawed in the story department, but even so, it far surpasses Pixar’s latest step into mediocrity. Easily the best animated film of the year – THE SECRET WORLD OF ARIETTY – was not even nominated, nor was the worthy RISE OF THE GUARDIANS.
At least PAPERMAN took home the gold in the Animated Short category – the film was the only good thing about having to sit through WRECK IT RALPH, which incredibly was nominated in the Feature Animated category, along with the equally unworthy PARANORMAN. (I have not seen the other nominee THE PIRATES! BAND OF MISFITS, so I will reserve comment.)
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SKYFALL, the latest James Bond adventure, is less science fiction-oriented than many of its predecessors, but it still straddles the borderline of the genre. The film earned several nominations, including Cinematography, Original Score, and Sound Editing, and won for Sound Editing (Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers) and Best Song (Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth). Adele (who goes simply by her first name) performed the song during the ceremony – the first winner for a franchise noted for its memorable theme songs. (Shirley Bassey was also on hand to perform the title tune from 1963’s GOLDFINGER, which really set the standard for 007 songs.)
The Best Song win for “Skyfall” is one of the few decisions I can truly applaud for the 85 Annual Academy Awards. The song is the best thing about the film – and one of the best James Bond them song in over nearly two decades.
THE HOBBIT, Peter Jackson’s disappointing prequel to his LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, failed to impress Oscar voters. Nominated in three categories – Makeup, Production Design, and Visual Effects – the film went zero for three on Oscar night.
The terrible SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN was had to chances to win – for Costumes and Visual Effects – but lost out in both categories.
BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD (another borderline effort, which includes some fantasy creatures) was nominated in categories for Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, and Directing but came away empty handed.
So there you have it. It took AMPAS only 76 years to finally award a Best Picture win to a fantasy film (the aforementioned LORD OF THE RINGS: RETURN OF THE KING). Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait another seven decades for history to repeat itself.

PARANORMAN: CFQ Spotlight Podcast 3:33

The dead get downright lively in PARANORMAN.
The dead get downright lively in PARANORMAN.

A young boy gifted with the ability to see ghosts has to rise to the challenge when his small New England town is cursed by the spirit of a vengeful witch in PARANORMAN, the latest 3D stop-motion animated effort from Oregon’s Laika Studios. With an onslaught of mouldering zombies, voluble spirits, and malevolent storm fronts, plus a production that pushes the artistic boundaries of stop-motion in terms of scope and character performance, the film has no shortage of ambition. But is that enough? Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski and Lawrence French differ wildly with Dan Persons on this point, and the group discuss their divergent impressions in this episode. Plus: Dan’s capsules of the energetic Hong Kong fantasy/actioner PAINTED SKIN: THE RESURRECTION, and the indie science fiction romantic comedy CODEPENDENT LESBIAN SPACE ALIEN SEEKS SAME.

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ParaNorman Directors Sam Fell & Chris Butler: Fantasy Film Interview Podcast

Dolby Stereo is Just Lost on Some People: A boy contends with supernatural phenomena in PARANORMAN.
Dolby Stereo is Just Lost on Some People: A boy contends with supernatural phenomena in PARANORMAN.

Oregon’s Laika stop-motion studio is kind-of making a name for itself as the go-to guys for family-friendly fantasies that mix the scary and the funny in perfect proportion. In their latest, PARANORMAN, a young boy with gift for seeing the various and sundry spirits that are haunting his small, New England town is saddled with the responsibility of saving his neighbors from a centuries-old witch’s curse. For the kid, that’ll mean confrontations with kibitzing ghosts, lumbering zombies, and a vast, ominous, and all-destroying cloud of malevolence. For the audience, it means a supremely stunning and innovative foray into 3D animation, and a fitting follow-up to the studio’s CORALINE.
At this point, it stands as my favorite animated film of the year, and I was excited to get a chance to talk with its directors, Sam Fell and Chris Butler. Click on the player button to hear the conversation.

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ParaNorman Trailer #2

Second trailer from the stop-motion animated film PARANORMAN. Directed by Chris Butler and Sam Fell, from a script by Butler. With the voices of Anna Kendrick Leslie Mann, Elain Stritch, Jodelle Ferland, Temptestt Bledsoe, Casey Afflect, and John Goodman.
Release date: Friday, August 17, 2012

PARANORMAN nationwide

Focus Features releases this creepy family-fantasy film From Laika Entertainment, about a young boy who sees dead people. The 3-D stop-motion effort was co-directed by Chris Butler (who supplied storyboards for CORALINE and Tim Burton’s CORPSE BRIDE)  and Sam Fell (who directed THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX and FLUSHED AWAY). , from a script by Butler. With the voices of Anna Kendrick Leslie Mann, Elain Stritch, Jodelle Ferland, Temptestt Bledsoe, Casey Affleck, and John Goodman.
This first trailer features Donovan’s “Season of the Witch” to good effect, but the result is considerably moodier than the second trailer, which presents the film as more conventionally comical.
Release date: Friday, August 17, 2012