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Bad Oscar News for WALL-E?

A lot of WALL-E fans have their fingers crossed for the little robot to win a “best picture” Oscar nomination when the nominees are announced on January 22.

Last month, the Los Angeles Times asked an unscientific sample of critics and Oscar-watchers whether WALL-E would get one of the five nominations. There were strongly-felt opinions pro and con, but no consensus. 

Any halfway serious animation fan knows that the last animated film to be nominated for best picture was Beauty and the Beast back in 1991. Conventional wisdom has it that the odds are always against an animated film, no matter how good, because the Academy’s voting membership is dominated by folks who work in live-action.

The likelihood of WALL-E beating those odds seems to have gone down in the past couple of days with the announcements from the major film guilds of their award nominees. The award voting of guilds like the Directors Guild, the Producers Guild, and Writers Guild West often (but not always) foreshadows top Oscar awards. In the marquee award categories, WALL-E came up empty.

Nominations for the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film went to Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire; David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon; Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight; and Gus Van Sant, Milk. The noms for the Producers Guild of America Darryl F. Zanuck Producer of the Year Award in Theatrical Motion Pictures recognized … the same five films. 

Whatever happens in “best picture,” WALL-E undoubtedly will be nominated for Best Animated Feature along with Bolt and Kung Fu Panda (brave prediction). 

One Academy Award for Pixar, in any event, is already in the bag. The Academy announced this week that Ed Catmull, president of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios, will receive a technical Oscar, the Gordon E. Sawyer Award, “for his lifetime of technical contributions and leadership in the field of computer graphics for the motion picture industry.”

UPDATE: Today (1/22/2009), the Academy released Oscar nominations. The “best picture” nominations went to the five films that had been favored by the Directors Guild and the Producers Guild, except that The Reader took the place of The Dark Knight. The Best Animated Feature nominations went to the three films listed above (admittedly, the list wasn’t hard to predict). WALL-E also received a nomination for Best Original Screenplay and a few others. Congratulations to all.