Thursday, October 27, 2016

Best Animated Short 2016 - Some Contenders

No, I swear that I'm not dead. I've just been busy with moving and starting a new residency and basically ignoring the Best Animated Short race. (I haven't even reviewed the animated documentary for a Best Documentary Short Film Oscar from last year.) But now comes the time where there is no more procrastinating. The Academy has selected their qualifying films, and they've screened these films for members of the Short Films and Animation branch. According to Cartoon Brew, 70 films have qualified for the Oscar this year. Sadly they don't have a list of all 70, but they do have a list of the top contenders, of which I'll showcase here. You know, instead of on Cartoon Brew.

A Spanish film that won the Goya award in a Spain. Only the trailer is available for now. Right now it reminds me kind of like Mark Osborn's More, which includes the assimilation of a worker in a lifeless world. Although the presence of an enthusiastic kid may make it different.

Analysis Paralysis
Analysis Paralysis is a technical term for people that are so busy trying to decide between two objects that nothing ever gets done. It sounds like something that describes my sisters and me. It is the subject of this short film where a man suffers from the same condition. The film is done in a way that uses markers and has a paper cutout look. It makes it look kind of cheesy, but we'll see what the real film gets. There is a way to watch it online via the Swiss Films database, but you have to be a journalist or work in the cinema distribution business to get access.

Blind Vaysha 
Poor Vaysha. She was born with eyes that can see into the past and the future but never the present. That perceptual distortion would undoubtedly lead to an inability to live. This film is by Theodore Ushev, whose film Gloria Victoria made it onto the shortlist in 2013 but didn't get a nomination. If you've seen that film then you know you're in mind-numbing territory.

Borrowed Time
Yes, you've most likely seen this film already. This film by two former Pixar animators made a splash on the festival scene, and then again online when it was posted in its entirety two weeks ago. This film tells the story of an old sheriff coming to terms with a traumatic event early in his life, and features some of the most realistic CG animation befitting of some Pixar animators. Can it go from Internet hit to an Oscar nomination? It has to get on the shortlist first.

Celui Qui a Deux Ames (He Who Has Two Souls) 
The transgender issue has become a hot button topic the past few months, and it's about a time that we get an animated film that explores the complicated issue. I've no idea if this is the film to do so since it's about an Inuit that has this struggle, but we can only hope. It looks to be fairly symbolic in nature.

"The world is a beautiful stage, but the casting is deplorable." At least that's all we really get about this film that is apparently meant to illustrate the absurdity of human life. I have no idea what to make of it based on its trailer, but Amid Amidi seems to swear by it.

Deer Flower
A little boy goes on a trip to a deer farm with his family. What he sees is going to change his life forever. This Korean/American co-production features some of the trippiest use of stop animation that I've seen. Based on what I've read on the site it seems to be largely autobiographical. It screened at SXSW, of which I'm only an hour away now. Maybe I should go to that one of these years.

The Empty
A woman loses everything and ends up in an empty room, where she experiences her old memories. This Korean/French co-production is done by Dahee Jeong, who won an Annecy Award back in 2014 for the film Man on the Chair (which was not shortlisted for the Oscar.) He didn't win for this film, but perhaps he'd have better luck at the Oscars. It features some interesting use of perspective as seen in the trailer, where it simulates a revolving camera by keeping the door in the center and everything happening around it. Who knows what the whole film will be like?

Erlkonig (Erlking)
A man goes riding in the forest with his son in tow. The son is fearful, for he sees and hears and feels the malevolent Erlking. His father tries to reassure him, but is it too late? Erlking is an adaptation of the famous Goethe poem based on the German-speaking folktale by the legendary Swiss animator Georges Schwizgebel, with music by Schubert and Liszt. Schwizgebel's name is not well known in the US, but he is a legend in Switzerland. He is known for his unique style, which can be best described as circular. He has the characters move around in circles, often with repetitions, and the camera moves in circles around it. It's a bit hectic, but also quite dazzling when you consider the whole thing is done by hand. He was shortlisted 10 years ago for his short film Jeu, but it was not nominated. Would the Academy finally reward him? This film is available to stream or buy at a cost.

Gaidot Jauno Gadu (Waiting for the New Year)
A lonely street cleaner writes a letter on the New Year, and then she spends a year waiting to see if the unknown recipient arrives at her doorstep. At least that's what I got from a short lookup of this Latvian film. We don't often get films from Latvia competing, especially in this category, so I hope there's some promise. 

Almost 50 years ago, an astronaut went into space. While he was in space, he lost a glove that he was wearing. This is the story of the glove. I was into space when I was younger, and I remember watching a video where an astronaut's glove went flying off into space. I thought it was an interesting story, but I never heard about it again. Apparently I wasn't the only person to hear this story, as a team of animators went about telling this story. It was online once upon a time, but alas it seems to have disappeared off the world of online. The animation appears a bit simple, but I am curious as to what the whole film will be like. It had won the animation jury prize at SXSW.

Go to City Ele
A little pig takes a trip to the City Ele. However, what seemed like it would be an idyllic little foray turns into the stuff of horrors, as the pig must go through not only a treacherous journey but also the worst kind of terror: discrimination. This is a film by the Chinese animator Wenyu Li. I don't see much Chinese films on the shortlist, but this film seems to mix colorful anthropomorphic animals with existentialist horrors, maybe one that is more playful than the dreary When the Day Breaks.

Happy End
With a title like Happy End, you know this is going to be a dark film, and the film's website seems to gleefully state that this is a film about death. Maybe it does have a happy ending. The animation seems to be a lot like the independent animation that you find on Cartoon Network back in the mid-1990s (the ones that are not Cartoon Cartoons or old Warner Bros/MGM films).

Une Tete Disparait (The Head Vanishes)
A woman decides to take a trip to the seaside. Unfortunately, she suffers from advanced dementia and what's left of her mind makes the trip something that she will never forget. This film is from the director of the film Edmund was a Donkey and was co-financed by the National Film Board of Canada, who hasn't won since Sunday and Wild Life in 2011. Can this be their year? The CG animation looks a bit simple, but we'll see how the film itself plays out. Dementia can be a touchy subject.

Inner Workings 
Inner Workings is the latest film by Disney. It tells the story of a man on his way to work and how he is torn between his pragmatic brain and his adventurous heart. It's designed to play in front of Moana, debuting this November, but it already received a few qualifying screenings. From what I can tell, it seems to do for the internal organs what Inside Out did for Riley's mind. It also seems to share a lot of common themes as their Oscar nominated Reason and Emotion (probably minus the WWII propaganda.) I can't really envision it being very original, but we'll see. It's probably guaranteed to be on the shortlist, though.

Journal Anime
Not much really to say about this one. Apparently the director seeks to "examine the darkness of contemporary global events" by taking news articles and animating them. As if we didn't already come to realize how screwed we are. I kid, this seems like an interesting thing, although I'm not sure how long the frenetic action can be sustained.

Kaputt / Broken - The Women's Prison at Hoheneck
Animation has long been an important medium for the documentary genre. It can be used to recreate events (as many of the NextMedia animation have shown) and can also be used to present an abstract look at the topic at hand. There have been a few animated films nominated for the Best Documentary Short award, such as Man Alive!, Donald in Mathmagic Land, The Colours of My Father, Sunrise Over Tiananmen Square, Last Day of Freedom (which I still have yet to watch and review) and a trio of Oscar winners: So Much for So Little, Neighbours and Why Man Creates. What does that have to do with this film? Nothing! Because this animated documentary on a notorious women's prison in Germany is competing in the Best Animated Short category! It uses animation to try to paint a picture of the horrors of the prison. Whether or not they're successful is still up in the air.

It's a rare case where the entire film is available online at the time the qualifying films are revealed, but this is one exception. This bizarre stop-motion puppet film tells the tale of a man who is in a "primal therapy" group. In this extremely stressful setting he regurgitates a miniature version of himself, one that is based on pure id. Together they run amok, but eventually he finds that debauchery has its price. This film was made in the prestigious National Film and Television School in the UK and was nominated for a BAFTA award. It has an interesting design where the characters are clearly puppets with visible rods in their hands. This design may be deliberate, as characters use the rods for specific purposes. I'm sure it's got a deeper meaning but for now I'm overwhelmed by its oddity.

Moms on Fire
Two best friends are pregnant and are close to their due date. They've been without sex for several months, but don't have anybody to do it with...until they find they do have a target: each other. This Swedish claymation film will undoubtedly be not for the kiddies, although that hasn't stopped the Academy from nominating these films. I'm not entirely sure what else to make of this.

In a world where memories are living beings attached to discarded objects to be released once they are forgotten, one memory remains behind, never letting go. It is up to another memory to try to help him be released from the burdens of the past. Or something like that. Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi were veteran animators who split off to form their own animation studio. Their first film The Dam Keeper received rave reviews and was even nominated for an Oscar, although it lost to Feast. They return for another film, this time tackling the subject of memories. It is done in full cGI rather than the cel-shaded look for their previous film. It's cute enough, but we'll see if the story holds up. Maybe they can go all the way this time.

Once Upon a Line
The competitors for the Best Animated Short are usually veteran animators, although there are ways for student directors to sneak their way into the race with the Student Academy Awards winners qualifying for the main race. This year one of these films to qualify this way is Once Upon a Line from USC's Alicja Jasina. It talks about two people that fall in love, but does so in a visually stunning way. It's a film where the design is simple but holds profound meaning. Or something like that.

Pear Cider and Cigarettes 
The Academy defines a short film as anything under 40 minutes. Most documentary and live action films usually come close to this 40-minute mark, but animated films usually runs a lot shorter. Once in a while, there will be a few films that come close to the 40-minute mark. Evidently this is one of those films. This film about a man sent on a mission to retrieve another man in China was funded through Kickstarter. I haven't paid the $5 to see the entire film yet, but from the trailer it looks like a visually stunning film with a lot of different stylistic influences. We'll see if that will get Academy's love, though.

Google Spotlight Stories was an interesting new concept in the field of animation. It was designed to be a film that can double as a 360 degree virtual reality experience. It was a bold idea, but it can serve a double meaning as the original film can be used to enter film festivals. One of the Spotlight Stories was Duet by former Disney animator Glen Keane. It was shortlisted for an Oscar, but ultimately did not get an animation. The director of the film that won that year, Patrick Osborne (for Feast), eventually left Disney and now made a Spotlight Story of his own. This one tells the story of a musical adventure that spans two generations as seen through a car (probably the titular Pearl.) This features the vocal talents of musicians Kelley Stoltz and Nicki Bluhm. The animation is pretty similar to what you see in Feast. Whether or not this can get an Oscar nomination for Spotlight Stories is yet to be seen.

Urban decay. It is the horrifying future of all great cities, when large cityscapes become abandoned, dilapidated, and left to the wind. Peripheria tells the story of one of these cities, when giant skyscrapers, once home to thousands of families, are now overrun by packs of wild dogs. It is the terrifying reality of the future of the human race. It's very easy to think that this will be our future.

Chances are you've seen this one as well, even if it's not available online. Piper is the Pixar film that played before Finding Dory, which just happens to be the highest grossing domestic animated film in the United States. (I'll admit I skipped it.) The film about a little sandpiper with the realistic animation captured hearts of millions of moviegoers around the world. It has been 15 years since Pixar's last win in the Best Animated Short category (for 2001's For the Birds), and you can bet Pixar is dying to win again. Can Piper be the film to take them to the promised land once again? We shall see.

Le Repas Dominical (Sunday Lunch)
Apparently this whole film is online, but it's in French with no subtitles, so it's like not being able to watch it at all. I mean, I'm able to watch the wild animation featuring a lot of symbolism, but without any subtitles I'm not able to make any heads or tails of it. It's got a lot of sexual imagery and it reminds me of a lot of those independent European films from the 1970s. Evidently it's about a young man discussing his family over a Sunday meal. And apparently he's gay. Hooray for LGBT issues!

India has perhaps the highest film output out of any countries in the world, but there's not much in its animation industry, especially the short film industry. Ishan Shukla is trying to change that, with this short film about the relationship between a senator and a prostitute, a relationship that could change the lives of everybody involved. This features some realistic animation, but I have no idea about the story yet.

Sous tes doigts (Under Your Fingers)
A young mixed-race French/Vietnamese girl mourning the death of her grandmother digs into her grandmother's treasure trove of memories. She uncovers an epic tale of romance and adventure, fraught with danger around every corner. It's easy to forget that the Vietnam War had started in the 1950s involving France, and this film explores the ugly legacy of that conflict from the viewpoint of the French. The animation is smooth and appealing. We'll just have to see how the rest of it is.

Stems is a loving tribute to the art of stop motion animation by detailing, in pixilation, the creation of a puppet to be used for animation. It is a two minute film, and yet it still only has a 30-second trailer. It won the BAFTA award, so there must be something to it.

Stick Man
Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler are a beloved authors (and illustrator) of children's book in Britain, and they have become quite familiar to fans of the Best Animated Short categories, as two adaptations of their works have picked up Oscar nominations: The Gruffalo and Room on the Broom. The latest adaptation of their work (from the same studio) focuses on their tale of a stick man that gets swept away from home, and his journey back. It's a cute film with the same animation style as the other previous nominees, but could it finally get the studio an Oscar?

The Tide Keeper 
No, this is not The Dam Keeper. It's The Tide Keeper. Environmental issues is becoming a hot topic that is frequently ignored by politicians, but filmmakers are around to remind everybody just how important of a topic this is. This film combines pixilation and puppetry to tell the story of an old seaman whose worst nightmare of environmental destruction can be found in his own home.

To Build a Fire
Jack London was a man's man from around the turn of the 20th century. He braved the elements in the Yukon Territory and from those experiences he wrote many classic novels, such as The Call of the Wild, White Fang, and To Build a Fire. The latter book tells the tale of an unfortunate man and his dog as they wander around the cruel Yukon winter, struggling for survival. Over 100 years after it was published, it was adapted to animation by a French animator and it struggles to achieve Oscar glory.

Yul et le Serpent (Yul and the Snake)
A little boy goes on a trip with his brother to make a deal with a shady character. While being left out, little Yul finds a snake that changes everything. At least that's what I get from the website and the trailer that I don't get because there are no subtitles. The animation is interesting with selective use of color to point out the significance of items, especially when compared with the otherwise drab brown. It won the prestigious Cartoon d'Or award so it must be pretty good.


Well...that's 33 of the qualifying films. According to Cartoon Brew there are 70 films, so that means there are 37 films that I hadn't been able to cover. (Considering these 33 films took me six hours alone to write, maybe it's a good thing.) These 70 films will be screened and in a few weeks the shortlist of 10 films will be announced, of which half of those will receive Oscar nominations. It's very likely that one or two of the shortlist will be from the 37 films that were not covered, but what can you do? When you do this as a hobby it's kind of hard to have the insider information of a full-time journalist like Amid Amidi. Nevertheless, I eagerly await the shortlist. Maybe until then I'll review Last Day of Freedom.

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