I watch the Oscars every year because I love movies. I hate the Oscars because I love movies.
The award for “Best Picture” often goes to a film that is, clearly, not the best picture. You know it, I know it, everyone knows it. The egregious mistakes are clear when viewed through the prism of time: Dances With Wolves winning over GoodFellas in 1991; Ordinary People winning over Raging Bull in 1981; Oliver! winning in 1969, with 2001: A Space Odyssey not even garnering a best picture nomination; and, perhaps most infamously, How Green Was My Valley winning over Citizen Kane in 1942.
I’ll put it in writing: the best motion picture released last year was WALL-E. Like 2001 — which WALL-E pays significant homage to — it wasn’t even nominated for best picture. But it effectively couldn’t be nominated — and that’s the real crime. Instead, WALL-E was nominated for and awarded the prize for “best animated film”.1
But why does this category even exist? Animated as opposed to what? Photographed? Animation is merely a technique. Cinema is cinema. The Academy’s rules state that films nominated for best animated feature are still eligible to be nominated for best picture, but don’t hold your breath waiting for it to happen. The whole point of this award is to establish a ghetto where “cartoons”, no matter how good, are relegated. Putting WALL-E up against Bolt and Kung Fu Panda rather than letting it compete against Slumdog Millionaire and Benjamin Button is like requiring a 13-year-old chess prodigy to compete only against other children, regardless of whether he could stand his own against adult grandmasters. It’s a dismissive pat on the head.
That WALL-E is for children does not mean it is only for children. It is a precise, painstakingly detailed, evocative work of art that rewards multiple viewings. It is both thoughtful and thought-provoking.
The second half of the film is less ambitious than the first, yes, but, given that the major Oscars ultimately went to Slumdog Millionaire, there’s clearly no institutional bias against tidy endings wherein the loyal, steadfast, determined underdog beats the odds and gets the girl.
Like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, overlooked by the Academy in 1938, WALL-E, it says here, will win out in the end: not just remembered but still being watched, loved, and critically acclaimed generations after it was released, and long after the Academy’s choices have been forgotten.