Saturday, October 13, 2012

Ranking the Oscar Nominated Shorts 1972-1981

When I started this blog back in February, I was posting reviews at a rate of two a week, but I later had to pare it down to one a week as I couldn't keep up with the pace. With the new rate it felt as though it would take us forever to get through, but now we've hit the halfway point in our reviews in what feels like a blink of an eye. True, it has been eight months and a whole lot of things have happened in my life in that time, but it still feels like nothing more like a hop, skip, and a jump since my first review on this blog. And the halfway point of 80 years is 40 years, and you know what happens every 10 years? I rank the nominees by preference. I've been maintaining these rankings in each individual years by quality and preference, but when combining them all into one big list I focus solely on preference because that is much more subjective. Of course, that would lead to some incidents where some films that are not quite so good gets ranked high and masterpieces that are ranked low. But hey, at least there are no absolutely mediocre films that have been nominated...right? Well, except for A Greek Tragedy, and that film actually won. *grumble grumble*

So...1972-1981. For the most part there were three nominees a year, like the decade that came...after. However, there were two years with four nominees, and one busy year with five nominees, so that comes out to 34 films, just a wee bit above the 1982-1991 list. Is that going to change the complexion of things? We shall see. But for now...let the countdown begin!

NULL: Dedalo (1976)
Impossible to find, especially since my online course is turning out to be a dead end. However from what I've seen of it I'm not quite as excited about this as Lorenzo, but dammit! It still needs to be seen somehow!

33. Leisure (1976)
It's great from a design standpoint, but the subject matter is so dry it doesn't make any sense.

32. Monsieur Pointu (1975)
It features some of the most dazzling pixilation work since Norman McLaren, but it gets to be long and boring.

31. A Legy (1980)
This film features some dazzling action animation and commentary on socialist suppression, but I can't stand the fly droning.

30. A Doonesbury Special (1978)
The Doonesbury characters come to life thanks to John Hubley, but it's not the characters that I grew up liking, and way too political for my taste

29. Kama Sutra Rides Again (1972)
This raunchy film from Bob Godfrey does have an interesting premise, but it's going to offend some sensibilities, and most of the ideas are stupid anyways.

28. The Legend of John Henry (1973)
This film about an American legend features some excellent animation design and a great vocal performance from Roberta Flack, but I don't like the garish colors and limited animation.

27. Jimmy the C (1977)
This film featuring Jimmy Carter singing about Georgia on his Mind is much more appealing than Sundae in New York, but it lacks many of the visual humor that is seen in Sundae.

26. The Sand Castle (1977)
This film from Canada features some awe-inspiring stop motion using sand, a good lesson on teamwork, and a dynamic soundtrack from Normand Roger, but good golly it's boring.

25. Voyage to Next (1974)
John Hubley explores the societal instability and its potential consequences with the help of Dilly Gillepsie and Maureen Stapleton, but I'm not too much of a fan of the optimism in the second half.

24. The History of the World in Three Seconds Flat (1980)
Well, this Canadian independent film does succeed in what it set out to do in the title by rapidly parodying dozens of historical events. Some of the jokes are funny, but it's marred by a mediocre ending.

23. Crac (1981)
Frederick Back gives us the history of Quebec as seen through the eyes of a rocking chair. The rocking chair is cute, and the animation is very vivid, but it feels as though this film just drones on and on.

22. Tup Tup (1972)
An irritable man is slowly driven to emotional collapse and murder as he traverses across a surrealistic landscape haunted by an incessant tapping sound. You may be too if you can't handle the randomness.

21. Pulcinella (1973)
The Italian animator Emmanuelle Luzzata presents a puppet character as he goes through a surrealistic dream landscape. The surrealism is great and can be somewhat scary, but the main character is annoying.

20. The Creation (1982)
Joan C. Gratz present the story of the creation of world and of man by God using 2D clay animation. The animation is vivid, much like her Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase, with some powerful narration by James Earl Jones.

19. The Street (1976)
The Street is an adaptation of a popular Canadian short story, and tells the tale of a man looking back at his early memories of death in the family. The use of paint on glass animation is great, and the use of ambient animation immerses the viewers.

18. The Tender Tale of Cinderella Penguin (1981)
We have plenty of adaptations of the popular tale of Cinderella, but this Canadian adaptation is worth watching. It doesn't break any ground, but it tells the story using only penguins, and who doesn't like penguins? Well, penguins that are not scary.

17. A Christmas Carol (1972)
British animator Richard Williams tackles the popular Charles Dickens short story for television, and gives us a brilliantly gritty and dark adaptation that had rarely been seen before, and eventually led to an eligibility rule change. Alistair Sims is great as Ebenezer Scrooge.

16. Every Child (1979)
UNICEF helped fund this Canadian film to promote its push for infant registration. The NFB came up with this charming little film highlighted by some spiffy vocal work from Les Mimes Electriques. It does feel more like a Cartoon Cartoon than an Oscar nominee, but that's not a bad thing, right?

15. Dream Doll (1979)
Bob Godfrey strikes again, this time with a little help from John Halas and his friends in Croatia, as he takes the legendary French film The Red Balloon and adapts it using a middle aged man and his beloved but elusive sex doll. Yes, it's incredibly weird, but I find it charming, and I love the music.

14. Sisyphus (1975)
This Hungarian film about the mythological Greek king sentenced to forever roll a boulder up a hill gained prominence when it was used in a Super Bowl commercial. Millions got to see the visually sparse but bold artwork in the film, but missed out on the grunting and groaning and the boulder's transformation that makes the film come to life.

13. The Bead Game (1977)
Indian-Canadian director Ishu Patel takes a stab at making a film about the nature of conflict in history and knocks it out both visually and thematically. It is animated using only beads, which gives the film a distinctive look. Plus it extends the look back to the era of single cell organisms, and focuses not solely on destruction but explores the possibility of creation.

12. It's So Nice to Have a Wolf Around the House (1979)

This adaptation of a short story by Harry Allard and James Marshall, the men behind The Stupids and Miss Nelson books, isn't groundbreaking story-wise, but it does have a nice story. Plus, it is wildly entertaining with its light-hearted jokes about being old and the energetic antics of Cuthbert Q. Divine, brought to life by the late Jim Thurman.

11. Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too (1974)
Winnie the Pooh takes a backseat in this, the third short film in Walt Disney's Winnie the Pooh franchise. This film instead focuses on the lively Tigger and Rabbit, the straight man, er, rabbit exasperated by Tigger's bouncing. The writing is not quite as strong as some previous Winnie the Pooh films, but it gets bonus points for being an integral part of my childhood.

10. Oh My Darling (1978)
Dutch animator Borge Ring became known to me with his brilliant Anna & Bella, which ranked #1 in my previous rankings, but he had success seven years earlier with this lovely film. It presents a powerful tale of family dynamics, focusing on a headstrong little girl as from birth to adulthood and her relationship with her overprotective mother and beloved father. It's a tender tale made all the more memorable with its fluid animation and its numerous visual metaphors.

9. Rip Van Winkle (1978)
The famous short story by Washington Irving is adapted to the screen by claymation legend Will Vinton. Vinton stayed true to the story for the most part, but made a few changes. The most radical change is also, in my opinion, the best - a 5-minute sequence of Rip falling through surrealistic landscapes and talking with nature. It is visually haunting and more than makes up for some of the bland songs Rip is given to sing. The animation and music are great, giving the film a strong atmosphere.

8. Closed Mondays (1974)
It's Will Vinton again, this time with the film that put him on the map. This time he is working with Bob Gardiner to present the tale of a drunken man and his bizarre interactions with exhibits in an art museum. The claymation, mostly by Gardiner, is very realistic and the film has many reaction shots showing the man's facial expressions. Where the film truly shines is the strange and often surreal visions that the man sees, which really dazzles and sometimes disturbs. The ending is quite powerful as well.

7. Kick Me (1975)
This peculiar film from animator Robert Swarthe highlights the fact that it is drawn directly on the film, but what really makes it stand out is the humorous elements, seemingly taken straight out from the Warner Bros. handbook. The film is chock full of nonstop visual gags, and even features some self-referential humor, with the characters jumping from reel to reel. And it has a scene that is reminiscent of early FPS games. It's all very strange, but feels modern at the same time. The classical score accentuates the action.

6. Special Delivery (1978)
This strange little film from the National Film Board of Canada is very much in the same vein as the popular If You Give a Mouse a Cookie series, showing the unpredictable chain event that results from a seemingly innocuous activity. Of course, in this case the innocuous event is not cleaning off the walk, and the consequences involve death, adultery, crime, and punishment. It may seem confusing, but the even-headed narrator will explain everything for you. The animation is simple, but explores new ways at transitioning between scenes.

5. Tout Rien (1980)
Canadian animator Frederick Back has become a legend in animation with his fluid and detailed colored pencil artwork. What really makes him stand out for me is his environmentalist view. It is very evident in this film. It's another story of creation, with a god creating the world and all the animals, endowing them with riches of life. However, the final creations - man - are never pleased with any of these traits and are left with nothing but hate, and that hate drives them to rebel against the world. The film goes through a stark transformation from a light and humorous tale to a cruel and bloody sequence that will scar poor Fluttershy. It makes for a powerful work. The optimistic ending is unrealistic, but at least it's nicely done.

4. The Family that Dwelt Apart (1974)
In the middle of the Great Depression, American author E.B. White of Charlotte's Web fame wrote a satirical short story for the New Yorker, detailing the consequences of trying to be too helpful. Almost forty years later he lent his voice to an adaptation by the National Film Board of Canada. The story is as powerful as it was back in the 1930s, and perhaps even more so through the dynamic design of the film. It features a snappy Depression-era jazz tune and a visual style reminiscent of the Fleischer Studios who were so prominent in the 1930s. The character design is appealing, and the film is full of visual humor. It's quite a chaotic film, but through it all E.B. White's steady voice is there to lead the way, leading to an unforgettable experience.

3. Frank Film (1973)
In the 1960s and the early 1970s, Harvard and Yale educated animator Frank Mouris was saving thousands of images that appealed to him, and he finally decided to put all of those images to use in his first significant film. The film is essentially a story of his life from birth to the making of the film, but Mouris made it much more than that using a design that can be best described as sensory overload. Pictures come blasting out at you at a rate of 24 a second, and a second soundtrack obscures the main soundtrack just reading random words. Yet there is order amidst the chaos. The images and words fit in with the topic at hand, and sometimes the images fit in with a specific design. Still, the film is overwhelming. It may be a turn off for many, but I personally find it to be captivating.

2. Great (1975)
Isambard Kingdom Brunel was a British engineer in the early half of the 19th century. He created dozens of bridges and steamships, designed a hospital during the Crimean War, and was instrumental in starting up the Great Western Railway. He was named the 2nd greatest Briton of all time in a BBC poll, behind only Winston Churchill, but his name is largely unknown in America, but this musical biographical film from Bob Godfrey is as good of a starting point as any in learning his accomplishments. This film details many of them, focusing on three in particular, but is so full of British humor, sexual innuendo, and irreverent songs that the film never gets boring. The songs are especially interesting. None of them are implicitly about Brunel, but are catchy and highly enjoyable. Combine that with rich vocal work and detailed visuals, and you've got yourself a winner.

1. Hunger (1974)
In 1956, British animator Peter Foldes made A Short Vision, a film about a possible nuclear apocalypse, which made a whole generation of adolescents uncomfortable after its infamous appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Eighteen years later, Foldes was now working for the National Film Board of Canada, but he maintained his ability to unsettle viewers, especially in Hunger. It is a film about excessive indulgences in today's society as portrayed through a executive that goes on an eating spree. Much of the film's power comes through the changes in the main character as the film progresses. He goes from a rail-thin man to morbidly obese. His eating style also changes, from snacking on morsels during the workday to his transformation into a grotesque monster with dozens of mouths to maximize his intake. Hunger is also one of the first films to be animated with the computer. It allows for some creative transitions, but at the same time the characters' unnatural movement also adds to the unsettling feel. And the ending is incredibly vivid. This film is going to make you queasy, but it's also why it's my favorite animated short film from 1972-1981.

There we go, all 33 films that I've seen have been ranked. That didn't take too long, right? Well, it took me three hours to write this thing, but you can probably finish it in no more than thirty minutes. That's the curse of writing, especially if you're a slow writer like me. But now that it's done with, we can probably go back to the first half of the history of this award. That is, if I'm not too busy embracing my bronydom. But first...

Highest ranked non-winner: Hunger (1)*

*Yes, this is the first time that a film that didn't win placed at the top rank. Anna & Bella, Geri's Game, and La Maison en Petits Cubes all won the Oscar. Of course, the film that did win that year came in 8th, so it's not too bad of a win, at least not as bad as the 30th ranked (out of 30) A Greek Tragedy beating the 2nd ranked Luxo Jr.

Lowest ranked winner: Leisure (33)*

*Second straight decade that a winner took the bottom spot, although I'll take Leisure over A Greek Tragedy any day. Yeah, I really am a hater.

Number of winners in the top ten: four (Great, Frank Film, Special Delivery, Closed Mondays)
Average rank of the ten winners. 16.5
Number of films that was my favorite in a year outside the top 10: Five [The Bead Game (12), Dream Doll (15), A Christmas Carol (17), The Tender Tale of Cinderella Penguin (18), The Street (19)]
The five films that were not my favorite in a year in the top 10: The Family that Dwelt Apart (4), Kick Me (7), Closed Mondays (8), Rip Van Winkle (9), Oh My Darling (10)
Highest average ranking in a year: 1978 (average rank is 8.3; 1974 is second with 9.8. They join 1985 as the only years with an average in the single digits)
Lowest average ranking in a year: 1976 (average rank is 26, plus a null)
The top 10 from 1972-1981!

Other decades:

1 comment:

  1. Arguably this decade is best remembered for it's independents and foreign productions in the animation short film category when the American industry and major studios had all but shut down and resorted to the ghetto Saturday morning grind that took up the most of a few decades during this point.