Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Best Animated Short - 2007

2007! This was the year after I began watching all of the nominees (before that I had only focused on the winners), and so it was the first year where I had watched all of the nominees before the actual ceremony. I did this by attending the showing of the Oscar nominated animated shorts sponsored by Shorts HQ/Shorts International. I was actually able to find four of the five nominees before the event, but one of the nominees was nowhere to be found online, which led to my sister and me going into Washington DC. It was well worth it, as even the shorts that I had seen looked a lot more dazzling on the big screen.

I Met the Walrus
"In 1969, the 14-year-old Jerry Levitan, armed with a reel-to-reel tape recorder, snuck into John Lennon's hotel room for a chat." Almost 40 years later, he took some of the footage and produced this short film. There isn't much in this film in terms of plot. Rather, it serves as a vehicle to get into the head of one of the most significant musicians of our time, almost 30 years after his death. The short is presented in a very unique style. Young Levitan is presented as a marionette with a tape recorder, while Lennon's answers are presented visually, transitioning seamlessly with every word. For example, when Lennon says, "A lot of people don't want me in, you know, they think I'm gonna cause a violent revolution," a row of silhouetted people appear, the heads of one of them pop open revealing a soldier on a horse carrying a sword. The art style is eclectic, featuring photographs, original animation, old illustrations, and silhouettes. It is very dynamic style that I wish would be used more often. Unfortunately, I don't find the interview to be very interesting, so even though the film is only five minutes long, I was waiting for it to finish four minutes in.

Madame Tutli-Putli 
Madame Tutli-Putli tells the story of the titular character, weighted down by all of her material possessions, taking a train trip to an unknown destination. She meets a cast of quirky characters on the train. But when the train stops for the night, a band of mysterious figures attack the train. Madame Tutli-Putli runs throughout the train, but it is only at the head of the train can she find peace. This film was lauded for its brilliant stop-motion animation, and it is truly dazzling, highlighted by the innovative technique of using composite human eyes for the puppets' eyes. The character movement are also much smoother than that of many other stop motion works. However, the story is where the film falls apart. The film is filled to the brim with metaphors, to the point where it becomes strenuous to watch. The first half of the film is decent, with a mix of humor and suspense, but the metaphors reach an excess in the second half, and it becomes strenuous to watch. And when you finally grasp what the film is trying to say, it becomes painfully similar to Bunny, the Oscar winning film from 1998. And considering the work that was put into this film, that is really too bad.

Même les Pigeons vont au Paradis (Even Pigeons Go to Heaven) 
A priest intercepts a call and hurries to an old man's house, knocking another driver heading to the same destination off the road. He sees the old man falling off a haphazard pile while reaching for an old red sock stuffed with money and saves him. Then he presents the purpose of the visit: to sell the old man a pass to heaven. Like The Lady and the Reaper from 2009, this French film attempts to tackle a profound topic with humor. The former was about the right to die.This one is about the best way to attain salvation. Christians were taught that Jesus Christ is "the way and the truth and the light. No one comes to the Father except through [him]" (John 14:6). Using works or in the case of this short, monetary payments to attain salvation is an example of corruption. This is an important lesson for Christians. So even though this film seems lightweight on the outside, it packs quite a wallop, at least for me. The humor makes it accessible for everyone else.

Moya lyubov (My Love) 
Aleksandr Petrov has become somewhat of a legend in the animation world. He is best known for his use of paint-of-glass technique, where he uses his fingers to modify oil points on a glass canvas, resulting in a style resembling a moving oil painting. My Love, his most recent film, tells the tale of a 16-year-old boy as he struggles with his first romantic feelings, split between his family's passionate servant, and a mysterious beauty that hides a major secret. His conflicting emotions begin to tear him apart. The animation is stunning, as is the case for all of Petrov's films. And like most of his other films, he visually depicts a character's thoughts. However, while he does it only a few times in the past and in only major scenes, it seems as though half of the shots are the main character's fantasies. While the fantasies are fitting considering the film's romantic themes, at some points it becomes very difficult to distinguish between reality and fantasy. However, that is a minor quibble. I found the story to be very engaging, and ultimately quite powerful.

Peter & the Wolf
Peter & the Wolf is Sergei Prokofiev's famous musical composition. It tells the story of young Peter who goes out on an adventure with his animal friends while a wild wolf is on the loose. It is significant in that each character is represented by its own instrument. This version has generally the same story, except the story is transported into contemporary Russia, and it is told without a narrator, making it different from most other versions. I am somewhat conflicted about this version. I grew up with the Disney version of the made during the 1940s, and it is impossible not to make a comparison between the two. This version is objectively much better than the Disney version. It is near masterpiece from a technological standpoint. The stop-motion animation may not be at the same level as Madame Tutli-Putli, but it is still incredibly smooth and vibrant. And at 32 minutes it is one of the longest nominated films in the award's 80-year history. The storytelling is also superior to the Disney version, telling the story using only images. Many of the characters are also charming and likable, from Peter's silently loyal duck friend to the morbidly obese cat heck bent on eating the bird and adding to his calorie count. However, despite all this, I think I prefer the Disney version of the tale, mostly due to this verison's slow pacing and length. That's not to say this version isn't great, but it's far from my favorite nominee of the year.

This was my first year of watching the nominees before the actual ceremony, and I wasn't exactly sure what to expect. There was no doubt in my mind that My Love was my favorite nominee from this year. It was deep and fantastic, but would that translate into a victory? I was hoping so but I wasn't so sure. I was thinking maybe Madame Tutli-Putli because of its innovative techniques, and the age-old belief that the film you disliked the most would go on to win. Well, it didn't go that way in this category this year (although it did for Best Original Song, which went to "Falling Slowly" from Once. I wrote in my Oscars Live Blog, "I don't really like this song. It's probably going to win."). However, it also didn't go to My Love either. Instead, it went to Peter & the Wolf. That was somewhat of a surprise, but from a technological and a storytelling standpoint I've got no quibbles with the win.

My rankings (by quality)
Moya lyubov > Peter & the Wolf > Madame Tutli-Putli > Even Pigeons Go to Heaven > I Met the Walrus

My rankings (by preference)
Moya lyubov > Even Pigeons Go to Heaven > Peter & the Wolf > I Met the Walrus > Madame Tutli-Putli

1 comment:

  1. I did this by attending the showing of the Oscar nominated animated shorts sponsored by Shorts HQ/Shorts International. I was actually able to find four of the five nominees before the event, but one of the nominees was nowhere to be found online, which led to my sister and me going into Washington DC. It was well worth it, as even the shorts that I had seen looked a lot more dazzling on the big screen.

    A shame nobody in Toledo, OH does this.

    The usual complaint I often recall about Peter & The Wolf from those who saw it was in how it treated the ending in a way that was certainly very contemporary and possible as a reaction to the sensibilities and concern for animal rights we have today. It should also be pointed out the film was a co-production between British and Polish studios, and quite a unique collaboration as well, I did not mind the wordless adaptation of the story itself as I often felt he music and the visuals were fine on their own (not to say Sterling Holloway's narration on the Disney version wasn't that bad either but they both work in their own way).