a theatre, film & pop culture review
Note: This is my personal ranking, listed in order from best to worst, with #1 being my favorite. Prediction for the actual winner is in orange.
Missing: The Adventures of Tintin
Rango‘s computer animation is the most stunning of the lot, but based on watchability, only one film was more painful than Gore Verbinski’s rambling, tongue-in-cheek chameleon western penned by in-demand screenwriter-playwright John Logan. Boasting some of the most beautifully-crafted ugliest creatures on god’s green earth, it’s also a snooze-fest despite its oddball mentality as perfectly embodied by Johnny Depp’s misfit lizard, Lars. But it’s beloved by critics and audiences alike (?), so this whacky feature is taking home the gold.
The animation is polished and fight scenes are zippy-fun — or at least, that’s what everyone else is saying. I wouldn’t know — or rather, I do know, but was not duly impressed — because I turned Kung Fu Panda 2 off after about 20 minutes. The story is so trivial and mindless with the predictable “lesson” tagged on at the end for good measure that it exemplifies exactly what is wrong with a category that has only been around since 2001: it favors box office smashes that are geared towards kids. Sure, Pixar usually shows up to legitimize its existence, but when even that powerhouse churns out a profit-pandering sequel (that would be the rightly-dissed Cars 2), you know it’s going to be a rough year.
To be fair, Puss in Boots is the same type of ‘toon-fare as Kung Fu Panda 2, but it’s much more enjoyable with a slightly-more sophisticated story (and I do mean slightly). This is your typical Dreamworks computer-animated flick, no better or worse than the rest of the Shrek movies, and it offers a completely dedicated Antonio Bandares at full-funny tilt as the badass swashbucklin’ Puss with a Spanish accent and fondness for the lady-kitties. Mindless, yes, but I had a good time watching this one.
The final two films are the two foreign, hand-drawn nominees (and a hand-drawn pic hasn’t won since 2002’s Spirited Away). A Cat in Paris is by all accounts a slight tale of a girl and her kitty, who lives a double-life as a burglar-gangster at night (I wasn’t able to see it). Chico & Rita, by far my favorite, is a romantic drama that just happens to be animated. This is the only nominee geared towards adults — yep, that’s an animated nipple you’re seeing — and while the sepia-palette is a bit dull and the old-fashioned animation lacks sharp definition, it’s an aurally vibrant love-letter to jazz. The romantic entanglements of a Cuban jazz musician and singer are set to a few old-school tunes with new ones by Bebo Valdés, a Cuban-born pianist and composer, who also happens to be the inspiration for character of Chico. It’s a romanticized portrait of Cuba, to be sure, but it’s a dazzling homage to the jazz form and the people who made it spectacular (Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonius Monk and Chano Pozo). See it for the love story, remember it for the gorgeous, invigorating music.
As much as I loved Chico & Rita, the actual Best Animated Feature this year was not even nominated. I don’t know why the Academy is so adverse to motion-capture, but the fact that it super-snubbed Spielberg’s terrifically sparky and brilliantly directed (just look at that breathless, super-kinetic chase scene mid-film!) The Adventures of Tintin is absolutely ridiculous — as is their undeserving recognition of his lazier work on War Horse. Epic fail, Academy. Epic. Fail.