From the moment the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. announced its 15 best motion picture nominees for the Golden Globe Awards — five dramas, five comedy or musicals, five animated features — the speculation began. Not simply over which film would win each category, but which ones would be able to use the momentum to nab a top Oscar nom.
Of the five nominees in the comedy or musical category, only “Les Miserables” fits the bill of what Oscar-winning director John Madden calls “the perception that Academy Awards best picture nominees need to be about significance, of one sort or another.” His film, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” tiptoes that line, as does “Salmon Fishing” and the other two nominees, “Silver Linings Playbook” and “Moonrise Kingdom.” None are broad comedies, like 2012’s much-lauded “Bridesmaids,” which failed to nab an Oscar best picture nomination last year.
“I made a comedy which did win an Academy Award, but these are broad definitions, aren’t they?” suggests Madden, referring to 1999 winner “Shakespeare in Love,” which also took the Globe for best comedy. “There are at least a couple of nominees in the Golden Globes comedy category this year that have a distinctly melancholy undertone and that cross the line into drama.”
“It is very hard to get a comedy nominated for an Oscar, which is why I’m not counting on anything. It is the hardest thing,” says producer Paul Webster, who calls his “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” comedy nomination “a very nice surprise.”
Both Madden and Webster agree that despite the Academy’s possibility of nominating 10 films for best picture (it went with nine last year), squeezing a comedy in there among such weighty choices as the Globes’ drama nominations, such as “Argo,” “Lincoln,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Life of Pi” and “Django Unchained,” is a tough proposition.
“Comedy really is the hardest thing to get across with the Academy. And why is that?” Webster asks. “I guess that while comedy is an intrinsic part of drama, it doesn’t seem to have the credibility that drama does. And I don’t know if that will ever particularly change. It’s always been the case that a comedy is very rarely thought of in the same breath as a serious drama. Yet comedy is the hardest thing to do. We spend our lives looking for great comic ideas, and they come few and far between.”
That reality is also strongly felt among the animation community in Hollywood, for comedy and feature animation go hand-in-hand in most American-made films. Add in the separate Oscar category for animated feature that was instituted in 2001, and breaking through into the overall best picture category is almost an impossible dream for this year’s Golden Globes-nominated animated filmmakers, as only three movies have ever succeeded (and none have ever won). But that doesn’t mean they can’t try.
“In the animation world, people are really telling phenomenal stories. Stories that should be considered when we talk about what were the best movies of the year,” says “Wreck-It Ralph” producer Clark Spencer. “These films shouldn’t be excluded just because they are done in the medium of animation. We are grappling with issues and human stories that are as profound and as big as films that are live action. So we are very involved in the awards campaign. We’re constantly talking about what are the right ways to position this story, to make sure it is being considered in all numbers of ways, including best picture.”
“Frankenweenie” producer Allison Abbate agrees.
“Animation is always fighting against being seen as a genre. But animation is just the medium with which we tell stories, but people tend to lump it all together, like animation is all the same thing, which of course it isn’t. But that is all going to change,” she says. “The future is bright, just because visual effects movies have become so animated. I watch ‘The Hobbit’ and almost every scene is animated! So I just think as people get more educated about the process and they start to see that this is just another tool that we can use, I think that we will break through. It is frustrating, because we do feel like they are great movies, so we should all be on equal footing. But I can’t complain, because at least we do get the separate category nowadays.”
Pixar’s Katherine Sarafian, who produced “Brave,” pinpoints the specific thing that has helped that company score two best picture nominations, for “Up” and “Toy Story 3.”
“I think it has more to do with our goal of transcending the kid-movie thing. At Pixar we have made it our mission from the beginning, from ‘Toy Story,’ to make our films for whether you are 3 or 103 years old. They are for everyone,” she says.
But that doesn’t mean that they are not pushing hard to be noticed. “During awards season in particular,” Sarafian continues, “our involvement — the director Mark Andrews and I — is sharing the film with our colleagues in various guilds that we are in, as professionals and as artists. The Animated Film Society, the Academy, the PGA, whichever groups, we reach out and want to share what we do.
“So we talk about the craft of making it, we’ve done a number of question-and-answer screenings, for example, where we’ll speak specifically about choices made in the film. We want people to understand that this is a cautionary tale and a life lesson and that is what sets it apart.”
“Hotel Transylvania” producer Michelle Murdocca seems to speak for many of the filmmakers in the animation and comedy/musical categories, when she says somewhat wistfully, “We don’t get that ultimate accolade, and I do believe that some of our movies deserve that. I really do hope the attitudes change, but will that happen? Who knows?”
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And the nominees are…
Best Picture – Comedy/Musical | Best Picture – Drama | Actor | Actress | Animated
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