Sunday, March 25, 2012

Ranking the Oscar nominated shorts: 2002-2011

Well, lets pause and take a break here. I've reviewed ten years worth of Oscar-nominated animated shorts, and since the history of this category can be broken down into eight ten-year blocks, we should pause and take a look back every ten years. And how would I look back? Well, I like making ranked lists, so I figure why not rank the films by how much I liked them? There have been a total of fifty nominated shorts, meaning that there was five nominees every year. It's the second time in a ten year stretch that has happened, and the first one was 2001-2010. I've seen 49 of the 50 nominees, so it's a good time to reflect on the shorts that I just saw.

And remember, this is solely by how much I liked the short. There are excellent films that rank low because it didn't click with me, and mediocre shorts that rank highly because I have terrible tastes.

NULL: Lorenzo (2004)
It's the film Disney refuses to release, a fact that still drives me absolutely nuts.

49. Katedra (2002)
Beautiful to look at, but its drab and lifeless story keeps me from wanting to look at it.

48. This Way Up (2008)
Wonderfully macabre sequences that don't add up to a satisfying whole, and I didn't like the ending.

47. Madame Tutli-Putli (2007)
Brilliantly animated with an interesting first half, but the film trips on its own metaphors in the second half.

46. Boundin' (2003)
The music is pleasing to the ears, but it pounds the message into your head. Plus, I don't like the characters. 

45. Mike's New Car (2002)
It took two characters with great chemistry, and throws them into a dry slapstick show that gets old after a minute.

44. Dimanche/Sunday (2011)
The dark humor is excellent, but the film just seems to meander along until it gets to its bland and lifeless climax.

43. A Morning Stroll (2011)
The premise and the structure is great, but it lost me with its poor pacing, and I didn't care for the climactic scene.

42. Lifted (2006)
It's a funny look at an all too familiar situation, but the main character is a bit too annoying to be sympathetic.

41. The Lady and the Reaper (2009)
A great soundtrack and an excellent ending doesn't quite make up for the rest of the film's irritating slapstick moments.

40. A Matter of Loaf and Death (2009)
It's a good film, but it's impossible not to compare it with other Wallace and Gromit shorts, and it falls apart in comparison.

39. I Met the Walrus (2007)
I liked the clever and dynamic animation style, but Lennon's philosophy was lost to me, so most of the film was a bore.

38. Peter & the Wolf (2007)
Great animation, wonderful music and excellent character development. I just wish the film wasn't so gosh darned boring. 

37. 9 (2005)
The animation and atmosphere are terrific, but the story was a bit too simple and one-dimensional for it to be interesting.

36. Birthday Boy (2004)
It's a devastating but effective look at the horrors of war. I just found the main character to be a bit annoying for my tastes.

35. Ryan (2004)
The animation is great, the premise is clever, and it highlights an animation legend, but the ending feels like a whimper.

34. Let's Pollute (2010)
It's a funny parody of old educational films with good animation, but it's a one-joke film that hangs on for far too long.

33. Nibbles (2003)
This frantically fast-paced look at a fishing trip is interesting, but doesn't leave much lasting impressions once it ends.

32. Destino (2003)
This is exactly what you'd expect from a Dali/Disney collaboration. It's near impossible to decipher, but enjoyable from afar.

31. Gopher Broke (2004)
A funny film, but the gopher is annoying, and the humiliation he experiences when his plans don't work out doesn't quite make up for it.

30. Badgered (2005)
It's a funny film with a simple but charming animation style, but it doesn't leave much lasting impression once it ends.

29. Madagascar: A Journey Diary (2010)
It's a great exhibition of a foreign culture with a wonderful variety of animation styles. However, the film kind of drags in the middle.

28. The Lost Thing (2010)
It's a tender and touching allegorical story that maintains a picture book feel. Sometimes I wonder if it'll be better without narration.

27. Oktapodi (2008)
It's fast-paced and furiously fun, with effective slapstick. Yet it feels incredibly slight even for a two minute short.

26. Lavatory Lovestory (2008)
A sweet tale of love complemented by its simple lined animation. The film does drag at times, and doesn't leave much of an impression.

25. Presto (2008)
Some of the jokes feel forced and are kind of dumb, but overall this is a funny and wildly entertaining film with terrific execution of a clever premise.

24. Even Pigeons Go to Heaven (2007)
This is an interesting film that deals with the serious topic of salvation in a humorous light. The ending is dark but is extremely funny and effective.

23. Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty (2009)
It's a little bit of a one joke concept, but at least the joke is funny. It still runs a bit long, but at least it ends with a bang. Great mix of 2D and 3D animation.

22. The Chubbchubbs! (2002)
Not exactly the deepest work, but it's a light and funny tale. There's a lot of great science fiction references. Unfortunately, the main character was quite annoying.

21. French Roast (2009)
This film is both funny and touching with an ending that will put a smile on your face. It is complemented by some pretty clever filmmaking techniques. 

20. Gone Nutty (2003)
It's a Scrat film, so you know it's not going to teach you much life lessons, but it'll make you feel good about laughing at a rodent's numerous misfortunes.

19. The Gruffalo (2010)
The story's contents doesn't match the running time, so there's a lot of down time, but I personally found this film to be incredibly charming. Great animation and voice work.

18. One Man Band (2005)
This madcap story about two dueling one man bands will leave you rolling in the aisles. It's not one of Pixar's deepest or more memorable works, but it is one of the studio's funniest.

17. La Luna (2011)
This film combines beautiful imagery with a good story. This imaginative film is one of Pixar's most subtle works, and it's a welcome change considering some of the films that came before.

16. No Time for Nuts (2006)
This second Scrat short delivers even more humor with less torment, so you won't have to feel as guilty for laughing. And there's still a lot of misery awaiting our intrepid explorer. A great concept that's well executed.

15. The Danish Poet (2006)
This film uses a funny story with simple animation to explore the idea of serendipity related to our lives. The underlying meaning may be lost, but the tongue-in-cheek humor will still make this quite an enjoyable film.

14. Maestro (2006)
This film may be short and simple, but it moves at a rapid pace and packs a lot of depth into its five minute running time. The film builds up towards an ending that is well worth it. 

13. Atama-yama (2002)
The extreme Japanese feel to this film may be a turn off for some people, but if you don't mind it you will enjoy a hilarious tale that messes with your mind. The narrator really makes this story come alive, and the traditional Japanese music is great too.

12. The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation (2005)
This sobering family drama combines old photographs and footage with deceptively simple animation to tell a deep and complex story about a man trying to come to terms with the father who made his life miserable. Eli Wallach and John Turturro are terrific in their roles as father and son.

11. Day & Night (2010)
This clever little short is one of Pixar's best from a filmmaking standpoint. The use of both 2D and 3D animation along with diegetic sound to tell the tale is genius. Unfortunately, the ending is weakened by a scene that not only disrupts the flow but also pounds the film's message in your head. 

10. The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (2011)
This charming film tells a funny yet tender tale about the restorative power of books while paying tribute to film history such as Buster Keaton and The Wizard of Oz. This film also celebrates the human spirit, especially the recovery of New Orleans after the Hurricane Katrina disaster. The animation is a clever mix of miniatures with 3D animation and somewhat of a faux 2D animation. It's overall an enjoyable work and a deserving winner.

9. Das Rad (Rocks) (2002)
This witty satirical film takes a jab at human progress in an interesting way. They took the focus away from the humans and on a couple of rock beings who moves at an incredibly slow pace. So everything else moves at a breakneck rate, with visually stunning results. The connection between human progress and the titular object (at least in Germany) seems only mildly tenable, but even without it you are left with an amazing film that provides social commentary on human advancement.

8. The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello (2005)
This Australian film plays out like a dream, with its gothic and steampunk setting and the vibrant silhouette animation. It must also be a dream for Mr. Morello, a navigator with a chance at redemption following a fatal miscalculation. However, the dream has ominous elements even from the start, and pretty soon it spirals into an all-out nightmare, especially for Mr. Morello. It is the viewers that come out on top, as they get a dazzling film that will keep them at the edge of the seat until its thrilling conclusion.

7. My Love (2007)
This vibrant Russian tale tells of the coming of age of a teenage boy at the turn of the century as he struggles with his hormone-induced attraction towards two women: the warm, sensual maid in his family and a cool, mysterious neighbor. Some may bemoan the excessive use of imagery. While it may become hard to distinguish fantasy from reality, but I found that it complements the film's romantic themes. The story also packs an emotional punch. Combine that with Alexandre Petrov's beautiful paint on glass artwork, and you have yourself a classic.

6. Logorama (2009)
I know my friend is going to rue me for this ranking, but what the heck. This raunchy film is one of the most observant and biting commentaries on American consumerism. It's probably not very surprising to find out that it was made in France. The filmmakers take an interesting concept - creating a world made up of only logos and using mascots as characters - and run wild with it. The story is pretty much a raucous mess, which is why it ranks out of the top five for me, but it's filled with with enough wild scenes, bad behavior, and logo cameos that will leave you breathless.

5. Guard Dog (2004)
This funny little film is a perfect introduction to the amusing but twisted world of animator Bill Plympton. It depicts a dog on a walk imagining the evil plans that every living thing he sees harbor toward his master. These plans are elaborate, twisted, and quite gruesome, just the sort of thing Plympton has become known for, but they're also incredibly hilarious. Plympton's simple, happy art style done with colored pencil also makes these plans more alarming, but that's the sort of thing that makes this film so fun.

4. Wild Life (2011)
This amusing yet sobering Canadian film tells the story of a remittance man, a turn of the century phenomenon where sons of rich British families are sent overseas to make their life in Canada. The wild life of this particular remittance man is told through faux interviews a la The Office as well as embellished letters back home. I know a lot of people seemed to have been turned off by this film, especially the emotional rollercoaster and the opaque comet allegory. However, it is one of my favorites thanks to its spiffy writing, vibrant animation, and excellent soundtrack.

3. Harvie Krumpet (2003)
Dark comedy is one of my favorite forms of comedy, and you can't get much darker than the films of Australian claymation animator Adam Elliott. His films are the antithesis of Wallace and Gromit: hilarious while simultaneously being incredibly depressing. The titular character in this film goes through more hardships than Scrat in his two Oscar-nominated films, yet manages to find a way to continue living even if all seems lost, no matter how purposeless. It's a pessimistic look at the human condition, but succeeds thanks to the black comedy, the terrific animation, and Geoffrey Rush's flawless narration.

2. The Little Matchgirl (2006)
Disney had gotten a lot of heat in the mid-2000s for their lifeless and formulaic animated features, but they still continued to produce magic in animated shorts like Destino, Lorenzo (reportedly, at least), and this film, a relatively loyal adaptation of the classic story by Hans Christian Anderson. This film keeps the emotion of the original story by taking putting on screen the juxtaposition between the girl's happy mirages and dreary circumstances. And it packs an additional emotional punch for me as it highlights the girl's separation from her surroundings by making her look Asian. Despite the film's tragic story, it captures my heart with its brilliant, flowing animation and the effective use of Alexander Borodin's beautiful "Nocturne from String Quartet No. 2 in D Major, 3rd movement."

1. La Maison en Petits Cubes (2008)
According to sportswriter Joe Posnanski, one of the factors that determine how much you like a work is your expectations going in. (I'm sure it's a common fact of life, but Posnanski is the first person I know that put it in writing.) It's how Twilight Princess became my favorite games of all time because I went in with negative expectations. This was the last short I saw that year, and I initially passed it off. Japanese film done in the style of French animation available only on DVD? Pretentious film alert! Yet I was blown away when I finally saw the film. It started out slow, which helped establish the setting: a world devastated by the effects of global warming, and an elderly man who stubbornly builds another story rather than evacuate his flooded home. Five minutes in the man goes on a diving expedition, initially to retrieve a missing pipe but it soon becomes a journey through his memories. The memories escalates until we finally uncover the moments that will continue to define the old man's actions. It's a nuanced and highly emotional film that left me stunned. Like Guard Dog, this film uses a colored pencil art style yet manages to pack far more depth and emotion. The tender musical score also breathes life into the film. It's no wonder that composer Kenji Kondo was credited first at the end. I don't know how it will rank if I went in with neutral expectations, but as it is, it is easily my favorite short film from the past ten years.

Whew, I didn't expect writing a second review for most of these films. But hey, maybe they're more coherent than my original reviews. Anyways, let's take a look at some of the "stats."

Highest ranked non-winner: The Little Matchgirl (2)
Lowest ranked winner: Peter & the Wolf (38)
Number of winners in the top ten: Four (La Maison en Petits Cubes, Harvie Krumpet, Logorama, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore)
Only film that was my favorite in a year outside the top 10: Day & Night (11)
Only film that was not my favorite in a year in the top 10: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (10)
Highest average ranking in a year: 2006 (average rank is 17.6)
Lowest average ranking in a year: 2007 (average rank is 31)

The top 10 from 2002-2011!

1 comment:

  1. Interesting to see the top five at least. I would agree with those myself.

    This decade also saw the interest from studios to get into making shorts again as well. Not quite as what it was 60-80 years ago mind you, but just enough so that it wasn't all indie/foreign artists taking a crack at the award as it has been for quite a while. It's an equal balance at least.