Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Academy Award Animated Shorts 2015

So this evening I took a page from sister's style of blogging and joined her in downtown SF to watch the nominees for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short. In the past I went ahead and watched, and ranked, every winning short - and generally I wait until after the awards, forgoing the nominating processes, and nominees. But I love animation, so I was certainly down to see them.

The first short on the docket was "Me and My Moulton". Norwegian animator Torill Kove makes another appearance, having won in 2007 for "The Danish Poet". That short film is a pleasant, reflective piece of nostalgic reminiscing and story-telling. This year's entry is rather different. There is more humor, and of a broader sort. It deals with three girls whose father is an architect and whose mother buys them clothes from Finland. It's fun, and funny. Artistically - just in terms of line and color - it is difficult to judge. The aesthetic fits the story, but lacks some of the distinction that made "The Danish Poet" stick out in my mind.

Next we saw "Feast" - this year's Disney offering. A few years ago Disney won the award with "Paperman", their 40-year comeback piece. Last year they entered "Get a Horse!" which did not win. "Paperman" was directed by John Kahrs, and "Feast" is directed by Patrick Osborne and Kristina Reed. Yet despite different directors, "Feast" feels, essentially, the same as the 2012 winning submission. "Feast", again, has a broader humor, and visually is different - moving away from the black and white choices of the past two years to full color. Further, "Feast" takes a more Pixar feel by placing critical detail int he background. (Pixar, incidentally, hasn't been up for an award since 2011, and last won in 2001.) And yet, and yet, and yet... It's still a sappy-ish love story.

Third up was "The Bigger Picture" from the UK. This is an impressive feat. The animation is relatively unique (I'd never seen anything like it, my sister claims having seen an analog) - by painting full-size murals on the wall, and using stop motion when something needs to exist on a third plane. At the start of the film they had fun with the innovation technique, but midway through focused entirely, it seemed, on the story. The story was not particularly fulfilling, or interesting - two grown brothers look after their aging mother, one is upright but unmotivated, the other a cad with ambitions, and so forth. It's handled alright, but it did start to drag, despite a 7 minute length.

Penultimately we saw "A Single Life", credited by the Academy to Joris Oprins, from the Netherlands. With a very short running time this tells a quick, amusing story. The conceit is not new, and the animation is not striking - with a typical 3D look to it. It had amusing moments, and the ending was bold, but in all there was little to offer with this somewhat repetitive film (that is, a style that's not engaging, humor that's not too intelligent, and themes that have time and again received Academy nods in this field.)

Fifth and finally, there was "The Dam Keeper" by Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi from the US. In 2008 a similar sort of film won, from France, called "La Maison en Petits Cubes". There's a foreboding, almost apocalyptic sense in the background. In "Maison" the sea-level has clearly risen to become almost uninhabitable; in "The Dam Keeper" there is a mysterious black smoke that, unless the dam windmill is kept running, will enter the valley below. The dam keeper is just a child, and deals with regular child problems beyond having to keep the valley safe. The animation, though, is very well done - and finally acknowledges a style (it was done with 8,000 paintings) that has been long admired in the animation world, but seemingly unworthy for consideration by the Academy. Beautifully done, but unfortunately the story, again, is a bit of a drag at 18 minutes.

So. Who should win?

Honestly, with the exception of "A Single Life" I don't mind. What "The Dam Keeper" and "The Bigger Picture" lack in story-telling efficacy they more than make up in visual appeal. "Feast" is a wee bit trite, but I kept laughing throughout. "Me and My Moulton" covered new ground for Torill, despite having already won for, in my estimations, a better film. I guess, if I had to choose, I'd go with "The Bigger Picture" just base dont he sheer novelty of the style, and as an encouragement for others to approach animation differently.

Post Script

There were other animated shorts included, although not nominated. I'll deal with them in brief.

First: Sweet Cocoon. I did not care for this drawn-out joke of a fat lady caterpillar trying to squeeze into her cocoon. The ending, albeit amusing, wasn't sufficiently original to justify the first six minutes.

Second: Footprints. I like Bill Plympton, but gosh is he a required taste for his animation. Something like if 'Zap Comics' became a little more surreal?

Third: Duet. Cheesy as all heck, but admittedly very well animated - nothing too special. Didn't run too long, though. Reminiscent of 1940s Disney.

Fourth: Bus Story. Amusing, vacillates between twee and outright morbid, so something for everyone, I guess. I swear I've seen other things by the director 'Tali', but can't think of any. Perhaps it's just the recognizable NFB brand of Canada.

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