Animated Oscar Winners 2008

ratatouille_thumb[1]The Oscar for Best Animated Feature went to Brad Bird’s Ratatouille from Pixar, beating out Persepolis, which was my favorite. In so doing, the members of the Academy went against the trend to honor smaller independent films in the Best Picture category, as opposed to blockbusters like Ratatouille.

The Best Animated Short Film went to Suzie Templeton’s wonderful version of Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter & the Wolf, which was my favorite among the contenders.

golden compass_thumb[1]Although the Visual Effects Oscar is not one usually embraced by the animation community, this year’s winner, The Golden Compass (which I have not seen) seems to have earned its statue because of its digital character animation. (One should remember that Ray Harryhausen, an animation icon if there ever was one, made his mark in special effects.)

Atonement_thumb[1]Visual Effects Oscars seem to go to movies where the effects are of the How did they do that category. In the process, they ignore work which may be amazing in its own way, but does not try to call attention to itself. For instance, I was particularly impressed by the Dunkirk sequence in Joe Wright’s Atonement done under the supervision of Mark Holt. One would hope both types of visual effects would get equal visibility, but that’s not likely to happen much outside the effects community itself. (The producers of Atonement, I’m sure, were more concerned about getting a Best Picture Oscar than trying to compete against giant polar bears.)

2008 Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts

The package of Academy Award-nominated short films distributed by Magnolia Pictures, had a brief run in Atlanta and I managed to catch the program of animated films. Overall, an excellent program, though one film does stand out and would be my choice. Here are some first impressions:

Même les pigeons vont au paradis (Even Pigeons Go To Heaven) Samuel Tourneux and Simon Vanesse’s Même les pigeons vont au paradis (Even Pigeons Go To Heaven) from France’s BUF Compagnie, is a quirky, computer animated tale of a priest who sells an old man a machine guaranteed to get him into heaven, despite his sinful past. The story unfolds in a craggy but predictable manner with considerable humor. (The film is available on YouTube here and here.)

Moya lyubov (My Love)

Moya lyubov (My Love), a romantic drama from Russia’s Dag Film Studio, is Aleksandr Petrov fourth Academy-nominated film — the others are Korova (The Cow) (1989), Rusalka (The Mermaid) (1997), and the Oscar-winning IMAX film, The Old Man and the Sea (1999) , based on the Hemingway book. The Academy clearly adores his paint-on-glass technique, which evokes the look of French impressionist paintings. While the look is initially beguiling, in the end it pales in comparison with the marvelous later works of Frédéric Back, which used more traditional cel animation; the pictorial style of both filmmakers are basically conservative, to say the least, but Back’s films at his best has a real joie de vivre that Petrov’s seems to lack. (The film is posted on YouTube in three parts found here, here and here.)

Madame Tutli-PutliChris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski’s Madame Tutli-Putli from Canada’s National Film Board, uses digitally-enhanced stop motion to tell its moody, mock scary tale. The grotesque nature of the characters somewhat resembles those in Même les pigeons vont au paradis, but is played a bit more straightforward manner. While I don’t think it’s completely successful, it nevertheless has more than its share of moments.

I Met the Walrus 01Josh Raskin’s I Met The Walrus is a rather slight riff on a taped interview the 14-year-old Jerry Levitan did with John Lennon, which seemed to evoke an enthusiastic response from the audience. While not a great piece of filmmaking, the imagery does evoke the proper period feel. (It can be seen in Quicktime and Flash versions on the film’s official website here.)

Peter & the Wolf 02Suzie Templeton and Hugh Welchman’s Peter & the Wolf, a brilliant, if rather old-fashioned puppet film that was co-produced by Britain’s BreakThru Films, Poland’s SE-MA-FOR Studios and Norway’s Storm Studios. It is a somewhat updated version of the Prokofiev musical tale, which is certainly superior to the 1946 Disney version featured in Make Mine Music. And best of all, the film’s cat (pictured above) is the most brilliant depiction of a pet in a film since the dog in Sylvain Chomet’s Les triplettes de Belleville. (The film can be seen, along with a making of documentary, on the BreakThru Films website.)

I must assume many of these films, along with a selection of their live-action counterparts, will appear later this year on a Magnolia DVD.

Speaking of Sylvain Chomet …

Tour Eiffel segment of Paris je t'aimeI recently rented a DVD of the anthology film Paris, je t’aime (Paris, I Love You) (2006). The film is one of those all-star affairs featuring brief vignettes by an assortment of internationally renowned directors, ranging from the Coen brothers to Gérard Depardieu, each dealing with a part of Paris. To my surprise and delight, it contains “Tour Eiffel,” a lively trifle from Sylvain Chomet, mixing live action and pixillation. relating the romance between two mimes. Like too many of these sorts of anthologies, the film tends to be uneven, but if you are fans of directors like the Coens and Chomet, it might be worth a peek.