Saturday, May 26, 2012

Ranking the Oscar nominated shorts: 1992-2001

Back in March, after I completed the reviews of the Oscar nominated shorts from 2002-2011, I wrote a special post ranking the nominated films in those years by personal preference. That turned out to be one of my favorite posts, since it was fun going over all of the nominated films in making the ranks, and I just like making ranked lists. It was so much fun that I've decided to make one of these ranked lists once every ten reviews. Since I just completed my 20th review, I will now present my rankings of the films nominated between 1992-2001, which were the 61st - 70th time that the Best Animated Short award was presented.

For the most part there were five nominees per year in these ten years. The only exceptions came in 1996, when there were only four nominees, and 2000 when there were only three. That makes for 47 total nominees, three short of the 50 that were nominated between 2002-2011. And there was one film that Disney had locked up in their underground vaults guarded by Cerberus for 15 years, but one courageous man had risked life and limb to bring Redux Riding Hood to animation audiences everywhere. While director Steve Moore will probably end up chained to a rock having his liver eaten by an eagle every day, his contributions will never be forgotten by me, as it allows me to rank all 47 nominees!

47. Small Talk (1993)
Excruciatingly hard to find, and after all that work it's not a very exciting film.

46. When the Day Breaks (1999)
Brilliantly made, but also depressing, and kind of confusing. Not what you'd except with anthropomorphic animals.

45. Humdrum (1999)
Interesting shadow puppet animation, but most of the jokes fall flat, and the viewers are left feeling humdrum.

44. The Mighty River (1993)
It's an exquisite animated nature documentary from an animation legend, but I personally find it dreadfully dull.

43. The Periwig-Maker (2000)
Good animation and atmosphere, but neither the story nor the monologue lifted from Danny Dafoe clicked with me.

42. Blindscape (1993)
The animation is well done, but I'm not completely sold on the idea of presenting blindness as a fearful condition.

41. The Janitor (1994)
This tongue-in-cheek look at important Christian events is interesting but it doesn't quite stick out to me.

40. Adam (1992)
Good claymation animation from Aardman with a great premise, but the jokes fall flat. Not on par with other Aardman works.

39. Triangle (1994)
As good as you'd expect from an animated interpretive dance, but the meaning is opaque to me and the film runs a bit too long.

38. For the Birds (2001)
Excellent animation of feathers and wheat in movement, but it doesn't help that I didn't like the story, nor did I like any of the characters.

37. Rusalka (1997)
A beautiful paint on glass film from Alexander Petrov, but too much of it hinges on the knowledge of a "rusalka" in Slavic mythology.

36. Jolly Roger (1998)
This short is quite funny, especially the parrot, but there is far from enough story to sustain the 12-minute running time, so it drags.

35. When Life Departs (1998)
A challenging film where children talk about their beliefs regarding death and all that goes with it. It's very touching but also hard to watch.

34. Bunny (1998)
The film that put Chris Wedge and Blue Sky Studios on the map is touching, but it lacks both the humor and the charm that make the Ice Age series so popular.

33. Give Up Yer Aul Sins (2001)
This is the story of John the Baptist as told by an Irish schoolgirl 40 years earlier. The animation is interesting to look at, but doesn't leave any lasting impression.

32. My Grandmother Ironed the King's Shirts (1999)
This is a good family anecdote combined with a lesson in Norwegian history in the first half of the 20th century, but it doesn't have the charm as Kove's later The Danish Poet.

31.  The Old Man and the Sea (1999)
Another visually dazzling film from Petrov, adapting the famous Hemingway story. Unfortunately, it doesn't carry the narrative weight as the original novella and ends up being kind of dull.

30. Bob's Birthday (1994)
This film has a lot of visual humor to keep me entertained, but since it mediates on what it means to become middle aged, I feel as though that there's a lot of deeper humor that I don't quite get.

29. La Salla (1996)
This modern fable on the power of temptation is certainly interesting, with its opera singing man child and the cheap CGI animation. It's also somewhat of an acquired taste.

28. Quest (1996)
This stop-motion film tells the tale of a sand creature looking for water. It's a technologically impressive film with marvelous sets. However, the film is also kind of slow.

27. Canhead (1996) 
This stop-motion film is not only smoothly animated, but it is also an interesting psychological look at the destructive nature of loneliness and despair. I don't find it very memorable, however.

26. Father and Daughter (2000)
This touching Dutch film combines an appealing watercolor design with a deep metaphor-filled storyline that explores the themes of longing following the loss of a parent. It has some humorous moments but is still quite sad. 

25. Gagarin (1995)
This Russian tribute to cosmonaut and fellow countryman Yuri Gagarin (the first person to fly in space) using caterpillars is very cute and very clever. However, I am somewhat puzzled at how the ending honors Gagarin. 

24. The Big Story (1994)
This funny film from some of the creative minds behind the British caricature show Spittin' Image is essentially a one joke film, but it's an effective joke, with three versions of Kirk Douglas at different stages of his career.

23. The Old Lady and the Pigeons (1997)
Before making The Triplets of Belleville and The Illusionist, French animator Sylvain Chomet made this darkly comic film about gluttony. It's filled with memorable moments, and also includes a typical French jab at Americans.

22. Strange Invaders (2001)
The word "Strange" doesn't really do this film from Canadian animator Cordell Barker any justice. It goes way beyond the realm of strangeness and into the realm of the bizarre. It's also an acquired taste, but I personally enjoy the experience.

21. Runaway Brain (1995)
This Mickey Mouse short film doesn't pretend to have any universal truths or social commentary. It's just an old-fashioned sci-fi romp. The climax gets a bit messy, but it's still wildly entertaining. It's also got great voice work from Kelsey Grammer.

20. The Monk and the Fish (1994)
This charming short from Michael Dudok de Wit, director of Father and Daughter, uses the same appealing watercolor art style to present a terrific story that is quite humorous, yet also very profound in a rather zen way. 

19. 3 Misses (1999)
This amusing film presents three groups of valiant heroes trying their best to rescue three damsel in distress. The title itself hints at their success, but in the case of this short the charm comes from their individual journeys. It's good for a short laugh.

18. Fifty Percent Grey (2001)
This short film about life after death is very short, but it packs loads of excellent dark comedy in its three minute running time. It also contains excellent animation with a clever eye for detail as well as a terrific ending that made me smile.

17. Wat's Pig (1996)
It may be one of the lesser known works from Aardman, but this amusing film deserves better. A tale about the lives of two twins separated at birth, it effectively uses split-screening to contrast between their lives. Too bad the title character has such a small role.

16. Stubble Trouble (2001)
It's not exactly the deepest film on the block, but I find Stubble Trouble as one of the most enjoyable. The film is about a caveman with excessive hair growth and trying to fix it with hilarious ways. I especially like the film's design and the catchy drum beat throughout the film.

15. Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase (1992)
I may not be familiar with most of the classic works of art present in this incredible film, which is essentially a showcase on the best in art history of Western art, but I am still mesmerized by it. I love the seamless transition between the paintings as well. It runs a bit too long, though.

14. Famous Fred (1997)
I've always felt that watching this film based off of a British children's book felt more like watching a PBS special than an Academy Award nominated short film, and some of the songs are kind of boring, Yet I still succumb to this film's incredible charm.

13. The End (1995)
I was initially mystified by this film's highly metaphorical beginning and vague ending, but the more I watched it and the more I thought about it, the more I appreciate this film for what it is: a brilliant parody of the pretentious films by becoming one itself.

12. Reci Reci Reci (1992)
Customers gather in a cafe to gossip or do business or find love in this clever Czech film, but the things they say come out not as words but as tangible shapes that interact with the environment. I enjoy the creativity in this short, but I'm still not sure why they added the beer-guzzling dog.

11. Redux Riding Hood (1997)
This film has been on my radar since hearing about it for the Oscars back in 1998, and it has weathered 14 years of neglect to finally surface just five days ago. And it's even better than I could have hoped, with a snappy story, brilliant visual humor, terrific art design, and great voice acting from a talented cast. It was well worth the wait. 

10. The Chicken from Outer Space (1995)
This genre-bending short combines sci-fi, B movie horror and a somewhat twisted dark comedy to result in this highly enjoyable short. I really liked how well it balances these genres so that you have a film that will unnerve you at the same time it makes you you laugh at the zaniness happening on screen. It marked the debut of a cowardly little blue dog with a misnomer name of Courage, who went on to have his own show in 1999. I never really liked the show, but I really liked this pilot episode.  

9. The Sandman (1992)
If I had seen this creepy short film about a man-bird prancing around terrorizing European children when it first came out (when I was six), I would have been terrified beyond belief and hated it until the day I died. Thankfully, I saw it when I was 23. By then I was able to appreciate the film for its ability to establish and maintain its chilling atmosphere through its art design as well as the filmmaking style, and how it still manages to deliver on a thrilling climax. Now it's one of those films that I like to watch when I want something scary but not utterly terrifying. 

8. The Canterbury Tales (1998)
I'm still not sure which portion of this three-part animated adaptation of Geoffrey Chaucer's classic tale was nominated for the animated short award. However, no matter what part it is, this remains a terrific film that is also a collaborative effort between some of Europe's greatest animators. Each of the stories have their own distinctive visual and narrative style, and the sequences in between are excellent as well. My only real complaint is that the entire series features a small portion of the stories in the original work. Still, this is a great film that should entertain both English majors and those who have never read Chaucer. 

7. Rejected (2000)
To be completely honest, I initially disliked this Don Hertzfeldt short because it felt that his rejected commercials were too random and disjointed. However, the more I saw the film, the more I warmed up to the non-sequitur nature of the film's humor. It dawned on me that the reason the cataclysmic climax worked so well was because the commercials didn't make any sense, making the breakdown by the Hertzfeldt character that much more believable. Even if I ignore all of the biting social and psychological commentary, the film itself is just a blast. I find myself quoting many of the lines at random times. No wonder it's become such a major cult classic. (Although if it was Oscar nominated, does that really make it cult?) 

6. Screen Play (1992)
This beautiful stop motion film tells the story of the Willow pattern (which I hadn't heard of until after I saw the film) in a very stylistic way. Director Barry Purves transplanted the story's setting from China to Japan, he is able to use the Japanese kabuki style for the majority of the film, which he does so perfectly. The film is almost magical in its visual storytelling, accomplished through the narration, the characters' action as well as the animated screens that help to propel the story in a static shot. There is so much to see that I still see something I've never noticed even though I've seen the film at least a dozen times. And the elegance that is found in the majority of the film only serves to make the thrilling climax even more powerful. 

5. The Village (1993)
Despite its simple animation style, The Village shines by having an excellent story that touches upon many complex themes. It comments on the theme of hypocrisy by presenting people that live in the same enclosed space and go to church, but spend most of their time eying their neighbors suspiciously. That's just one of the possible interpretations from watching the film. It's one of those incredibly deep films that really make you think, although the story is so compelling that thinking is not required to enjoy the film. It's told in a way that is easy to follow in spite of its complexity, and it's also incredibly haunting. The darkness of its story is mollified slightly by its simplistic animation and occasional moments of humor, but overall it is a powerful experience. 

4. A Close Shave (1995)
As the third film in the Wallace and Gromit series, A Close Shave makes significant strides in the complexity of its story as well as improving the animation quality. It adds several charming new characters, including Shaun the Sheep, who went on to have a successful Aardman career of his own. And the characters themselves are well developed (except for maybe Wallace, who my sister hates). The storyline, which involves Gromit getting framed for a sheep hustling crime, is suspenseful and full of twists and turns. Yet it is jam packed with enough well-crafted slapstick humor and visual gags to keep things light and fun. Some of the jokes are a bit too cheesy, and parts of the story may be too predictable, but that doesn't take away from what is a incredibly entertaining romp. 

3. More (1998)
This tremendous clay-mation short film from Mark Osborne, who went on to co-direct Kung Fu Panda, is another one of those deep, atmospheric short films that one can enjoy on its own merits, or try to decipher its plethora of themes and social commentary contained within its six minute running time. It addresses issues such as the meaning of happiness amidst the soul-sucking dreariness of modern society. The film was allegedly made in IMAX. I have no idea where to find it in that original format, but it doesn't really need to be in IMAX to be enjoyable. The stop motion animation is fantastic, although I didn't really care for the character design, which looked like deformed relatives of ET. The film uses New Order's excellent instrumental song "Elegia" as a soundtrack, which contributes to the film's atmosphere. More is an excellent film that if it won't change the way you think, it'll at least entertain you. 

2. The Wrong Trousers (1993)
If A Grand Day Out was the film that introduced us to two of the most beloved characters in animation in Wallace and Gromit, then The Wrong Trousers may just be the film where the dynamic duo came into their own. Director Nick Park takes their relationship to a new level largely by having them realize their inter-dependence through them working out an obstacle that has come between them. That obstacle is an obnoxious houseguest, a penguin with a dark secret. The penguin along with Wallace's newest invention are the centerpieces in the film's compelling story, one that combines mystery and neo-noir with the slapstick humor and the visual gags that have come to defined the Wallace and Gromit series. It makes for a thoroughly enjoyable viewing experience, which can range from nail-biting suspense to laugh out loud moments. The claymation animation also holds up after nearly 20 years. Overall, this is an almost flawless film that establishes Nick Park as one of the premiere storytellers in animation today. 

1. Geri's Game (1997)
I must confess that I don't seem to like Pixar's short films as much as their animated features. Sure, films like Day & Night, La Luna and One Man Band made it onto the top 25 in my 2002-2011 rankings, but at the same time, four Pixar films have been among the bottom ten in my two rankings. I suppose I shouldn't blame them, as Pixar uses short films less for storytelling as vehicles to try out new concepts in animation and to give experience to new animators. For example, Geri's Game was meant to test new methods in animating fabric and human animation. Pixar succeeded on both counts, as the film looks great in terms of background, foreground and the main character himself. Yet what makes Geri's Game such a great film in my opinion is the storytelling. The plot of an old man playing chess with himself is certainly interesting, but it could flounder under lesser hands. However, Pixar turned it into an exciting event where the fact that they are the same person is no longer important. The film moves at a rapid pace and is enjoyable up through the very end. Add in a little bit of extra credit for nostalgia from having seen it in the favorite year of my life, and you have my favorite Oscar nominated animated short from 1992-2001.
There you have it: the 46 Oscar nominated animated shorts I've seen from 1992-2001 ranked. If I had to compare these films with the films from 2002-2011, I felt that these films had a smaller standard deviation. In other words, even though my favorite films from these ten years wouldn't rank as high as the more recent ten years, my lowest ranked films here are ranked higher than the lowest ranked films from 2002-2011. The difference between my favorite and least favorite is smaller.

Hmm. Maybe once I get done with every review I can rank ALL of the nominated films I've seen. That'll be quite an undertaking though,

Highest ranked non-winner: More (3)
Lowest ranked winner: For the Birds (38)
Number of winners in the top ten: Three (Geri's Game, The Wrong Trousers, A Close Shave)
Average rank of the ten winners: 20.9 (man, I really didn't agree with the winners from these years. It was 16.4 in 2002-2011)
Number of films that was my favorite in a year outside the top 10: Four [Stubble Trouble (16), Wat's Pig (17), 3 Misses (19), The Monk and the Fish (20)]
The four films that were not my favorite in a year in the top 10: The Village (5), The Canterbury Tales (8), The Sandman (9), The Chicken from Outer Space (10)
Highest average ranking in a year: 1995 (average rank is 14.6; 1992 is second with 16.4, 1997 is third with 17.2)
Lowest average ranking in a year: 1999 (average rank is 34.6; 1994 is second with 30.8, 1993 is third with 28)

The Top 10 from 1992-2001!

1 comment:

  1. Geri's Game: The first Pixar short I saw (on "A Bug's Life" video)

    For The Birds: Personally, I like it

    Big Story: Love the hand-drawn take, but I can see why it was stop-motion ("You guys are all the SAME!")