Written by Anthony Stadler
On the 28th February, I finally placed my votes for the second round of the BAFTAs. I was able to vote in five categories: Best Picture, Editing, Visual Effects, Animation and Films of Foreign Language. The last two are voluntary chapters that I signed up to as I enjoy them; not because I have worked in either. Which is ironic, as the other two chapters I could’ve signed up for (if I were allowed more than two of the four voluntary chapters), were Best British Film and Documentaries; both of which I have worked in. Documentaries are a huge undertaking, as about a third of the films this year were documentaries, and after spending all day working on a documentary, I really did not fancy watching them. But it would be fun to vote for one of the ones I edited… but that would be wrong, right? Also, Best British film, are the same films that could win Best Picture but filtered down.
The strange change to this year were the acting categories, which are now voted by a jury. Normally it’s open to all members, but I’m surprised they just didn’t allow the members in the acting chapter to vote on them. Maybe they did in the first round (I don’t know I’m not in the acting chapter), but it is strange that they did a jury for the second round to pick nominations. I’m not going to make any assumptions on why this was done, but it was always a nightmare voting in the first round for this category, as you got a list of every actor, in every film you had seen that year, in alphabetical order, without photographs. Which is never fun when you are dyslexic and tired.
This year there were a lot of films that got through to the second round that I just didn’t see beforehand. A few surprise omissions, some obvious ones, and the ones that probably shouldn’t have got through. So, the heavy slog through the powerful dramatic films started, or as friend puts it “The Oh So Worthy”. I tried to get through them all, but ended up having to abstain from Visual Effects and Films of Foreign Language, for the first time ever. That said, I got through all the rest, and while I recover from the heavy films let’s take this time to talk about the animations I saw this year.
We should start with my least favourite of the Animations, Earwig and The Witch. Now I understand that I am not the target audience for this movie, but I can imagine who was. I was enticed into watching it, as it had Richard E. Grant and said it was based in the 90s; sounds great on paper. In reality, the decade made no difference and there was not enough Richard E. Grant (but in fairness there in never enough Richard E. Grant). Those were the most minor of the short falls in the film. Now I grew up watching Manga Animations, so have no issue with the style, but it didn’t feel like a film in its own right, due to its lack of plot and character growth. It ended up feeling like a collection of left-over scenes from other projects, thrown together to make an 82 minute (including credits) pilot episode, that got cancelled, so they threw on an end, gave the actors one pass to voice it, without a script hoping for the best. See, a film needs three acts. The first act the protagonist has something they need to learn and gets sent on the journey. The second act they have their adventure, and they learn and grow. The final act, they are confronted with the main antagonist, where they must take everything they have learnt and grown from to succeed, or in a tragedy they do not learn and fail. In this film Earwig starts as an entitled brat who bends everyone to her will, and ends exactly the same way. She doesn’t learn or grow; she does learn magic and her mother magically turns up the end. All completely undeserved and a waste of time. I have probably spent more words on this film than it deserves, but at least you got to learn about the three-act structure, which these films makers clearly need to learn. It was also the only animation I saw that didn’t get into the second round.
The next disappointment was Netflix’s Over the Moon. Again, for this one I understand I was not the target audience. I was still optimistic about it, but it is a bad sign when you keep waking up and having to rewind Netflix to see what you missed while watching a movie. It started off well, and I am fascinated with Chinese culture and how it perceives itself. Then I started to wonder if this film is how Americans view Chinese culture, rather than having an authentic Chinese voice (I just quickly googled the writers and directors, and my uneasy instincts were correct). As this unease grew, it went into a song montage of the protagonist mother’s getting sick and dying. This should have been really powerful, but all it did was remind me what an amazing job Pixar did, at the start of Up. If you have not seen Up, just watch it now and if the beginning does not make you cry, you’re maybe dead inside. That is the thing, if your film makes the audience wish they were watching another film, you have failed. Then the film sends her on a fantasy adventure with her future stepbrother, where she learns to love him and let go of her mother. It follows the 3 act structure fine, but it didn’t feel original, instead relied on a massive suspension of disbelief on her getting to the moon and then turned into what I can only describe as a fever dream of an adventure when she got there. This was all very disappointing, as I really love the work of a lot the cast, but they were all wasted in this mess.
But don’t be disillusioned, as Netflix did have one potential classic with The Willoughbys. This comedy masterpiece has some of the best names in Comedy voicing it, and has a dark wink in the style of Lemony Snicket and Tim Burton. Unlike Over the Moon, when The Willoughbys makes you think of other films, it adds enough originality and charm, it enriches the experience. It even made me think of the lesser film North with the story, but it had enough twists and turns that soon made me forget about that. I really don’t want to single out any of the cast as they are all amazing, but Ricky Gervais was truly a spark of genius, as the sarcastic Cat narrator. It is worth a look if you want to have a good laugh.
Universal has their offering, which may have been the funniest adventure animation of the year with The Croods 2: A New Age. If you liked the first film, you’ll love this new addition to the franchise. That said I can barely remember the first film, other than enjoying it, and the same may happen with this one. Nicolas Cage is brilliant as the stone age protagonist trying to keep his family together and fearing change. A great addition is Leslie Mann and Peter Dinklage, joining the cast this time as the Betterman family, who are trying to split Emma Stone and Ryan Reynolds up, while flaunting their advance lifestyles. It has that big blockbuster franchise feel, with all the bells and whistles that will completely entertain the whole family and within a few months you will have forgotten it; but I guess that makes it re-watchable.
Pixar have been no slouches this year, releasing two Animations straight to Disney+. Onward, came out at the start of the pandemic as a welcome treat, followed by Soul for Christmas, and the two films could not be more different. Don’t get me wrong I enjoyed both films, but Soul is old school Pixar. Soul never felt like a kids movie, it dealt with adult subjects like mortality and self-purpose, playing your heart strings like a maestro, with music to match. There is no surprise that Soul found itself on the best picture long list. Onward on the other hand was a good fun adventure movie, with a great cast, and felt a lot more aligned with the Croods 2. It’s not that Onward lacked depth, but not to the same level as Soul, as Soul truly had soul.
But there is a dark horse in the mix. Apple TV, in my eyes managed to top Pixar with their Wolfwalkers, which is my choice for best animation. Now you could argue that it’s my love of the underdog, clouding my judgment, but there is a heart to Wolfwalkers that can’t be ignored. When every animation you see is 3D computer animated, when you finally see a beautifully hand drawn, stylised 2D animation it takes your breath away. It’s not just how the movie looked; it had genuine tension in it as you felt a real sense of danger for the characters. The second you hear Sean Bean’s voice it brings back the feeling of Game of Thrones, and you question if he will make it to the end. It also covers an interesting and often (outside of Ireland) ignored section of history; Oliver Cromwell’s occupation of Ireland, which they heavily imply, just calling the character Lord Protector. So not only does it look like moving art and teaches us about ourselves, but also will kindle an interest in history. I can’t recommend this film highly enough.
Well, that’s my look at the animations, now I had better start getting ready for the films in the next round. Until next time, stay safe and enjoy movies.