Oscar insight: It’s slim pickings for family audiences among top nominees

By Jeff Peterson

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, Feb. 27 2014 10:55 p.m. MST

The fact that there are only three PG-13 movies in the running for Best Picture makes a film such as “Gravity” — thought to be a serious contender by most Oscar prognosticators — all the more special. For one thing, it’s arguably the most appropriate of the bunch for a broader audience (provided one’s family members aren’t afraid of dying alone in space). It’s also remarkable for being one of the few real box-office hits of this year’s Oscar season, having raked in more than $700 million worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo, which means people actually saw it.

And with its emphasis on visuals over dialogue to tell its story, it is closest to what many term “pure cinema.”

Meanwhile, two of the year’s underdogs in the Best Picture category, “Philomena” and “Captain Phillips,” actually stand pretty good chances with nominations in the acting categories. For Dench, this marks her seventh Oscar nomination (all since the age of 63). For Abdi, “Phillips” was his first movie ever.

Beyond the three PG-13 Best Picture nominees, however, there are still a few categories that might hold families’ interest. Best Original Song will see “Let It Go” duke it out with Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” from “Despicable Me 2,” and a number of popular films such as “Iron Man 3” and “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” are up for technical awards.

But if there is one reason for families to tune in to this year’s Oscars, it’s the Best Animated Feature category, which seems poised to wind up in one of two historic ways: If “Frozen” wins, it will mark Disney Animation Studios’ first ever award in the category, and what could be more appropriate than an animated fairy tale originally considered for adaptation by Walt Disney himself? The other possibility is that the award will serve as a farewell of sorts to legendary filmmaker and master storyteller Hayao Miyazaki (“My Neighbor Totoro,” “Spirited Away”), who directed his final feature with this year’s nominee “The Wind Rises.”

Or possibility number three: “The Croods” wins, and a sinkhole opens up and swallows the Dolby Theatre just to reiterate that anything can happen on Oscar night.

The good news is that the Academy Awards’ 86-year history is full of family-friendly options worth revisiting. So even if this year’s nominees skew toward stronger content than most people would prefer, it’s still possible to enjoy Oscar night. Just pop some popcorn and watch an old classic on Netflix or Amazon.

The 86th Academy Awards ceremony will be broadcast March 2 on ABC at 6:30 p.m. Mountain time.

A native of Utah Valley and a devoted cinephile, Jeff Peterson is currently studying humanities and history at Brigham Young University.

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