Oscar nominees 2021 Oscar nominees 2021

The nominations are out for the 93rd Academy Awards. You can see the lists in the animation and vfx categories here. Read on for our analysis.

Animated Feature

In a year of strong awards consensus around animated features, this category was unlikely to throw up big surprises — and indeed it didn’t. Pixar’s Soul goes in as the favorite, fresh from its wins at the Golden Globes and many other awards besides. For the first time ever, the studio has two nominated features, the other being the relatively minor Onward.

For the second year running, Netflix is playing in this category. It too has two releases in contention: Glen Keane’s Over the Moon, which received mixed-to-warm reviews and hasn’t built up much steam this season, and A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon from Oscar regulars Aardman Animations (the first feature in this franchise was nominated five years ago). The category is rounded out by Wolfwalkers, which marks Cartoon Saloon’s fifth Oscar nomination. Wolfwalkers has been garlanded by numerous critics’ circles since launching on Apple TV+, and could conceivably win the Irish studio its first Oscar.

"Wolfwalkers"
“Wolfwalkers”

In the absence of any real snubs, the most notable omission is Dreamworks’ The Croods: A New Age, a sequel to a film that was nominated in 2014. A New Age pulled off a surprisingly strong run at the Covid-era box office and was nominated for a Golden Globe and Annie. Netflix’s The Willoughbys, another Annie nominee, also missed out, as did Earwig and the Witch — the first Studio Ghibli film not to be nominated since 2011’s From Up on Poppy Hill.

This year’s line-up is the least indie in a long time, if not ever. Farmageddon and Wolfwalkers were produced on modest budgets (by Hollywood standards) in Europe, but they are released respectively by Netflix and Apple, two mighty companies whose campaigning resources far outstrip those of indie distributors. (It should be noted that in the case of the latter film, its theatrical distributor in the U.S. is GKIDS, who is also an executive producer on the film. The indie distributor earned it twelfth feature animation Oscar nomination with Wolfwalkers.)

A final note: four of the five nominees are streaming releases (Onward being the exception). Even without Covid, three would have still fallen into this category. This is the first time streamers account for the majority of nominees.

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon
“A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon”
Animated Short

This award is less subject to punditry and predictions than the features, but this year’s list of nominees still comes as a surprise. Adrien Mérigeau’s deliciously atmospheric Genius Loci, the most experimental film in the shortlist, has been nominated in a category that tends to reward more narrative works. So has Yes-People by Gísli Darri Halldórsson, a little-hyped comic piece that was unexpected at the shortlist stage, let alone the nominations.

The third indie film in the line-up is Erick Oh’s Opera, which (like Genius Loci) is somber and unconventionally structured. What’s more, it was conceived as an installation piece, so few (if any) Academy voters will have seen it as intended. But its nomination is less surprising than the two above as Oh is well known in California, where he has worked for both Pixar and Tonko House.

Burrow
“Burrow”

This trio is up against two higher-profile films. The first is Madeline Sharafian’s Burrow, a sweet-natured tale of an anxious rabbit — and a rare 2d film from Pixar. (Note: Sharafian is the only woman director nominated in the animation categories this year.) The second If Anything Happens I Love You by Will McCormack and Michael Govier, Netflix’s first ever animated short nominee (this is the first year the streamer has submitted films into this category). Produced independently and subsequently acquired by Netflix, it ticks a few Academy boxes: its story of a school shooting is told sentimentally, with a streak of progressive commentary on a hot-button social issue.

Meanwhile, three big American films have fallen out of the race. At Cartoon Brew’s recent roundtable, there was only one shortlisted film the editorial team unanimously agreed was a likely winner: Pixar’s coming-out tale Out. But it hasn’t even been nominated. Nor has Dreamworks’ To: Gerard or festival favorite Kapaemahu, a lyrical retelling of a Hawaiian legend. As I said in the roundtable, the collapse of IRL festivals this year has made this category unusually tricky to predict; the nominees bear that out.

A final comment: all nominees are 2d-animated bar Yes-People (which is cgi). That ratio is pretty unusual in this category.

"Opera"
“Opera”
Visual Effects

This category arguably looks more different from its usual non-Covid self than any other. Alongside the occasional mega-budget period drama, it is usually the prerogative of tent-pole sci-fi and fantasy films — precisely the kinds of movie delayed into 2021 by the pandemic.

This year’s nominees are thus an unusually low-key bunch. That Warner Bros.’s Tenet, a film that placed an unusual emphasis on in-camera effects, is the favorite says a lot. Netflix’s dystopian Arctic drama The Midnight Sky and Disney’s Mulan remake are the other frontrunners.

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