Tag Archives: oscar race

Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts: You Be the Judge

Gromit in A Matter of Loaf and Death

Today has been an extremely eventful day and only now do I have some time to reflect on what happened. Don’t worry people, I will let you know on Monday what happened when everything is for sure. I certainly do not want to jinx it until then.
On that note, I was able to catch the Oscar nominated shorts today at a program at the Nuart in West LA and I wanted to share my thoughts on what was statue-worthy and what was truly bad. After watching so many short films these past couple of weeks, I am starting to feel more confident in my judging abilities. It still remains to be seen whether I can make a successful short, but ideas are stirring. The nominees are:

French Roast (France)
Director: Fabrice Joubert

This was a cute (almost silent) flick about a hoity-toity man who forgets his wallet at a restaurant. Chaos ensues when the bill comes and he must figure out how to pay up. I won’t give anything away but it involves nuns, bank robbers, and the homeless. Joubert has a whimsical, kinetic approach to the short film, which I appreciated, but I felt his plotting left a couple loose ends that could have been addressed in the movie’s eight minutes. Watch it here.

A Matter of Loaf and Death (UK)
Director: Nick Park

OK, here’s my Oscar pick. If you love Wallace and Gromit like me, you have to get your hands on this thirty-minute short; it is absolutely perfect. Filled with soulfulness, wit, and grace, this movie may be half an hour, but it felt like five minutes, I got that caught up. Long story short: Wallace, now working as a baker, falls in love with a serial killer. Park is able to capture the drama, the whimsy, and the energy of the best classic animated shorts. Think one of those classic forties domestic Mickey shorts meets British sensibilities—a must see.

Logorama (France)
Directors: François Alaux and Herve de Crecy

I really liked the concept of this film, a decaying Los Angeles overtaken by corporate insignia, but I felt the execution was a little off. What could have been a truly fun movie to watch was instead sidetracked by needless ornamentation. I felt like I spent sixteen minutes in Times Square. When you make a point in a film and people get it, then it’s OK to move on. I love the graphic design, the animation is perfection, but style is heavily championed over substance, and it shows in this film. Watch this flick here.

Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty (Ireland)
Director: Nicky Phelan

This film tells a simple story of a very scary Irish granny telling a bedtime story to a truly terrified girl. Sleeping Beauty takes on epic proportions as we begin to realize that the granny is in fact the evil witch from the story, and then, well, I won’t give away the rest. I thought Kathleen O’Rourke did a superb job as Granny O’Grimm; she certainly frightened me (although I’m an easy scare). I thought that the plot left something to be desired; we really needed more than six minutes to see a real story arc—all we get here is a truncated story. See it here.

The Lady and the Reaper (Spain)
Director: Javier Recio Gracia

Loved the movie and loved the concept; this is truly a sleeper in this year’s pool of nominated shorts. Gracia tells the story of an older woman who really wants to die, but is frustratingly saved by a hunky surgeon. The push and pull between the Grim Reaper and the surgeon is so much fun to watch. This tug-of-war offers so much action, so much movement that it reminds me of the best of Tex Avery. Guys, this is a must see. Watch here.

Now that I provided the links, check them out and let me know what you think in the comments. I won’t begrudge you the eleven dollars you saved either, because I got to see Wallace and Gromit!

Why Up Deserves an Oscar

The Best Movie of 2009?

I think Up deserves an Oscar. Not only is it the best animated picture of the year, it is one that convinced me that digital animation is a formidable medium that I would be well-served to accept. What I really liked about Up is that although a children’s film, its message of life after death is actually quite grown up, and not in the grown up, slyly winking style of a Wes Anderson Fantastic Mr. Fox but grown up in the fact that the movie’s themes are presented elegantly and simply, at once entertaining and on-message. Are children’s movies the next adults between 18 and 49 genre? I do not know, but Up makes a good argument for.

This idea is funny, because Up really does not have any characters from that demographic. Think about it, Carl is a senior citizen and Russell is a pre-adolescent boy, a tween in Disney-speak (thankfully without the obnoxious Hannah Montana baggage). The only adults are the cell-phone carrying architects who are trying to evict Carl from his home. You could argue that it is the mere absence of adults that marks this film—Russell’s dad is negligent, the medical techs who come to take Carl to Shady Oaks simpering, and Carl’s wife Ellie dead. Is director Peter Docter doing away with adults for a reason? Are they artifacts of a meshugge generation, one whose main aim beyond technology is money? Do they know as much about life as old people and children?

By all appearances from the plot, this is an adventure. Newlyweds Carl and wife Ellie picks a point on the globe, South America (“Just like America, but south” according to Russell) remote enough to not be bothered, to travel to one day when they have the money. Unfortunately, Ellie dies (again, very un-Disney) and Carl is left alone. A balloon vendor, Carl ties up thousands of balloons to his home and takes off one morning after assaulting a contractor come to take over his house and build an office on top of it. Unlikely but equally unfortunate, a young boy, Russell hitches along for the ride. At Paradise Falls, they find a crazed explorer Charles Muntz, bent on discovering a rare bird. Chaos ensues as Carl and company find the aptly named she-bird “Kevin” first.

Here’s the ironic part to the adventure—it’s essentially pointless. Oh, sure, they save Kevin and meet a loveable golden named Dug, but there is no intrinsic value to the adventure. In fact, the only thing Carl learns is that his wife’s adventure book is already quite full. Under “Things I’m Going to Do” are photos from the couple’s marriage. It was his promise to Adventure with her, yet he finds that that promise was not broken.

OK, before you throw Dorothy’s “there’s no place like home” at me—I don’t find this message hackneyed. Think about it, the balloon-home is unable to be rescued; in the final scene it rests on the cliff of Paradise Falls. The house, the dream, the wife is gone. All that remains is a scrapbook with a couple of memories from a mundane and childless marriage. We can rightly assume Carl is assigned to Shady Oaks after returning to the city—he could even be on probation for assaulting the contractor. Russell’s dad does not show up for his “Wilderness Explorers” ceremony. Review that awards ceremony scene at the end—have you seen a more depressing pay-off in a movie? In a kids’ movie for gosh sake? I have never seen a bigger tent-pole movie with such a humble message—enjoy the things you have because they will turn into memories.

Yet according to Up those memories need to sustain us. Look at Muntz. In his quest to find the bird, whatever it is, he loses out on a lifetime of memories, instead retreating into himself and his madness. This is what happens when you try to hold onto things—you end up losing everything else.

So, in the end, Up is a winsome piece of fluff. The story is exciting, the characters warm and fun, but like Prospero’s midnight mushrooms, they are of no weight, no purpose, their only object being to send a wispy message: Enjoy life when you can.

A pretty subversive message coming from a Silicon Valley media conglomerate that makes pablum for kids, huh? All I can say is I am glad I was there for the ride.