In the realm of cinema, especially in the major awards circuit, there is one category that often gets shafted to the background: animation. With the assigned stigma that an animated movie is necessarily childlike and uncomplicated, animated pictures rarely get the respect they deserve come Oscar season. But thankfully, there is the Annie Awards, an institution that turns 40 this year.
The International Animated Film Association's award enterprise has announced its nominations for achievements in the year 2012. Recognized above all are the far-reaching greats of the year: Pixar's majestic adventure Brave, the video game celebration of Wreck-It Ralph, and the respective claymation love-letters to horror cinema of the 1950s and early 1980s: Tim Burton's Frankenweenie and ParaNorman. Check out the complete list of nominees below. Best Animated Feature Brave Frankenweenie Hotel Transylvania ParaNorman Rise of the Guardians The Pirates! Band of Misfits The Rabbi’s Cat Wreck-It Ralph Annie Award for Best Animated Special Production Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 Before Orel – Trust Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem Disney Tron: Uprising – Beck’s Beginning Dragons: Gift of the Night Fury Justice League: Doom Best Animated Short Subject Brad and Gary Bydlo Eyes on the Stars Goodnight Mr. Foot Kali the Little Vampire Maggie Simpson in ‘The Longest Daycare’ Paperman The Simpsons Best General Audience Animated TV Production For Preschool Children Bubble Guppies - ‘A Tooth on the Looth’ Chuggington - ‘Magnetic Wilson’ Jake & The Never Land Pirates - ‘Peter Pan Returns’ Doc McStuffins - ‘The Right Stuff’ Justin Time - ‘Marcello’s Meatballs' Best Animated Television Production For Children Adventure Time- ‘Princess Cookie’ Dragons: Riders of Berk- ‘How to Pick Your Dragon’ LEGO Star Wars- ‘The Empire Strikes Out’ Penguins of Madagascar -‘Action Reaction’ SpongeBob SquarePants -‘It’s a SpongeBob Christmas!’ The Amazing World of Gumball -‘The Job’. The Fairly OddParents- ‘Farm Pit’ The Legend of Korra- ‘Welcome to Republic City’/’A Leaf in the Wind’ Best General Audience Animated Television Production Archer - ‘Space Race, Part 1’ Bob’s Burgers- ‘Earsy Rider’ Motorcity- ‘Blond Thunder’ MAD - ‘FrankenWinnie/ParaMorgan’ Robot Chicken- ‘DC Comics Special’ South Park -‘Raising the Bar’ Animated Video Game Borderlands 2 Family Guy – Back to the Mutiverse Journey Skullgirls Best Student Film Can We Be Happy Now– Tahnee Gehm Defective Detective– Avner Geller & Steve Lewis Head Over Heels– Timothy Reckart I Am Tom Moody– Ainslie Henderson Ladies Knight– Joseph Rothenberg Origin– Jessica Poon The Ballad of Poisonberry Pete– Karen Sullivan Tule Lake– Michelle Ikemoto Animated Effects in an Animated Production Andrew Nawrot, Joe Gorski, Grant Laker - ParaNorman Andrew Schneider - Ice Age: Continental Drift Andy Hayes, Carl Hooper, David Lipton - Rise of the Guardians Bill Watral, Chris Chapman, Dave Hale, Keith Klohn, Michael K. O’Brien - Brave Brett Albert - Wreck-It Ralph Jihyun Yoon - Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted Joel Aron - Star Wars: The Clone Wars Animated Effects in a Live Action Production Jerome Platteaux, John Sigurdson, Ryan Hopkins, Raul Essig, Mark Chataway - The Avengers Stephen Marshall, Joseph Pepper, Dustin Wicke - The Amazing Spider-Man Sue Rowe, Simon Stanley-Clamp, Artemis Oikonomopoulou, Holger Voss, Nikki Makar, Catherine Elvidge - John Carter Willi Geiger, Rick Hankins, Florent Andorra, Florian Witzel, Aron Bonar - Battleship Character Animation in an Animated Television/Broadcast Production Dan Driscoll - SpongeBob SquarePants: It’s a SpongeBob Christmas! Jennifer Dickie - Justin Time: Yodel Odel Day Keith Kellogg - Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Revenge Forrest Savelen - SpongeBob SquarePants: It’s a SpongeBob Christmas! Shi Zimu - Dragons: Riders of Berk Sihanouk Marinona - Before Orel: Trust Teri Yam - Dragons: Riders of Berk Yan Jiazhuang - Dragons: Riders of Berk Character Animation in a Feature Production Dan Nguyen - Brave David Pate - Rise of the Guardians Jaime Landes - Brave Phillppe LeBrun - Rise of the Guardians Pierre Perifel - Rise of the Guardians Travis Hathaway - Brave Travis Knight - ParaNorman Will Becher - The Pirates! Band of Misfits Character Animation in a Live Action Production Erik de Boer, Amanda Dague, Matt Brown, Mary Lynn Machado, Aaron Grey - Life of Pi (Orangutan) Erik de Boer, Matt Shumway, Brian Wells, Vinayak Pawar, Michael Holzl - Life of Pi (Tiger) Jakub Pistecky, Maia Kayser, Scott Benzu, Steve King, Kiran Bhat - The Avengers Mike Beaulieu, Roger Vizard, Atushi Sato, Jackie Kochler, Derek Esparza, Richard Smith, Mac Tyrie - The Amazing Spider-Man Character Design in an Animated Television/Broadcast Production Andy Bialk - Dragons: Riders of Berk: Alvin and the Outcasts Andy Suriano - DC Nation-Plastic Man: The Many and the Fowl Bryan Konietzko, Joaquim Dos Santos, Ryu Ki-Hyun, Kim Il Kwang, Kim Jin Sun - The Legend of Korra: Welcome to Republic City “C” Raggio IV - Kick Buttowski: Petrified Derrick Wyatt, Chap Yaep, Steven Choi - Ben 10: Omniverse: The More Things Change, Pt. 2 Gordon Hammond - T.U.F.F. Puppy: Dudley Do-Wrong Robert Valley - Disney Tron: Uprising: The Renegade, Part I Thaddeus Paul Cauldron - Secret Mountain Fort Awesome: Secret Mountain Uncle Grandpa Character Design in an Animated Feature Production Bill Schwab, Lorelay Bove, Cory Loftis, Minkyu Lee - Wreck-It Ralph Carlos Grangel - Hotel Transylvania Carter Goodrich - Hotel Transylvania Craig Kellman - Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted Heidi Smith - ParaNorman Yarrow Cheney, Eric Guillon, Colin Stimpson - Dr. Seuss' The Lorax Directing in an Animated Television/Broadcast Production Howie Parkins - Jake and The Never Land Pirates: Peter Pan Returns! John Eng - Dragons: Riders of Berk: Animal House Mark Cabalero, Seamus Walsh - SpongeBob SquarePants: Its a Spongebob Christmas Mic Graves - The Amazing World of Gumball: The Job Michael Chang - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Never Say Xever Zack Keller - Dick Figures: Kung Fu Winners Directing in an Animated Feature Production Genndy Tartakovsky - Hotel Transylvania Johan Sfar, Antoine Delesvaux - The Rabbi's Cat Remi Bezancon, Jean-Christophe Lie - Zarafa Rick Moore - Wreck-It Ralph Sam Fell, Chris Butler - ParaNorman Music in an Animated Television/Broadcast Production Adam Berry - Penquins of Madagascar: Private and the Winky Factory Alf Clausen - The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror XXIII Frederik Wiedmann - Green Lantern The Animated Series: Into the Abyss Guy Moon - T.U.F.F. Puppy: Really Big Mission John Paesano - Dragons: Riders of Berk: How to Pick Your Dragon Michael Rubin - Bubble Guppies: Bubble Puppy's Fin-tastic Fairytale! Music in an Animated Feature Production Alexandre Desplat - Rise of the Guardians Bruce Retief - Adventures in Zambezia Henry Jackman - Wreck-It Ralph Joel McNeely, Brendan Milburn, Valerie Vigoda - Secret of the Wings John Powell, Adam Schlesinger, Ester Dean - Ice Age: Continental Drift John Powell, Cinco Paul - Dr. Seuss' The Lorax Mark Mothersbaugh - Hotel Transylvania Patrick Doyle, Mark Andrews, Alex Mandel - Brave Production Design in an Animated Television/Broadcast Production Alberto Mielgo - Tron: Uprising: The Stranger Ian Worrel - Gravity Falls – Tourist Trapped Lynna Blankenship, Sean Coons, Hugh Macdonald, Debbie Peterson, Charles Ragins, Lance Wilder, Darrel Bowen, John Krause, Kevin Moore, Brent M. Bowen, Brice Mallier, Steven Fahey, Dima Malanitchev, Karen Bauer, Eli Balser, Anne Legge - The Simpsons: Moe Goes From Rags to Riches Nick Jennings, Martin Ansolebehere, Sandra Calleros, Ron Russell, Santino Lascano, Derek Hunter, Catherine E. Simmonds - Adventure Time – The Hard Easy Peter Martin, Chris Grine, Ira Baker, Ramon Olivera, Scott Brown - hoops & yo yo's Haunted Halloween Scott Brandon James, Lee Keith - Justin Time: The Rubbery Dumplings Production Design in an Animated Feature Production Kendal Cronkhite-Shaindlin, Shannon Jeffries, Lindsey Olivares, Kenard Pak - Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted Marcello Vignali - Hotel Transylvania Nash Dunnigan, Arden Chen, Jon Townley, Kyle McNaughton - Ice Age: Continental Drift Nelson Lowry, Ross Stewart, Pete Oswald, Ean McNamara, Trevor Dalmer - ParaNorman Norman Garwood, Matt Berry - The Pirates! Band of Misfits Patrick Hanenberger, Max Boas, Jayee Borcar, Woonyoung Jung, Perry Maple, Peter Maynez, Stan Seo, Felix Yoon - Rise of the Guardians Rick Heintzich - Frankenweenie Steve Pilcher - Brave Storyboarding in an Animated Television/Broadcast Production Andy Kelly - Doc McStuffins: Righty-On-Lefty Cole Sanchez, Rebecca Sugar - Adventure Time: Lady & Peebles Doug Lovelace - Dragons: Riders of Berk: Portrait of Hiccup as a Buff Man Holly Forsyth - Sofia the First: Once Upon a Princess Irineo Marramba, Ciro Nieli - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: I Think His Name is Baxter Stockman Robert Valley, Kalvin Lee - Tron: Uprising: The Reward Ryan Kramer, Paul Linsley, Kenji Ono, Le Tang, Alice Herring, Mike Mullen, Aaron Hammersley - Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness: Enter the Dragon Tom Herpich, Skyler Page - Adventure Time: Goliad Storyboarding in an Animated Feature Production Emmanuela Cozzi - ParaNorman– Focus Features Johanne Matte - Rise of the Guardians– DreamWorks Animation Leo Matsuda - Wreck-It Ralph– Walt Disney Animation Studios Lissa Treiman - Wreck-It Ralph– Walt Disney Animation Studios Rob Koo - Madagascar 3: Europes Most Wanted – DreamWorks Animation Voice Acting in an Animated Television/Broadcast Production James Patrick Stuart as Private - Penguins of Madagascar: High Moltage– Nickelodeon Animation Studios Jeff Bennett as Keswick - T.U.F.F. Puppy: Pup Daddy– Nickelodeon Animation Studios Jessica Walter as Malory Archer - Archer: Lo Scandolo– Weissman Markovitz Communications for FX Network Kevin Michael Richardson as Willem Viceroy - Randy Cunningham:9th Grade Ninja: Gossip Boy– Disney TV Animation Kristen Schaal as Mabel Pines - Gravity Falls: Tourist Trapped– Disney TV Animation Mae Whitman as April ONeil – - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Rise of the Turtles– Nickelodeon Animation Studios Sam Witwer as Darth Maul - Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Revenge– Lucasfilm Animation Ltd. Tom McGrath as Skipper - Penguins of Madagascar: The Otter Woman– Nickelodeon Animation Studios Voice Acting in an Animated Feature Production Adam Sandler as Dracula - Hotel Transylvania– Sony Pictures Animation Alan Tudyk as King Candy - Wreck-It Ralph– Walt Disney Animation Studios Atticus Shaffer as “E”Gore - Frankenweenie– The Walt Disney Studios Catherine OHara as Weird Girl - Frankenweenie– The Walt Disney Studios Imelda Staunton as Queen Victoria - The Pirates! Band of Misfits– Aardman Animations Jim Cummings as Budzo - Adventures in Zambezia– Saltzman Communications Jude Law as Pitch - Rise of the Guardians– DreamWorks Animation Kelly MacDonald as Merida - Brave– Pixar Animation Studios Writing in an Animated Television/Broadcast Production Doug Langdale – Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness: Kung Fu Day Care – Nickelodeon Animation Studios Eric Horsted – Futurama: The Bots and the Bees – Gracie Films in Association with 20th Century Fox TV Gabe Garza – - Penguins of Madagascar: Endangerous Species- Nickelodeon Animation Studios Ian Maxtone-Graham, Billy Kimball - The Simpsons: How I Wet Your Mother– Gracie Films in Association with 20th Century Fox TV Kacey Arnold – - Robot and Monster: The Blimp– Nickelodeon Animation Studios Mike Teverbaugh, Linda Teverbaugh – Dragons: Riders of Berk: Animal House – DreamWorks Animation Stephanie Gillis - The Simpsons: A Tree Grows in Springfield– Gracie Films in Association with 20th Century Fox TV Trey Parker – - South Park: Jewpacabra– Central Productions Writing in an Animated Feature Production Chris Butler – ParaNorman – Focus Features Gideon Defoe – The Pirates! Band of Misfits – Aardman Animations Hayao Miyazaki, Keiko Niwa, Karey Kirkpatrick – From Up on Poppy Hill – GKIDS John August – Frankenweenie – The Walt Disney Studios Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Brenda Chapman, Irene Mecchi - Brave – Pixar Animation Studios Phil Johnston, Jennifer Lee – Wreck-It Ralph – Walt Disney Animation Studios Editorial in an Animated Television Production Bret Marnell - Puss in Boots: Three Diablos– DreamWorks Animation Chris Hink - Robot and Monster: Cheer Up Mr. Wheelie– Nickelodeon Animation Studios Hugo Morales, Adam Arnold, Davrik Waeden, Otto Ferraye - Kung Fu Panda: Monkey in the Middle– Nickelodeon Animation Studios Hugo Morales, Adam Arnold, Davrik Waeden, Otto Ferraye - Kung Fu Panda: Enter the Dragon– Nickelodeon Animation Studios Jason Tucker - Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Revival– Lucasfilm Animation Ltd. Lynn Hobson - Dragons: Riders of Berk: Animal House– DreamWorks Animation Pieter Kaufman - Sofia the First: Once Upon a Princess– Disney TV Animation Steffie Lucchesi, Matt Steinauer, May Blaisdell - Dan Vs Monster Under The Bed– Film Roman Editorial in an Animated Feature Production Catherine Apple - Hotel Transylvania– Sony Pictures Animation Joyce Arrastia - Rise of the Guardians– DreamWorks Animation Mark Rosenbaum - Secret of the Wings– DisneyToon Studios Nicholas A. Smith, ACE, Robert Graham Jones, ACE, David Suther - Brave– Pixar Animation Studios Tim Mertens - Wreck-It Ralph– Walt Disney Animation Studios JURIED AWARDS Winsor McCay Award– Oscar Grillo, Terry Gilliam, Mark Henn June Foray– Howard Green Ub Iwerks– Toon Boom Animation Pipeline [Photo Credit: Walt Disney Pictures] More: 'Moonrise Kingdom' Takes Top Prize at Gotham Awards Seth MacFarlane Says Non-TV-Friendly 'Family Guy' Movie is (Probably) Happening 'The Hobbit': The Dragon Attacks, Bilbo Fights Fire with Shire — VIDEO
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In This Means War – a stylish action/rom-com hybrid from director McG – Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) and Chris Pine (Star Trek) star as CIA operatives whose close friendship is strained by the fires of romantic rivalry. Best pals FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) are equally accomplished at the spy game but their fortunes diverge dramatically in the dating realm: FDR (so nicknamed for his obvious resemblance to our 32nd president) is a smooth-talking player with an endless string of conquests while Tuck is a straight-laced introvert whose love life has stalled since his divorce. Enter Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) a pretty plucky consumer-products evaluator who piques both their interests in separate unrelated encounters. Tuck meets her via an online-dating site FDR at a video-rental store. (That Lauren is tech-savvy enough to date online but still rents movies in video stores is either a testament to her fascinating mix of contradictions or more likely an example of lazy screenwriting.)
When Tuck and FDR realize they’re pursuing the same girl it sparks their respective competitive natures and they decide to make a friendly game of it. But what begins as a good-natured rivalry swiftly devolves into romantic bloodsport with both men using the vast array of espionage tools at their disposal – from digital surveillance to poison darts – to gain an edge in the battle for Lauren’s affections. If her constitutional rights happen to be violated repeatedly in the process then so be it.
Lauren for her part remains oblivious to the clandestine machinations of her dueling suitors and happily basks in the sudden attention from two gorgeous men. Herein we find the Reese Witherspoon Dilemma: While certainly desirable Lauren is far from the irresistible Helen of Troy type that would inspire the likes of Tuck and FDR to risk their friendship their careers and potential incarceration for. At several points in This Means War I found myself wondering if there were no other peppy blondes in Los Angeles (where the film is primarily set) for these men to pursue. Then again this is a film that wishes us to believe that Tom Hardy would have trouble finding a date so perhaps plausibility is not its strong point.
When Lauren needs advice she looks to her boozy foul-mouthed best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler). Essentially an extension of Handler’s talk-show persona – an acquired taste if there ever was one – Trish’s dialogue consists almost exclusively of filthy one-liners delivered in rapid-fire succession. Handler does have some choice lines – indeed they’re practically the centerpiece of This Means War’s ad campaign – but the film derives the bulk of its humor from the outrageous lengths Tuck and FDR go to sabotage each others’ efforts a raucous game of spy-versus-spy that carries the film long after Handler’s shtick has grown stale.
Business occasionally intrudes upon matters in the guise of Heinrich (Til Schweiger) a Teutonic arms dealer bent on revenge for the death of his brother. The subplot is largely an afterthought existing primarily as a means to provide third-act fireworks – and to allow McGenius an outlet for his ADD-inspired aesthetic proclivities. The film’s action scenes are edited in such a manic quick-cut fashion that they become almost laughably incoherent. In fairness to McG he does stage a rather marvelous sequence in the middle of the film in which Tuck and FDR surreptitiously skulk about Lauren's apartment unaware of each other's presence carefully avoiding detection by Lauren who grooves absentmindedly to Montel Jordan's "This Is How We Do It." The whole scene unfolds in one continuous take – or is at least craftily constructed to appear as such – captured by one very agile steadicam operator.
Whatever his flaws as a director McG is at least smart enough to know how much a witty script and appealing leads can compensate for a film’s structural and logical deficiencies. He proved as much with Charlie’s Angels a film that enjoys a permanent spot on many a critic’s Guilty Pleasures list and does so again with This Means War. The film coasts on the chemistry of its three co-stars and only runs into trouble when the time comes to resolve its romantic competition which by the end has driven its male protagonists to engage in all manner of underhanded and duplicitous activities. This Means War being a commercial film – and likely an expensive one at that – Witherspoon's heroine is mandated to make a choice and McG all but sidesteps the whole thorny matter of Tuck and FDR’s unwavering dishonesty not to mention their craven disregard for her privacy. (They regularly eavesdrop on her activities.) For all their obvious charms the truth is that neither deserves Lauren – or anything other than a lengthy jail sentence for that matter.
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Salt the propulsive new thriller from Phillip Noyce (Clear and Present Danger Patriot Games) has been dubbed “Bourne with boobs ” but that label isn’t entirely accurate. In the role of Evelyn Salt a CIA staffer hunted by her own agency after a Russian defector fingers her in a plot to murder Russia’s president Angelina Jolie keeps her two most potent weapons holstered hidden under pantsuits and trenchcoats and the various other components of a super-spy wardrobe that proudly emphasizes function over flash.
But flash is one thing Salt never lacks for. Its breathless cat-and-mouse game hits full-throttle almost from the outset when a former KGB officer named Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) stumbles into a CIA interrogation room and begins spilling details of a vast conspiracy. Back in the ‘70s hardline elements of the Soviet regime launched an ambitious new front in the Cold War flooding the western world with orphans trained to infiltrate the security complexes of their adopted homelands and wait patiently — decades if necessary — for the order to initiate a series of assassinations intended to trigger a devastating nuclear clash between the superpowers from which the treacherous Reds would emerge triumphant.
The Soviet Union may have long ago collapsed (or did it? Hmmm...) but its army of brainwashed killer orphan spies remains in place and if this crazy Orlov fellow is to be believed they stand poised to reignite the Cold War. It’s a preposterous — even idiotic — scheme but no more so than any of our government’s various harebrained proposals to kill Castro back in the ‘60s. As such the CIA treats it with grave seriousness even the part that that pegs Salt who just happens to be a Russian-born orphan herself as a key player in the conspiracy.
Salt bristles at the accusation but suspecting a set-up she opts to flee rather than face interrogation from her bosses Winter (Liev Schreiber) and Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor). A former field agent she’s been confined to a desk job since a clandestine operation in North Korea went south leaving her with a nasty shiner and a rather unremarkable German boyfriend (now her unremarkable German husband). She’s clearly kept up her training during while cubicle-bound however and in a blaze of resourceful thinking and devastating Parkour Fu she fends off a dozen or so agents of questionable competence and takes to the streets where she sets about to clear her name and unravel the Commie orphan conspiracy before the authorities can catch up with her. That is if she isn’t a part of the conspiracy.
The premise which aims to resurrect Cold War tensions and graft them onto a modern-day spy thriller is absurdly clever — and cleverly absurd. But Kurt Wimmer’s screenplay isn’t satisfied with the merely clever and absurd — it must be mind-blowing. Salt is one of those thrillers that ladles out its backstory slowly and in tiny portions every once in a while dropping a revelatory bombshell that effectively blows the lid off everything that happened beforehand. No one is who they seem and every action every gesture no matter how seemingly trivial is imbued with some kind of grand significance. The effect of piling on one insane twist after another has the effect of gradually diluting the narrative. When anything is possible nothing really matters.
But spy thrillers by definition trade in the preposterous and the principal function of the summer blockbuster is to entertain. In that regard Salt more than fulfills its charge. Noyce wisely keeps the story moving at pace that allows little time for asking uncomfortable questions or poking holes in the film’s frail plot. And he has an able partner in the infinitely versatile Jolie who having already exhibited formidable action-hero chops in Wanted and the Tomb Raider films proves remarkably adept at the spy game as well.
It’s well-known that Jolie wasn’t the first choice to star in Salt joining the project only after Tom Cruise dropped out citing the story’s growing similarities to the Mission: Impossible films. But she’s more than just a capable replacement; she’s a welcome upgrade over Cruise not least because she’s over a decade younger (and a few inches taller) than her predecessor. Should Brad Bird require a pinch-hitter for Ethan Hunt he knows where to look.