Saturday, November 10, 2012
Best Animated Short - 2012 - The Shortlist
And then there were ten...
Well, it's that time of the year again. The Short Film and Animation Branch has voted, and they whittled the list of 57 qualifying films into the list of ten finalists on the shortlist. They will reconvene to vote on these ten films and determine the 3-5 nominees. Of course, there hasn't been a year with less than 5 nominees since 2000, so I don't really expect this year to be any different. Of course we won't find out which ones made the cut until January 10.
To be honest this announcement kind of caught me off guard. For one thing, in the past three years the shortlist had been announced in late November or early December, and I was kind of expecting it to happen again. Still, I usually check Cartoon Brew every day just for the heck of it, and could have got the news from there during my lunch hour. However, the Gameloft My Little Pony game was released on iOS on Wednesday and Android on Thursday, and I spent my lunch break playing the game on both my iPod and my Android phone*.
*So sad. Rainbow Dash is the last of the Mane Six ponies to be unlocked, at 43. I'm at level 23 so there's only 20 levels left, but knowing the way these games work, I'd probably need twice as much XP as I have now to get to level 43.
Before we move on to the shortlist, here's a few films that were lauded by folks that actually go to these festivals. Don Hertzfeldt was nominated for Rejected back in 2000 (the last year with fewer than five nominees), and since 2006 he had been working on a trilogy of films that many consider his masterpiece. Everything Will Be OK made it onto the shortlist in 2006 but failed to garner a nomination, and I Am So Proud of You missed in 2009. The final film of the trilogy, It's Such a Beautiful Day, similarly missed the cut. Other films include Oh, Willy... and Junkyard. I haven't seen any of those films in their entirety, so I can't really comment on those. One film that I did see that didn't make it was Daffy's Rhapsody. It was the newest entry in the new 3D Warner Bros. films. The interesting thing is that two other entries in the past two years had made it onto the shortlist: Coyote Falls and I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat. Of course, the Academy had nominated several Wily Coyote/Road Runner and Sylvester/Tweety films. They had never nominated Daffy Duck. This bias still persists.
And then there were the ten that made it.
I had seen 17 of the qualifying films. Of those five of them made it onto the shortlist, which is actually very nice. It means I've seen half of these shortlisted films. I can thus split this preview into those I have seen and those I haven't seen. We'll start with the five that I haven't.
Adam & Dog
Well, it's still not available online, as it's still doing its rounds in the theaters. The mostly inactive tumblr recently announced a free showing in Los Angeles on Tuesday. Well, I guess it's too late for me to make it, but hopefully I'll watch it eventually. I read on The Film Experience that the Adam in this film is the Biblical Adam, so I assume that the film is about his adventures in Eden with his dog before the coming of Eve. I rewatched the trailer and I still think that the main character of Adam still has a feel of a Disney character (except for the, you know, being nude the entire time part), which kind of makes sense as director Minkyu Lee was a former Disney animator. All of the background is dazzling and has the feel of an Asian film.
Katsuhiro Otomo is a legend in the Japanese animation world. His futuristic manga Akira was a hit around the world, and the anime adaptation is one of the most renowned films in the history of the medium. Otomo's involvement in animation since Akira had been rather limited. He produced and directed a segment in Memories in 1995, which were based on his own stories. And in 2004 he directed Steamboy, the most expensive anime film at the time of its release. And after a long hiatus from directing, he returns with Combustible, a film that will be a part of another anthology titled Short Peace. The film debuted at the Hiroshima Film Festival and was later shown at REDCAT. There is no trailer or anything yet, but the plot is out. The film is about a man and a woman in feudal Japan that grew up together and falls in love. However, the man became a fireman and was disowned. The woman will do anything to get her lover back. The screenshots I see show a film with a vivid animation style resembling that of old Japanese woodwork. Of course with Otomo you should usually expect a film that is visually dazzling.
The Fall of the House of Usher
Here's a film by another former Disney animator. This time the animator is Raul Garcia, who worked on films like The Lion King and Aladdin, and the film is based on the popular short story by one of the most famous UVA students that never graduated: Edgar Allan Poe. The story tells the tale of an unnamed narrator who goes to visit his friend by the name of Roderick Usher, and watches as his friend descend further into madness. I never really understood the story, but then again I was still less than ten when I read it. It is one of Poe's most enduring and important works. I have no idea how well the Garcia film captures the film, but the trailer shows that it certainly captures the gloomy and eerie feel of the story. The animation, on the other hand, is quite polygonal and blocky. It kind of evokes the sense that everything is carved out of wood. I don't know if that was Garcia's goal, but I'm not a big fan of the effect. Hopefully the film is a solid adaptation, because that will sure make up for it, since at 17 minutes this is the longest film on the shortlist.
Head Over Heels
Now of the films where I saw only the trailer, this is the one that seems most interesting. It's about an old married couple who has grown so far apart that they can't even share gravity anymore. The husband lives on the floor while the wife lives on the ceiling. However, something happens that causes them to attempt to live on the other side of gravity. Now in order to talk about why it's so interesting to me, let's shift topics for a bit. Super Mario Galaxy was one of the most impressive games on the Wii, and one of the major aspects of gameplay is the way gravity screws with Mario. There are moments where Mario has to jump from platforms to platforms, each with their own gravitational field, so gravity pulls him in different ways. Well, the trailer for Head Over Heels suggests that gravity works in a similar way in the characters' household. There is a demarcation line where beyond it items are attracted by the other gravitational field. So the trailer shows the characters moving items like the refrigerator or an old picture from one gravitational field to the next. It's quite clever, even if it seems very similar to Super Mario Galaxy. And I'm sure the story elements is just as interesting. Nothing like a bunch of geriatric romance to make your day. The film is from Tim Reckart, a student at Britain's National Film and Television School, the alma mater for Oscar winners Nick Park, Alison Snowden, David Fine, and Oscar nominee Mark Baker.
Czech animator Michaela Pavlatova was nominated for an Oscar in 1992 for Words, Words, Words. Of course, that was a highly contested year where four of the five nominees placed within the top 15 in my decade rankings, and Pavlatova was left without the win. She made other films in the 20 years that followed, but none of them really made a splash until Tram took the city of Annecy, France by storm. It is a tale about a female tram driver who has erotic fantasies about the businessmen that she carries in her tram. There is a lot of amusing sexual innuendo in the various trailers available. You can see the tram driver wincing in pleasure as people put their tickets in the ticket counter, as if she was having an orgasm. In another trailer (not the one embedded), she imagines their genitalia hanging out of their clothes, but Pavlatova portrays them as being tubes with a ball on the end. It is kind of weird, but it does pique my interest. I don't believe the Academy has nominated a sexually explicit film since 1994, when Bob's Birthday was nominated even with showing Bob's 40-year-old genitalia. And that film won, so the Academy has been known to award some pretty shocking work. Would they go for Tram? I don't know. I don't even know how good it is.
Anyways, those were the five films I have yet to see. And then there are five films that I have already seen. My thoughts after watching the films for a second time. (Yes, that includes going to see Wreck-It Ralph again in theaters, but hey, it's worth it!)
Jack is an art enthusiast, but his method of appreciating art is what you would say different. He steals pieces of art and eats them. And why wouldn't he, when he has the power to mimic the art style of the painting in his physical body? He has built up quite an impressive collection. But what would happens if he ever goes on an eating binge and runs out of paintings? Like Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase from 1992, Dripped is a tribute to great works of art, but in kind of a different kind of way. The entire film is meant to be a tribute to the great Jackson Pollock and his splatter style, but I think the best part of the film is how director Leo Verrier comes up with different ways of how different paintings would manifest themselves in a physical being. It really makes the paintings come to life. This is most evident in the montage of Jack's eating binge, as he is portrayed in spectacular colors and motion. I don't know what all the paintings are supposed to represent, but it's very well done. The rest of the film has an interesting visual style of traditional animation set in a background that's either stop motion or computer generated to emulate a stop motion style (like what The Gruffalo did two years ago.) The only issue is I don't really like Jack as a character, but that still doesn't take away from this film.
The Eagleman's Stag
Peter Eagleman has always been conscious of the phenomenon of time perception, of how the passage of time is perceived in different ways by people in different parts of their life. For instance, two hours is a long time for somebody who is only two, but just a fraction of a second for someone that is 45. He becomes a renowned entomologist and makes a fantastic discovery of a majestic beetle, which becomes even more so when he finds out that the bug can regenerate nerves. He decides that he can use the insect's genes to reset his memories and end the futile reign of time perception. Time perception has always been a concern to me as well, and there's no way to combat it. There has been a documented case of a man who suffered a bad case of herpes encephalitis that destroyed his hippocampus, and cannot make any long term memories. He has spent much of the next 27 years writing in his journal that he has experienced a new awakening, and to ignore what the stranger had written before. Anyways, the majority of the film is Eagleman reliving and narrating his life's memories. That is mostly a buildup for the climax, which is frankly quite confusing and I think even breaks the fourth wall. Still, it's always funny to watch people narrate their life in full earnestness, and we get a huge dose of it here. Eagleman's voice is supplied by British actor David Cann. The best part of the film in my opinion is the film's visual style. It is done using stop motion in full black and white using some strange material. Every frame then has the feel of the answer images in those old Magic Eye books.
It's guacamole making time! Slice open your grenade, then dice up your baseball and pincushion. Throw in some other ingredients and mix well. Then enjoy with your favorite poker chips. The director that goes by PES has gained quite a following with his films that uses ordinary household objects in extraordinary ways. One of his more popular films is Game Over, remaking various classic arcade games using things such as watches, pretzel logs, candy etc. He does the same in Fresh Guacamole, this time involving the making of guacamole. The avocado becomes the grenade (because I dunno, the inside is greenish?) The baseball and the pincushion becomes stand-ins for onions and tomatoes. It is quite inventive to say the least. The entire film is done using very fluid pixelation and clever use of stop edits. It makes for a very interesting effect. It is devoid of a real plot, but maybe the Academy would overlook it in light of the film's technique.
The Longest Daycare
The Simpsons has come a long way from being a short feature on the Tracey Ullman Show created only because Matt Groening didn't want to license his Life in Hell comic to become a venerable American institution. Sure people can complain as much as they want about how the newer episodes are nothing compared to the older ones, but when the people born on the date of the first episode are now college graduates, then you know you've got something that endures. However, The Simpsons hasn't had any luck in the Oscars, except in that episode where Bart wins an Oscar (in the Best Animated Short category of all things). Then again, they've been TV exclusive for close to 20 years, and their first venture ended with them getting the boot in favor of Surf's Up. It took another five years for the family to make it onscreen again, this time as a short playing before Ice Age: Continental Drift. This film stars Maggie as she goes back to the Ayn Rand School for Tots, where she spent much of the episode "A Streetcar Named Marge." There she meets Gerald, her arch-nemesis who made his first appearance in the episode "Sweet Seymour Skinner's Baadasssss Song" (the show's 100th episode). Gerald has developed the nasty habit of smashing butterflies with a mallet. Maggie makes a new friend in a caterpillar, but must escape Gerald's wrath. Maggie is I assume one of the most difficult characters in the Simpsons family to build up, considering she is remains eternally a baby, but this film highlights some of her more inquisitive and quick-thinking side. It is also filled with some of the more inventive slapstick and visual gags that made The Simpsons a success in the first place. Hopefully their second adventure will be more successful, because it shows that when push comes to shove The Simpsons still has its magic.
Unfortunately, the only copies of the film online are bootlegs. Hopefully the Complete Season 23 DVD will come out soon and we can get it in DVD quality. Here's the trailer again.
So I'm going to begin on a sort of a tangent. One of the most memorable parts of Orson Welles's masterpiece Citizen Kane was when the fearless reporter interviews Kane's former associate Mr. Bernstein. Mr Bernstein tells the story of how he had seen a beautiful woman in a white dress coming off of a ferry almost 50 years ago, and continues to think about that encounter even after almost 50 years later. The story leaves a mark because unless we live in some small west Texas town, we will invariably have encounters with other strangers. However, there will be some instances when these brief encounters catch our attention, and we are left wondering what could have been. That's the idea that led to the AT&T mobile commercial that I linked to once, and what really led to the creation of Paperman. It tells the story of George, an ordinary office worker who has an extraordinary encounter with Meg, a beautiful stranger, at a train station. He is smitten by her, but she parts before he has a chance to talk to her. When he gets to work, he sees that she is in the building across the street for a job interview. Armed with only a stack of forms, he attempts to get her attention. Will his plan succeed? Paperman is an incredibly sweet film in its story and its execution. The tale is completely without dialogue, and that allows the physical action to take over. And the film is filled with tenderness and emotions that adults will appreciate, and enough slapstick to make the kiddies happy. There are some things that bugged me about the film, such as how I felt that the climax was like a major scene in Spirited Away only more cheesy, and I can't help but think that there's nothing keeping the Paperman couple from being the Head Over Heels couple in 50 years. Maybe it's just the pessimist in me. Still, the film's sweetness wins over all of those complaints. Much has been made about Paperman's animation technique of using CGI to create a smooth 2D look. The characters move in a way that's like 3D animation, but they are shaded with a style that maintains the original 2D drawings. I think it works very well. Plus, there is a tremendous use of color. Most of the film is done in a sepia tone to reflect the time period the film is set, with a strong use of red. Disney hasn't been nominated in this category they used to dominate since The Little Matchgirl in 2006, and they hadn't won since It's Tough to Be a Bird in 1969. Perhaps the uplifting and universal story in Paperman has what it takes to break that drought.
You want to watch this film? Tough! Go watch Wreck-It Ralph. Here's a featurette with director John Kahrls about the drawings in the film.
Oh dear. I was just blathering near the end. Oh well. It's done. Here are the ten finalists. Three to five of these films will ultimately come back with a nomination. I'm really curious as to find out which they will be. I hope it's the ones that I've already seen, because that will mean a lot less tracking down I have to do. Nominees will be announced January 10, and you bet this will be the second category that I look up (because you can't ignore the Best Picture nominees.)
For the record, I'm thinking that the nominees will be Adam and Dog, Combustible, The Eagleman Stag, Paperman, and Tram.
I figure I might as well do these for the five films I've seen. It may or may not match up with the nominees, but at least I'll know what I think of the films I had seen already.
My rankings (by quality)
Paperman > The Eagleman Stag > The Longest Daycare > Dripped > Fresh Guacamole
My rankings (By preference)
Paperman > The Longest Daycare > Fresh Guacamole > Dripped > The Eagleman Stag