Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood, Richard Linklater
The Academy almost didn’t allow this film to qualify for the animated feature category at first, but after a quick and nearly unanimous uproar within the creative community, the decision was reversed and Linklater’s latest is now one of the 27 films that could score a nomination. It’s hard to say how well audiences received the film, as it was released direct-to-streaming on Netflix and little data is available, but it was one of the best-reviewed animated features of 2022 by critics, and with Linklater’s reputation, it’s not an out-of-this-world thought that maybe it could sneak a surprise nod.
Apollo 10 1/2 is an animated retelling of the first moon landing mission as experienced through the parallel points of view of the launch’s mission control team and a young child growing up in Houston, watching the launch from his living room. While not explicitly autobiographical, Linklater – a Houston native – did draw heavily on his own experiences as a child for the film, enhancing the authenticity of the coming-of-age story.
Inu-Oh, Masaaki Yuasa
Perhaps the most likely from this list to get an Academy nod, considering it recently earned a Golden Globe nomination, Inu-Oh offered one of the most exciting viewing experiences in all of feature animation in 2022. As the film worked its way through the festival circuit, crowds shouted, screamed, and danced along to its energetic score and thrilling concert sequences. Director Masaaki Yuasa is a rockstar in the world of animation whose work has been awarded time and again around the world, although he has frequently been overlooked by U.S. audiences and awards shows.
Inu-Oh is set in Muromachi period Japan after the Genpei War of 1180–1185. The film turns on a blind biwa player named Tomona and the malformed outcast Inu-oh (voiced by Avu-chan, lead singer of the Japanese band Queen Bee). The duo team up to fight back against oppressive censorship-loving authorities by hosting thrilling, choreographed rock concerts that would fit better into a modern arena than any venue that existed at the time.
Little Nicholas – Happy as Can Be, Amandine Fredon, Benjamin Massoubre
In feature animation, there are few honors as prestigious as the Annecy Cristal. However, a win at Annecy has rarely translated into success at the Oscars, and that looks like it will be the case again with last year’s best feature winner Little Nicholas – Happy as Can Be. Awards predictors aren’t giving Little Nicholas much of a shot this year, despite overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics around the world.
Co-directed by Amandine Fredon and Benjamin Massoubre, Little Nicholas is, aesthetically, one of the truest book-to-screen adaptations that we’ve seen in feature animation, and the work put in by the artists deserves special praise. The film, which kicks off at a café on a picturesque street in Paris somewhere between Montmartre and Saint-Germain-des-Prés, features animated versions of real-life cartoonist Jean-Jacques Sempé and writer René Goscinny – creators of the Little Nicholas books back in the late 1950s – as they bring their precocious new character to life in sketches and stories. The fictional tales of Nicholas are woven into the real story of how Sempé and Goscinny became friends and colleagues who delighted French readers for years.
Mad God, Phil Tippett
Production on special effects master Phil Tippett’s horror stop-motion feature Mad God began in the 1990s, and the final product ended up being worth the long wait. It’s not as easily digestible as any of the other prestige films fighting for a nomination this year, but when has easy-to-watch ever been a virtue that deserved recognition? The film is violent, dark, and frightening, and the tactile nature of stop-motion makes its over-the-top gore all the more impactful.
The story of Mad God is simpler than its execution but no less effective. In the film, a masked assassin undertakes a mission to destroy a demonic world occupied by violent and malevolent monsters. Forgoing dialogue, Tippett lets his animation do the talking, and to great effect. No film among this year’s qualified features is as much of an outlier as Mad God, and that’s one of its greatest strengths.
Oink, Mascha Halberstad
More stop motion? Yes, please! Oink (Knor in its native tongue) is a charming Dutch/Belgian film about a nine-year-old girl and her pig named Oink, gifted to her by her grandfather. Directed by Mascha Halberstad, Oink looks on the surface like a colorful film for kids to watch with their parents as they collectively aww at the adorable creatures and characters. But don’t let that fool you. The film has a dark side that would make Roald Dahl or the Brothers Grimm proud.
Babs, the film’s vegetarian protagonist, is gifted a piglet by her absentee grandfather, a disgraced butcher who shows up out of nowhere for her birthday. Quickly, the film takes a perhaps predictable turn – although the narrative isn’t hurt at all by the inevitability of some characters’ actions – as familial relationships grow increasingly strained and the knives come out. Oink may not have the broader appeal of big budget English-language features like Pinocchio or Wendell & Wild, but it holds up to either in terms of artistic ambition and its ability to provide something aesthetically and narratively unique among the qualified features.