Oscar season kicks off

Thu Jun 26, 2008 10:15am EDT
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By Gregg Kilday and Carolyn Giardina

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - With Pixar's newest blue-chip animated movie "Wall-E" hitting theaters Friday, the 2008 Oscar race is finally off and running.

It's an unofficial starting gun, of course. Technically, any movie that's had a commercial release of at least a week in Los Angeles County since the start of the year is eligible to compete. But the first half of the year rarely yields much in the way of Oscar fodder, and this year has been no exception.

May's Cannes Film Festival didn't do much to clarify the situation, either: Several promising foreign films aside, only Clint Eastwood's "Changeling," starring Angelina Jolie, emerged as a mainstream contender.

Most of the remaining summer popcorn fare isn't generally regarded as Oscar worthy, though if critics and fans applaud Heath Ledger's turn as the Joker in "The Dark Knight" when it is released July 18, Warner Bros. is ready to support a campaign on his behalf. Only one acting Oscar has been bestowed posthumously -- to Peter Finch for 1976's "Network" -- but five others have been nominated in the wake of their deaths, including James Dean, who earned nominations for "East of Eden" and "Giant."

But while Oscar strategists are marking time, waiting for the fall festival circuit to launch a wave of hopefuls, the animation race has begun to take shape.

The critics are just beginning to weigh in on "Wall-E" -- the Village Voice's Robert Wilonsky has already called it "both breathtakingly majestic and heartbreakingly intimate" -- but the buzz surrounding the film about a lovelorn robot already is so heady, there's no doubt it will be the movie to beat for best animated film. The bigger question is whether it might become a candidate for a best picture slot.

At one point last year, director Brad Bird wanted to position his "Ratatouille" in the best picture heat, but he was convinced to focus on the best animated film category, which it handily won while also picking up nominations in four other categories.

But if today's moviegoers warm to "Wall-E" the way an earlier generation embraced "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial," then the latest Pixar effort could find itself competing with the big boys for best picture.   Continued...

<p>The animated character Wall-E in a scene from Pixar's newest blue-chip animated movie "Wall-E". The film features dystopian landscapes, social commentary and a lack of conventional dialogue that are rare under the Walt Disney banner, but it sticks to Pixar's basic themes of love, loyalty and friendship. REUTERS/Disney-Pixar/Handout</p>