Saturday, August 4, 2012

Ranking the Oscar Nominated Shorts: 1982-1991

Well, we have gotten through the third decade of reviewing Oscar nominated shorts. And you know what that means, don't you? It means G-men! To be shot down like a...okay, I guess we're getting ahead of ourselves. Actually, it's time for yet another super special awesome post where I rank the nominated films in the ten year period we just finished, just like what I did for 1992-2001 and 2002-2011. Anyways, I just think it's fun, even if you'll probably disagree with almost all of the list.

So the era we just finished established a record for fewest nominations in a ten year period, one that may never be broken. After all, the rules state that the minimum number of nominees in a year is three. Even if less than three meet the scoring minimum, they just take the three films with the best average score and name them the nominees. So I don't believe it's possible that there would be a year with only two nominees, like Best Makeup did in 2002 or Best Original Song did this past year. (Embarrassing.) Every single year in this ten year period had exactly three nominees, so there were exactly 30 nominees to rank. And I'm able to rank them all, because this was the first ten-year period where I was able to watch all of the nominees. And how do they rank? Let's get started and find out.

30. A Greek Tragedy (1986)
I'll admit it's kind of amusing, but the lasting impression I got was, "This was so stupid."

29. Korova (1989)
It's got beautiful paint-on-glass art, but I found the boy too annoying to really feel his plight. 

28. Sundae in New York (1983)
The claymation is nice, and there were some decent visual gags, but I barely knew any of the celebrities cameos, and the song is annoying.

27. Strings (1991)
This is another film with luscious paint on glass art undermined by a story that left me less than impressed.

26. Tin Toy (1988)
While it's notable for being the film that eventually led to the milestone that is Toy Story, it's also got...The Baby. 

25. A Grand Day Out with Wallace and Gromit (1990)
A cute film for sure, but it lacks the charm that was seen in later Wallace and Gromit films. Plus it got my sister to hate Wallace with a passion.

24. Charade (1984)
As somebody that played quite a bit of charades lately I found the premise quite humorous, but I felt it was marred by an absolutely terrible ending.

23. The Frog, the Dog, and the Devil (1986)
This ghastly romp through turn of the century New Zealand is certainly atmospheric, but I spent far too much time wondering what the heck was going on.

22. Doctor DeSoto (1984)
This is a great adaptation of the classic Newbery Honor book by William Steig, but I never got why the book was good enough for a Newbery Honor, and I kind of feel the same here.

21. The Great Cognito (1982)
The premise of a comedian with literally 1,000 faces is interesting and well executed, but the opening half was kind of boring, and the second half ended far too early.

20. Creature Comforts (1990)
Putting words of citizens around Britain into the mouths of animals in the zoo is certainly a cute idea that Nick Park does wonderfully, but it just doesn't seem to click with me.

19. The Snowman (1982)
This has become a Christmas classic over the years, but I wasn't too impressed with the pacing, and found myself getting bored, especially in the second half. But the ending is wonderful.

18. Your Face (1987)
This is not the first film to showcase Bill Plympton's off-beat humor, but it is pretty representative. Plympton surprises you with just how many ways he can mess around with a guy's face, and the song is nice too.

17. Paradise (1984)
This marvelous film from the Indian-Canadian Ishu Patel is absolutely gorgeous, from the lovely images of birds both mystical and real to the beautiful design of the castle using pinpoint holes. The black bird is amusing too.

16. The Hill Farm (1989)
This episodic film from British animator Mark Baker presents a farming couple as they deal with a water shortage and bizarre visitors. It introduces Baker's distinctive art style and sense of humor, and doesn't get boring.

15. Balance (1989)
Balance is a homemade film from twin animators in Germany that not only presents a compelling story about the cost of human greed in a totalitarian era, but it's also a brilliant example of do-it-yourself filmmaking.

14. Grasshoppers (1990)
With Grasshoppers legendary Italian animator Bruno Bozzetto casts human history as a series of conflicts that get more and more destructive. And his madcap sense of humor only makes it easier to swallow but doesn't dull the message.

13. Sound of Sunshine, Sound of Rain (1983)
This touching film is many things at once. It is a film about life as a blind kid, like Blindscape but with more visual metaphors and less fear and mistrust. At the same time it is a meditation on discrimination in modern society. And it reaches a good balance.

12. Manipulation (1991)
Manipulation was quite a landmark in its time. The combination of pixilation and more traditional animation styles allowed for a more natural interaction between an animator and their 2-dimensional creations. It is also delightfully sadistic.

11. Second Class Mail (1985)
It's not the first time an Oscar nominated film featured a blow-up doll, but this fine debut film from British animator Alison Snowden is certainly much more sweet and charming than the other one. While there are some "WTF" moments, it'll make you smile.

10. Blackfly (1991)
This charming film from the National Film Board of Canada pays tribute to Canadian folk singer Wade Hemsworth by putting one of his most popular songs to animation. And boy is "The Blackfly Song" catchy. You'll be playing the chorus in your head for days on end, although that's not a bad thing. Director Chris Hinton has also filled the film with volumes of crazy visual humor to make it a fun fillled experience, without having to worry about onchocerciasis.

9. The Man Who Planted Trees (1987)
This film from French Canadian director Frederick Back is one of the most inspirational of all time. The fact that it is a work of fiction doesn't take away from the message that we can take our destiny into our own hands and make a difference in the world. All it takes is some determination. The 30 minute running time may be a bit intimidating, but the film never gets boring, and the narration by Oscar winner Christopher Plummer is very soothing.

8. Technological Threat (1988)
This film by former Disney and Tron CGI animator Bill Kroyer is a tongue in cheek look at the role of computers in our workplace, which may even serve as a metaphor in the animation industry at the time. The animation underscores this debate as it deftly combines traditional and computer graphics. Furthermore, the story is a hilarious and entertaining romp very much in the same vein as the works by Tex Avery from 40 years prior, full of visual gags and excellent slapstick.

7. George and Rosemary (1987)
George and Rosemary is a film from the husband wife animation team of Alison Snowden and David Fine in their first collaboration with the National Film Board of Canada. It is a simple story about unrequited love among the geriatric population, and while that could have been unbelievably creepy, the directors made it sweet and charming through its focus on the emotions of the characters and on the quieter moments in their lives. The simple animation style contributes as well.

6. The Cat Came Back (1988)
This madcap film from Canadian animator Cordell Barker has become arguably one of the most famous films in National Film Board of Canada history, and it does that by taking a popular children's song and setting it to animation. The song in itself is incredibly catchy, but Barker elevates the experience by combining it with some of the most delightfully frantic action ever put on screen. The combination of Old Mr. Johnson's efforts to rid himself of the cat with the cat's increasingly destructive nature makes for a fun little romp.

5. Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983)
Mickey's Christmas Carol is another film that has become a Christmas classic, this time by taking Charles Dickens's classic story of redemption and casting it with popular Disney characters. Sure, some of the casting decisions are off (Goofy as a greedy miser? Donald being "always full of kindness?" Mickey relegated to a secondary role?) But Alan Young as Scrooge McDuck is delightful as the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, and the film is full of the charming Disney humor. Of course, this also gets some bonus points for being a part of my childhood.

4. Tango (1982)
This experimental film from Poland certainly takes social commentary into a whole another level. By putting increasing numbers of people into one small room, director Zbigniew Rybczynski attempts to showcase the cramped living situation of urban denizens in the pits of communist Poland. Your senses are quickly overwhelmed by the immense activity, and that just brings the point home. Tango is also excellent as a work of art. The artistry in the placement of all of the characters is mind-blowing, and the background tango music adds to the experience.

3. The Big Snit (1985)
This classic film from legendary Canadian animator Richard Condie was named the best Canadian animated film from a survey of various industry professionals, and why not? This film successfully tackles the serious topics of domestic arguments and nuclear warfare, and manages to make them funny without being irreverent using the bizarre sense of humor that has come to define Condie's work. The film is full of visual and situational gags that keep things interesting even if you've seen the film dozens of time. The characters are weird but endearing, and the powerful ending comes as sort of a shock, but is excellent.

2. Luxo Jr. (1986)
Pixar has become such an animation powerhouse these days that it's hard to imagine that when they first split from LucasArts back in the mid-1980s they were mostly a hardware company that made short films to advertise their products. Of course, when your first film is Luxo Jr. you know you've got a bright future ahead of you. While it's only two minutes long, it's got more charm and story than many films that are 60x as long. Furthermore, it showed animators that it is possible to infuse emotions into inanimate objects animated on the computer, showing that computers are not a competitor but a tool. Its legacy lives on over a quarter of a century later with the famous Pixar ball and the Luxo Jr. mascot.

1. Anna & Bella (1985)
Anna & Bella was one of the first films that I saw in trying to watch the Oscar winning animated shorts (because it won the award in the year I was born), and I fell in love with this Danish film from the start. It had a very lovely story, featuring two older ladies as they look back on moments in their life through pictures. For the awkward Anna, forever living in the shadows of her sister, one incident sticks out. The film  explores this incident, dealing with emotions such as betrayal, anger, and ultimately forgiveness, and it goes from just being lovely to becoming touching and powerful. The fluid and often abstract animation from Borge Ring complements the story, using several visual metaphors to deal with the characters' emotions, and the catchy theme song by Borge Ring's father adds to the film's charm. Anna & Bella beat out The Big Snit in the Oscars, and quite frankly I agree with this choice. It's one of the best films I've seen, and definitely one of my favorite.
There you go. Thirty films, all nice and ranked. There will never be so few films in one of these rankings, but 1972-1981 didn't have much more. Yeah, I have nothing else to say except you should try to watch all of these films. Obviously I recommend the higher ranked ones, but who knows, maybe you will love some of the films that I rank fairly low. You never know.

Highest ranked non-winner: Luxo Jr. (2)
Lowest ranked winner: A Greek Tragedy (30)*

*Okay, I can't help but comment on this. This is the second time a film that ranked second in a ten-year period failed to win. It happened back in 2002-2011 when the second ranked The Little Matchgirl lost to The Danish Poet, which had ranked 15th. So while I wasn't pleased with the results, I could live with it. However, having the number two film lose to the film that ranked dead last in this particular decade, well, that is frankly one of the most abominable results in the history of this awards. As I like to say, "The real tragedy about A Greek Tragedy was that it beat out Luxo Jr."

Number of winners in the top ten: Three (Anna & Bella, Tango, The Man Who Planted Trees)
Average rank of the ten winners: 16.9
Number of films that was my favorite in a year outside the top 10: Three [Grasshoppers (14), Balance (15), Paradise (17)]
The three films that were not my favorite in a year in the top 10: The Big Snit (3), Technological Threat (8), The Man Who Planted Trees (9)
Highest average ranking in a year: 1985 (average rank is 5. That's a record that may never be broken.)
Lowest average ranking in a year: 1984 (average rank is 21)

The top 10 from 1982-1991!
Other decades


  1. Some like Charade,Sundae In New York, The Fly,Creature Comforts and The Great Cognito I like,but I agree that A Greek Tragedy shouldn't have won.

  2. Can you do the Best Animated Short Film Snubs Of All Time?