Saturday, February 27, 2010

2010 Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts


Animated Shorts Program (80 minutes)
@ The Charles Theatre

In the lead-up to the March 7, 2010 Academy Awards TV broadcast, Baltimore's Charles Theatre is currently screening Shorts International's "The Oscar-Nominated Short Films 2010" film program. In years past, I've attended both the live-action and the animated film shorts programs, but this year I went strictly with animation as I find that it's usually the stronger of the two programs and, well, animation is still the red-headed stepchild of shorts in today's Gen YouTube. And besides, live-action is all around us while animation is breaking new ground every day of the new digitized Millennium.

At least three out of the five nominated shorts could take home the Oscar with no argument from me (while French Roast and Granny O'Grimm are both excellent, unfortunately they're punching above their weight against the other three in this year's running), but for my two cents worth, Nick Park's latest Wallace and Gromit adventure, A Matter of Loaf and Death, looks likely to continue Aardman Animation Studio's Oscar nom/win streak alive with a perfect 6 for 6 record; for, like Michael Jordon, they seem to win every "final" they reach: 1991 Best Animated Short for Creature Comforts (actually beating out another Park film, A Grand Day Out with Wallace and Gromit!); 1994 Best Animated Short for Wallace & Gromit in the Wrong Trousers; 1996 Best Animated Short for Wallace and Gromit in a Close Shave; 2006 Best Animated Feature Film for Wallace and Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

(By the by, together with the theatrical run, the nominated short will also be available in iTunes Stores starting today, March 2.)

*** AND THE NOMINEES ARE... ***

OK, for what it's worth, here are my picks for the best of the animated fest:



1. WALLACE AND GROMIT IN "A MATTER OF LOAF AND DEATH"
Dir. Nick Park (UK, 2008, 30 minutes)

Wallace and Gromit have a brand new "dough-to-dough" delivery business. The conversion of 62 West Wallaby Street is complete and impressive, the whole house is now a granary with ovens and robotic kneading arms. Huge mixing bowls are all over the place and everything is covered with a layer of flour. On the roof is a "Wallace patent-pending" old-fashioned windmill. The transformation is perfect. Although business is booming, Gromit is concerned by the news that 12 local bakers have "disappeared" this year - but Wallace isn't worried. He's too distracted and "dough-eyed" in love with local beauty and bread enthusiast, Piella Bakewell, to be of much help. While they enjoy being the "Toast of the Town," Gromit, with his master's life in jeopardy, must be the sleuth and solve the escalating murder mystery before the tally reaches a Baker's Dozen - in what quickly becomes a "Matter of Loaf and Death."

Just when you think you've heard every bread and baking pun imaginable, you see the end credits listing Nick Park's real-world writing partner, one Bob Baker. Can't make this stuff up!

Oh, and I didn't make the connection at the time but, as my friend Dave Cawley later pointed out, the hilarious "I've got a bomb in my pants!" scene is actually a direct reference to the "Sometimes you just can't get rid of a bomb!" sequence in the 1966 Batman movie. Actually, there are loads of classic film references throughout the short, not least of which are the frequent winks to Hitchcock and, of course, Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?

Watch the "A Matter of Loaf and Death" trailer (YouTube).


2. THE LADY AND THE REAPER (La Dama y La Muerte)
Dir. Javier Recio Gracia (Spain, 2009, 8 minutes)

A clear winner in any other year, Javier Recio Garcia's computer-animated La Dama y La Muerte wordlessly tells the story of a sweet old lady who is waiting for the arrival of death so she can meet her dearly departed husband again. One night, while sleeping, her life fades out and she is invited to cross death's door. Bue when she is about to do so, the old lady wakes up inside a hospital's ward: and arrogant doctor has taken her back to life and he will fight hard against death to recover the old lady's life at any cost. Co-produced by Mr. Melanie Griffith, Antonio Banderas, it's been compared to Ingmar Bergman's "The Seventh Seal re imagined as a Merrie Melodie" cartoon, which is as apt a description as any I can come up with.

Watch The Lady and the Reaper (YouTube):


3. LOGORAMA
Dir. Nicolas Schmerkin (English, 17 min.)

Hi-larious and seditiously snarky, I'd give it top props in any other year that didn't include a Wallace and Gromit short and The Lady and the Reaper because, despite the brilliance of the concept and the high-tech artistry of the execution, it still is pretty South Park-sophomoric in its F-bomb-laced dialogue/narrative. Michelin Men police chase armed killer clown Ronald McDonald in a brand name version of Los Angeles comprised entirely of some 2,5000 (unlicensed) corporate logos and mascots - including iconoclastic shout outs to Borders, Bob's Big Boy, the Utz potato chip girl, a flamin' hot Esso gal...



...the mustachioed Pringles guys (both Original Flav and Sweet and Sour Flav!), a way-gay Mr. Clean, and even Shepard Fairey's ubiquitous Andre the Giant "Obey" sticker!


Andre the Giant has a logo posse!

According to web site Flux, the four-years-in-the-making short was created by a group of directors within H5, a French graphic studio renowned for its music CD front covers (Superdiscount, Air, Demon) and artistic direction (Dior, Cartier, YSL). Members François Alaux, Hervé de Crécy and Ludovic Houplain directed many music videos (Massive Attack, Goldfrapp, Röyksopp), and, in fact Logorama initially started out in 2002 as an idea for a tribute music video for George Harrison!


"By George, I approve!"

Logorama is the H5 trio's first short film, and premiered at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival where it won the Kodak Short Film Discovery Prize at the 48th Critics' Week. The short even features a voice cameo by filmmaker David Fincher as the Pringles man.

According to co-director Herve de Crecy, the story had to take place in America's West Coast City of the Angels. "The perfect grid of the city, represented by the Burberry pattern logo, and the permanent earthquake threat matched with the concept we had in mind from the beginning: the opposition between order and disorder."

"People don’t realize they’re facing another reality behind the smiling icons they see everyday," adds co-director Francois Alaux. "You can drill for oil but have a green and yellow flower logo, [making people] feel like they’re in a field full of flowers. That’s no more and no less the kind of trick that we used in Logorama – this time not to tell a happy and smiling story."

And speaking of the perception vs. reality dichotomy, an earthquake-ravaged Los Angeles isn't the only thing connected to Logorama that split up; following Logorama's UK premiere, the H5 trio announced they were splitting. Houplain will keep the H5 moniker, while Alaux and de Crecy will work as a duo under Little Minx.

My only regret was noting the omission of Mr. Boh - I thought of him when I saw the Utz Girl (that's the power of advertising, guess I was thinking of that Smythe Jeweler's ad across from Penn Station that has Mr. Boh proposing to the Utz Girl!)...



...but I guess Mr. Boh was too regional to show up on the Transatlantic radar of French filmmakers.

This is easily the wildest and most imaginative short on offer, but with its potty-mouthed soundtrack, Tarantino-esque violence, and a plethora of unlicensed corporate logos, there's no way it'll win - it would need to win 100 Oscars just to pay off the legal team!

Watch the official Logorama trailer


Watch the full Logorama (from Garage TV).



4. FRENCH ROAST
Dir. Fabrice O. Joubert (France, 2008, 8 minutes)

In a fancy Parisian Cafe, an uptight businessman discovers he forgot to bring his wallet and bides his time by ordering more coffee.

Watch French Roast:


Official site: www.frenchroast.fr/

5. GRANNY O'GRIMM'S SLEEPING BEAUTY
Dir. Nicky Phelan and Darragh O'Connell (Ireland, 2008, 6 minutes)

Granny O'Grimm, a seemingly sweet old lady, loses the plot as she tells her version of Sleeping Beauty to her terrified Granddaughter.

Watch Granny O'Grimms Sleeping Beauty.


*** HIGHLY COMMENDED ***

The Charles' animated program also features three bonus "Highly Commended" shorts: Pixar's Partly Cloudy, Poland's The Kinematograph, and Canada's Runaway.

6. PARTLY CLOUDY
Dir. Peter Sohn (US, Pixar, 2009, 6 minutes)

Very funny! I had seen this previously, as it was included as an extra on Pixar's Up DVD. I've always liked the concept that babies are delivered by storks (it's so much tidier than the real placenta-and-afterbirth conception mess!), but the idea that the babies themselves are created by clouds (previously only credited with creating White Cloud toilet paper) is even more intriquing; given England's perpetually overcast skies, maybe God is an Englishman?

Watch Partly Cloudy.


7. RUNAWAY
Dir. Cordell Barker (Canada, 2009, 9 minutes)

Happy passengers are having a great time on a crowded train, oblivious to the unknown fate that awaits them around the bend. When the train runs into a cow on the tracks, the captain is nowhere to be found and the poor fireman is forced to desperately improvise in order to keep the train going. Cordell Barker's Runaway depicts a vicious class struggle where no one wins aboard a runaway train and is at once both a cynical metaphor for an out-of-control world and pure anarchic fun. The manic retro-jazz soundtrack reminded me of The Triplets of Bellville and, lo and behold, when I looked it up on IMDB I found that it shared the same composer: Benoit Charest. Oh, the train captain is voiced by Barker collaborator (on Barker's 1988's Oscar-nominated The Cat Came Back) and fellow National Film Board of Canada animator Richard Condie (of 1985's Oscar-nominated The Big Snit).

Watch the Runaway trailer (NFB).

8. THE KINEMATOGRAPH
Dir. Tomek Baginski (Poland, 2009, 17 minutes)

Typically Polish in its sad existential resignation to - and obsession with - death, Tomek Baginski's tells the tale of a 19th-century inventor close to perfecting motion pictures who films his wife just before her death; when she dies, her memory - as well as her sound and image - lives on through the great artistic power of the kinema (get it?). It's the least imaginative narrative of all the shorts presented (you anticipate how it'll play out from the wife's first dramatic cough), but beautifully animated, especially the time-lapse sequence that has the inventor standing at his wife's hospital bed which then morphs into a cemetary and then into him standing alone outside his house. Strictly Old School Eastern European, though boasting images that could easily hang on the walls of Baltimore's Schuler School of Fine Arts. This is Baginski's second Oscar nom, following 2002's gorgeous Katedra(The Cathedral).

Watch The Kinematograph trailer.


See also:
Oscar Nominated Short Films 2010 (Shorts International)

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