Oscar Animation: A Huff and a Puff (1933)

7 Jun

During the build-up to the Oscars back in February I posted a look back at the Best Animated Short category’s very first appearance at the Academy Awards on Spout. It was a lot of fun and you should read it (though it seems Disney has yanked two of the videos). So here’s the project: every Thursday I’ll round up the animated nominees that are available to watch online and re-evaluate the race. Watch along, and we’ll see the Academy’s taste change drastically from an obsession with Disney cartoons to the inevitable fascination with Pixar and Aardman.

To kick things off, here are the nominees from the 6th Academy Awards. As was the case the year before, two out of the three films so honored came right out of Disney Studios. Clearly head over heels, the Academy gave Walt this particular award every year from an entire decade. The lone non-Disney film up for the 1933 award was Universal’s The Merry Old Soul, facing off against the one-two punch of a Silly Symphony and a Mickey cartoon. On paper, it seems absurd: 8 years of a single studio dominating the award is a bit much. Yet just as Flowers and Trees really was far and away the best film in 1932, the second batch of animated nominees is further proof that Walt Disney not only pioneered American animation but produced some of the best cartoons ever to grace the silver screen. Continue reading

On Beauty and Commissioned Cinema: Luca Guadagnino’s Stunning “Here”

30 Jan

I am, admittedly, about a week late to this short. Here hit the web last Tuesday, which might have something to do with the lack of immediate effusive praise: Oscar nominations tend to hog all the attention, especially when it comes to those of us that spend our days writing about the movies. Unfortunate, because I would venture to claim that this 15 minute jewel from Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love) is plenty more attractive and tightly produced than many of the features up for this year’s Academy Awards. It’s a gorgeous and calmly reverential piece of commissioned work that absolutely entrances, further making the point that beauty really is entirely inexpressible in words.

Of course, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try out utmost. There’s an aesthetic perfection all over this film, not simply an enticing attribute but the entire point of the production. The Luxury Collection is a group of almost impossibly chic hotels and resorts under the Starwoods label, and their collaboration with Waris Ahluwalia is both out of love for art and a desire to showcase their properties to a wider audience. Here was shot at three of these hotels: The Equinox in Vermont, the Phoenician in Arizona and the Royal Hawaiian. They’re pretty stunning. Continue reading

Top of the Sundance Online Shorts

25 Jan

All of the nine shorts Yahoo and the Sundance Film Festival have put on the web are pretty good. It’s an impressive crop, and I’d say more consistent than a lot of the stuff festivals have put online in the last year. Yet in any batch of films a few rise to the top. I’ve rounded up the other seven, and the oddly consistent problem they have. Here are my two favorites and some gushing about why I think they’re absolutely worth your time.

Long Distance Information, by Douglas Hart

I suppose it doesn’t reflect too well on my attention span that one of my picks is the shortest film on the list, but oh well. While it may not be excellent because it cuts out before the eight minute mark, that comparatively small running time makes the brief screenplay even more noticeably tight. There’s not a single wasted second.

Writer/director Douglas Hart’s film is one of subtle relationship shifts. That applies not only to the emotional connections between the father and son at the center of the story, but also the physical structure of the set. Are these two rooms in the same building, or are they not on the same continent? Is this a tightly-knit family, or has it been years since they’ve spoken to each other? We spend the entire film changing our minds. Continue reading

Managing Cynicism: This Year’s Great Crop of Sundance Online Shorts

25 Jan

Maybe I’m a bit cynical. That’s not true. I’m excessively cynical. I could claim it comes naturally once you’ve seen too many movies, but that doesn’t seem like a good enough excuse. And the 2012 Sundance Film Festival’s online shorts are a perfectly illustrative example of why any exhausted approach to new movies is a bad idea.

American independent film has arguably hit a point of stylistic ferment. There’s a ton of exciting and innovative new work produced every year, but there’s also a growing list of aggravating indie film trends. Documentaries about cute old people doing something unexpected en masse, raucous banter-heavy family comedies, quirky teenagers that talk like cynical 30-somethings. It’s true that each of these styles initially caught on because of some genuinely excellent films, but that doesn’t make the inferior ones any less irritating. If I were to say “oh, it was just another bad Sundance movie” a lot of people would have a pretty clear stereotypical image, though it might vary based on the individual.

All of that drives the cynicism. You can sense a dreadful movie in its first few minutes; it’s so easy to put it into a box. Yet take heed! Apparently it doesn’t always work that way (I know, duh). Sometimes that instant recognition is right (see Jesus Henry Christ). But often it’s totally wrong. Seven of the nine Sundance online short films had me convinced for a good 1-3 minutes that they were going to be predictable and frustrating. Each one of them proved me wrong. Continue reading

Daily Short: Sylvester and Tweety in Birds Anonymous

2 Dec

As I noted yesterday in my round-up of the animated short Oscar shortlist, Warner Bros. is pushing hard for a nomination for their new Sylvester and Tweety short. I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat, which is playing in front of Happy Feet Two, would be the first Looney Tunes to go to the Academy Awards since 1963′s Now Hear This. Sylvester and Tweety themselves were nominated four times in the ’40s and ’50s, winning twice. I haven’t yet seen the new short, so I have no idea if it lives up to the extraordinary legacy of Warner Bros. cartoons at the Oscars, but I’m eager to find out.

In the meantime, let’s take a look back at the last time these two rambunctious pets made it to the podium. 1957′s Birds Anonymous would mark the fourth Oscar victory for the Looney Tunes series, and the second for a Sylvester and Tweety cartoon. It’s a wonderfully light-hearted spoof of the dark and often heavy-handed melodramas of the time, influenced by the growth and success of Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s also one of the most successful films Friz Freleng directed before Warner Bros. closed their animation studio in 1963, causing him to then start his own production company (DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, which would create The Pink Panther). Continue reading

Round-Up: Oscar Animated Shortlist!

1 Dec

Today the Academy announced the 10 animated shorts that have made it onto the shortlist for the Oscar, to be given out in February. Only three to five of these films will be nominated, but even getting this far is an incredibly exciting accomplishment. Therefore, instead of just copying out the list and moving on, let’s talk about them a bit.

Of course, at this point some of the films are easier to learn about than others. The Sylvester and Tweety short even has a For Your Consideration page, while others have almost no online presence. The ten look to be a nice blend of techniques, with representation from stop-motion, traditional and computer generated animation. There’s also a bit of an international presence, with films from Argentina, the UK, France and Poland. The always-present National Film Board of Canada also appears twice on the list. There are veterans of the industry (including former Oscar nominees) alongside very new filmmakers.

Only one of these shorts is available on the web and I haven’t caught any of them at festivals this year, so this’ll be a somewhat basic preview. However, as things become more available I’ll try reviewing them individually. Once I’ve seen them, anyway. For now, here’s a round-up with some trailers. Continue reading

Daily Short: Tilda Swinton in Depuis le jour

1 Dec

I must say that the most exciting thing about today’s National Board of Review announcement for me was the Best Actress honor for Tilda Swinton. Firstly, it’s refreshing when these groups shake things up a bit and keep the competition going. But more than that, I think Swinton is one of those actresses who enrich just about every conversation, Oscar season or otherwise. Her strength isn’t simply that she’s an extraordinarily talented actress, but that she chooses projects and collaborations that dare to enrich and extend art and cinema as a whole. Too many of the leading female performances raved about this awards cycle are in safe and uninteresting movies, which is never a problem for a Swinton picture.

But enough general gushing. Let’s go back to an early point in Swinton’s career, one of her very first film roles. A year after appearing in Caravaggio, her first collaboration with Derek Jarman, the director asked her to star in his contribution to 1987′s Aria (which I covered earlier this week, as a tribute to Ken Russell).  The music is the famous Depuis le jour from Gustave Charpentier’s Louise, a sweet ode to young love. It’s a gorgeously simple short from the often provocative director, as earnest in its beauty as the music itself. Continue reading

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