The first Oscar race I remember clearly caring about was in 1995* when Toy Storyshould have been nominated for Best Picture, but wasn't (It's ok, Babe was.) Then in 2001 the Academy created the Best Animated Movies Oscar, and now perfectly horrid animated films like Happy Feet win Oscars. Meanwhile, truly excellent films, like Pixar's The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, and Ratatouille are bypassed into the Best Animated Feature category, and never given a chance at Best Picture.
Pixar doesn't have a monopoly on the Best Animated Feature award, but you can bet, if they've release a film, it will be nominated. This year's Uphas the very best sequence I've seen all year long (the "Carl + Ellie: A Love Story" sequence, a wordless and profoundly moving portrait of marriage). But Up wasn't a great movie. It was fun. It had sublime moments. And I can never resist Ed Asner. But the story was stretched too thin, and I hated to see Christopher Plummer as the villain.
A far better film, and worthy opponent to Pixar (as the NYTimes recently suggested)is The Fantastic Mr. Foxdirected by Wes Anderson and starring Meryl Streep and George Clooney. I can safely say it was the best film I saw in the theatres last year. A brilliant, funny adaptation of a beloved book (and visually daring and perfect), Wes Anderson ought to take home his first Oscar for this film.
Pixar ought to take home a different Oscar, though, for it's short animated film: Partly Cloudy. I say this every year when my favorites don't win, but if Partly Cloudy doesn't win, then I won't watch the Oscars again. Lame-os.
*Come to think of it, 1995 was the first year I really started paying attention to movies, I think. That year saw the release of Sense and Sensibility, Babe, Apollo 13, The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain, A Little Princess, Sabrina, and a few other movies I remember seeing in the movie theatres but am a little ashamed to say I saw (The Babysitter's Club, anyone?). That must have been the first year I had an allowance, or something. Except that I remember seeing most of these movies with my family.