Let’s give it up for the little guys!
By Heather Nichols, Tawfik Zone Contributor
So the Oscars have come and gone. For all the controversy there was a still a silver lining to it all. Mad Max: Fury Road taking away multiple honors shows that a film can be acclaimed both critically and commercially. Leo finally got his Oscar so the internet can be at peace as far as that goes though I’m sure that they’ll still rampage about Stallone and Gaga being robbed- at least that’s what half the headlines on Buzzfeed read. Personally I’m just ready to completely tear down the Oscars and create something new in its place. The spirit of the Oscars should be about celebrating all things film.
Okay, I admit I caught one small segment while I was brewing my tea last night; Jason Segel showed some footage from an award ceremony dedicated to just the technical side of film and something like that is really refreshing to me. It was also brought to my attention online that voice actors do have their own award show, but it’s not widely known or even broadcast, but still we’re getting there.
So my local theater did a neat thing. The Oscar nominated short films (live action and animated, documentary was omitted) were screened the Friday before Oscar Sunday. This was a 4 hour session with a brief intermission between live action and animated, but still totally worth it to see some overwhelmingly under noticed master works of film. From my understanding some of these are available on Netflix so I hope you get the chance to enjoy them for yourselves. There might be some spoilers due to the nature of short film so just a heads up before you read on.
We started off with Ave Maria, probably the lightest offering in the live action shorts. The premise is that a Jewish family’s car crashes into the statue of the Virgin Mary outside of a convent of nuns on Sabbath. There’s mild conflict due to the different religious practices but ultimately the nuns help the family get on their way. And conveniently one of the sisters is a mechanic. Honestly this one just didn’t do much for me so I don’t have much to say. I wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be comedic but I had trouble with the whole sister being able to fix up the car with a pair of pantyhose, it was just bizarre. If they were going to go that far they should have pushed it further and revealed the nun to be a religious messiah or an android masquerading as a nun, just something more interesting so it didn’t feel so flat.
Things got dark quickly with the next offering, Shoke. Imagine the film Stand by Me but with one of the boys getting involved with a terrorist group and ending with some of the kids getting shot. That is pretty much it in a nutshell. I felt more engaged during this film, the editing was tight and the overall look of the film was just better. Props to the cinematography department, I really enjoyed the look of this film.
Everything Will Be Alright should be viewed as an excellent example of tight editing and storytelling. The pacing was great, making it my second favorite of the live action selections. Also a really good example of “show, don’t tell.” We open with a man picking up his daughter from his ex-wife’s house. In the car they have a conversation about how she’s playing the role of the queen in the school play and all seems normal. Then they get to the toy store, he lets her pick out two really expensive building kits which to me just gave away where this was going. Even so I sat at the edge of my seat until the conclusion. Now is the story a bit cliché perhaps, but as I said in terms of a finished product this one was quite excellent. Also would like to point out that Simon Schwarz who plays the father looks like an Austrian Simon Pegg.
Now after a couple of pretty heavy films the eventual winner came on, Stutterer. This one was quite enjoyable and my favorite of the night. A simple premise: a couple of linguaphiles are engaged in an online relationship, the film is presented through the eyes of the male in the relationship and it is revealed that he has a stammer. The girl ends up in his town and wants to meet him for the first time. Self-conscious of his stammer, he contemplates whether or not he will meet her. I don’t want to give away the conclusion but I found this film to be really sweet and endearing. Overall I felt the message was to not let our disabilities no matter how great or small get in the way of opportunity.
I must confess I missed half of Day One. You see normally I’m in bed by 9 and at this point I was starting to nod off so I needed a coffee break. I came back in at the climax of the film. From my understanding this was based off of a true story. The subject matter was handled well and I couldn’t see them making an entire feature length film out of the story. Really I can’t say much about it, like I said I missed half but the ending was very sad so it felt like that might be the only reason it was even nominated given the fact the Academy seems to love misery.
I will start off by saying I’m glad the Pixar film, Sanjay’s Super Team, did not walk away with the win. More often than not I feel Disney and Pixar take away a win by default because the other animations aren’t as widespread which is really a pity. Of the animations this was probably the weakest and I don’t mean it was a bad film, it just was very surface level in terms of meaning and presentation.
The next film we viewed was World of Tomorrow. If you want to feel the mental strain of running a full marathon, this 17 minute film is perfect for you. In fact it’s been so long since I’ve seen an animated film with this much depth to it tackling deep philosophical thoughts and questioning humanity’s morals. Interesting note, this was the only film with spoken dialogue. The visuals were simplistic in nature, but I feel that really allowed you to focus on the story and the messages therein.
After that emotional drain I was delighted by the opening visuals of Bear Story, a unique 3D animation that blended techniques to make some sequences reminiscent of stop frame animation. The story does quickly turn sad in that it holds a similar theme to Blackfish, where animals being separated from their natural habitat in order to provide entertainment for people. The bear is personified and shown to have a wife and child so I think that drives it home even further. This was a good one and I’m glad it received the victory.
If you like the Dilbert comic strips, We Can’t Live without Cosmos, a Russian import, is a very similar visually. No spoken dialogue, it’s all action driven. I really enjoyed the score on this one too, they kept it engaging by adding sound effects as well. This one even had a bit of humor to it throughout which was refreshing considering the heavy load that the other nominees provided.
Before we began Prologue we were treated to three other shorts that didn’t quite make the cut. One is the story of a traffic light that is narrated by Patton Oswalt, who you may remember as the voice of Remy from Ratatouille. It was enjoyable but I can see why it just missed the mark, the visuals were a little underwhelming and the story itself too simplistic. Another short was the story of a family of Meerkats fighting a bird of prey over a piece of fruit. It was cute, reminiscent of a silly symphonies cartoon. The Story of a Fox and Mouse was visually gorgeous and had a beautiful score to accompany the piece. But again I think this one fell short because it didn’t have much going on beyond the surface level.
So Prologue, I didn’t like this one. Visually, absolutely stunning. Created by one of the brilliant minds behind Who Framed Roger Rabbit, it literally brings a drawing to life. Now I didn’t like this on two fronts. As the name implies this is the Prologue, it feels like a very small piece of a much larger picture. And I mean not even a slice of the cake, more like the frosting or decoration on top small. The other reason comes down to personal preference, I just didn’t like the violence, fighting with spears is rather nasty business. Though again that’s just a personal preference.
Before I conclude I should take a moment to talk about best animated feature length. Now for me last night it came down to Inside Out and When Marnie was There– I know Pixar versus Ghibli. Both are stunning films, both moved me to tears and either deserving. I would have loved to see Ghibli’s final studio film clench the victory. I missed Inside Out during its original theatrical run, when I did get around to renting it I have to say it caught me off guard.
In regards to what I said before I have no problems with Pixar, it just seems like no matter what they always win and lately their films have been alright, nothing spectacular. Inside Out blew it out of the park. We also have to take into account the larger social impact this film has had, making it more comfortable for children and parents to discuss their feelings which is so important in this technological age. Really it’s a great film and it makes me look forward to 2016’s offerings in animation.