Oscar History

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A sampler platter of Best Animated Short Oscar winners

Tim here. With the Oscars just a couple of days away, I assume we’re all much too keyed up with anticipation to want to think about anything else. I am, certainly. But to live up to my mission as the resident animation guy at the Film Experience, I thought I might offer up a quick break in the action without heading too far afield from the Oscars. To wit, I’d like to offer up a quick sampling of some of my personal favorite winners of the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film from across the 81 years that the prize has been given out. With a twist: seeking to keep clear of the major studio dominance of that category for much of its early life (and, as last year’s Paperman and probably this year’s Get a Horse! demonstrate, its later life as well), I’ve tried to pick only films which are at least at little bit more obscure than others. Enjoy!

Squeaky children, sex-starved triangles, and Polish apartment dwellers below the jump

1950 – Gerald McBoing-Boing
And having said “obscure”, I’m going straight to something that’s actually quite well-known among animation buffs; but I adore this film with a passion that borders on religion, and I never like to pass up a chance to proselytize. Partially, it’s just the wit of the concept, with Dr. Seuss getting a rare chance to expand his verbal gymnastics into the more theoretically abstract world of figuring out how to rhyme sound effects. Mostly it’s because of the wonderful minimalist lines of studio United Productions of America have a freshness and cleanliness that’s still striking six decades on, even as the UPA house style has become far less radical in the age of Flash animation.

1961 – Ersatz
From the gleefully insane world of Eastern European animation, this oversexed exercise in mutable geometry and great bold swatches of color is, on a personal note, one of the key films that turned me into a rabid fan of the medium. Anchored by a dizzy, catchy themesong, the short is all about committing to a cartoon logic in which physical realism is discarded in favor of the needs of this gag in this instant, where the overriding impulse doesn’t seem to be telling a story or exploring character, but to simply engage in imaginative creation. As much as anything, it’s a film about the dominant, kitschy stylistic trends of the ‘50s and ‘60s, emphasizing bright colors and fluid lines given mobility and life.

1982 – Tango
Forgive the lack of an embed; it has been my experience that one tends to have to chase this film around the internet. As of this writing, you can see it at this link.

Hopefully that worked for you, because Zbigniew Rybczyński’s miraculous work of dogged solo production (it took seven months to complete) is one of the most fascinating, one-of-a-kind things you will ever see. Nothing so much but an elaborate game of choreography in which first one, then two, and ultimately 36 human beings interact in complicated, graceful, not entirely flawless movements. Is it about overcrowding in Communist Poland? The feeling of being trapped in an endless cycle of routine? The pure beauty and spectacle of human movement? All of them at once, which it what makes it one of my very favorite shorts films and very favorite Oscar winners of all time.

I could double or triple the length of this list pretty easily (and include a lot more variations on “but isn’t it interesting that this is about moving geometric shapes around!” in my comments, which is why I’m not), but let me turn it over to you: What are your favorite Best Animated Short winners? You can see the complete list here.

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Reader Comments (10)

I'm not quite sure of what has and hasn't won, but from the top of my head, I have a fondness for Disney's "Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom", which I absolutely loved as a child, and actually haven't seen in a while, so I'm heading straight to YouTube!

February 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterConrado

I just saw Father and Daughter, and it's beautiful.

February 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

well, ersatz is good, but it's no worker and parasite

February 27, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterpar

Yeah, it's a famous and big studio one, but regardless, I think Knighty Knight Bugs is my favorite.

The others I remember best are probably Dot and the Line and Logorama (which I didn't like all that much, but it's memorable).

February 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterScottC

I really loved Skhizein, which was not even nominated but was shown in the Shorts International thingie one year. Here's a link, I think it's funny and clever and melancholy and beautiful in roughly the same proportions as a Spike Jonze or Charlie Kaufman joint.


February 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

Tim -- i had actually never seen Tango and Ersatz and WOW They're both great fun/interesting. Thanks for sharing these. I had vague memories of Gerald McBoingBoing. but the other two are wonderful new (er, old) experiences.

February 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Incidentally, I VIGOROUSLY second Rebecca's recommendation of Skhizein, which as she points out wasn't even nominated, but that's entirely on the Academy and not on the fantastic short.

February 28, 2014 | Registered CommenterTim Brayton

Yey! It's my favorite category! I love all three films that Tim posted!

Here are some of my favorite big studio winners
Three Little Pigs (1932/1933)
The Old Mill (1937)
Ferdinand the Bull (1938)
Der Fuehrer's Face (1942)
Quiet Please (1945)
The Cat Concerto (1946)
Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom (1953)
Knighty Knight Bugs (1958)
Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day (1968)
Geri's Game (1997)
Paperman (2012)

And here are some of my favorite independent/foreign winners
Munro (1960)
The Critic (1963)
The Dot and the Line (1965)
Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass Double Feature (1966)
Frank Film (1973)
Closed Mondays (1974)
Great (1975)
Special Delivery (1978)
Anna & Bella (1985) <-- one of my absolute favorites. Highly recommended
The Wrong Trousers (1993)
A Close Shave (1995)
Harbor Krumpet (2003)
La Maison en Petits Cubes (2008$

February 28, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterajnrules

I'm a super big fan of LEISURE from 1976. And not just because it's Australian. It's a rather brilliant piece of animated satire. Love it.

February 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

i forgot to add that my favorite of all time in this category might be CREATURE COMFORTS (1989). I've watched it *so* many times

February 28, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

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