Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Best Animated Short - 2005

Here we go...the next part of my long and mostly incoherent ramblings on a category that nobody cares about but me for an award that has proved time and time again that they're not the best judge of quality animation. Anyways now we reach 2005, the year that Brokeback Mountain seemed to be riding high until it crashed and burned in front of the finish line. The main storyline for me was whether or not Hayao Miyazaki could win his second Oscar for Hauru no Ugoku Shiro (unfortunately, he wasn't. He succumbed to the immovable force that is Wallace and Gromit.) Best Animated Short was one of the categories in the background, but not for long. It was shortly after this that I had started trying to watch as many of the winning short films as I can.

A lone ragdoll with the number 9 stenciled on his back works tirelessly while a mechanical monster scouts the streets of a post-apocalyptic landscape. The only thing we know about these two is that they will be colliding in a battle to the death. This is the story of 9, the student film by animator Shane Acker that was one of the most visually stunning nominees of the year. The vivid backgrounds full of reminders of a time gone by help present a dramatic atmosphere, while the realistic character animation makes the tale come alive. The story is rather bare bones. The titular character fights it out with the villainous monster with a flashback scene to explain his motivation. Ultimately the film's ending raises more questions than it answers. What led to the deserted landscape? What is the connection between the rag dolls and the monster? Who were 1-8 and what happened to them? I disliked the short when I first saw it for this reason, but it grew on me when I came to the realization that Acker probably left them unanswered so that the audience can come up with their own answers. It got to the point that when Tim Burton gave Acker a chance to present his version of the story in the feature film, I passed on it. Or maybe I was just not in the mood to watch a dark dramatic film.
Where Can I Watch It?
It's much sharper in the DVD for the feature film of 9, but here it is online.

A badger is trying to hibernate in his little den on the side of a mountain, but an annoying pair of crows is preventing him from doing so. He tries to shut them up, but the crows become the least of his worries when the government turns his mountain into the storage site of missiles, but maybe they can become useful to solve his other problem. The only thing I can say about this short is that it's quite simple. The story is quite simple, and animation is equally simple. The badger is this big blog with four legs and eyes while the crows are bodies with mouths attached to them. However, the simplicity is part of the film's charm. It's not a film that presents a complex issue or stuffed to the brim with opaque metaphors. It's just about poor badger that wants some sleep. I'm sure we can all identify with it. 
Where Can I Watch It?

The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation
Parents are expected to be the caretakers for their children. They must provide for their children while giving them the guidance to help them succeed. When parents are negligent in this task, then the outcomes would most likely be poor. One thing I'm sure most children in these situations would want to ask their parents...Why? That is the question that animator and animation historian John Canemaker tries to answer in this film, ten years after his father's death. He begins by talking with his father from beyond the grave about his anger and introduces a traumatic experience when his father was arrested and convicted of performing arson on a hotel he owned. Finally, he talks with his father about his life; his tough life in Italy and his relationship with the Mafia in both Italy and America; his experiences in World War II; his life after the prison term. It becomes quite clear that this film was his attempt to come to terms with his relationship with his father. Canemaker used a combination of old family photos and home movies with pieces of animation. The simple yet vibrant animation allowed him to dramatize events in the past while at the same time inserting some basic metaphors that help add to the story, although some of them might have been slightly distracting. John Turturro and Eli Wallach lent their voice talents to play John and his father, and their pitch perfect relationship made the story much more moving. The ending was a bit disconcerting when compared to the rest of the film's tone, but it becomes quite profound when you consider the film's purpose. 
Where Can I Watch It?

The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello
The title is a mouthful*, and the story is equally complex. It is set in Victorian England and tells the tale of Jasper Morello, a navigator of steam-powered airships haunted by a costly mistake he made once upon a time. While he deals with his own personal crisis, the society around him is dealing with another crisis: a deadly plague that strikes most of the population. Morello is given a second chance to serve as the navigator for an expedition, but that means leaving his wife to care for the plague victim. He is treated coldly by the ship's crew, but embraced by a visiting biologist. He finds out that his wife has been stricken by the plague, but is unable to turn around until the plague finds its way onto the ship. The ship explores a mysterious floating island when they find a beast whose blood can miraculously cure the plague. The problem is, the beast feeds on human blood. This intricate steampunk tale is both thrilling and tender. The main characters are very well developed. Their hopes and desires are visible but never get in the way, which adds to the film's profundity. The animation is absolutely stunning. It is done almost completely in the silhouette style similar to the classic The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926), with the plague animated as golden patches. This is a classic that is well worth watching.

*"The Mysterious Geographic Exploration of Jasper Morello" is 50 characters long. It doesn't quite match up with the record for a Best Picture nominated film (Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is 56 characters long), but it still holds the record for longest title for a Best Animated Short-nominated film. There are some surprisingly long film titles too. Here's the top 10, by characters:
9. Popeye the Sailor Meets Sinbad the Sailor (1936, 35 characters)
9. It's So Nice to Have a Wolf Around the House (1979, 35 characters)
7. The Further Adventures of Uncle Sam: Part Two (1970, 38 characters)
7. The History of the World in Three Minutes Flat (1980, 38 characters)
5. Wallace and Gromit in A Matter of Loaf and Death (2009, 39 characters)
5. The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation (2005, 39 characters)
4. A Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass Double Feature (1966, 40 character)
3. The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (2011, 42 characters)
2. The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics (1965, 43 characters)
1. The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello (2005, 50 characters) 

Where Can I Watch It?

One Man Band
This hilarious short tells the story of a One Man Band next to a near-abandoned wishing well trying to solicit the coin of a young girl. However, a rival band is trying to do the same. The two enter into a frantic battle of the bands that climax into all-out war. Pixar has become synonymous with quality computer animation. However, their animation of humans were not quite as developed as the rest of their repertoire. The baby in Tin Toy was one of the scariest things ever captured on film, while the humans in Toy Story were incredibly simple compared to the rest of their surroundings. Geri's Game (1997) was a bit of a breakthrough for Pixar in terms of realistic human animation while staying on the safe side of the uncanny valley. One Man Band is probably another breakthrough, this time in terms of animating human action. The highlight of the film is the two dueling artists and their differing styles in both performances and battles. The tricks that the performers have are dizzying, and it's interesting to see what else they have up their sleeves. The animation of the performances, which I assume matches the music, is also very strong. It's a very funny little short that is probably one of Pixar's best.
Where Can I Watch It?

There were some very good films this year. The Moon and the Son won the Oscar, and I can't really quibble with the pick. It was a terrific combination of animation and live action to tell a very personal yet quite moving tale. However, my pick would have been The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Mr. Jasper Morello. It combines an excellent storyline with terrific animation. But I'm not going to be sad about it like I would in 2006.

My rankings (by quality):
The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello > The Moon and the Son > One Man Band > 9 > Badgered

My rankings (by preference):
The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello > The Moon and the Son > One Man Band > Badgered > 9

1 comment:

  1. Reading your opinions on "9" made me think of what it was liKed about some films as well when you're left asking questions about the world and the characters in that world. Certainly some filmmakers like to leave important matters out of the story itself, but often the key to a good film I feel is in it's exploration. Sometimes it may work, other times it doesn't. It could be an unequel balanace between "Show" and "Tell" when it comes to plotting and cinematography.

    I think I first saw "Badgered" c/o somewhere on the interent, either illegitimately or not, but it's been so long I can't remember where, but much of what I thought about it mirrors your thoughts exactly. It's a simple, quaint film with an adequate resolution.

    I'll have to see Jasper Morello someday (as well as The Moon & The Son).