food incFood, Inc., Robert Kenner’s hard-hitting exposé of the food industry, has snagged a Academy Award nomination in the “best documentary” category. (Full list of nominess here; Food Inc. is up against another food politics-themed film, The Cove.) This is a significant development. I know people in the food world who have taken a blase approach to Food Inc.--there’s “nothing in it I didn’t already know,” they grumble.

That may be largely true of people immersed in food politics–but you have to give Kenner and crew credit for breaking the pink slime/ammonia burger story long before the mainstream media caught on.

And consider the film’s effect on folks outside of the tiny food-politics bubble. I was on an airplane last week, and the woman sitting next to me noted my reading material (Janet Poppendieck’s Free for All: Fixing School Food in America), and struck up a conversation. Before long, she was revealing how seeing Food Inc. inspired her to give up fast food and cut way down on what she called “mystery” (i.e, factory-farmed) meat.

The film seems to have a powerful effect on people–and winning an Oscar would boost its viewership. Of course, we shouldn’t out too much stock in the power of the “best documentary” nod to get a message out. I remember how much hope there was around An Inconvenient Truth’s Oscar bid a few years ago. The film ended up winning–and Al Gore scored a Nobel, too–but the U.S. public remains generally apathetic about climate change. Turns out that powerful industries with tons of marketing cash, and friends in Washington and at certain media outlets, trump Oscar in the court of public opinion.

Speaking of Foxes, as a huge fan of Fantastic Mr. Fox, I guess I should be celebrating its nomination in the “best animated film” category. (It also got one for “best original score.”) But I have to say, I’m bitter that it got stiffed on “best picture” (now featuring ten nominees) and best adapted screenplay, a collaboration between director Wes Anderson and the wonderful Noah Baumbach.

A grown man pushing for a cartoon to be recognized as cinema might seem strange; but I am not alone. No less an authority than The Nation’s excellent film critic Stuart Klawans declared it the “best American film of 2009.” Klawans goes on to describe Mr. Fox as the….

… most droll, inventive and visually delightful of the year’s movies, the one with the quickest wit and furriest puppets, the only one to make you proud of your place in the vast Darwinian diversity (and appropriately humble about it, too).

Take that, Hollywood pinheads who failed to promote this remarkably accessible film, opening it in too-few theaters and axing it from those theaters too quickly; and a pox on the esteemed ladies and gentlemen of the academy, who shunted it mindlessly into the animation corner of the Oscars when it deserved better. Like Public Enemy said 15 years ago…

Below, trailers of Food Inc. and Mr. Fox: