Why 'Inside Out' Deserves An Oscar Nomination For Best Picture
It seems like a no-brainer: When Pixar is on its A game, the beloved studio is rewarded with a Best Picture nomination. Since the Academy Awards expanded the nomination pool for Best Pic in 2009, contenders like Up and Toy Story 3 proved that stellar, game-changing animation deserves to be treated like any other great movie. Thus, you would think that this summer’s fantastic Pixar release Inside Out would be a shoo-in for a nomination come 2016. One of the most acclaimed films of the year, Inside Out broke box-office records when it was released in June as well as massive praise. Yet despite this, Inside Out is being considered a long-shot for a Best Picture nod due both to its summer release and the surplus of great 2015 films, something that's both disappointing and totally nonsensical.
Given that Oscar nominations are less than a month away, Inside Out's current chances (Gold Derby, the Internet’s most well-respected Oscar predictions site, puts Inside Out all the way down in 14th place) at earning a nod don't bode well for its future. This is an incredible shame, not just for Pixar but for the audiences who fell in love with the film. On top of being one of my personal favorite Pixar entries (I’d put it second behind Wall-E, the studio’s definitive masterpiece), Inside Out is a hugely important movie. First and foremost, the film is only the second in the studio’s history (after Brave) to have a woman protagonist, and became one of the highest-grossing movies ever with a female lead. And Inside Out does more than just pass the Bechdel Test; during a time when female-led films are infrequent and often treated as lesser, Inside Out chooses to focus on the complexity of a young girl's feelings. The film gets inside the head of 11-year-old Riley, a preteen struggling with having her life uprooted after her family decides to move cross-country. The movie's action takes place inside her brain, as her emotional responses deal with these new changes in her life.
One of the film’s many ingenious touches is to personify those emotions as characters who control Riley’s reactions to her changing universe: Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Bill Hader (Fear), and Mindy Kaling (Disgust). This might sound gimmicky, but it’s a deeply resonant look at how our lives are shaped by the way we process the world around us. In what’s arguably the film’s best segment, Inside Out also shows what’s going on in the other characters’ brains; whereas Riley’s dominant emotion is Joy, her mother’s brain is controlled by Sadness, while her father's is driven by Anger.
For a kids’ movie — or any movie, really — Inside Out juggles some profoundly weighty themes, ones that are necessary to learn at any age. While the film shows that all of our emotions serve a crucial purpose and function (even the ones we’d like to pretend don’t exist), Inside Out is particularly about sadness itself. This doesn’t mean just feelings of grief, like after you lose a friend or a close relative, but the low-level sorrow people might feel when thinking of the past or realizing that the joy felt in the present is destined to become a distant memory. In Japanese, this is known as “mono no aware” (our awareness of the transience of existence), but Americans might think of it as akin to nostalgia.
It’s become a time-honored cliché to say that you cried at a Pixar movie (if you stayed dry-eyed during the incineration scene in Toy Story 3, you’re inhuman), but there’s something about Inside Out that seems to have deeply touched a nerve with audiences. I think what’s so unique and incredible about the film is that unlike Upwith its devastating montage, it’s not trying to make viewers feel sadness itself. Instead, it's focused on showing how powerful those feelings can be, and why feeling them deeply matters. I bawled my eyes out in Inside Out not because I was moved by someone else’s sorrow but because it was the first film I’d ever seen that understood and validated my own.
Inside Out certainly highlights what it's like to be a young woman in today's world, but t what I love most about the film is that it makes these experiences universal. Every year, a number of Great Man Movies make the biographies of Nobel Prize-winning scientists (The Theory of Everything) or soldiers (American Sniper) into commentaries on the human experience by saying, their stories of struggle and resilience are ours. 2014’s The Imitation Game positioned Alan Turing as an everyday underdog, and to underscore the point, the film’s screenplay even states, “Sometimes it's the very people who no one imagines anything of who do the things no one can imagine.” But Inside Out doesn't pretend to be telling a story of major importance; it simply shows what it's like to be an average person learning to navigate the world, and because of this, it resonates stronger than many of the "message" movies mentioned above.
Yet despite all of this, Inside Out is unlikely to earn a Best Picture nomination. Part of the reason is that 2015 has been a stand-out year for film, with inclusions like Spotlight, Room, and Carol, among others, and it might be hard for a summer film like Inside Out to sneak into the race. And the end of the year has been particularly crowded, with Adam McKay’s financial crisis comedy The Big Short and Star Wars: The Force Awakens gaining momentum by virtue of solid reviews and earth-shattering box office numbers. As a result, Inside Out will likely be lost in the shuffle. Just six months ago, the film felt like the year’s first can’t-lose Oscar nominee, but currently, it’s on the outside looking in.
This is a sad truth, as Inside Out is something rich, rewarding, and totally unique. The Oscars have a weakness for movies about important men doing important things, but with this film, Pixar showed the Academy that representing women’s day-to-day experiences is just as significant. This year has already been a groundbreaking one for women in film, thanks to female-centric dramas like Room, Carol, and Brooklyn all commanding major awards attention, but if I have one Christmas wish, it's that voters don’t forget about Pixar's newest classic. Inside Out isn’t just one of the best pictures of the year — it changes the way you think, and that's something that deserves to get rewarded.
Images: Disney/Pixar; Giphy