Saturday, April 27, 2013
So we are now hitting the end of the Golden Age of Studio Animation in our reviews, and we will be progressing through it thanks to our retrospective progression. Needless to say the rest of the films will have been produced by one of the major film studios, such as Disney, MGM, Warner Bros., UPA etc. This is a good time to bring up one of the problems that I (and possibly other animation historians) have with this category. The contenders are decided in part by what the studios submit for contention. Unfortunately I don't have access to a list of what films qualified, but I do remember reading in Chuck Jones's autobiography that many of the great Warner Bros. films did not get submitted for some reason. As a result, while most of the greatest films by Disney and many of the greatest films by MGM* were nominated in this category, few of the greatest films by Warner Bros. were nominated.
*For some reason, almost all of the greatest Tom and Jerry cartoons were nominated, but none of the greatest Tex Avery films were nominated. It could be that the Academy did not enjoy Avery's strange sense of humor, or it could be MGM executives did not like it and did not submit those, which essentially gets to the same issue.
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
We're now at 1957, which happens to be the year of my mother's birth. It's a bit mind-blowing to think that my mom is now closer to her 60th birthday than her 50th birthday, but I'm sure it's not much better for her to think that her oldest child is closer to 30. And he still watches cartoons like My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and the film that we'll be reviewing here shortly. I guess it's just the effects of the passage of time. Why, the old Warner Bros. and Disney cartoons that I grew up watching are close to 70 years old by now. And yet they are still as timeless as they were back in the 1940s.
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Greetings from tropical Taiwan! (Well, I'm actually still in sunny Texas as I'm writing this, but let's just play pretend.) It's great to be back here for the first time since 2007. It doesn't feel that long ago but a lot have happened in the six intervening years. I applied for, got accepted into, and now completed my medical school education. I saw probably 75% of the Best Animated Short nominees, and started this blog. And I became a massive unabashed brony. Yessir, it's been an interesting six years.
And now that I'm here in Taiwan I've been envisioning a whole host of interesting activities: to go and actually do some sightseeing which I've never really done before. I've never even been to the Taroko National Park! To go and watch the lovely Rachel Liang Wen Yin perform more than once. To see a baseball game and hopefully get an autograph from the enigmatic Manny Ramirez. And to attend a Taiwan brony meetup. It's all very ambitious, but I'll probably end up wasting my days away surfing the internet or spending all my time making these blasted blog posts. (Which is why I'm trying to extend my queue now while I'm still in Texas.) We'll see how it goes.
Saturday, April 13, 2013
Well, I've probably mentioned before and will undoubtedly mention again, but Walt Disney is the most honored individual by the Academy, with his 22 competitive wins and 59 nominations. Much of it was from the Academy's old strategy of honoring the producers in those short categories that he dominated. And yes, we all know that much of the domination came in the category that we care so deeply: that of what is now known as Best Animated Short. 39 of his 59 nominations and 11 of his 22 wins were in this category. However, he had some success in other categories as well. He received six awards in 12 nominations in the Best Live Action Short category (along with its predecessor, Best Short Subject One Reel/Two Reel. This would lead to one of the most interesting nominations that we'll get to in a couple weeks.) He had two wins in four nominations in the Best Documentary Feature category (including two when there was one massive Best Documentary category in 1942.) And he had two wins in three nominations in the Best Documentary Short category. And he was nominated as producer for Best Picture for Mary Poppins.
Of those three nominations in the Best Documentary Short category, two were for live action films about Eskimos. And one was an animated documentary. Most people probably haven't even heard of The Alaskan Eskimo or Men Against the Arctic. However, the name of the animated documentary is probably one that is familiar to many students: Donald in Mathmagic Land.
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
Well, we have made it into the 1950s, the decade of my parents' birth. Of course, we still have two more decades to get through before we'll finally be caught up (and I'll be sitting around twiddling my thumbs thinking of stuff to post.) More importantly, however, is that the weekend after this post goes up I'll be going back to Taiwan for the first time since 2007. That was so long ago that I was still new to all of this Best Animated Short stuff. It's pretty exciting, but that doesn't mean I'll have to start on another hiatus. For one thing I'm writing this in March so there will be time to build up some queue. Anyways I can always work on more entries while I'm there, but I'll be more tempted to soak up the atmosphere, try to visit with Taiwan bronies, and hopefully see Rachel Liang Wen Yin perform. Yeah, it should be good times. That is unless I fail the PE again and then everything will go to heck.
Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Well, it's about time for me to finally finish yet another decade, which means the first year of the decade due to our retrograde progression. It's hard to believe that it's been close to seven months since we departed the 1970s, but that's what happens when you take a three-month hiatus. Yeah, I'm never going to live that down, but when you spend that time traveling the country and perusing My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic material then it doesn't really feel that long. Or maybe it's just time perception, the nifty phenomenon that the not-nominated The Eagleman Stag addressed.
At any rate, we are at 1960. The biggest films that year were two classics by two legendary directors, Stanley Kubrick's three-hour epic Spartacus and Alfred Hitchcock's horror masterpiece Psycho. As is typical of the Academy, they awarded these two films with plenty of nominations (Spartacus had six while Psycho had four), but kept those out of contention for the Best Picture award. The Best Picture nominations went instead to Billy Wilder's romantic comedy The Apartment (which led the way with 10 nominations), the John Wayne Western epic The Alamo (7 nominations), the adaptation of the D.H. Lawrence novel Sons and Lovers (7 nominations), the evangelistic drama Elmer Gantry (5 nominations), and the Australian outback tale The Sundowners (5 nominations).
Of those five only The Apartment, Sons and Lovers, and The Sundowners received Best Director nominations. The other two went to Hitchcock for Psycho and American-born Jules Dassin for the Greek film Never on Sunday, which received five nominations but not Best Foreign Language Film because Greece did not submit a film for consideration that year. The Ingmar Bergman classic The Virgin Spring, the film that inspired West Craven to make The Last House on the Left, ended up winning Best Foreign Language Film. Never on Sunday did win Best Original Song for the song of the same title, becoming the first foreign song to win the award. The other music award went to the Franz Liszt biographical film Song Without End (Musical Picture) and the 3.5-hour epic Exodus (Dramatic/Comedy Picture). The Alamo won Best Sound to close out the sound awards.
For the split technical awards, Sparatcus had no problem sweeping the three color categories. The black and white categories were more divided. The Apartment took home Best Art Direction. Sons and Lovers won Best Cinematography, and the Bob Hope/Lucille Ball romantic comedy The Facts of Life won Best Costume Design. The Apartment took home Best Editing, and George Pal's adaptation of H.G. Wells's The Time Machine won Best Special Effects. Once again, we'll be seeing a lot of George Pal soon. In the screenplay categories, The Apartment won Best Original Screenplay in a competition that included no other Best Picture nominees. (It did have Never on Sunday, The Facts of Life, and the French/Japanese film Hiroshima, mon amour starring Emmanuelle Riva.) Meanwhile the more contentious Best Adapted Screenplay category went to Elmer Gantry.
The acting categories were pretty contentious in 1960. Much of the controversy was in the Best Supporting Actor category. Chill Wills was nominated for his role in The Alamo, and began a massive publicity campaign that alienated even his own cast. In the end the award went to Peter Ustinov for his portrayal of slave trader Batatius in Spartacus. There were not as much controversy for Best Supporting Actress, where Shirley Jones won for Elmer Gantry, beating out four other actresses including Janet Leigh for Psycho. BUtterfield 8 was one of Elizabeth Taylor's least favorite of her films, partially due to the backlash after co-star Eddie Fisher's decision to leave his wife Debbie Reynolds for Taylor. Yet despite (or maybe because) of the news, Taylor was nominated for the fourth straight time in the Best Actress category. And even more surprisingly, she won, defeating the likes of Shirley MacLaine (The Apartment) and Deborah Kerr (The Sundowners). Best Actor was more straightforward, as Burt Lancaster won for his role as the titular character for Elmer Gantry.
As the ceremony went into its last two awards, Spartacus was in the lead with four wins, but it was not represented in Best Director and Best Picture. Of the Best Picture nominees, The Apartment and Elmer Gantry were in the led with three wins. However, Elmer Gantry's lack of a nomination for Best Director really appears to hurt, especially after Billy Wilder won Best Director for The Apartment. It's true that 52 years later Argo was able to pull off a Best Picture win despite a lack of a Best Director nomination, but The Apartment ended any hope of that happening when it claimed the title of Best Picture of 1960, Oscar-wise.
Yet in the midst of all the chaos and confusion, another race was heating up, competition-wise, in the category of Best Animated Short.
Where Can I Watch It?
Where Can I Watch It?
Mouse and Garden
Where Can I Watch It?
Well the embeddable version got removed. Thankfully it's still on SuperCartoons.net. Not embeddable but still there.
Where Can I Watch It?
A Place in the Sun (O Misto na Slunci)
From 1932 through 1959, the first 28 years of the Best Animated Short category, all of the nominated films had something in common: they were made in North American countries. Most of them were films made in animation studios, although there were a few independent films, and one film from Canada (The Romance of Transportation in Canada, from 1952). But they were all North American. However, all that was about to change in 1960. Two of the nominees were produced in films outside of North America. One was Munro, which was animated in Czechoslovakia, but it was really meant for American audiences. It's kind of like how much of the animation for The Simpsons was animated in Korea. The other was different. O Misto na Slunci was made by a Czecholovakian animator, Frantisek Vystrcil, and meant for a Czechoslovakian audience. However, the film about two men fighting over a place in the sun won over audiences around the world, and became the first European film nominated for the Best Animated Short Oscar. This would open the way for other European films to step up, including Yugoslavia's Surogat, Igra, and Tup Tup, France's Hypothese Beta, and Italy's La Gazza Ladra, Pulcinella, and Dedalo etc. Fans of the film include legendary Russian animator Yuri Norstein, the director of Tale of Tales and Hedgehog in the Fog. He included the film in his ballot for the Laputa Top 150 Japanese and World Animation poll in 2003, one topped by Norstein's own Tale of Tales. Alas, fifty years later the film has become almost impossible to find. It is not available in any American sites, and the Annecy 50th anniversary DVD that had The Further Adventures of Uncle Sam Part Two, even though it won an award at Annecy. I found somethings that suggest the film is available on various Czech sites, but my inability to read Czech is really cramping my ability to pursue this lead. So this will probably continue to be part of the Missing Seven for a long time to come.
Where Can I Watch It?
I wish I knew. If anybody here can read and speak Czech (which is pretty unlikely because my hiatus probably cost me whatever readership I had built up, so the only readers are my sisters which I know don't speak Czech) and can help me get a copy, I'd very much appreciate it.
Well, there you go, the five films nominated for the Oscar. Unfortunately, one of the films was one I haven't seen. If it's the masterpiece everybody say it is then there might be a race, but of the four I've seen Munro stands out as the best. It may not have the most eye-catching animation, but it wins out through the strength of the story and the quality of the satire. It's not to say that the others are bad, but they don't stand up to Munro. Perhaps O Misto na Slunci could be that challenger, but we'll never know.
My rankings (by quality)
Munro > High Note > Goliath II > Mouse and Garden
My rankings (by preference)
Munro > Mouse and Garden > Goliath II > High Note