"Searching for Sugar Man," the absorbing investigation into the whereabouts of an elusive '70s singer-songwriter, won the Academy Award for feature documentary last year. It was the first time that the entire body of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences could vote on the category. In previous years, academy members had to attend special screenings of all five nominated documentaries, signing in at the theater in order to prove they were present.
Did the feel-good "Sugar Man" win because it was the best documentary — or because it was the most publicized and thus the movie that the majority of academy members saw? It's a question that can't be answered definitively but one that will be asked again about both the documentary and the foreign-language feature winners, as this year the academy has opened up the foreign-language category to all 6,028 members for the first time as well.
Will the winners be the easiest movies to watch? If so, you'd figure Paolo Sorrentino's gorgeous, carnivalesque character study, "The Great Beauty," will prevail for foreign-language feature and "20 Feet From Stardom," the rousing musical tribute to unheralded backup singers, will win documentary. Fine choices both. But if they win, expect to hear some grumbling that by relaxing category guidelines and relying on voters to adhere to an honor system, the academy has effectively turned the races into popularity contests favoring the films that have garnered the most publicity. The price of democracy?
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ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
"Despicable Me 2"
"Ernest & Celestine"
"The Wind Rises"
And the winner is: "Frozen." The soundtrack is bigger than Beyoncé. Disney is already planning out the Broadway musical version. A singalong version arrives in theaters on Friday. Yes, "Frozen" is a phenomenon. One academy member told us that her teenage daughter didn't even mind going to see it with her ... in public! You think that kind of love will go unrewarded?
Unless: Enough academy members wish to reward Hayao Miyazaki for "The Wind Rises," which had been billed as the revered Japanese director's last movie. Then again, Miyazaki has come out of retirement more times than the Who, and he's reportedly working on a new samurai-themed manga comic. Nobody would be surprised if he makes another movie. So whatever send-him-out-in-style sentiment had been building might actually turn against "Wind," a melodramatic (if beautiful) biopic about the designer of Japan's famed Zero aircraft and a film that figures to be a tough sit for many academy members.
"The Broken Circle Breakdown"
"The Great Beauty"
"The Missing Picture"