Sunday afternoon should have been the time when we got a good idea about whether Wes Anderson's "Fantastic Mr. Fox" had enough Academy support to win one of the (presumed) five slots in the animated feature race.
The film, after all, screened at the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater that afternoon -- and the amount of applause at member screenings at the Goldwyn is often a good judge of how eagerly Oscar voters embrace the movies they see there.
The Academy, though, hates it when the media gets reports from members who've attended these screenings -- and in Anderson's film, AMPAS found a perhaps unwitting accomplice in its goal of keeping the reaction at these private screenings private.
They were helped by the fact that the film attracted only a small crowd: fewer than 200 people in the 1,000-seat theater, according to my source. (The attendance in itself is not good news for the movie, in which the lead characters are voiced by such Academy favorites as George Clooney, Meryl Streep and Bill Murray.)
As for the amount of applause when the movie ended ... well, that's where things get difficult. Anderson, you see, cranks up the volume on the old Bobby Fuller Four raveup "Let Her Dance" over the end credits -- so between the sparse crowd and the blaring music, it apparently was almost impossible to tell how much applause the movie was getting.
"I think it was a very healthy reaction considering the number of people in the room, but to tell you the truth I don't really know," says one guest at the screening. "The music was so loud that you couldn't tell."
Nominations in the animated feature category are made by a special Animated Feature Film Award Screening Committee. The committee is open to members from all branches, although apparently about half its the members come from the short films and feature animation branch.
If "Up" and "Coraline" are the odds-on favorites for two slots, "Mr. Fox" likely will be facing competition from the likes of "Ponyo," Disney's "The Princess and the Frog" and "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs."
I just saw a dark-horse candidate last night, though, and I have to say that if I had a vote, "Mary and Max" would absolutely be one of my five picks, probably right behind "Up." The Australian film is twisted and strange and very adult, with deadpan humor and a wonderfully dark narrative.
If the oddball French film "The Triplets of Bellville" could sneak into this category a few years ago, I have a feeling "Mary and Max" could do the same.
"The voters from the animation branch will love that it tells a real story by using animation," says one voter. "That's one of the things that [Pixar chief and animation branch governor] John Lasseter always says: Just because it's an animated film doesn't mean it has to have a cartoon story."
I'd say it's one of the funniest films I've seen this year, right up there with "In the Loop." And if enough committee members have slightly twisted senses of humor, it'll be a contender.
By the way, "Mary and Max" is now available on video-on-demand from IFC.