Curse, Corpse, Castle Court Oscar

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences today unveiled its nominees for the best films of 2005, naming among them the three releases up for Best Animated Feature. And though CG animation is currently king at the box office, the Academy showed a lot of love for old-school animation by choosing DreamWorks and Aardman’s feat of clay, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Warner Bros.’ stop-motion musical, Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, and Disney’s release of Studio Ghibli’s predominantly 2D fantasy, Howl’s Moving Castle, directed by Hayao Miyazaki.

This year’s race is turning out to be an interesting one since there was no stand-out animated entry that connected with critics and raked it in at the box office, as Disney/Pixar’s The Incredibles and Finding Nemo did on their way to Oscar glory in recent years. None of the current nominees hauled in big money in North America, though Wallace & Gromit and Howl’s Moving Castle were both major international hits, especially in their native U.K. and Japan respectively. The two biggest moneymakers stateside were DreamWorks’ Madagascar ($193.5 million) and Disney’s Chicken Little ($133.5 million), both computer-generated 3D efforts.

If there’s an animated frontrunner this year, it’s Wallace & Gromit. The plasticine pic from directors Nick Park and Steve Box has had the best awards season so far, scoring film critic kudos from coast to coast and snagging rottentomatoes.com’s Golden Apple for best-reviewed wide-release film of the year. It also tops the list of nominations for the 33rd Annual Annie Awards, taking place this Saturday, Feb. 4., in Glendale, Calif., and is up for Outstanding British Film of the Year at this year’s BAFTA Awards, which has its envelope opening on Sunday, Feb. 14.

While Oscar has kissed Wallace and Gromit in the short film category on three occasions, the Academy also has somewhat of a pre-existing love affair with filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, whose Spirited Away took the top toon award for 2002. His latest achievement, Howl’s Moving Castle, however generated less heat in the U.S. and appeared only briefly on critical radar screens.

Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride was also a favorite among many critics, who praised the film for its artistry and unique subject matter. The film, which takes the art of stop-motion to the next level and seamlessly combines traditional and cutting-edge technology, will receive the Ub Iwerks Award for technical advancement at the Annie Awards this weekend.

In the Best Animated Short category, the nominees are Badgered from Sharon Colman and the National Film and Television School, The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation by John Canemaker and Peggy Stern, The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello from filmmaker Anthony Lucas and 3D Films Prods., 9 by Shane Acker and One Man Band from Pixar Animation Studios and directors Andrew Jimenez and Mark Andrews.

Among the popular shorts that didn’t make the nom list were Bill Plympton’s The Fan and the Flower, Koji Yamamura’s The Old Crocodile, Michael Sporn’s The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, Henry Selick’s Moongirl and the Warner Bros. Tom and Jerry outing The Karateguard which was penned and co-directed by toon legend Joseph Barbera.

In the highly competitive visual effects race, three films made the cut: director Peter Jackson’s King Kong (Universal), Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds (DreamWorks/Paramount) and Andrew Adamson’s lucrative adaptation of Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Surprising no-shows were Star Wars: Episode III’Revenge of the Sith , Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Crash and Good Night, and Good Luck will square off for the Best Picture Oscar when the Academy Awards for outstanding film achievements for 2005 are presented on March 5 at the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland. The ceremony will be televised live by the ABC Television Network beginning at 5 p.m. PST.