Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Ranking the Oscar Nominated Shorts: 1942-1951

Well, it's that time again: Time to hunker down, look at the films from the past ten reviews and rank them subjectively by how much I liked them. It's the seventh time that I'll do one of these, and it's also the second to the last, as there are only ten reviews left to go. Unfortunately, there's no telling how long it'll take me to get those ten reviews out. I've made my list two weeks ago when I still had a sizable queue, but I've just gotten so busy and tired that I just haven't felt like writing. So now I've got like no queue. I'm hoping that I can get back on track after this week but considering the next review is the epic 1941 where ten films were nominated, I can't make any guarantees.

But enough talk, let's get to the rankings. There are 51 films from these past ten years, thanks to all the years with six or seven nominations.

NULL: Rippling Romance (1945)
This Columbia cartoon is now considered lost. That may not be the case based on what Thad (Komorowski?) has said, but he's also the one that says the film isn't worth getting declared not-lost.

50. The Two Mouseketeers (1952)
Recycled gags and a lame ending make this the worst Oscar nominated Tom and Jerry film in my opinion. Not even French speaking Nibbles can save it.

49. Pluto's Blue Note (1947)
It's not a bad film. The story of Pluto's perseverance in his incompetence is inspiring, but do we really need that scene of him lip synching to Bing Crosby?

48. Mickey and the Seal (1948)
This film has become quite popular considering that most people think the seal is very cute, but I find him annoying instead. And he's a sea lion, not a seal!

47. Fish Fry (1944)
There are some funny moments in this Walter Lantz film, but those gags are well in the minority as the rest of the film is just some lame jokes not involving Andy Panda.

46. My Boy Johnny (1944)
Terrytoons tried to look into the future of what life would be life for returning GIs after the war, but that just led to this inconsistent hodgepodge of futuristic images.

45. Jasper and the Beanstalk (1945)
Jasper was the closest thing to a mascot for Puppetoons, but he's become quite politically incorrect nowadays. I don't have a problem with him, but this is just a boring film.

44. The Dizzy Acrobat (1943)
I really like the line by the ticket master referring to the fictitious disclaimer, but the rest of the film is just uninspired slapstick not involving Woody's screwball nature.

43. The Yankee Doodle Mouse (1943)
With the war raging overseas Hanna Barbera tried to bring it to our basement with this film, but it's pretty much just the same Tom and Jerry conflict with a war-like makeover.

42. The Poet & Peasant (1945)
Walter Lantz attempts to bring the music of Franz von Suppe to life, which is never a bad thing, but he fills it with good but not great gags that ultimately feel very unsatisfying.

41. Musical Moments from Chopin (1946)
It's Walter Lantz again and this time he is giving the same treatment to Chopin. The moment is terrific with no interruptions this time, but once again the uneven gags distract from the music. 

40. Gypsy Life (1945)
Terrytoons had a hit character on their hands with Mighty Mouse, and his only Oscar nominated film features some nifty musical numbers, but it's also got horrible animation and a lame story.

39. Greetings Bait (1943)
Warner Bros. pays tribute to Jerry Colonna in this witty little short. There are some great moments like the shot of the worm running between the eyes, but he is just too annoying to be very likeable.

38. Imagination (1943)
Columbia implores us to try imagination, but then they present a rather non-imaginative film featuring  dolls strangely similar to Raggedy Ann and Andy. At least there are some funny moments.

37. Tweetie Pie (1947)
Sylvester and Tweety go together like peanut butter and jelly, and this is the film that started it all, but while it was original in 1947 it really isn't in 2013. There is an impressive Rube Goldberg moment.

36. Hatch Up Your Troubles (1949)
The addition of the somewhat cute woodpecker character does inject a little bit of variety into the tried and true Tom and Jerry formula, but most of the gags go beyond plausibility and aren't very funny.

35. And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street (1944)
Dr. Seuss's debut book adapted for the screen by Puppetoons and the resulting film stays true to the original, but it doesn't add anything other than the thought of "Hey, this doesn't look like Dr. Seuss at all!"

34. Mouse Wreckers (1948)
The antics of Hubie and Bertie the mice is on full force in this film as they lay waste to the psyche of a hapless cat. The concept is terrific, but the gags are rather standard and the mice themselves are annoying.

33. For Scent-imental Reasons (1949)
There are some great moments in this film, including some amusing moments involving the use of sound, but Pepe LePew is a lame character. I don't hate him like my sister, but I wouldn't have minded if he didn't miss.

32. Tea for Two Hundred (1948)
Donald Duck always seems to be getting in trouble with his own mischievousness, and this time it's with hundreds of ants. The gags themselves are merely average, but that Stepin Fetchit reference really cracks me up.

31. Life with Feathers (1945)
Sylvester has spent over 65 years trying to catch a bird, but he spends his first film trying to avoid eating a suicidal bird. It's a terrific concept, but the gags themselves don't seem to be anything special, so it gets old quick.

30. Dog, Cat, and Canary (1944)
Dog, Cat, and Canary was one of the first films to pair a cat and a bird and even threw in a third character on top of it. It had some good gags and decent animation, but then it made the mistake of making the cat too sympathetic.

29. 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins (1943)
500 Hats is one of Dr. Seuss's best stories, and Puppetoons did the story justice with their spirited adaptation. They had to cut a lot of the story out, but made up for it with the sheer variety of hats that are actually shown on screen.

28. Swooner Crooner (1944)
This is Porky Pig's only nomination and he had to play second fiddle to a bunch of caricatures of famous singers. The singing scenes is boring, but the audition scene is great and the early factory scene is terrific. And Powerhouse!

27. John Henry and the Inky-Poo (1946)
George Pal pays tribute to the spirit of the African American with this stirring film. The final eulogy gets a bit long and drawn out, but at least it tries to bring up the true meaning of legends. More significant is the film's great editing.

26. Pigs in a Polka (1942)
A few of Johannes Brahms's most famous Hungarian Dance comes to life in what could have been just another Three Little Pigs retelling. The first two pigs are annoying, but you can't deny that Carl Stallings did a great job with the music.

25. Juke Box Jamboree (1942)
In spite of their classic characters, Walter Lantz's nominated films have been more miss than hit in this ten year period, but Juke Box Jamboree  stands out with its excellent and catch music and visual gags that are borderline hallucinogenic.

24. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse (1947)
Hanna and Barbera hearkens back to the legendary Robert Louis Stevenson story in this film. The actually Jekyll and Hyde moments are very small and the rest of the film feature lame gags, but the actual Jekyll and Hyde scenes are a classic.

23. All Out for 'V' (1942)
Terrytoons has gotten a bad reputation for their low production values, but All Out for 'V' manages to become a highly enjoyable film. Yeah, the dialogue is lame but how can you hate on cute forest animals working together for victory?

22. Trouble Indemnity (1950)
Mr. Magoo's first Oscar nomination features the same old gags of Magoo getting himself in and out of trouble with his blindness, but the construction site gags are well done. And the film actually makes a shady insurance salesman sympathetic.

21. Robin Hoodlum (1948)
UPA's first film under the Columbia label was a retelling of the Robin Hood tale featuring the mascot characters of the Fox and the Crow, and they fill it to the brim with hilarious visual and speech gags. Robin Hood's song is a blast even today.

20. Lambert the Sheepish Lion (1951)
Lambert is an utterly lovable tale of a lion living peacefully with a flock of sheep and has become quite popular. The film is much more than just simply being very cute, but actually teaches several very powerful lessons that resonates over 60 years later.

19. Reason and Emotion (1943)
Reason and Emotion may be the most interesting propaganda film. After presenting rather plausible situations of our id and ego going at it, they do a 360 and show how twisted it is in the Nazis. It's unexpected but at the same time it's also quite enjoyable.

18. The Magic Fluke (1949)
A year after their successful debut with Robin Hoodlum, UPA comes by with this tale of a magical musical mishap. The gags are decent, but what makes this great is its portrayal of unflinching loyalty of friendship (which is magic) and Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.

17. Tubby the Tuba (1947)
George Pal would leave the animation business after this final Puppetoon, based on a popular musical short story, but at least they go out on top. Tubby's story is a great lesson on rising above your lot in life, and the animation of Tubby and the others is terrific as well.

16. How to Play Football (1944)
Goofy is one of Disney's top mascot characters but by the 1940s he had become the star of a series of tongue in cheek documentaries on sports. How to Play Football may be the pinnacle of this unique set of films, as every shot is designed to make you laugh, which it does.

15. Gerald McBoing Boing! (1950)
UPA's Gerald McBoing Boing! not only gave them a popular new mascot character, but it would wind up changing the landscape of animation with its use of limited animation. While the technique would be later used as a cost cutting device, UPA used it to great skill to focus on the great use of sound in the film.

14. Walky Talky Hawky (1946)
This film would go down in history as the debut film of the loud and boisterous Foghorn Leghorn, but it is much more than that. It is an absolutely hilarious film full of terrific visual gags as the young Henry Hawk seeking his coming of age moment becomes a pawn in the conflict between Foghorn and the dog.

13. Blitz Wolf (1942)
Tex Avery would leave Warner Bros.'s Termite Terrace in the early 1940s and would wind up with MGM where he would leave a lasting mark on animation. His excellent first film with MGM takes the Three Little Pigs story and use it to parody the war in Europe, filling it with much of the zany humor that exemplifies Avery.

12. Squatter's Rights (1946)
A year before the names of Chip and Dale become a part of the Disney canon, the playfully protective chipmunk duo would lay waste to Pluto and his ego. There are a lot of great visual gags and the climax has a lot more tension than you would expect from a Disney film. It also helps that this was a film that I loved when I was younger.

11. Jerry's Cousin (1950)
Jerry has always gotten the best of Tom through his brains and Tom's bad luck, but with Jerry's Cousin Hanna Barbera presents us with Muscles Mouse, the mouse that can defeat Tom with his brawns. His sheer strength borders on the impossible but it is also hilarious to watch Muscles dominate all cats, including Tom to become a great one shot characters.

10. The Little Orphan (1948)
The character of Nibbles aka Tuffy made his debut in the comics and in the cartoons before this film, but he will always be connected to this film in my mind because it's just such a funny film. The food related gags are very funny, with several great moments without the involvement of Tom. Of course it becomes better with Tom involved. And that Thanksgiving spread sure look delicious! Too bad Hanna Barbera tried recycling the film with The Two Mouseketeers.

9. Toy Tinkers (1949)
The chipmunks that would become Chip and Dale may have gotten their debuts opposite Pluto in films like Private Pluto and Squatter's Rights, but it is being the nemesis of Donald Duck that they would find their greatest success. And Toy Tinkers is a great example of that. They invade Donald's cabin, see his Christmas spread and conspire to steal it, and soon all out war breaks out. But what makes Toy Tinkers so enjoyable is the interaction between the chipmunks and the toys, especially the trippy scene of Dale on the town.

8. Mouse Trouble (1944)
By 1944 Tom and Jerry had become a bona fide hit, having won the hearts of fans across the country and the Academy with their one win in three nominations, but what was it that made them so popular? Mouse Trouble seems to spell it all out. Tom gets a book that would give him tips to catch a mouse, but he bungles it through a combination of his own incompetence and Jerry's wits. It's the same formula that comes into play with characters like Wily Coyote and Road Runner, but Mouse Trouble tops it with much simpler but still equally hilarious gags.

7. Tulips Shall Grow (1942)
The war in Europe had been going on for several years by the time the European-born George Pal made this powerful anti-war propaganda film. What begins as a saccharine and gag-inducing romantic rendezvous between lovers quickly takes a turn for the worse with the invasion by the Screwballs. The sheer speed in which the film's mood changes is shocking and makes the film that much more breathtaking, as is the violence at which the Screwballs attack. But it is the hopeful message of the film's conclusion that really elevates it to become George Pal's best.

6. Rooty Toot Toot (1951)
UPA had found success with Gerald McBoing Boing! in making a film with limited animation and amazing sound, so director John Hubley took it to a new level with a musical film set around the trial of the characters in the famous ballad of Frankie and Johnny. The film uses vibrant colors and simple but effective character design to tell the tale, but what really makes Rooty Toot Toot a great film is the use of music to set the tone and the atmosphere of the movie. It creates an experience that is both a visual and aural treat. And Frankie seems to be borderline but I still like her character.

5. Quiet Please! (1945)
While Hanna and Barbera were making successful films involving their cat and mouse duo of Tom and Jerry, Tex Avery was working alongside them making utterly revolutionary films with his brand of fast-paced and madcap sense of humor. While it's never been stated I can't help but think that he may have somehow influenced Hanna and Barbera, and it is quite evident in Quiet Please!. This may be the funniest Tom and Jerry films out there, and I think it's because the gags have a distinctly Tex Avery feel to them. Even if he didn't, Quiet Please! is still a hilarious film that ranks up there as one of Tom and Jerry's best.

4. The Cat Concerto (1946)
While you can't talk about The Cat Concerto without mentioning the controversy between this film and Rhapsody Rabbit, it is doing The Cat Concerto a great disservice. It is, in my opinion, a much better film than Rhapsody Rabbit and the best Tom and Jerry film of all time. At least it's certainly my favorite. (Yey bias). The Cat Concerto combines both visual gags and the sort of combat-focused jokes that are found in Tom and Jerry films and combine them seamlessly in one entertaining package. The individual gags are hilarious, and they come together in one excellent package that serves as a climax to the series. And you can't deny the power of Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2!

3. Chip an' Dale (1947)
After the success of Squatter's Rights the year before, Disney took the chipmunk duo, gave them a set of personality that is similar to Warner Bros.'s Hubie and Bertie, and set them loose against the unsuspecting Donald Duck, their greatest star. And the rest as they say is history. Part of the reason this film ranks so high is because it was the first film in the Disney cartoon videotape that the impressionable little me watched to death 40 years after the film's release, and part of it is because it's such a darned good film, a evidenced by its Oscar nomination. The film features great jokes involving the interaction between Chip and Dale themselves as well as against their common foe. The gags are still funny after numerous showings, and the music is surprisingly great. It's a great combination of nostalgia and a darned good film!

2. Der Fuehrer's Face (1942)
As Disney's greatest star Donald Duck became the major driving force in propaganda films during World War II. He's been drafted into the army, fought the Japanese, and willingly paid taxes to beat the Axis. And yet his greatest film during the World War II era would have been the surreal propaganda film Der Fuehrer's Face. The film criticizes the Nazis by presenting life in Nutziland where swastikas adorn every corner of the world and living conditions are terrible, and it does so in a very humorous manner. And boy is it funny. The catchy song by Oliver Wallace is a blast by itself, but the foibles of poor Donald is worth a lot of laughs a well. While the buffoonery is shocking in light of the Nazis' crimes against humanity that is now well known, Der Fuehrer' Face is still an important piece of both American and animation history, and well worth celebrating.

1. Donald's Crime (1945)
Donald Duck became Disney's biggest star in the 1940s. He is selfish and mischievous, and audiences love watching him get what he deserved for his greed, but deep down he has a good heart. The battle between his reason and emotion becomes most evident in this great film. Donald is going on a date with Daisy but he hasn't the financial means to support it, and that leads to the subconscious decision to commit theft, and the guilt that rises afterward. While Reason and Emotion paints those as separate entities, they are all one being, and this film captures that perfectly, with the same voice egging Donald on and berating him for his actions. Yet what elevates Donald's Crime into the realm of masterpiece and my favorite Oscar nominated film 1942-1951 is the surrealistic journey that Donald goes through in the film. His guilt and shame are presented visually even before the money is spent, and his nighttime wanderings feature some of the most visually striking shots presented in a Disney film. While the film has come under some criticism as painting Donald as a more sympathetic character than he deserves, I feel that the film dares to go into the sort of depth that is rarely seen in animated films. And it goes down as one of my favorite films of all time, animated or not.

50 films, that's the most of any ten-year period, beating out 2002-2011 by one. Of course the two could be tied if Disney would ever stop being annoying and actually release Lorenzo. Maybe they'll do it for the film's 10th anniversary, but considering it took 15 years for Redux Riding Hood to get a low quality release, I highly doubt it. Anyways, the top spots are dominated by Disney and Tom and Jerry films, which may be a result of nostalgia. I grew up watching those films. I also grew up watching Tex Avery and Warner Bros films, but the real masterpieces I grew up watching don't get nominated for Oscars. For shame, AMPAS. For shame.

Highest ranked non-winner: Donald's Crime (1)*

*The third time that a top ranked film was not an Academy winner. And it's rough because in each of the three times the eventual winner all finished in the top ten so they're all great films. It's not like Luxo Jr. losing to A Greek Tragedy.

Lowest ranked winner: The Two Mouseketeers (50) - new record!
Number of winners in the top ten: Five (Der Fuehrer's Face, The Cat Concerto, Quiet Please!, Mouse Trouble, The Little Orphan)
Average rank of the ten winners: 20.7
Number of films that were my favorite in a year outside the top 10: Two [Jerry's Cousin (11), Reason and Emotion (19)]
The two films that were not my favorite in a year in the top 10: Quiet Please! (5), Tulips Shall Grow (7)
Highest average rank: 1942 and 1950 (16)*

*1950 didn't do pretty bad considering that none of the films placed in the top 10.

Lowest average ranking in a year: 1943 (35.3) - a new record!

The top 10 from 1942-1951

Other decades:

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