Oscars 2021 qualifications Oscars 2021 qualifications

The Academy Awards are still more than three months away, yet already buzz is coalescing around a handful of frontrunners. Such is the nature of the Oscars — and this predictable category in particular.

Many pundits are calling it for Pixar’s Soul or Cartoon Saloon’s Wolfwalkers, the two most lauded films in the recent round of critics’ awards. A few other big-studio tentpoles are being talked out about as likely nominees with an outside chance of a win: Netflix’s Over the Moon, Pixar’s Onward, Studio Ghibli’s Earwig and the Witch.

These predictions are sensible, and this reveals an unfortunate fact about the animated feature race: when choosing their nominees and winner, Academy voters tend to plump for the same studios year in, year out. Their conservative choices couldn’t contrast more with the list of qualified features, which gets longer and more varied every year. Last year saw a record 32 features, of all styles, genres, and nationalities, submitted to the Oscars.

The Wrap has published this year’s list, which includes 27 features — admittedly fewer than last year, but still an impressive number considering this year’s disruptions. In November, we highlighted four indie features that we thought would make interesting nominees this time around.

Here are another five (the producers/distributors have confirmed to us that they have been submitted). These aren’t necessarily our favorite films of the year — they’re just a reminder of how diverse the nominees could potentially be.

The Nose or the Conspiracy of Mavericks

Director: Andrey Khrzhanovsky
Country: Russia

Khrzhanovsky, an 81-year-old veteran of animation and live action alike, returns with a teeming, teasing chronicle of Russia’s early 20th century. Structured as a collage of vignettes from the country’s history (mostly in the Stalin years), the film explores the role of artists under totalitarian regimes through a combination of cut-out, hand-drawn animation, and live action. A jury award at Annecy and nomination at the European Film Awards have given the film momentum in this year’s race.

Ride Your Wave

Director: Masaaki Yuasa
Country: Japan
Watch it on: HBO Max, Blu-ray

A surfing enthusiast and an earnest firefighter, in love: the famously protean Yuasa (Mind Game, Devilman Crybaby) turns to late-teen romance in his latest feature. A couple of blindsiding twists give their story a tragicomic flavor as the film edges into fantasy. Like all of Yuasa’s features, the film is distributed in the U.S. by Gkids, which has a knack for nabbing Oscar nominations.

A Whisker Away

Directors: Junichi Sato, Tomotaka Shibayama
Country: Japan
Watch it on: Netflix

Here’s another whimsical Japanese tale of young love, this time unrequited. Miyo, a schoolgirl with a personality as big as her heart, has a crush on Hinode, but her feelings aren’t reciprocated — until, with the help of a magic mask, she turns into a cat. The film comes from Studio Colorido, the producers of the zany 2018 release Penguin Highway.

Accidental Luxuriance of the Translucent Watery Rebus

Director: Dalibor Barić
Country: Croatia

Working essentially on his own, Barić has made a feature as enigmatic as its title. Elements of romance, sci-fi, and detective noir never coalesce into a clear narrative, the film playing instead as a hallucinatory cocktail of philosophical musings (in an array of different media). Pixar this ain’t. Academy voters have shown little tolerance of experimental animation in the past; the qualification of films like this reminds us how narrow their tastes can be.


Director: Rémi Chayé
Countries: France, Denmark

Little is known about the real-life Calamity Jane’s early years. Calamity fills in some blanks with a mostly fictional origin story about the Wild West icon. For the production, Chayé refined the Flash-based pipeline he developed for his last film Long Way North, resulting in a similar visual style. Calamity has had a strong start (it won the top feature prize at Annecy) and the director has fans in Hollywood: Long Way North was nominated for an Annie.

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