Categories One-By-One: Best Animated Shorts

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Damien
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Postby Damien » Sun Feb 21, 2010 3:01 am

A.O. Scott in the NY Times on the nominated shorts:

February 20, 2010
Short in Time, Long on Wit and Daring

By A. O. SCOTT
“In small proportions we just beauties see,” wrote Ben Jonson, the Elizabethan poet. “And in short measures life may perfect be.” Short films may lack the scale and sweep of their feature-length siblings, but the best of them offer a Jonsonesque promise of perfection in miniature, and a reminder that cinema is often an art of patience, precision and detail.

This year’s 10 nondocumentary Oscar-nominated shorts — five are live action, five animated — are of course not flawless. But the best of them combine imaginative daring with meticulous attention to craft. And they have been assembled for easy viewing in a program that opened in Manhattan on Friday, at the IFC Center.

Few movies of any length combine such daring and craft with the dazzling wit of “A Matter of Loaf and Death,” Nick Park’s half-hour tour de force. It marks the welcome return of Wallace and Gromit, the hand-molded English bloke and his skeptical dog who have brought glory to the Aardman animation studios. It is delightful to see Wallace and Gromit again, and to be reminded that animation is a robust and diverse creative field, hardly limited to 3-D, computer-generated kids’ stuff.

There is some of that here, of course, though two of the noisier, jauntier nominees — “Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty,” a revisionist bedtime story from the Irish animator Nicky Phelan, and “The Lady and the Reaper,” by the Spanish director Javier Recio Gracia — feature combative older citizens. It may be that the success of Pixar’s “Up” (a best-picture as well as a best-animated-feature Oscar nominee) has ushered in a new era of elderly cartoon heroes.

In the live-action shorts, in contrast, children predominate. And also suffer, since a child in peril is the quickest route to an audience’s emotions.

In the Russian-language film “The Door,” directed by Juanita Wilson, who’s from Ireland, a young girl falls ill in the wake of a Soviet-era nuclear accident (not identified as Chernobyl, but clearly meant to evoke that disaster). In Luke Doolan’s “Miracle Fish,” from Australia, a boy endures bullying and teasing at school and then finds himself plunged into a scene of horrific violence. The young protagonist of Gregg Helvey’s “Kavi” is an Indian boy at the mercy of a cruel system of modern-day indentured servitude.

The other two live-action nominees — “The New Tenants” by Joachim Back and Patrik Eklund’s “Instead of Abracadabra,” both directed by Scandinavian filmmakers (though one is in English) — aim for a blend of comedy and grotesquerie, and misfire somewhat. “The New Tenants” leavens a scenario of brutal absurdity with self-conscious talk, while “Instead of Abracadabra” stakes out “Napoleon Dynamite” territory with its tale of a misunderstood goofball looking for love and practicing magic in Swedish suburbia.

Mr. Eklund’s film may strike American viewers as both exotic and familiar, something that might also be said of Nicolas Schmerkin’s “Logorama,” the most striking of the animated nominees. An astonishing piece of anticorporate provocation — unless it is a triumphant sell-out to corporate power — this film from the French studio H5 is a profane, ultraviolent action romp set in what looks like Los Angeles. (The cafe setting of Fabrice O. Joubert’s charming “French Roast,” meanwhile, could only be Paris.) The story is a riot of R-rated action clichés: SWAT teams, exploding heads and helicopters, hostage situations and even an earthquake thrown in for good measure.

But what is most striking about the film is that every single thing in it is a recognizable corporate logo. The crazed killer is Ronald McDonald, his police department pursuers are Michelin men, and the universe they live in is thoroughly and seamlessly branded.

Which may make “Logorama” a work of realism, as well as an intriguing puzzle. Is it satire or product placement — or both? Certainly this little film’s exuberant parade of consumerist imagery will not be out of place at the Academy Awards. It may even be a little redundant.
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Postby FilmFan720 » Sun Feb 21, 2010 12:50 am

I also caught these today, so thought I would open up some thoughts.

***SPOILERS***

French Roast: This is the most traditional animated short here. It tells a simple, touching, very funny and almost silent story. Man orders coffee in a Paris cafe and discovers he does not have money to pay for it. Chaos ensues. Not much to it except for some laughs, but it works really well.

Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty: This is one of those one-joke shorts, but the joke is really good. A frightened young girl pretends to sleep so her grandmother won't tell her a bedtime story, she tells the story anyways and we understand why the girl was terrified. It is the quintessential old lady disaster story about how Sleeping Beauty was the villain and the odorous old lady the hero of the story. The audience I was with ate it up, and the Academy might too.

The Lady and the Reaper: A solid, slapstick comedy. An old woman dies, and the grim reaper comes to get her. She is excited she can finally rejoin her husband, but a doctor suddenly revives her and she is sucked back in. The next five minutes are a Chuck Jones style chase and battle between Gaston-like doctor and the grim reaper. The ending scene is a perfect capper, but I think other films did the comedy a little better here.

Logorama: I do not know what to say about this movie except that it has to be seen to be believed. It is violent and vulgar, but the audience I saw this with ate it up and was hooting and hollering by the end. It is the most original of the bunch, and I have no idea how to describe it, nor how the filmmakers got away with it.

A Matter of Life and Death: The audience cheered from the very beginning of this, when Wallace and Gromit first appeared. It is the most long-form of all the film, lasting half an hour, and therefor is the most complex. It is a perfectly handled spoof of mystery films, quoting every Hitchcock movie it can get its hand on. It works really well, but at a half an hour it felt like it went on a little too long (especially compared to all the other shorter fare).

This is a pretty wide open field, and I can see it going several ways. Logorama is a crowd-pleaser, but could easily put off as many people as it turns on. Granny O'Grimm and Lady and the Reaper could act as spoilers here, but I won't underestimate Nick Park. He has never left an Oscar ceremony empty-handed, so why go against the streak here.
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