Saturday, February 6, 2016
Best Animated Short - 2015
Well, it's that time of year again, time for me to stop ignoring my blog and actually write something for once. With all but one of the nominees seen and reviewed, I'm at the point where I'd either have to write some content about topics that are not related to this category or wait around for the nominees every year. So far I've been too lazy to write original content, so I'm just waiting around for the nominees, and now comes the point where I can't delay any longer and write the review, because I finally seen all of the nominees.
I was hoping I'd be able to watch all the nominees before having to rely on the nominated short film showings, which is two hours away from me. Using some sleuthing skills (namely searching on Google Video for people willing to sacrifice their YouTube or DailyMotion accounts to upload the films) and going in to watch The Good Dinosaur, I had managed to see four of the five nominees before the showings came to Texas. Alas, there was one film that I was unable to find online, so I had to make the two hour drive to complete the set. And now that I've seen all of the films, there is no excuse for me to avoid writing this review. So here we go, the Oscar nominated animated short films for 2015
A Christmas Carol, and then a Best Visual Effects and an honorary Oscar for his work on Who Framed Roger Rabbit? He is probably best known for his unfinished masterpiece The Thief and the Cobbler, a film that was so mind-blowing in execution that the studios couldn't help but tinker with it and ruin it, turning it into the mangled The Princess and the Cobbler. Twenty years after that fiasco, Richard Williams is finally back to make a film that he's wanted to make almost his entire life, which turned out to be Prologue. The film opens with close-ups of colored pencils that were sharpened and put into action, which is highly reminiscent of Dusan Vukotic's Oscar-nominated anti-war classic Igra (The Game). However, the styles of the film themselves couldn't have been more different. While Igra uses simple stick figures to mimic the style of children's drawings, Williams has been pushing the boundaries of what can be done with animation throughout his career, and he wasn't about to stop now. Prologue captures the expression of complex emotions of its characters and the illusion of complex camera work all using hand-drawn animation. True, backgrounds are virtually non-existent, but it doesn't really matter as the film features some of the most realistic character design and level of detail that is hardly seen in animation, even in Disney's old Silly Symphony films that were known for its detail. However, while the animation is dazzling, the film's themes are a little bit more opaque. The title itself is not entirely explained. While everybody probably has their own theories about what Prologue indicates (I have my own, but I'll let you come up with your own when you watch the film), but it does seem like the film has an anti-war message with the depiction of graphic violence. True, the violence is nothing more than blood that spill out of stab wounds, but when you have characters that realistic you do start to feel the human element of the war. And that doesn't even get into the actual humanistic aspect of the film. The film's sound is populated by natural sound effects and grunts that adds to the feel of the film. At any rate, Prologue is a film from a master of animation that serves both as a message film and a technological showcase.
Sanjay's Super Team
We Can't Live Without Cosmos
Lavatory Lovestory, The film's title refers to a book that the two main characters read while they anticipate their flight, one that serves as a symbol of their goal of going into space. While the film is ostensibly about space, in reality the film appears to be about the power of friendship. The film is essentially divided into two halves, the first showing the strength of the main characters' bond as they dominate the rest of the field while the second addresses the challenges that they face after the incident. (I'm not going to mention what the incident is, but it is rather predictable, or at least I called it from the first time I read what the film was about.) The film's mood changes rather drastically between the first and second halves, where the first half is more light-hearted and funny while it becomes more somber in the second half. The contrast in the film's mood is somewhat drastic but does lend to the emotional effect. If you saw Lavatory Lovestory then you know that Bronzit utilizes a somewhat simplified animation style. We Can't Live Without Cosmos is quite similar. It has more detail than Lavatory Lovestory and has some nice use of special effects, but nobody is going to compare it to something like Prologue. The simplistic character design does somewhat clash with the intensity of the film's second half, but in some ways the difference between the animation style and the more sobering feel adds to the emotional gravity of the film. There is no dialogue, but the tender music does well in adding to the emotion. With Lavatory Lovestory Konstatin Bronzit establishes himself as somebody that isn't going to knock your socks off with superior animation but tells a good story with plenty of emotion, and We Can't Live Without Cosmos continues that tradition.
World of Tomorrow
Rejected. He had build a name for himself with his deceptively simple art style that he pairs with dazzling camera work and practical special effects. He had long resisted entering the realm of digital animation, but finally succumbed to the pressure and purchased a tablet, which he used to make two short films as practice. One was a memorable but highly bizarre couch gag for The Simpsons, while the second became the Oscar nominated short film that I am reviewing right now. World of Tomorrow has the same simplistic character animation with stick arms and dot eyes that has become a feature of all of Hertzfeldt's work. However, he combines it with some special effects that can be done pretty much only on a computer. Many of the background effects in the Simpsons couch gag are present in World of Tomorrow. The animation style is part of the Hertzfeldt charm and is quite effective, although I will say that the characters are drawn with their top teeth showing, and that often times make the characters look like they have pig's snout. But I digress.
What really makes World of Tomorrow special is not the animation style, but the themes. One major aspect of Hertzfeldt's work is not just the animation style, but the themes that he explores in his films, themes that often include death, loneliness, and the meaning of life. These are themes that were addressed in Hertzfeldt's It's Such a Beautiful Day and they are present here. The world of tomorrow that Hertzfeldt paints is quite a dismal place. While the users have perfected time travel and cloning, it comes at the cost of the characters' emotional well-being and sense of connection. People don't think twice about falling in love with inanimate objects and try to reason out what they are feeling. These are topics that have been addressed before, but the issues hit harder in this film, with much more profound truths than you might expect from an animated film. Fans of Rejected expecting another film with non-sequitur humor are sure to be disappointed. Oh, there is humor, and many of it is random, but for every laugh in World of Tomorrow you get a gut punch feeling of sadness and despair. This is macabre film. Much of the film's humor comes from the interaction between Emily and Emily Prime, who were voiced wonderfully by Julia Pott and Winona Mae respectively. Pott is an animator behind films such as Belly, which qualified for the Oscar back in 2012. She perfects the deadpan delivery perfect for a character like Emily that is trying to figure out her emotions. Meanwhile, Winona Mae is Hertzfeldt's young niece, who was recorded playing and conversing with her uncle a la the Hubleys in Moonbird and Windy Day. Emily Prime's innocence contrasts well with Clone Emily's worldliness and injects the film with humor and pathos. It will break your heart but you will laugh doing it. World of Tomorrow is a rare film that will make you stop and contemplate your way of life. It is as much edifying as it is entertaining, and that is a sign of a great film.
Well here we go. The Best Animated Short nominees from 2015. This is a very solid lineup. Each film is terrific and would be deserving winners any other year. You might have to go all the way back to 1995 before you get to a year where all of the nominees were great. However, while all of the nominees were great 20 years ago, there was one that stood out in A Close Shave. Similarly, while all of the nominees this year are great, there is one that stands out and from how much I wrote about it you can probably tell it is World of Tomorrow. Maybe I'm biased, but that film stands so far ahead of the others that it's almost unfair, except I don't think that it has a chance of winning. As much as I love this category, I'm not usually very good at predicting the winner as the Academy hadn't followed any sort of a pattern. But it's pretty clear that World of Tomorrow is too bleak and dreary to appeal to the Academy.
As far as who the winner will be, Sanjay's Super Team had been the front-runner back before the longlist was announced, and it's still seen as the front-runner now. I'm not quite as optimistic about its chances. It has been 14 years since Pixar last won (in 2001 with For the Birds), and while some people feel that voting for the Indian film will be a way for the Academy to battle the recent diversity controversy, I think the presence of a different religion might be a turnoff for the more conservative Academy. I'm actually going on a limb and thinking Prologue, not only because it was the last film I've seen (having to travel two hours to watch it), but also because of the remarkable technological achievement that Richard Williams achieves. But who knows? I'm just a lowly blogger of something I don't actually know that much about, and I'm dictated by my biases like everybody else. But we shall see.
My rankings (by quality)
World of Tomorrow > Sanjay's Super Team > Prologue > We Can't Live Without Cosmos > Bear Story
My rankings (by preference)
World of Tomorrow > We Can't Live Without Cosmos > Sanjay's Super Team > Bear Story > Prologue