Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Ranking the Oscar Nominated Shorts: 1962-1971

I started this blog shortly after the 80th year of the Best Animated Short category, and I realized that you could split those 80 years down to eight 10-year periods beginning with the second year of a decade and ending with the first year of the next decade. So from then on every time I've finished with one of these ten year periods I've been combining all of the nominated films from that period and ranking them by preference, since it's much easier to justify. We have now gotten to the fifth of these posts. Thanks to the timing of my hiatus it's been five months since I've last written one of these. In comparison, I was able to post three of them in the 5-month period from May to October of last year. Oh well. That's why I didn't want to do the hiatus, but I guess it was for the best.

Let's get this show on the road.

NULL: Hypothese Beta (1967)
NULL: The Shepherd (1970)
Two films whose legacy suffers from the suppressive power of greedy university institutions, (although the fact that they are still only available on the obsolete 16mm film format doesn't help.) I managed to trek all the way to the University of Arizona library in Tucson only to be told that they won't lend it out unless we have a 16mm projector to play it. *sigh* I guess I'm taking a road trip to Miami! Whooo! Then watch them go tell me to GFM because I don't have a 16mm projector. *sigh sigh*

34. Evolution (1971)
I guess it's supposed to be cute and funny and profound, but it's none of that. Just lame.

33. Self Defense...for Cowards (1962)
This tongue in cheek self help guide is neither funny nor helpful, leaving it somewhat dumb.

32. How to Avoid Friendship (1964)
The spiritual successor to Self Defense...for Cowards is a little bit funnier, but it's still a waste of time.

31. Now Hear This (1962)
Chuck Jones took bold steps into the realm of surreal modernism, but the end result is just annoying.

30. Clay or the Origin of Species (1965)
This film tries to tell the story of evolution using claymation, but the film plods and it looks unpolished.

29. Pianissimo (1963)
Carmen D'Avino's abstract masterpiece is a tour de force in avant garde animation, but it really dragged.

28. The Hole (1962)
Dizzy Gillespie and George Mathews had good rapport in this Hubley film, but their conversation never gets anywhere.

27. Automania 2000 (1963)
John Halas's film about a dystopian future is downright Orwellian, if Orwell included jokes in his stories that aren't funny.

26. My Financial Career (1963)
This adaptation of a story by famous Canadian humorist deals with anxiety. It may have been funny then but not so much anymore.

25. Windy Day (1968)
John and Faith Hubley recorded their daughters playing to create this wistful film that is surprisingly deep, but also drags a lot at times.

24. La Gazza Ladra (The Thieving Magpie) (1965)
This film by Italian animator Emanuele Luzzati brilliantly puts cutouts against a majestic Rossini score. It's too bad the title character is annoying.

23. The Box (1967)
This film by animator Fred Wolf is interesting enough to watch on the surface, but it does seem to be one of those films that drowns in its own metaphors.

22. Walking (1969)
Ryan Larkin, the focus of the 2004 Oscar-winning film Ryan, made this film celebrating the art of movement. It's vividly constructed, but does get kind of long.

21. The Drag (1966)
This animated public service announcement was ahead of its time in how it speaks out against smoking. It's well done, but I found the protagonist to be quite annoying.

20. The Crunch Bird (1971)
This 2-minute animated short, the shortest ever to win an Oscar, gets a lot of bad press for being slight. It is kind of on the stupid side, but it's also pretty funny.

19. It's Tough to Be a Bird (1969)
The last film by Disney Animation Studios to win an Oscar in this category before Paperman was this edutainment film. It has great moments but ultimately feels haphazard.

18. Christmas Cracker (1964)
This Christmas-themed film from the National Film Board of Canada features three stories in one. None of the three films are really ground-breaking, but they're rather enjoyable.

17. Nudnik #2 (1964)
Also known as Here's Nudnik, this introduced the sad-sack Nudnik character who can't seem to do anything right. His antics are pretty funny, but you may feel guilty for laughing.

16. The Magic Pear Tree (1968)
This is another relatively light, one-joke film. It spends quite a bit too much time setting up this joke, but the punch line is well worth it. Great voice acting from some of Hollywood's marginal stars.

15. The Pink Phink (1964)
The pink panther character from the opening to the Pink Panther movies makes his theatrical short debut in this film from Friz Freleng. It's chock full of witty visual gags with great comedic timing.

14. The Pink Blueprint (1966)
This follow-up to The Pink Phink features more of the same conflict between the Pink Panther and the tortured Little Man. I found the gags here to be funnier, and it's got a pitch perfect ending.

13. Icarus Montgolfier Wright (1962)
Ray Bradbury collaborated with animators to create this film celebrating the triumph of human flight. The entirety of the film is filled with the tension and suspense you might expect from a Ray Bradbury work.

12. The Further Adventures of Uncle Sam Part 2 (1970)
This tongue in cheek satire takes a shot at modern society while maintaining the feel of  a 1930s animated film. It's filled with humor but also some powerfully disturbing images. It also got me my first shout-out on Cartoon Brew. XP

11. The Selfish Giant (1971)
Oscar Wilde's famous short story of greed and redemption is tenderly adapted to animation. The animation is top notch, the narration is good, and even the songs are worth sitting through. It even has Wilde's original inspirational ending.  

10. A Symposium on Popular Songs (1962)
Disney pulled off this surprising gem as a vehicle of sorts for their talented young songwriters Richard and Robert Sherman. It's full of mostly-great original songs that pay tribute to past musical genres.  Ludwig von Drake is a smash as the host, even if all he does is fill space between songs. It features a great mix of traditional and stop motion animation. Too bad "Boogie Woogie Oriental Bakery Man" is full of tasteless stereotypes.

9. Is it Always Right to Be Right? (1970)
Some may say that this animated parable is too dated, that it was nothing more than a product of the times. I feel that the film's message holds even over 40 years after the film was made. It's true that maybe some of the specific social arguments portrayed in the film no longer apply, but I feel the film was warning us about the dangers of being too entrenched on one's own beliefs, and that message will never become obsolete, and it's why I like this film so much.

8. A Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass Double Feature (1966)
Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass band were huge in the 1960s, and John and Faith Hubley cashed in on their success with this film that's kind of a precursor to the modern music video. The film explodes with the pure unadulterated energy from three of the band's most famous songs. The limited animation so typical of the Hubley's later years adds an extra visual spectacle to go with the music, and together they make for an absolutely infectious film that's a joy to watch.

7. What on Earth! (1967)
Like John Halas's Automania 2000, this mockumentary pokes fun at our society's increased reliance on automobiles. Yet it does so in a much more unique way, by posing as Martian scientists was celebrating their first contact with Earthlings, which turned out to be cars. Most of the film is spent describing the behavior of cars using the construct of human society, which is clever and creative. The film does drags with a lengthy and lame sequence on the reproductive processes of the cars, but the rest of the film is a gem.

6. The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics (1965)
Chuck Jones was released from his Warner Bros. contract shortly after his experiments in extremely limited animation with Now Hear This. He was hired by MGM, and one of his earliest films there was this adaptation of the children's book by author Norton Juster. The finished product was phenomenal. Juster's simple love story became much more powerful when mixed with Chuck Jones's visual expertise combining simple geometric shapes and complex imagery. It makes for an enjoyable film that is both abstract and concrete.

5. Of Men and Demons (1969)
When the Hubleys were not too busy making recordings of their kids playing or setting pieces of popular music to animation, they were making films that explored the human condition. Of Men and Demons explores the progress of technology as a way for mankind to overcome the vagaries of nature, being portrayed as mischievous demons. The film moves along at a steady pace accompanied to the catchy beats of Quincy Jones, and even hints at the rise of the information age. Bonus points for what appears to be an Asian influence on the design of the demons.

4. Igra (The Game) (1963)
The Cold War was at its peak in the early 1960s, with the threat of mutually assured destruction hanging over the lives of people around the world every day. Oscar winning Yugoslavian animator Dusan Vukotic addressed this issue with this powerful film, casting the chaos into an innocent game between two kids. The film transitions well between live action shots of the kids at play and the animated conflict between their creations. The escalation of their little game from a simple war of the sexes to all out violent warfare climaxes in a shocking way that reminds us of our fragility.

3. The House that Jack Built (1968)
This satirical parable from the National Film Board of Canada takes a look at the class conflict by taking the storylines of two classic fables starring a character named Jack: "The House that Jack Built" and "Jack and the Beanstalk." The film's genius is evident in its construct. It sandwiches a life-changing experience with an opening and closing that sparkles with brilliant writing done in the style of the original "House that Jack Built" poem as well as excellent visual design that belies the simplicity of the animation. The middle is a bit slow in comparison but the film as a whole is still incredible.

2. The Critic (1963)
Mel Brooks is such a celebrated figure in the world of comedy nowadays that it's easy to forget that at one point he was still a fledgling comedian trying to get a foot in the door in the filmmaking world. The Critic may have been an important milestone for the young Mel Brooks. His hilariously off-beat comments as a 71-year old man from Russia while watching a piece of abstract animation spoke to every viewer who was ever frustrated by watching experimental films. It also introduced the film world to the irreverent style of humor that will come to define Mel Brooks. It's an absolute joy to watch.

1. Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day (1968)
The Winnie the Pooh franchise is so ingrained in the Disney lineup that it's sometimes easy to forget that Pooh got his start in a series of children's books published back when Disney was still making his Alice cartoons. Disney didn't get a hold of the license until it acquired them from licensing icon Stephen Slesinger. Since then, they've made Pooh and his cast of friends among their most famous, largely through the strength of their three featurettes, and Blustery Day is in my opinion by far the best. It takes three memorable stories from the original Mine storybooks and fills it with well-written dialogue that really establishes many of the characters. It even introduces two characters that have become two of the most beloved in the franchise in Piglet and Tigger. The songs by Richard and Robert Sherman are wonderful and are well known even today, such as "Heffalumps and Woozles" and "The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers." And the lusciously detailed animation that UPA was rallying against is a welcome respite in an era where it seemed every piece of animation is limited. Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day holds up well even though I watched it just about to death when I was 3, 13, and 23. That is a sign of a masterpiece, and one that is well deserving of the title of my favorite Oscar nominated animated short between 1962 and 1971.

Not much to say about this one. The fact that there are two films that I have yet to see means that there may be some changes in this list, especially since the problem is not locating these films but actually coming up with the means to see them. I swear, if I ever manage to watch the film I'll do my darndest to get a digital copy of those films and put them on YouTube myself because I cannot stand the selfishness of the distributing companies and the libraries. Down with greedy corporations! Down with greedy institutions!

Highest ranked non-winner: The House that Jack Built (3)*
Lowest ranked winner: The Hole (28)
Number of winners in the top ten: Five (Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day, The Critic, The Dot and the Line, A Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass Double Feature, Is it Always Right to Be Right?)
Average rank of the ten winners: 13.1- a record!
Number of films that were my favorite in a year outside the top 10: Two [The Selfish Giant (11), The Pink Phink (15)
The two films that were not in my favorite in a year in the top 10: The House that Jack Built (3), Igra (4)*

*Those films have it rough. They ranked 3 and 4, but the films in their year that finished ahead of them were 1 and 2 respectively

Highest average ranking in a year: 1970 (10.5) 

*although it does contain a NULL in The Shepherd, so it may go up if I love it and down if I hate it. 1968 is second with 11.25 among its complete set of nominees

Lowest average ranking in a year: 1962 (23)

The top 10 from 1962-1971!

Other decades:

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