Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Best Animated Short - 1949
I love my grandma. At 91 she has been through so much, from the Sino-Japanese War to the Chinese Civil War and eventual exile to Taiwan, but she is still sharp and optimistic. I enjoy listening to her stories about growing up in China in the 1920s and 1930s, about her mischievous adventures with her older brother*, and the embarrassing story involving my dad and aunts. Of course, she also had some difficult stories, such as stories involving Japanese brutality or the difficult times in the post-war Shanghai. One of the most haunting stories was how she was at the bedside of my great-grandmother when she passed away. In my sheltered existence it's hard to imagine how difficult it must have been. My grandma was only 27. She had just fled to Taiwan, and now she was watching her mother-in-law-to-be die in front of her eyes. The moment is still sharp in her memory, especially since she recently observed that two of her children had lived to be 60, which was how old my great-grandmother was at her passing.
*Most of her tales were involved middle brother, four years her senior. She also had an eldest brother that was nine years older. She usually held him in higher regard because he was so much older and more mature than her. I am nine years older than my youngest sister. I wonder what sort of stories she will tell her grandchildren when she is 91. How I am obsessed with a cartoon pony? How much of a baseball fan I was? Gosh, what would people think about animation like My Little Pony in 2085? And how many 300 game winners would there be by then? Sometimes I wish to have a time machine like in Doraemon to figure out the answers to these questions.
Gee...that's some heavy stuff. Why am I telling you all this? Because that happened in 1949. Yeah...let's move on to the Oscars.
Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men is one of the seminal works in American literature. The cautionary tale of the corrupting force of politics was lauded and won a Pulitzer Prize. It was made into a film in 1949 that gained critical and commercial success. It received seven Oscar nominations including Best Picture, alongside Battleground (six nominations), The Heiress (eight nominations), A Letter to Three Wives (three nominations), and Twelve O'Clock High (four nominations). All but the latter were nominated for Best Director, with Twelve O'Clock High's spot taken by Sir Carol Reed for The Fallen Idol.
When Oscar night came The Heiress took home the Best Music (Dramatic/Comedy) Oscar. Best Music (Musical) went to On the Town and the wintertime standard "Baby It's Cold Outside" won Best Original Song for Neptune's Daughter. Twelve O'Clock High won Best Sound Recording. The Heiress continued its winning ways into the visual technicals, winning for Black and White Costume Design and Art Direction. Battleground won the Cinematography award, though. The Color awards went to She Wore a Yellow Ribbon for Cinematography, Little Women for Art Direction, and Adventures of Don Juan for Costume Design. Best Editing went to the boxing film Champion, and the original Mighty Joe Young won Best Special Effects. For the writing awards, Battleground won Best Story and Screenplay. A Letter to Three Wives won Best Screenplay. And The Stratton Story, the inspirational story of pitcher Monty Stratton and his recovery from a hunting accident that required amputation of his leg, won Best Story. It was the last time any baseball film had won an Oscar.
Up to that point All the King's Men hadn't had any success. It was nominated for two technical awards but lost both of them. Yet all was not lost since most of its nominations were in the acting categories. And that turned out to be where their luck started to turn. Mercedes McCambridge took home Best Supporting Actress for her role as the gruff campaign assistant. Deuteragonist John Ireland lost Best Supporting Actor to Dean Jagger for Twelve O'Clock High, but Broderick Crawford took home Best Actor as the central character of Willie Stark. Meanwhile, Olivia de Havilland won Best Actress for haunting role in The Heiress. It was her second Oscar, and the fourth of the night for The Heiress. No other film had won more than two. But then Joseph L. Mankiewicz won Best Director for A Letter to Three Wives, and that made the Best Picture race a real mess. The Heiress still led in wins. A Letter to Three Wives may have been nominated only three times, but it's won two of the nominations and could cap off a three for three night. But then the actors branch is the biggest in the Academy, and All the King's Men did have those two acting wins. And there were still Battleground and Twelve O'Clock High.
In the end Best Picture went to All the King's Men. Actors still rule.
Of course the thrilling Best Picture race couldn't match up to the controversy that was found in the Best Animated Short category. What could the controversy have been about? Let's check out the nominees first.
For Scent-imental Reasons
Where Can I Watch It?
Here it is, courtesy of the official Looney Tunes channel operated by Warner Bros. so you know it won't get taken down, unless of course they decide to become arseholes again.
Hatch Up Your Troubles
Where Can I Watch It?
The Magic Fluke
Musical Maestro. The Magic Fluke may not have had the frantic comedic timing of Avery's work, but it does have several excellent visual gags. And the use of familiar "Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2" that was featured in so many cartoons is an added bonus. Of course the magic wand sequence only takes up two minutes in a six minute film. The rest of focuses on Crawford's despair at having been abandoned by Lips. The exploration of the conflict between his friend's betrayal at his continued loyalty is what makes the film really interesting. The animation is a little bit more limited but stylistic than what was the norm at the time, with background characters appearing like caricatures. But that's not a surprise considering the studio that won the Fox and Crow contract was none other than John Hubley's United Productions of America (UPA).
Where Can I Watch It?
There's no DVD rip from the Jolly Frolics DVD set online yet, so here's a lower quality version from Cartoon Network.
Where Can I Watch It?
Well, these are the four official nominees from 1949. They're all very interesting films, but for me the two that stand out are The Magic Fluke and Toy Tinkers. The Magic Fluke has the entire subplot involving Crawford's internal conflict that makes it interesting, and Toy Tinkers is just an all and all delight. I think I'm going to have to go with Toy Tinkers just because it's something that I grew up on. But the Academy went with For Scent-imental Reasons, which isn't a bad choice. It just irks my sister that Pepe LePew is an Oscar winner. Oh well.
And the controversy that surrounded this year's Oscar race? Well, it isn't involving what was nominated, but what was NOT nominated. You'll have to stay tuned for the post that is coming up on Saturday.
My rankings (by quality and preference)
Toy Tinkers > The Magic Fluke > For Scent-imental Reasons > Hatch Up Your Troubles