Triplets, Nemo, Brother Bear, King Up for Oscars

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has just released its list of nominees for the 76th Annual Academy Awards, placing Sony Pictures Classics’ The Triplets of Belleville, Disney/Pixar’s Finding Nemo and Disney’s Brother Bear in the running for Best Animated Feature.

Early on, Nemo looked like a shoo-in to nab the statuette. In recent weeks, however, Triplets has emerged as the top pick among critics on both coasts, leveling the playing field and making Brother Bear the underdog. While Bear did well at the box office, it failed to garner the across-the-board critical praise heaped upon its two competitors.

Nemo is also in the running in three other categories. In the original writing category, Andrew Stanton, Bob Peterson and David Reynolds’ outstanding script will be up against live-action fare such as The Barbarian Invasions, Dirty Pretty Things, In America and Lost in Translation. The Pixar film also garnered nominations for its superb sound editing (Gary Rydstrom and Michael Silvers) and music (Thomas Newman).

The Academy Awards Song category is usually a good place to spot an animated film or two, and this year proved to be no exception. The catchy title song from The Triplets of Belleville, with music by Benoit Charest and lyrics by director Sylvain Chomet is nominated this year, and will be competing against "Into the West" (The Lord of the Rings), "A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow" (A Mighty Wind), Scarlet Tide (Cold Mountain), and "You Will Be My Ain True Love" (Cold Mountain).

In the Animated Shorts category, toon fans shouldn’t be too surprised to find Bud Luckey’s Boundin’, the Dali/Disney collaboration Destino (Dominique Monfery, Roy Disney), Carlos Saldanha’s Gone Nutty, Adam Elliot’s Harvie Krumpet and Chris Hinton’s Nibbles, all of which have been festival favorites around the world in recent months.

Having won the Golden Globe for Best Picture (Drama) and Best Director (Peter Jackson) on Sunday, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is statistically favored to win the Best Picture Academy Award this year. But while the Golden Globes has been a reliable predictor of Oscar wins, King is up against some tough competition in the form of Warner Bros.’ Mystic River, Focus Features’ Lost in Translation, Twentieth Century Fox’s Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and the dark-horse picture Universal’s midsummer hit Seabiscuit.

Peter Jackson is looking to pair up his Golden Globe with an Oscar for Best Director. The New Zealander has been nominated along with Clint Eastwood for Mystic River, Peter Weir for Master and Commander, Sophia Coppola for Lost in Translation and Brazil’s Fernando Meirelles for City of God. Jackson may have an unfair advantage if Academy voters take into consideration his achievement over the scope of the entire Rings trilogy. Meanwhile, Eastwood’s camp has been billing the race as a showdown between digital wizardry and human drama, making a point to mention in ads that Mystic River “is not about special effects.” Coppola is also in good standing having won the Golden Globe for Best Director (Musical or Comedy): if she wins the statuette, she’ll be the first American woman to take home the Oscar in that category.

Meanwhile, New Line’s Return of the King, Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl and Master and Commander will be competing in the Best Visual Effects Oscar. Lord of the Rings films have taken the award the past two years and King promises to make it a trilogy of wins. If an upset is in the cards, it may come from Master, which employs digital effects to achieve stunning realism rather than spectacle, but the odds are favoring the talented team at New Zealand’s Weta.

The 76th Academy Awards will be held Sunday, Feb. 29, at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood. The event will be broadcast live on ABC beginning at 5:00 p.m. PT, 8:00 p.m. ET. For a full list of nominees, visit www.oscars.com.