This Tuesday, the Academy will announce the nominations for the 91st Oscars. As per usual, there are a few names that seem like they’ll have a guaranteed spot on the list for Best Picture. Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born is a heavy favorite, as is the Cinderella story, Roma. Although we think of this list as just prototypical “Oscar movies,” any movie can be nominated for best picture if it gets enough votes. Typically, this is reserved for live-action only, but in a world where CGI is so prominent, and technology is so innovative, those lines are becoming quite blurred. Which means if enough of the Academy rally around Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, it could find itself not only nominated for Best Animated Feature but also Best Picture. It would be a pivotal moment for animated cinema and hugely earned by this masterpiece.
After much thought, I have decided that SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE should win both Best Picture and Best Animated Feature Film.
— Keith Calder (@keithcalder) January 1, 2019
First thing first, why do we even separate out animated films? This is actually a fairly new development, only introduced in 2001, so it’s not tradition. By separating the two, The Oscars is maintaining that they are categorically different from each other. Apples and oranges, they’re incomparable. Is that really true though? The technical mechanics of creating an animated film might be different, but storytelling is storytelling.
Let’s not be coy, the Best Animated Feature category is considered less important and less prestigious than Best Picture. That’s largely due to the mind-boggling idea that animated movies are “for kids.” Conversely, that things “for kids” are less-than. Which, given the amount of time adults (myself included) watch mindless reality television, is pretty ironic. What exactly about Spider-Verse is less worthy than any of the other films nominated for Best Picture?
Spider-Verse is a huge accomplishment for so many reasons. Visually, it is unlike anything that has ever been done before. The innovative art style combines comic book style and 3D animation techniques. You don’t want to look away. It makes you want to dive right into it, to live in that imaginative world. It’s so unique that the creators filed patents for the technology. The world of Spider-Verse, more than anything, feels alive. There’s such a sense of energy that it captures, one that many live-action films fail to match.
So it looks pretty, that doesn’t mean it’s the Best Picture of the year, Right? But Spider-Verse was one of the best-told stories of the year, exploring themes of choice, agency, and loneliness. It’s as beautifully directed as any of the front-runners in the Best Picture category, and the voice acting is top notch. We also tend to put superhero movies in a box of its own, but Spider-Verse is evidence that we shouldn’t. It connects to the audience, whether they know everything about the Spider-Man franchise top to bottom, or if (like me) they’re relatively clueless. I might not understand the complex story of Miles Morales, but I know what it feels like to be in a transitional stage of life.
Miles’ main story arc is his struggle with feeling like there’s nothing special about him. Early in the film, before he even gets bitten by that notorious spider, we get a glimpse into that mindset. On the drive to his new charter high school, he says to his father that he just won a lottery to get in. Mr. Morales says he passed the entrance exam like anyone else, but Miles dismisses this. Later in the plot, Miles struggles to control his newfound powers and feels like he’s just wearing the Spider-Man mask, rather than being Spider-Man. The web-slinging is just the vehicle that we’re on to tell this incredibly human story. Not to mention, it has one of the most relatable scenes we’ve ever seen where Miles half sings, half mumbles along to a Post Malone song. Which, personally, I’ve done every day since seeing the movie.
Aren’t we past the point where we need to qualify a movie like Spider-Verse when praising them? Why are we still saying that it was good for an animated movie or for a superhero movie? It was a good movie, full stop. It was one of the best movies of the year and deserves an Oscar Nomination that reflects that.