Saturday, March 31, 2012
Best Animated Short - 2000
Well, we've reached the final year of the second millennium, or the first year of the third millennium, depending on your stance on these definitions. At any rate, this year's Oscar race started out to be quite special, as the Chinese film 臥虎藏龍 (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) earned ten nominations, including Best Picture. Yet it ended up kind of a downer. While it won four Academy Awards in the end, including Best Foreign Language Film (the first for a Chinese film), it lost out on the two top prizes. Losing Best Picture was not entirely unexpected, but losing the Best Director award was a bit more crushing. 李安 (Ang Lee) won the DGA award, which should have made him a front-runner. Instead he became only the sixth person in 50 years to win the DGA and lose the Oscar. He would eventually win the Oscar in 2005 for Brokeback Mountain, but it would have been better to see him win for a Chinese film.
Anyways, enough of that tangent. This is supposed to be about Best Animated Short. There was something quite different about the race in this category, although this difference was once quite common. What is this difference? Well, there was only three nominees. It was the first time in nine years that happened, and it hasn't happened since. So why was there only three nominees? Well, it would be helpful to review the rules for the short film categories as stated on the Academy Awards website.
So Rule Nineteen on the latest official Academy Award rules is dedicated to the short film categories. The rule has five sections. The first section is on the definition of a short film. It is essentially an original work that is less than 40 minutes and does not include adverts, clips from feature films (so the animated sequence in Kill Bill Vol. 1 would not be eligible), or unaired episodes of TV series*.
*This rule kind of confuses me, since one of the shorts that made it onto the longlist this past year was Thank You, which was essentially an unaired episode of Adventure Time. Maybe because it went through the confusing eligibility criteria, which we'll explore later.
Section II details the two categories, including giving the definition of what the Academy accepts as animation. According to AMPAS, anything "created by using a frame-by-frame technique" qualifies as animation. This includes "cel animation, computer animation, stop-motion, clay animation, pixilation, cutouts, pins, camera multiple pass imagery, kaleidoscopic effects, and drawing on the film frame itself." I'm not entirely sure what "camera multiple pass imagery" is, but other than that and kaleidoscopic effects, I can think of nominees that fulfill most of those other forms. They also specify that anything submitted under documentary short cannot be submitted for the animated short, even if they are animated. And I can think of four documentary short nominees that were largely animated. (There's probably more.)
Section III lists the eligibility requirements. The main method for a short film to become eligible is to have a public showing at Los Angeles County. There's a whole bunch of other requirements regards to how frequently it was shown, as well as the projection and sound rules. It's a lot of specific detail that if I wanted to go into them it'll just be cut and paste from the site. Two other ways a film can become eligible is if it wins a competitive award at an approved film festival. The only way a student film can become eligible is if it wins a Gold Medal at the Student Academy Awards. An eligible film can become disqualified if over 10% of it is shown on television, video, or internet before its theatrical release or festival run. This rule was instituted after Richard Williams's A Christmas Carol won in 1972 despite being a made-for-TV special.
Your film might fulfill the eligibility requirements, but it still has to be submitted. That was why Pixar's Hawaiian Vacation and the majority of the Warner Bros. classics (like Duck Amuck and What's Opera Doc) were not in the award scene. Section IV explains how to submit an eligible film. It must be submitted on 35mm or 70mm film, or on a digital format that fits in with the complex criteria listed in section III.A.1. The film must be the exact same as the one that qualified, and must be in English or have English subtitles. Films that advance to the shortlist (will be explained later) must be submitted again in whatever format the first submission was, as well as on DVD. Films that are nominated will be kept in the archives (probably to prevent what happened back in 1945, when Rippling Romance was nominated but is now considered lost. That means they have must have a copy of Lorenzo in their archives!) Finally, this section says that the person nominated with the film will be "the individual most directly responsible for the concept and creative execution of the film," with a cap set at two awards. If there are more than two that fit, then the company that owns the copyright must decide who should be nominated. This is in contrast to the past when the producer automatically gets the Oscar. That's how Walt Disney won so many Oscars, and why Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera never won an Oscar. (All seven of their Tom & Jerry Oscars went to Fred Quimby.)
Finally, section V is about voting! What's the criteria that the voters are looking for? Well, the Academy says "excellence of the entries shall be judged on the basis of originality, entertainment and production quality without regard to cost of production or subject matter." So a cheap but pure inferior work shouldn't technically be nominated over an extravagant but raunchy superior work. Whether or not that's the case is up to debate. Anyways, once all of the qualifying films are determined (the longlist), a Reviewing Committee made up of members of the "Short Films and Feature Animation Branch" will watch ALL of the films (there's usually well over 30) and rank them on a scale of 6 - 10, where 10 is excellent and 6 is poor. The ten highest ranked films with an average over 7.5 will move onto the shorlist. The minimum number of films that can be on the shortlist is six. If less than 10 films get an average over 7.5 but it's still greater than six, then that many films will constitute the shortlist. If less than six films get an average over 7.5, then the next highest rated films will advance to the shortlist until six is reached. To determine the nomination, a "Branch Nominating Committee" made up of all members of the branch will watch all of the shortlisted films. They will rank the films using the same 6 - 10 scale, and the films receiving a score higher than 7.5 will be nominated, with a maximum of five and minimum of three. Finally, to determine the winner, all Academy members who saw all of the nominated films in a theater will get a ballot where they get to vote for one film in each category.
Section VI basically says that only nominated films can use the term "Academy Award" in their advertisements. A film like The Cat Piano which was on the shortlist but was not nominated cannot advertise with "Academy Award shortlisted film." (How The Cat Piano received a lower average score than The Lady and the Reaper or Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty I will never know.)
Unfortunately I couldn't track down older rules, but I assume that the rules probably hadn't changed much in the past twelve years. So in other words, a year with only three nominations like 2000 must have had only three films receive a score higher than 7.5. So what were those three films? Let's find out. One...two...three! Three! (Fun fact: the role of Mr. Owl in the old Tootsie Roll Pop commercial was filled by Paul Winchell, who appeared in the Oscar-winning Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day and the Oscar-nominated Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too)
Father and Daughter
Where Can I Watch It?
Where Can I Watch It?
Where Can I Watch It?
Embedded the one with the text commentary, because it is from Don Hertzfeldt himself.
If you think about it, this year was a major downer emotionally. All of them deal with depressing themes: loss, death, and mental instability. Rejected is the funniest of the shorts (Father and Daughter injects some humor while The Periwig-Maker is dreary throughout), and by virtue of that it's easy to see how it's become my favorite. However, Hertzfeldt's themes and styles are so different from the leanings of the Academy that it's quite amazing that it was nominated at all, especially considering how they've ignored his later works, including the critically acclaimed Bill trilogy. Not surprisingly, Father and Daughter took home the Oscar, and I can't quibble with that decision. It is a tremendous film from all standpoints: deep emotional story, excellent storytelling, fantastic filmmaking construct, and lovely animation. However, it doesn't strike a chord with me as much as another great film that deals with love, loss, and longing: 2008's La Maison en Petits Cubes. I can't really explain why.
My rankings (by quality)
Father and Daughter > Rejected > The Periwig-Maker
My rankings (by preference)
Rejected > Father and Daughter > The Periwig-Maker
Anyways, an announcement of sorts. It's taking me a lot longer to write one of these reviews than I expected, and I'm finding that I can't keep up with this two reviews a week pace. So we'll be switching to one review a week (on Wednesday) until I get better at this. Yeah, I know that it may make it a lot harder to get all of the reviews up by the 81st Best Animated Short Oscar, but I figure there's nothing wrong with that.