Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Best Animated Short - 1987
Anyways, 25 years is quite a milestone. As Marilyn Monroe's character in Some Like It Hot says, it's a quarter to a century. (Although Monroe was 32 at the time she made Some Like It Hot. It's pretty impressive how she was still able to pass for 25.) Yet now that I'm past 25 I can't help but think that 25 years is still a fairly short amount of time. I guess it's since people I see as pretty young are turning 25. Then again, there's a lot of people that have done a lot of great things by 25 (Orson Welles made Citizen Kane when he was only 25), and a lot of people that have amounted to nothing by 25 (like me.)
25 years ago was 1987. There were a few events from 1987, such as President's Ronald Reagen's famous speech when he called for Mr. Gorbachev to "tear down this wall." It was also the year of Black Monday, the massive global stock market crash that represented the largest % drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. It was also the year of birth for my celebrity crush, the lovely Rachel Liang Wen Yin. Three Men and a Baby was the top grossing film at the box office, but the Academy Awards was dominated by a different film, Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor. The gorgeous dramatization of the life of Pu Yi won all 9 of its nominations, tying Gigi for most wins without a loss. (The record would later be broken by The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King). The film had a sense of authenticity, being the first international production to film in the Forbidden Kingdom. However, it also bothered me greatly. Everybody spoke in English, so the entire movie felt like a bad dub.
Thanks to The Last Emperor hogging most of the awards, three of the five Best Picture nominees were left without a win. Moonstruck was the only other one to win, winning three. The rest of the awards were distributed among some very good movies (Wall Street, The Untouchables) and some average movies (Innerspace, Harry and the Hendersons) and Dirty Dancing, which won for the song "(I've Had) The Time of My Life," and Babette's Feast which captured Best Foreign Language Film.
And then there was one of these three nominees for the Best Animated Short Oscars.
George and Rosemary
Where Can I Watch It?
The Man Who Planted Trees
Frederick Back's The Man Who Planted Trees, based off of the short story by Jean Giorno, is one of the most inspiring films out there, animated or otherwise. The theme of one man dedicating his life to a task and having it change the lives of many has been featured in many films, including Akira Kurosawa's brilliant Ikiru, but few do it as well as this. The vivid descriptions of one man tirelessly changing a barren wasteland into a beautiful paradise has a profound impact on anyone who read the story or watches the film. While Giorno later confessed that the story is a work of fiction, it doesn't change the power that the story has over people. In fact, Wikipedia cites many examples of people being inspired to plant trees just because of this film. And Back, the French Canadian animator who also directed The Mighty River, does an excellent job at bringing the film to life. He is known for his fluid artwork and the environmentalism that permeates his films. This film allows him to illustrate the beauty of the forest and the land, most notably in a stunning sequence at the end of the film that shows off the flora and fauna of the rebuilt land and the unfiltered joys of the people that live there. Of course, the film is not all about the beauty of nature. In fact, half of the film is set in the barren wastelands, which Back still effectively displays with his soft pencil strokes and brilliant use of color. He also adds several shocking scenes of terror and violence in describing the lives of the old inhabitants of the lands and the battles of World War I. The film moves along at an unhurried pace, which may seem slow at times, but the constant calm narration of Oscar-winner-to-be (it wouldn't be until this year for Beginners) Christopher Plummer keeps things interesting. It seems to be lifted from a translation of the story, so it's like listening to a book on tape with arresting visuals. The Man Who Planted Trees was listed as one of the top short films by the voters of IMDb and by industry professionals, and it deserves it with its inspiring tale and brilliant animation.
Where Can I Watch It?
2002-2011, as well the couch gag for a recent episode of The Simpsons. He has become as well known for his off-beat sense of humor as he has for his distinctive art style. Your Face doesn't really have much of a plot. It really is just a guy singing while weird things happen to his face. The film is still quite entertaining, since you can never really tell what's going to happen next. And being Bill Plympton, a lot of what happens are stuff that you really can't predict. The things that were mentioned earlier like the roving mouth and the upside down face are mundane compared to some of the craziness that occurs later. And the action gets even more fast and furious the later in the film. While there are a few seconds between events early on, by the end of the film one begins as soon as the other one finishes. You become breathless just watching, which makes the abrupt and unexpected ending somewhat welcome. It also helps that the ending is quite hilarious. The song was written exclusively for this film by longtime Bill Plympton collaborator Maureen McElheron (who was credited first in the film), and features a lot of comparison to music. It's a nice little song, but I never find myself paying any notice to it because all of my attention is focused on the insane action occurring onscreen. And Maureen sang the song herself, which was then slowed to give the feel of a man singing falsetto. It is an interesting and understated effect. Your Face is a bizarre but entertaining film that fits well in the Bill Plympton canon. Furthermore, every time somebody uses the "Your face" insult, I can't help but think back to this film. I wish I had a way to play the film every time I hear the insult.
Where Can I Watch It?
There are no copies on American sites, so I've been trying to embed this from Tudou. I don't know if the embed link from Tudou works. In case it doesn't, here is the link to the film on Tudou.
Well, this was the animated short race from 25 years ago. It really wasn't much of a race, with about as much excitement as the Best Picture race. As enjoyable as George and Rosemary and Your Face were, they couldn't compare with the depth, the artistry, and the inspirational message of The Man Who Planted Trees. And evidently the Academy agreed, and Frederick Back walked away with his second Oscar that night. Of course, all three of the films were good and deserve to be remembered 25 years on.
My rankings (by quality)
The Man Who Planted Trees > George and Rosemary > Your Face
My rankings (by preference)
George and Rosemary > The Man Who Planted Trees > Your Face