Editor’s note: Welcome to the seventeenth of a multi-part series dissecting the 2008 Academy Awards, brought to you by the Large Association of Movie Blogs and its assorted members. Every weekday leading up to the Oscars, a new post written by a different LAMB will be published, each covering a different category (or more) of the Oscars (there are 24 in all). To read any other posts regarding this event, please just click on the tag following the post. Thank you, and enjoy!
By Nayana of The Center Seat.
Best Animated Short Film is the coolest Oscar category ever! Anyone know why? Well, aside from a lack of the usual bitchiness and intrigue that plagues many of the other awards, this is one of the few categories in which a movie-phile like me (or you) has the opportunity to sit down and watch all the nominees… in under two hours!
That’s right: if you’re lucky enough to have an arthouse cinema in your town (or a theater chain that passes for one, like Landmark), you can see a feature film which is just a compilation of all the nominated shorts, in either the Animated or Live Action category. I watched both, but the all-knowing, all-seeing Fletch has assigned me the Animated Shorts. So, here’s the rundown, in the order in which I saw them:
Même les pigeons vont au paradis (Even Pigeons Go To Heaven) – France
This film (available on YouTube) is part silly slapstick, part dark social commentary. An enterprising priest tries to scam a feeble old man into buying a machine that will take him to heaven. The animation is exquisite and engaging. There are a few twists and a satisfying (if ironic) ending, and the film is definitely good for some hearty laughs. Underneath it all, however, there are dark themes of death, bad karma, and the masses getting screwed by religion. Of all the short films on the list, Even Pigeons is the most user-friendly, and earned the most out-loud laughter from our audience.
Moya lyubov (My Love) – Russia
The most startling thing about My Love is the animation. It was rendered with oil painting on glass, and it comes out looking like a fluid Monet painting come to life. Visually, it was stunning; honestly, though, after a few minutes, my eyes started to water. And as masterful as the animation was, the story seemed to be slapped together with Play-Doh. The film follows a teenage boy in pre-revolutionary Russia. He’s yanked around by his libido: one moment, he’s passionately in love with a family servant, and the next moment, he is utterly devoted to a mysterious neighbor woman. The boy lurches back and forth between the two women, and is ultimately disappointed, as neither fantasy is what he had hoped for. It is worth noting that My Love‘s director, Aleksandr Petrov, has been nominated three times before in this category, winning once for The Old Man and the Sea in 1999.
Madame Tutli-Putli – Canada
This short is a seamless integration of computer and stop-motion animation. We follow the title character as she takes an eerie late-night train ride with all her worldly possessions. The film starts out light and mildly funny, but it soon morphs into suspense, horror, and eventually metaphysical whacked-out-itude. Technically, it’s marvelous. Madame Tutli-Putli’s huge eyes alone are an animation masterpiece (according to Wikipedia, Jason Walker came up with the idea of using composited human eyes and adding them to the stop-motion puppets). The detail is amazing, from the veins in Madame’s legs to the endless collection of odds and ends she hauls with her. Personally, though, I just found it gross. And weird.
I Met the Walrus – Canada
In 1969, a ballsy kid named Jerry Levitan snuck into John Lennon’s hotel room with a reel-to-reel tape recorder and somehow convinced the Beatle/activist/music god to give him an interview. Holy crap, right? That kid’s got something to talk about for the rest of his life. But rather than rest on those fantastic laurels, Jerry grows up and produces a poetic animated short with the interview as the audio track. It’s like SNL’s “Fun With Real Audio”, but way, way cooler. The animation mostly consists of pencil-type drawings that illustrate Lennon’s words; sometimes humorously, sometimes poignantly, but always reverently. And the greatest thing about this film: forty years later it’s still completely relevant. Turn on CNN right this minute, and you can apply John Lennon’s observations on war, peace, and the ultimate futility of revolution. Please, please, please let this one win.
Peter and the Wolf – UK/Poland
I grew up loving this classic work by Prokofiev. My mom was a classical music buff, and she jumped at the chance to present this piece to my sister and I as a way to teach us about the different instruments in the orchestra. Most of the time, in fact, when Peter and the Wolf has been produced, it has been narrated for children, as an introduction to classical music. Personally, I was always enraptured by the story of a boy, his pet goose, a bird, a cat, a grandfather, and the Big Bad Wolf. This new production, however, goes much darker. We still have the basics of the story: Peter sneaks out of the gate into the forest and plays with his animal friends; the wolf attacks; and Peter and his grandfather are ultimately victorious over the predator. Before all that, though, the film introduces us to Peter’s hometown: a dirty, decaying industrial hole, crawling with bullies and miscreants. While Peter and the birds are playing, the cat and wolf mirror the human antagonists. Most strikingly, the film does not shy away from the darkest elements of the story, which have traditionally been whitewashed by Disney and other producers. This was probably the most well-rounded of the shorts, with moments of humor, suspense, and horror all blended in a modern update of the classic tale.
OK, if you made it through that whole write-up, you know who I want to win. For creativity, uniqueness, and sheer pluck, I Met the Walrus needs to take home the little gold man. Of course, Even Pigeons easily has the most mass appeal in this category (but when does Oscar ever reward mass appeal?) On the other hand, if Academy voters are going for technical impressiveness, Madame Tutli-Putli or My Love could take the cake. I suspect, however, that we’ll see Suzie Templeton and Hugh Welchman climb those steps for Peter and the Wolf: it’s got a great pedigree, and it’s a gritty take on a classic tale. The Academy will eat that right up.