Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Oscar Nominated Shorts - Animated 2012 (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The 2012 Animated Shorts

It's 2012, and nothing expresses this anticipatory year of Mayan mania like the Oscar nominated shorts. This current batch of films contain more quirks then Quetzalcoatl. Indeed, you will see graphic beings of every temper in tempera, in every shade, gesture and hue. These films may have an apoplectic eye, but there are enough Mesoamerican calendars of color here for a score of civilizations. We have arrived. Here are some Looney Toons for the Apocalypse. But rather than being grim and gloomy, this frisson-fare is sophisticated, pointed and altogether addictive.
The first entry is "Sunday" from Canada, directed by Patrick Doyon. The film focuses on the interior world of a child confined by adults. The animation is visceral, scratchy and primitive, a bit like Paul Klee in black and white. With its dry ironic tone and jabbering adults it is clearly influenced by The Far Side comic strip.

Also from Canada, there is "Wild Life" by Amanda Forby and Wendy Tilby. about a remittance man on the run who is a pathological liar. He writes letters home to his mother about living the high life on a ranch, when in fact, he squats in a cold, depressive shack with hardly any freedom. The painterly animation is a buttery delight and recalls the primitive colorful figures of  early David Hockney. The directors are taking something from Patricia Highsmith's  "The Talented Mr. Ripley" and Albert Camus' The Stranger. This film is an exceptional one-of-a kind.

From England , there is the odd "A Morning Stroll" by Grant Orchard. "Stroll" is about a chicken wandering through one nightmare after another. Although technically brilliant, a collage of eclectic style and mood, I found the film a bit offhand and the digital animation  too much like a Nintendo DS.

From the USA, and specifically New Orleans, comes William Joyce's “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore". The film is a kind of "Wizard of Oz" commemoration of Hurricane Katrina, laced with the whimsical gothic glee of Tim Burton. Morris looks a bit like Tom Hanks as he wanders through the city looking for books and traces of humanity. The narrative tone owes a debt to Disney's "Up" especially when all the magical- leaved books fly around the aging Morris. The real magic in the film is that, in just a few bare scenes, we witness the full scope of Mr. Morris---the arc of a life well lived and analyzed through the pleasure of books.

Next, is the much talked about "La Luna" by Enrico Casarosa. Although charming and beautifully produced, this selection is a bit too slick for me---a complete cutesy vision of a moon overwhelmed with stars with little eclipse or astral ambiguity. It is a crowd pleaser and quite stunning, reminiscent of  Exupery's  "The Little Prince", I just expected a bit more.

Last but not least, are four Special mentions. The first, "Nullarbor directed by Allister Lockhart and Patrick Sarell, is half Mad Max and half Ralph Steadman. A young angry drifter is in a race to the death for a cigarette, fighting tooth and nail against a Clint Eastwoodish Septuagenarian. This selection has all the intensity of a feature length film---it is as suspenseful as it is zany and it is a painter's joy where the artists hand is clearly visible.

There is also "Hybrid", which although colorful and crystal-clear seemed too much of a Rube Goldberg exercise for me.

And then there was "Skylight", directed by Dave Baas. Flooded with humorous irreverence, this film's cynical denouement will have you shaking your head. Does he believe in global warming? Whatever the director's stance, he clearly feels that the governments of the globe will do little to stop these thermal dominoes.

At last! And indeed I've saved the best for last, we have "Amazonia", directed by Sam Chen. This is a rollicking comedy of how everyone becomes literal food for thought in the jungle. Sharp and vivid with the feel of an interactive joke, it is pure pyrotechnics where we all become The Ride. It is Disney without the American agenda, and it critiques our vivid and vapid snakelike consumerism as much as it entertains. It is a crime that "Amazonia" is a mere Special Mention. I think it's among the best of the end of days lot: concise, joyful and pointed with pleasure upon the eye.

Although there are some poignant mini gems here, I found most of the animated  nominations ( with the exceptions of "Wild Life" and Mr Morris) to be heavy on escapism but light on feeling. If I had to pick between the two genres, I would favor the Live Action group this year.

Yet in spite of this, in watching these dazzling dystopian crowd pleasers, not one pair of our human eyes  will go hungry for long.

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