Wednesday, April 10, 2013
Best Animated Short - 1959
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.
But, we are at 1959. If you ask most film historians today what the most significant film of 1959 was, and you'd probably get several different answers, but I suspect that they'd include the cross-dressing Billy Wilder comedy Some Like It Hot, Alfred Hitchcock's cross-country chase film North By Northwest, or Francois Truffault's gritty juvenile delinquent drama The 400 Blows. But if you ask the audiences and the Academy back in 1959 and there is one clear answer: Ben-Hur. The majestic epic based on the best-selling Christian novel by General Lew Wallace was by far the highest grossing film of the year, even though it was as a remake of a silent film from 1925 that many historians still claim was superior. And the Academy ate it up as well, nominating it in 12 categories, including Best Picture.
The other Best Picture nominations went to the James Stewart trial drama Anatomy of a Murder (7 nominations), the biographical film The Diary of Anne Frank (8 nominations), the Audrey Hepburn nursing film The Nun's Story (8 nominations), and the complex British love triangle Room at the Top (6 nominations). The other three memorable films had varying levels of success. Some Like It Hot was the most successful, picking up 7 nominations,including Best Director, when Wilder took the spot of Anatomy of a Murder. Jack Lemmon also won a Best Actor nomination, but it missed out on Best Picture, possibly because the gender bending theme rubbed voters the wrong way. North By Northwest was only nominated for three awards: Color Cinematography, Editing, and Original Screenplay. The 400 Blows was also nominated for Original Screenplay, a rarity for a foreign film, but it was not submitted by the French government for the Best Foreign Language Film. They submitted Black Orpheus instead, which wasn't a bad choice, as it took home the Oscar.
Anyways, as we learned from this year, 12 nominations does not necessarily mean a sweep, but form the beginning it sure seemed that it won't be happening to Ben-Hur. It won the two sound categories where it was nominated: Best Sound Mixing and Best Music (Dramatic/Comedy Picture). Porgy and Bess won for Best Music (Musical Picture) while Frank Sinatra's A Hole in the Head won Best Original Song for the uplifting tune "High Hopes." Then Ben-Hur went on to sweep the color technical awards, Best Special Effects, and Best Editing. The Diary of Anne Frank won Best Black and White Cinematography and Art Direction while Some Like it Hot won Best Black and White Costume Design.
Ben-Hur's momentum was slowed a little bit when it lost to Room at the Top for Best Adapted Screenplay, with the Rock Hudson/Doris Day romantic comedy Pillow Talk winning Best Original Screenplay. It was only a temporary setback as it stormed ahead to win Best Supporting Actor for Hugh Griffith and Best Actor for Charlton Heston. Shelley Winters won Best Supporting Actress for The Diary of Anne Frank while French actress Simone Signoret made history by becoming the first French person to win an acting Oscar for her role in Room at the Top. By the time the last two awards rolled around, Ben-Hur had nine wins, tying it with Gigi for most Oscars won by a film. Any hopes for the films to remain tied and some other film coming to win the award evaporated when William Wyler won his third directing Oscar for Ben-Hur. And then it took home Best Picture to extend the record to 11 wins.
It was an impressive feat, and one that seemed even more so when considering the films that fell short. West Side Story had 11 nominations two years later and was on its way to a sweep, but it lost Best Adapted Screenplay to Judgment at Nuremberg and ended up with only 10. Other films had impressive win totals with at least 11 nomination but fell short. My Fair Lady wound up with 8 wins (in 12 nominations), as did Gandhi (in 11 nominations) and Amadeus (also with 11 nominations, but two were in the same category so there needed to be a tie.) Dances with Wolves, Schindler's List, and The English Patient all had had 12 nominations, but they all stumbled in acting categories and the former two ended with 7 wins and the latter with 9. Forrest Gump had 13 nominations, but the Academy decided that it would be a year of parity and it walked away with only 6 wins. Titanic became an international phenomenon in late 1997, and later it became the first film since All About Eve in 1950 with 14 nominations. It too stumbled in the acting categories and lost Best Makeup to Men in Black, but it won the rest of the technical and sound categories to finally tie Ben-Hur's awe-inspiring record. Six years later, The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King went 11 for 11 to become the third film to reach 11 wins. No film to date has ever won 12.
However, after all of the talk about impressive win totals, there are categories where films are glad to win just one. Those are the Short categories, and that includes the category that really has our interest: Best Animated Short.
Where Can I Watch It?
Well, an embeddable version has been removed, but it's still available on SuperCartoons.net
Where Can I Watch It?
Father Noah's Ark, in 1933. Almost 30 years later they tried another adaptation, one that was less gag-based and using a style of stop motion animation that Disney animators would be using later in A Symposium of Popular Songs. Music was the focus of this film. There are four songs by songwriter Mel Leven, and even the dialogue is spoken in rhyme. The songs themselves are well written, but ultimately not very memorable. The best of the bunch was probably one where Mrs. Hippo berates Noah for bringing up her playboy husband by comparing mention of his name with bringing up "chowder to a clam" and so on. Unfortunately the appearance of the scene seems contrived and the film kind of drags at this time. The stop motion animation, on the other hand, is great. The human puppets are well designed (although Noah's songs are kind of ugly), but the real treat is with the animals models, which were made using regular household items like thimbles, bottles, and pipe cleaners etc. The brilliantly designed credits sequence show the sort of creativity that went into the animals. There has been better telling of Noah's story, but this version is heavy on the eye candy.
Where Can I Watch It?
Where Can I Watch It?
Unfortunately the only copy I was able to find has Italian subtitles.
Well, this was one of those unusual years with only four nominees. The only less common nominee count were the six and seven nominees that they had in the WWII years. (Those would be fun reviews to do.) Of these four Moonbird and Noah's Ark stood out, and Moonbird was the better one. It was fairly different than what most viewers were used to, and in a good way. And this wasn't lost to Academy voters, as they awarded Moonbird with the Oscar. It would be John Hubley's first Oscar, but it won't be the last.
My rankings (by quality)
Moonbird > Noah's Ark > Mexicali Shmoes > The Violinist
My rankings (by preference)
Mexicali Shmoes > Moonbird > Noah's Ark > The Violinist