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Should Pixar’s ‘Soul’ win best picture?

Musician Joe in Disney Pixar's animated "Soul"
Pixar Animation’s “Soul” looks at what’s important in life.
(Pixar Animation)

The National Guard is sleeping in the Capitol. I could be going to Disneyland soon, but for reasons different than I could have ever imagined. And I guess I’m going to have to dig out my flip-flops, if only to go buy a birthday card for Betty White, who’s celebrating her 99th birthday this weekend.

Also: The Oscars are about three months away.

I’m Glenn Whipp, awards columnist for the Los Angeles Times and host of the Envelope’s Friday newsletter. Welcome to this week’s edition. And while I’d like to believe Betty and think that “turning 99 is no different than turning 98,” I pulled a hamstring getting out of bed this morning, so I’ll just take this moment to salute Ms. White for living her best life.

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Pixar’s ‘Soul’ better be nominated for best picture

A non-English-language movie had never won the best picture Oscar until Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite” prevailed last year.

Could Pixar Animation’s lovely and gentle “Soul,” which ponders all sorts of existential questions in ways both profound and silly, break another barrier this year, becoming the first animated movie to win best picture?

It’s a question I tossed out before Christmas on the Envelope podcast (you subscribe, right?), and that was before audiences — and quite a few academy members — ran the movie on a continuous loop over the holidays.

Honestly, although it would be nice if an ambitious, joyful movie full of imagination and curiosity won the Oscars’ top prize, I’m not holding my breath that academy members are suddenly going to cast aside a long history of animation aversion and give “Soul” best picture. It’s entirely possible — even in this diminished year — that “Soul” might not even be nominated in that category. “Beauty and the Beast” is the only animated movie to earn a nod when Oscar voters had five nomination slots on their ballots. “Up” and “Toy Story 3" made it in when the Oscars expanded the best picture race to a fixed 10 nominees — giving members 10 slots on their ballots. It’s going back to 10 next year, but that doesn’t help “Soul” now.

I took a veeeeery early look at the best picture Oscar race recently, noting that most of the contenders remain largely unseen by voters because there’s no sense of urgency (the Oscars are still more than three months away, remember?), and, you know, we’ve had more pressing issues to occupy our minds lately.

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The passions of Sacha Baron Cohen

Sacha Baron Cohen and I got together via Zoom on a recent winter evening, the London-born actor-filmmaker wearing a black baseball cap and black long-sleeve T-shirt and proffering a black humor. Director Jason Woliner, who worked on this fall’s wildly successful “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” (“It almost felt like we were this little band of bank robbers,” Woliner says of the secret process involved in making the sequel), says the first thing that strikes you about Cohen is “how deeply he cares about the issues he believes in.”

That passion was evident throughout our conversation, with Cohen repeatedly championing his causes: curbing defamation and disinformation on the internet and stopping Trumpism, which he views, now and forevermore, as an existential threat to democracy.

Of course, this being Cohen, the serious discourse often took bizarre comic detours, musing on Stephen Miller’s bowel movements and the time he spent five days on the “Borat” sequel undercover with two QAnon conspiracy theorists and became so immersed in character that he forgot how to practice good dental hygiene. (“It was really hard to pick up the toothbrush and then I realized, ‘Oh my God! I’m still Borat!’” Cohen says, adding that he literally slapped himself back to reality. And that was just Day 3. He still had another 48 hours to go.)

My favorite story from our conversation centered on how Cohen prepared for spending hours hiding in a men’s room stall at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February, dressed as Donald Trump, waiting to surprise Mike Pence during a speech.

“I had a phone, and I had one Coca-Cola. And I put little lines on the Coke bottle for how much I could drink per hour,” Cohen told me. “In the meantime, I became familiar with the inner workings of the right-wing man more than anyone around. I know their diets. They need more roughage. It was a little too lively in there.”

Sacha Baron Cohen
Sacha Baron Cohen has two awards contenders: “The Trial of the Chicago 7" and “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.”
(Russell James / For The Times)

SAG Awards find a new date

After the Grammys landed on its mid-March date, the Screen Actors Guild Awards pushed its date to April 4, three weeks ahead of the Oscars. The show doesn’t pull in the ratings of the Golden Globes or Academy Awards but does often have areas of intrigue. This year, the film ensemble race is shaping up to be particularly interesting, with leading contenders including the sprawling cast of “The Trial of the Chicago 7" and the predominantly Black casts of three excellent films — “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “Da 5 Bloods” and “One Night in Miami.” I’ll be sharing more about that race next week, which, given the way time flows these days, will be on us in what feels like five minutes. And, hopefully, I won’t be wearing flip-flops then.

Feedback?

I’d love to hear from you. Email me at glenn.whipp@latimes.com.

Can’t get enough about awards season? Follow me at @glennwhipp on Twitter.


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