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Oscar cosplays as 1964 Best Picture winner, "My Fair Lady"

The Beat’s Annual Guide to Winning the Osca® Pool: Best Animated Shorts 2014

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Oscar cosplays as 1964 Best Picture winner “My Fair Lady” From a poster designed by Olly Moss.

Once again, Hollywood confabulates and celebrates the best of motion picture arts and sciences March 2, at the 86th Academy Awards.  Among the many awards will be two showcasing the best in animation: Animated Feature Film and Short Film Animated.  Many people have seen the feature films (or had a chance to…dunno how many actually saw “The Wind Rises”, which officially opens February 21), but few get a chance to watch the animated shorts, as they are usually screened only at film festivals.

So, we offer the following analysis, for those who take the Oscars as seriously as others follow the Super Bowl or Final Four.  (Read my next post for  a system for voting on the other categories.)

If you would like to watch them, Magnolia Films and ShortsHD have once again created anthology screenings of the nominees as well as notable also-rans.  Check your local indie movie theater.  Here in NYC, IFC and BAM are showing the film.  Many of them are also available via Amazon and iTunes.

Here are the rules, with special notice for animated shorts (19.II.A):

Animated Short Film
An animated film is created by using a frame-by-frame technique, and usually falls into one of the two general fields of animation: character or abstract.  Some of the techniques of animating films include cel animation, computer animation, stop-motion, clay animation, pixilation, cutouts, pins, camera multiple pass imagery, kaleidoscopic effects, and drawing on the film frame itself.  Documentary short subjects that are animated may be submitted in either the Animated Short Film category or the Documentary Short Subject category, but not both.

(Yeah, I’d love to see an animated documentary!)  (Hey!  There was one!)  What’s especially cool is that a student can qualify by winning a gold medal in the Student Academy Awards!  (The Gold Medal winners for 2013 were Lindsey St. Pierre and Ashley Graham (and Kate Reynolds) of Ringling College of Art and Design for DIA DE LOS MUERTOS.

Any member of the Academy who has seen all nominees may vote in this category.  The Annie Awards are not a guild award (membership in ASIFA is open to the general public), and failed to nominate the 2011 Academy Award winner.  So there isn’t a simple touchstone for selecting the winner…I usually go with whichever one moved me the most, and/or had amazing technique.

The nominees:

Daniel_Sousa_Fable_01Feral (Daniel Sousa, USA, 13 min.) A wild boy is found in the woods by a solitary hunter and brought back to civilization. Alienated by a strange new environment, the boy tries to adapt by using the same strategies that kept him safe in the forest.
 
Analysis: The movie is silent, and has a wonderful style.  However, it didn’t touch me in any particular way. 
 
getahorse3Get a Horse (Lauren MacMullan, USA, 6 min.) Walt Disney Animation Studios’ innovative new short “Get A Horse!” is a contemporary homage to the first animated shorts featuring Mickey Mouse, with all-new, black-and-white, hand-drawn animation that’s paired with full-color, 3D, CG filmmaking—in the same frame. Mickey (voice of Walt Disney), his favorite gal pal Minnie Mouse and their friends Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle Cow delight in a musical haywagon ride—until Peg-Leg Pete shows up and tries to run them off the road. This groundbreaking short takes a sharp turn when Mickey finds himself separated from Minnie and must use every trick up his sleeve to find his way back to her. Directed by Lauren MacMullan and produced by Dorothy McKim, “Get A Horse!” is in theaters in front of “Frozen”.
 
Analysis: This is the front-runner, having won the Annie Award earlier this month.  Screened before “Frozen” (which is the favorite of the Animated Feature Oscar), it is the most watched of the nominees.  The 1930s style surprised me (I thought it was an archival print), and the resulting gimmick was delightful.  MacMullan takes the old (including Mickey Mouse dialogue performed by Walt Disney!) and merging it with the new, and then flipping and turning it into a riotous melange! 
 
MrHublot_SC087_ZEILTMr. Hublot (Laurent Witz, Luxembourg/France, 11 min.) Mr Hublot lives in a world where characters are made partially of mechanical parts, driving huge vehicles, rub shoulders with each other. A world where the giant scale of machines and the relentless use of salvaged materials reign supreme. A withdrawn, idiosyncratic character with OCD, Mr Hublot is scared of change and the outside world. His solution: he doesn’t step foot outside his apartment! The arrival of the dog Robot Pet will turn his life upside down: he has to share his home with this very invasive companion…
View here (if your territory allows)
Analysis: Filmed in stop motion, with an impressive set design, and a bit of ambiguity about the main character and the world he inhabits.  It’s a nice story, well made, but didn’t touch me. 
tsukumoPossessions (Tsukumo) (Shuhei Morita, Japan, 14 min.) The 18th Century. On a stormy night, deep in the mountains, a man has lost his way and comes across a small shrine. When he enters, the space suddenly turns into a room in a different world. One after another appear abandoned umbrellas, discarded kimonos, and such spectral things. The man painstakingly mends these paraphernalia, which harbor deep-seated bitterness, and brings them comfort. “How well you served people before you turned to rags. Your rest is earned.”
 
Analysis: This part of a larger anthology feature titled “Short Peace”.  The CGI is integrated well with the traditional 2-D animation.  The story is straight-forward, with some humor and drama.    I’d place this second.
Room-on-the-Broom-37_gang-see-Witch-and-Dragon-chase-585x329Room on the Broom (Max Lang & Jan Lachauer, UK, 25 min.) A half hour animated film based on the wonderful children’s picture book written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler. Room On The Broom is a magical tale about friendship and family from Magic Light Pictures, the producers of the hugely successful The Gruffalo and The Gruffalo’s Child. A story about a kind witch who invites a surprising collection of animals to join her on her broom, much to the frustration of her cat. The gang ultimately saves the witch from a fearsome dragon, and in gratitude she rewards them with a magnificent new broom which has room for everyone. Featuring the voices of Gillian Anderson (Witch), Rob Brydon (Cat), Martin Clunes (Dog), Sally Hawkins (Bird), Simon Pegg (Narrator), Timothy Spall (Dragon), David Walliams (Frog).
Analysis:  Magic Light is best known for their two Gruffalo shorts.  This is similar in style: another children’s picture book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler is animated with charm and a little drama.  (The squirrel from the Gruffalo makes a brief cameo.)  It aired on BBC One as their Christmas Day special, and is similar to the American spcials produced by Chuck Jones: well-crafted, suitable for family viewing, with not much to upset anyone.  Enjoyable, well-cast, but a long shot.
In addition to the five nominees above, the program also includes the following highly commended additional shorts:
A La Francaise

Official site

Analysis: Imagine the court of Versailles, with chickens.  Add in various site gags, a comedy of errors, and the general silliness of chickens in period costumes, and one will see an enjoyable, funny cartoon.  

 
Missing Scarf (7 min)

Analysis:  Narrated by George Takei!  “On a quest to find his missing scarf, Albert the squirrel unearths problems far beyond his own.”  Once you stop laughing at the ending, you will go “oh myyyy”!  This is the sort of cartoon the National Film Board of Canada once produced, before their budget was slashed.  Instead, we have the Irish Film Board to thank!  
Blue Umbrella (6 min)

Analysis: I thought this had screened in 2012, but actually, it was attached to “Monsters University”.  It is a romantic and heart-warming story of two umbrellas who meet by chance on a crowded rainy street in a metropolis.  The CGI is real enough to make you believe that this is a hybrid, and it is shocking that Pixar did not receieve a nomination, the first time since… 2000 that Pixar did not receive a nomiation for either animated short or feature.  (Did Disney/Pixar lock this short in the attic so that Mickey Mouse had a better chance at a nomination?  Was it submitted for consideration?)

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On November 7, the Academy announced their ten finalists.  Here’s the PR, with embedded links for the un-nominated shorts.

BEVERLY HILLS, CA —The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences today announced that 10 animated short films will advance in the voting process for the 86th Academy Awards. Fifty-six pictures had originally qualified in the category.The 10 films are listed below in alphabetical order by title, with their production companies:

“Feral,” Daniel Sousa, director, and Dan Golden, music and sound design (Daniel Sousa)

“Get a Horse!” Lauren MacMullan, director, and Dorothy McKim, producer (Walt Disney Feature Animation)

“Gloria Victoria,” Theodore Ushev, director (National Film Board of Canada)

Gloria Victoria par Theodore Ushev, Office national du film du Canada

Hollow Land,” Uri Kranot and Michelle Kranot, directors (Dansk Tegnefilm, Les Films de l’Arlequin and the National Film Board of Canada)

“The Missing Scarf,” Eoin Duffy, director, and Jamie Hogan, producer (Belly Creative Inc.)

“Mr. Hublot,” Laurent Witz, director, and Alexandre Espigares, co-director (Zeilt Productions)

“Possessions,” Shuhei Morita, director (Sunrise Inc.)

Requiem for Romance,” Jonathan Ng, director (Kungfu Romance Productions Inc.)

Requiem for Romance from Jonathan Ng on Vimeo.

“Room on the Broom,” Max Lang and Jan Lachauer, directors (Magic Light Pictures)

“Subconscious Password,” Chris Landreth, director (National Film Board of Canada with the participation of Seneca College Animation Arts Centre and Copperheart Entertainment)

Subconscious Password by Chris Landreth, National Film Board of Canada

The Academy’s Short Films and Feature Animation Branch Reviewing Committee viewed all the eligible entries for the preliminary round of voting at screenings held in New York and Los Angeles.
Short Films and Feature Animation Branch members will now select three to five nominees from among the 10 titles on the shortlist. Branch screenings will be held in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco in December.

My Picks:

Best Animated Feature: Frozen

Best Animated Short Film: Get A Horse!

4 COMMENTS

  1. I saw these last week, had a blast, wonderful animated shorts. My faves were Room on the Broom and Blue Umbrella.

    I definitely plan to see these every year they show them in theatres…

  2. I was surprised that “A La Francaise” didn’t go for the obvious joke and have the king chicken get his head cut off. I mean, it’s set in France, birthplace of the guillotine and, come on, what’s more visual than a chicken with his head cut off….
    Or maybe that would have been too gruesome.

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