Friday, February 05, 2010

features and shorts of the Oscar sort

It's Oscars time! This year the list of nominees has grown quite a bit. Where before there were three feature selections, now there are five. It's a shame Miyazaki's Ponyo wasn't nominated. While not one of my favorite Ghibli films, it is nevertheless an amazing feat of artistry and a credit to the traditional 2-D genre. And for the first time since 1991's Beauty and the Beast an animated film is up for Best Picture, so that's pretty cool. Now to get on with the show. Without further ado, I bring you this year's nominees.

Best Animated Feature:

A spectacular and horrifyingly splendorous stop-motion feature with a flair for the dark and twisted, animated flawlessly by the talented folks at Laika. Coraline's magical otherworld is visually thrilling and I adore the character designs, especially the eerie transformations when things take a turn for the worst. And by "worst" I mean exciting! Plus, it has a great listen-while-you-draw soundtrack. (Focus Features/Laika - Henry Selick)

The humor of Wes Anderson combined with stop-motion, my favorite style of animation, really made this film kick. Like a fox! These furry characters had such charming personalities and a lively presence that brought life to Roald Dahl's tale of mischief and trickery. I'm not usually a fan of "star power" voice casting, but Anderson's witty batch of actor pals really brought this film together. (Twentieth Century-Fox - Wes Anderson)

Not quite the comeback I was hoping for, but it was a good first effort since Disney's disappointing foray into 3-D. The songs were nice but forgettable the moment they ended and the two main characters were kind of a drag, not to mention their romance seemed awkwardly forced. All in all, it was a little mediocre and not up to Disney's old musical standards, but at least they are bringing 2-D back. (Disney - John Musker and Ron Clements)

Sadly, this is the one animated feature I have yet to see. Shouldn't be long now, though, as I have a copy of it sitting on my desktop! If I understand correctly it's an Irish tale about a young monk on a quest to save his abbey from approaching barbarian hordes by completing the legendary Book of Kells (ancient Celtic religious texts and whatnot). It sounds like a fun adventure, what with a journey into an enchanted forest, encounters with mythical creatures, and a wolfgirl! The crisp, flat style and smooth animation look pretty darn neat, too. (Les Armateurs/Cartoon Saloon - Tomm Moore) Watch the trailer.

Actually, and don't kill me for writing this, but this film didn't make it onto my Pixar favorites list. I applaud the use of an unconventional main character and the gorgeous landscapes, not to mention the heartbreaking beginning, but man was I annoyed by those dogs! The perpetually broken voice box, the squirrels, the plane-flying... it just wasn't doing it for me at all. I'm glad to see it nominated for Best Picture, though. Animation ftw! (Disney/Pixar - Pete Docter) Winner!

Best Animated Short:

Some lovely 3-D rendering with a great little character-driven story to boot. It was an interesting choice to use the mirror on the back wall to create depth within the small Parisian café and move the narrative along, and I think it paid off. Add to that a few choice plot twists and this short could very well take home the Oscar. (Fabrice O. Joubert) Watch.

Granny shares her own personal twist on a classic bedtime story, much to the dismay of her granddaughter, and that pretty much sums it up. I wasn't too impressed by the 3-D portion of the short, but I thought the 2-D segments were kind of fun. (Nicky Phelan and Darragh O'Connell) Watch.

This is a madcap battle between a reaper and a cocky doctor to lay claim to an old woman's life (one wants to reap, the other to save). I really enjoyed the character designs and the softness of the 3-D models - everything looked so cool and smooth. (Javier Recio Gracia) Watch.

It's an interesting visual concept - a world and its inhabitants comprised solely of 2500+ brand logos (imagine the AIM Running Man crossing the street, Windows Live butterflies fluttering in the breeze, and the Evian mountains in the distance), but this 3-D short is more like an iSpy game than a real story. Did anyone else notice the ad for Slurm? Futurama fans know what I'm talkin' about. (Nicolas Schmerkin) Watch. Winner!

Hurray another delightful Wallace and Gromit caper! My favorite stop-motion duo is at it again! This time the pair have turned their downstairs workshop into a full-fledged bakery and, in the midst of a town mystery surrounding a series of baker murders, fallen for a couple of damsels in distress. There is nothing I don't love about this short. (Nick Park) Watch.

Remember, the Academy Awards hosted by the incomparable Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin airs Sunday, March 7th.

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