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Oscar Rules Change Could Impact Indie and Foreign Films In Best Animated Feature Race

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced an updated set of rules today for the upcoming 90th Annual Academy Awards, and among them is the most significant change to the best animated feature category in a long time.

Under the new Academy rules, nomination voting in the animated feature category will now be opened up to the entire eligible voting membership, instead of being restricted to the Short Films and Feature Animation Branch. From the Academy press release:

Invitations to join the [animated feature] nominating committee will be sent to all active Academy members, rather than a select craft-based group. Voting in the nominations round will now be preferential instead of based on a numerical scoring system. Members participating on the nominating committee may view films in their theatrical runs or at other screenings, through the Academy’s streaming site or on DVDs/screeners to qualify to vote.

What does this mean? First of all, the Academy has done a reasonably good job of nominating animated features that represent the quality and diversity of contemporary feature animation from around the world. In the last four years, 10 of the 20 nominees in the category have either been foreign or independent animated features, along with 10 films from the major U.S. studios.

The people who used to nominate the animated features were members of the Short Films and Feature Animation Branch, comprised largely of individuals who work in the animation industry, as well as select members invited from other branches.

After the nominations are selected, the voting to determine the winner of the Academy Award is opened up to all 17 Academy branches, which includes actors, casting directors, executives, film editors, make-up artists, hair stylists, musicians, public relations, sound designers, and writers, among others. The general membership is the group that has voted to give the animated feature Academy Award to the same corporation — The Walt Disney Company — for nine out of the last ten years. That voting pattern, combined with past comments about animation by the general membership, suggest that the category is about to be pushed into more commercially oriented territory.

One of the companies that could be affected by this new rule change is independent American distributor GKIDS, which has done a remarkable job of launching foreign animated features into the limelight over the past decade. This year, the company earned its ninth Oscar nomination for the Swiss-French co-production My Life As A Zucchini.

GKIDS founder Eric Beckman spoke with Cartoon Brew this afternoon about the new rule changes. He expressed hopefulness that voters would “still respond to good filmmaking in the same way that the broader Academy has responded to good filmmaking in live-action.”

“GKIDS has made a name for ourselves by championing a broader definition of animation as a cinematic art form on a par with live action,” he added. “To the extent that we can find films that exemplify or approach that aspirational goal, I think that people are going to respond to that.”

GKIDS, however, isn’t the only studio that stands to be affected by the new rules. In 2016, Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s penetrating character study Anomalisa earned a nomination. Distributed by Paramount, the stop motion feature was the first independently produced American feature to compete in the category’s 16-year history.

This year, one of the nominees was Michael Dudok de Wit’s poignant The Red Turtle, a hand-drawn/cgi hybrid that was released by Sony Pictures Classics in the United States and produced by Studio Ghibli and other European co-production partners.

It is films like Anomalisa and The Red Turtle that the Academy may ultimately be trying to knock out of contention, according to a piece published by The Wrap. They report that there have been internal debates within the Academy about finding ways to eliminate ‘old school’ animation and focus more attention onto commercial cgi projects:

The committees have been under increasing criticism in recent years for shunning films like The Lego Movie and showing a marked preference for hand-drawn or stop-motion films over CG movies…The move should substantially increase the number of voters in the category, and perhaps lessen the bias toward old-school animation.

It remains to be seen how the specific rule changes will affect the nominations in the category. For example, what is to be gained by replacing the current numerical ranking system with preferential balloting (explained here)? We’ll find out come next January.

One thing is already clear though: 2017 is shaping up to be a particularly weak year creatively for American studio animation, especially relative to preceding years. Under the old rules, the animated feature category could very well have been dominated by independent and foreign productions this year, while these rule changes will almost certainly benefit commercial fare. In other words, if The Emoji Movie and Cars 3 didn’t stand a shot before, they’re definitely back in the Oscar race for 2017.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this piece misstated that previously the animated feature nominees were selected only by the Short Films and Feature Animation Branch. That branch has selected the nominees, but also sends invitations to members of other branches to increase voter participation.

  • :(

    Given how general Academy voters have already been treating the category, this seems like a terrible idea. I guess we’ll have to see how it turns out next year, but it practically seems like they might as well just get rid of the category entirely. If it’s true that they’re deliberately trying to force the category to just pick CGI movies, then they’re not putting up even a *semblance* of trying to pick the actual best one anymore…

    • ea

      They should have a separate category for mainstream CGI movies and another one for foreign and indie animated films, like the Annies.

  • Marc Hendry

    Now they’ll be even LESS exciting!

  • anim8ball

    I don’t quite see where these accusations of “bias towards old-school animation” that the Academy’s referring to are coming from. There have been more CG animated films nominated than stop-motion and hand-drawn films combined. Not to mention 14 of the last 16 winners were CG animated.


    “Invitations to join the [animated feature] nominating committee will be sent to all active Academy members, rather than a select craft-based group.”

    Isn’t it the point to have the Best Animated Feature nominees selected by people who KNOW the craft? It’s bad enough that the group who actually votes on the nominees already shows bias in favor of popular American films (it particularly peeves me that “The Triplets of Belleville” lost to “Finding Nemo” in 2003).

  • Lucky Jim

    “The committees have been under increasing criticism in recent years for shunning films like The Lego Movie and showing a marked preference for hand-drawn or stop-motion films over CG movies…”

    Hahahahahaha all the people complaining that “The Lego Movie” didn’t get a nomination have unwittingly doomed the Best Animated Feature category.

    • ea

      If the academy starts filling the BAF category with CGI stuff from Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, Illumination and Sony, then I’m going to hack the Best Picture category, leave out all the “Oscar bait” and nominate things like Fast and Furious, Transformers, 50 Shades, Star Wars and superhero movies.

      • Exilov

        Academy voter when it comes to Best Picture: “Mmmm, *sips tea* yes I voted for Moonlight because it was so deep and profound and tells such an important story and touches on unique themes. It has great cinematography too, and its just poetic and complex. Mmmmm yes *sips tea again* quite.”

        Same voter when it comes to Best Animated Feature: “Well my kid liked that Disney film and we laughed throughout so I picked it.”

    • Manny

      So no more “chinese fucking things” I guess…

  • ea

    Who knows? Maybe such a move could benefit non-mainstream animated films. After all, the entire academy selects films like Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight and Hell or High Water for Best Picture. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt if they also raised the number of nominees in the BAF category.

  • Andres Molina

    Here is is my way of putting it, this is further proof that the Academy doesn’t necessarily care about animation is a medium, other than a kids genre. Yes, i do believe it’s important for independent/foreign films be given a chance to be nominated, but that doesn’t mean we should go as blame or criticize CGI for being more favored over indie films. Yes, I’m upset that this means they will choose more CGI films. But you know what, I will not stand seeing people complain about CGI ruining everything, like some people do. Yes, we need to push more diversity and variety in animation and the type of films being made, but the wrong way to do so is complaining about CGI films being made, or blame CGI for indie films being overlooked. I mean its not Pixar’s fault American Hand-drawn films are currently rare, it just happened that most of the hand-drawn films between the late 90’s and early 2000’s either flopped at the box office or weren’t all that good, while Pixar goes out to show that there was a new way to tell stories, and it’s definitely NOT fair to point figures at Shrek for the spread of pop culture references, poop jokes, or pop songs in most American CGI films, it just happens that Shrek was a satire to the traditional Disney fairy tales and was massively successful with critics and at the box office, and most animation studios decide to copy Shrek for all the wrong reasons, without realizing why exactly Shrek was popular, they just assumed that Shrek became popular because of the Pop culture references and pop songs, and they took influence on the film, with very mixed results. Anyway, yeah, its sucks that indie or foreign films could have less a chance to get recognized, but that should equal to, complaining about popular CGI films winning, it just happens that some of those “commercial cgi projects” did actually deserve the Oscar win. This is just my opinion. Feel free to tell me what you think.

  • Cameron Ward

    I get the concern and such, but if the last four+ years have been good with animation noms for BAF, then why would it stop with this new rule? I understand the concerns, but are people really going to say by January of 2018 stuff like “oh yeah, The Boss Baby deserves it over My Entire Highschool Sinking into the Sea and The Girl Without Hands”?

    I don’t know why it would change now even if it’s open to people less familiar with animation. If this was a problem, then Illumination’s films would have been making it into the top 5 spots for the BAF for the past couple of years only because they made loads of money.

    I don’t have as much doom and gloom concerns yet, but still.

  • JodyMorgan

    Nominees for 2017: Despicable Me 3, Coco, Ferdinand, The Boss Baby, and Captain Underpants.

    (Sadly, I’m only half-joking…)

    • James Vermont

      Well on the bright side Tomm Moore’s coming out with a new film this year and his last two (Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea) were nominated. So maybe he can finally get the award he deserves.

      • AmidAmidi

        Tomm Moore does not have a film coming out. He is developing Wolfwalkers, and that has no release date at this time. However, one of his partners in Cartoon Saloon, Nora Twomey, does have a film coming out this year called “The Breadwinner.”

    • Taluss Athner

      Maybe Mary and the Witch’s Flower will get one just for looking like Ghibli and having former Ghibli people making it, I wouldn’t be surprised if that and the new Masaaki Yuasa film ended up being the two best animated films of the year and neither got nominated, especially after Your Name missed out last year it looks like its Miyazaki or nothing for anime.

      • ea

        I’m sure the Academy will nominate one or two token foreign films just to avoid accusations of xenophobia, like most of the time.

  • crossie

    I was under the impression that the nomination voting was never just from the Animation branch; it was always open to anyone from the Academy in any branch. You just had to prove you had seen enough of the movies submitted, which hasn’t changed. Maybe I was wrong; of course, the Academy rules as written in the guidelines are a badly written mess, and their occasional press releases usually seem to confuse things rather than help(it looks like to me they just copy and pasted the entire rulebook entry, rather than the part that was actually changed).

    But anyway, as far as the switching from numerical ranking to preferential ballot is concerned, that’s a total plus, and it’s surprising it’s taken them this long; in 2011, due to a breakdown of the ranked ballot, the Best Song category only had two songs nominated. The rules for changing that category into something else (I don’t know if they went preferential there, it’s a weird category) went into effect for 2012; the same thing could have happened any year in the Animated Feature category (over 16 movies submitted meant 5 movies COULD be nominated, not that they WOULD).

    If you were angry about Disney having two nominees last year, imagine if they were the only two nominees. The voting type rule change would prevent that circumstance happening.

  • crossie

    Okay, the old rule was (as clarified by Kris Tapley on Variety ) it was 50/50 Animation Branch/Whatever. Now it’s “whoever wants as long as they can reasonably prove they saw a majority of the submissions”.

    That being said, I wonder if Steve Pond’s assertions quoted above are less the Academy’s views than his own.

    • JodyMorgan

      “whoever wants as long as they can reasonably prove they saw a majority of the submissions” — Maybe I’m being too skeptical, but I can’t imagine the Academy checking on this for BAF nominees.

  • crossie

    And another thought; obviously they don’t change the rules arbitrarily for nothing, but I don’t hear anybody complaining they don’t nominate enough Disney CGI blockbusters (rather the opposite, in fact).

    Maybe I’m being naive, but it’s just as likely the Academy is trying to bust the Disney deathgrip on the category by making sure they can’t bloc vote as a studio (as they theoretically could inside the Animation branch)?

    • Noah D’Antonio

      Doubtful. There has never been a problem with an over nomination of Disney films, just that too many of them win. The fact that they win has to do with the voting being open to the entire academy instead of just the animation branch (or 50/50 as you said).

      It is incredibly worrying to me what this will mean, but the only way we’ll know for sure is the next time nominations come out.

  • jawsnnn

    The only thing that gives me “comfort” is the fact that the Oscars have already lost all credibility as a platform for recognizing the best in animation. How much worse can it be?
    Then I remember that a nom alone worked in favor of some of these films in N America, giving them visibility, and it’s a bad situation again.

  • HvnlyDaze

    It’s not like the Academy actually gives a damn about animated films, so who cares? I know that’s kinda asinine to say, but the Academy has said many times that they don’t watch most of the animated films that are nominated. The only time they actually pay attention to an animated film is when they’re *dragged* to see the new Disney CGI film (which is why Disney’s films are usually the winners).

    Instead of getting angry about this, fans of animation need to SUPPORT indie and foreign animated films. If Ghibli releases a new animated film, then make sure to see it in theaters (or at least buy the blu-ray). If an animated indie film releases, GO SEE IT and TELL OTHER PEOPLE TO SEE IT! Fund these projects so we won’t be left with shit like ‘The Boss Baby’. $$$ = speaks volumes!

    • BlueBoomPony

      Personally, I think it’s more asinine to give anything more than a gnat’s fart about The Academy [tm]. Those people live in a dense bubble and see the rest of us as garbage. Every word expended on them makes the world a crappier place. Now I need to go do a couple good deeds to offset the words expended in this post.

  • Troy

    “Opened up to all 17 Academy branches, which includes actors, casting directors, executives, film editors, make-up artists, hair stylists, musicians, public relations, sound designers, and writers, among others.” I’m starting to think those people are messing with animation just make their movies look better. Along those lines, why change the rules now? We clearly see the bias opinion and yet they allow that as part of their judgement? All this will accomplished is telling us who favors the movie more with a clear bulls-eye biased statement.

    In a more conspiracy/tin foil thought: MAYBE they’re doing this to attack Disney and any others supporting Trump.

    On a serious note: Are we even sure it is not too late to revoke their membership?

  • Gojira007

    This is grimly hilarious on a number of levels, not the least of which being that, once again, the movie industry demonstrates its incredible ability to learn all the wrong lessons from its past mistakes. If their takeaway from the flack they caught over snubbing “The Lego Movie” is that they need to nominate even MORE mainstream CGI-animated family films than they already do, then they’re flat-out just not paying attention to anything anyone is actually saying.

  • If anyone wishes to get an idea of what the Academy’s Animated Feature Film nominees will look like from now on, they need only look at those for the BAFTA’s equivalent category since its inception, which has always used a similar system (any member of any branch has the option of joining the nominating committee) to that which the AMPAS has now moved to.

    It was, admittedly, also limited by having two fewer nomination slots until this year – but a change to bring it in line with the AMPAS’ maximum of 5 did nothing but ensure that each of the 3 Disney releases that year was treated to a nomination of its own. Maybe BAFTA members think that they’re like the children of the young family audience they cater to, and one will break into tears if it doesn’t get the same thing as all of its siblings, while Miss Hokusai, Anomalisa, When Marnie Was There, Long Way North and your name. are all mature enough to not be bothered about the members opting for giving no fifth nomination over including any of them.

    Really, the only two things surprising about all of this is that a time in which productions like The Secret of Kells and My Life as a Courgette would consistently be found nominated for the best-known award in the world ever existed, and that it was allowed to persist for the approx. 15 years it did. Those nominations can continue to be a way by which the studios behind the works are discovered by the wider public and, when compared to their complete (the great curveball year of ’08 aside) absence from the British equivalent, I find that’s still something for Americans to celebrate, in a time in which they might not have much to celebrate about.

  • Johnny Marques

    I don’t want to be pessimistic, but this doesn’t bode too well for the future. Imo the nominations have always been far more intriguing than the actual winners of this award. The effort to recognize, at least with a nomination, different styles speaks well for the efforts of the animation branch. If you leave this choice to, I dunno, a publicist who will only watch animation if his/her children force them to, this uniqueness of choices might be lost. Still, too early to tell, hopefully the changes won’t be too radical.

  • Steven Bowser

    Were voters not required to have watched all the nominees in order to vote, and if so, are they now required to watch all the films before voting? Because I think it would be ridiculous if they were allowed to vote without full knowledge. I remember some comments from voters that came off that way, like they just voted for what their kids liked or something. That’s pretty embarrassing.

  • Taluss Athner

    I just saw it in theater and after all the hype somehow it still exceeded it, one of the best movies I’ve seen in years really.