Amir here. Thanks to Shorts International and TIFF, I’ve had the privilege of watching the nominees for Oscar’s short categories before the ceremony for the first time. As enjoyable as it is to finally have a horse in these races and not leave that part of the telecast to refill my alcohol, I’m sad to say that I found this year’s nominees not just short, but also slight. Not that all the films are disappointing, mind you. There are some gems to be found but compared to last year’s batch, this was a letdown.
Without further ado...we’ll take a look at the animated films today and I will be back with the live actions over the weekend. (TIFF inexplicably scrapped the documentary shorts from its schedule. If you’re filling your Oscar pools, however, the smart money seems to be on Saving Face. I’ve not yet heard a single bad word about that film.)
Dimanche is about a young boy whose dull Sunday routine of going to the church and spending the day with his grandparents is only improved by deforming coins on the train tracks! There’s a pro-environment message as the grizzly bear on the coin comes to life and interacts with the boy, but barring a few funny moments, the film is as lifeless as its premise suggests. The colourless and sketchy design of the animation doesn’t help the film’s cause either.
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is a marvel as far as the quality of animation goes. (The full length version of the film is available online and Nathaniel reviewed it last week.) I’m cooler on this one than he is. I find the story interesting and I like the idea behind its execution, but I feel like the gimmick is repeated a few too many times. I think Nathaniel’s bang-on about the redundancy of anthropomorphism in the books. At 15 minutes, this is the longest film in competition and it certainly feels that way to me.
Then there’s La Luna. If we need further proof that the Pixar guys can do no wrong with their short films, this is it. I fear that saying anything about the plot will ruin the fun of it for those in the dark. Suffice to say that this story of male bonding between three generations of a family is intimately personal and yet, its fantastical twist is so clever and sweet that everyone can connect with. As usual with Pixar, the quality and detail of the animation is breathtaking. (Read Michael’s Film Experience interview with director Enrico Casarosa here. La Luna will be released later in the year, attached to Brave.)
A Morning Stroll is by far the weakest of the nominees. It tells the story of a chicken that strolls along a street, walks up a set of stairs, pecks at a door and is let in by someone. This morning stroll happens once in 1959, once in 2009 and again in 2059 and each time, the chicken confronts someone new on the street. The allegorical representation of the collective demise of the human race through the eyes of a chicken is an amazing concept but I think the shoddy execution of the animation and unwelcome tonal shifts between the three episodes don’t give the humour any room to breathe.
Finally, Wild Life is a gorgeously painted Canadian pastoral about an Englishman who immigrates to an unpopulated Alberta at the turn of the century. One the surface, the film is about one man’s depression as he faces the typical hardships of immigration, particularly the freezing cold of Midwestern Canada. But I found it to be a rich study of personal alienation and a rare look into the lives of Canadian settlers who are far less explored that their counterparts south of the border. Of all the five films, this is the one that most benefits from the technique it chooses, the oil painting effect giving it a romanticist 19th century look that fits nicely into the narrative.
Oscar Predictions: Pixar's Day & Night couldn’t manage to take the prize last year despite being the most widely acclaimed of the nominees. I have a feeling a similar fate awaits La Luna. Flying Books’ charm will probably carry it to the podium.
Will Win: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
Could Win: La Luna
Should Win: Wild Life
Monty meows and leaps up on the chair beside me. Cats always know when something is up. In this case, what's up is a phone call to Chris Miller the director of Puss in Boots, who is still reeling from his first Oscar nomination last month when Puss in Boots won itself a slot in the Best Animated Feature race. "Oh my god, it's insanity," Miller admits. "That day is a blur. I've never been through this before so I was pretty overwhelmed at the scope of it."
Monty does a little spin and settles in. If my cat understood any words beyond "treat", "Monty" and "no"*, he might be incensed by Miller's next confession when I ask him about his own pet situation. "Technically I'm more of a dog person. I can't lie about that."
* There is still some debate about whether or not Monty understand this word.
Miller is sadly pet free himself at the moment, still in mourning for the loss of a beloved pug. But this past year in cinema has been a dog person's dream and Miller is enjoying it. Martin Scorsese's plea for a write-in vote for "Blackie" at the inaugural Golden Collar Awards made him laugh and, like the rest of the world, Miller is crazy about "Uggie" from The Artist. He sheepishly admits that the main reason he attended a recent screening and Q&A of Oscar's frontrunning film was Uggie-related. "I thought 'I wonder if Uggie will be there. Oh I hope the dog shows up' I'm being totally honest!"
He was surprised and thrilled about Antonio Banderas open letter which added to the Golden Collar fuss by speaking out about Puss's snub. Puss in Boots, the character, has been in Miller's life for nearly ten years and it's the one cat he loves as much as dogs. "That cat was my favorite from the onset," he says recalling his years with the Shrek franchise. He loved Puss' intrigue. "He came with some history already. Or at least you knew he had some incredibly history. "
NATHANIEL: I'm curious about the career track for animation directors. You've done a lot of voicework and story art? How did you graduate to directing?
CHRIS MILLER: I was involved in story early on in my career and the writing end of it. With Antz and the Shrek movies we were given a lot of latitude to come up with material, characters and dialogue.
A lot of times we'd be sort of given an idea and sent off to come up with something. You share it with the producers and the directors and you sell it a bit. In doing that you get a little taste of everything in cinema. You're writing, you're composing shots, you're blocking out scenes, coming up with character interaction. You're really getting a first crack at visualizing a sequence. Looking back it was a great training ground for direction.
Letters of Note a telegram from Marlon Brando to Marilyn Monroe
Old Hollywood Rita Moreno West Side Story rehearsal photo. Love it.
In Contention "The top ten shots of 2011" Tapley's annual selection.
Cartoon Brew is interviewing the makers of the Oscar nominated animated short films each morning. This one is on The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore which I reviewed last week.
People White Collar star Matt Bomer who will soon be seen (and a lot of him, too, presumably) in Steven Soderbergh's Magic Mike comes out. I've been so busy I almost missed this news. Congratulations Bomer!
The Incredible Suit rants about the whole embarrassing ordeal of a national awards show (BAFTA) that's not aired live and then only aired in a highlights package. It's true. That's one of the reasons why it's the only regular movie awards show that many movie fans seem to feel okay about skipping.
My New Plaid Pants Which is Hotter? Vertigo edition
Capital New York Sheila O'Malley on the Best Actress performances
Rope of Silicon more pics from the set of After Earth. RoS is right. Jaden Smith does look more and more like his daddy.
Oscar Metrics Mark Harris argues for eliminated the animated feature category.
La Daily Musto an amusing he doesn't swing that way story from Raquel Welch about her hots for Stephen Boyd on the set of Fantastic Voyage. When I was a little kid I loved Stephen Boyd. Of course I did.
Coming Soon Bryan Fuller the genius behind the very original series Wonderfalls and Pushing Daisies is sadly only doing reinterpretations now. We hope it's due to Hollywood's risk aversion and not due to his creative well drying up. His next two projects are a Munsters redo (pushed back) and now a TV series about Hannibal Lecter which has a direct-to-series order. Difficult to imagine it in series form but Fuller does fine work.
24 Frames Emmanuel Lubezki wins the ASC cinematography award for The Tree of Life. Next stop Oscar... Or will it swing The Artist's way?
The Wrap Oscar nominated composer Dory Previn (Two for the Seesaw) dies.
Movie|Line "Oscar season distilled into 14 words." lol because it's true.
Just Jared First look at Brad Pitt (and Richard Jenkins) in Cogan's Trade
And just in cast you missed it, the teaser to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
The Film Experience is the only site that seems to know who Benjamin Walker is -- it cracks me up that people headline this as a Tim Burton project just because he is the only "name" among the executive team -- but that's because we're the best. And the most Streep/Stage obsessed of movie sites.
Year in Review Fun! It's the final installment of our peculiar time stamp fetish. The 20th minute and 11th second of the movies of 2011 in chronological order of US release date. It's like flipping channels for snapshots of the film year! For those who like a challenge, I've written the film titles in invisible ink (you can highlight to see them) below the screencap. We'd keep going but it will take too long for the rest of the movies to make it to DVD.
How many have you seen? Do these images make you want to stop surfing and watch?
Part 8: Samplings from August through October
Great. Write my obituary 'Charlotte Phelan: dead; Her daughter: still single.' "
THE HELP ... lots more on this movie.
-Good fun. We'll have good fun from now on.
-Fight. Maybe we fight outside the car.
-[Laughs] I think it's gonna get more and more excite [sic] the championship."
-Don't you think we'd feel more comfortable with our clothes off?
-Unbelievable, just unbelievable
-The rules! Not to mention your girlfriend
-What, Ingrid? She's very uninhibited. She'd have had her top off at the check-in desk."
...a few more moments frozen in time after the jump. Have you seen any of these movies?
JA from MNPP here. It seems like it's the dream of every young actor to play one of the Beats - sensitive yet masculine fellows in sharp clothes with pre-praised snappy dialogue: what could go wrong? Well... they were kind of all having sex with each other for one, and that keeps the money-men away. So the budgets stay tiny, pre-production gets drawn way out, and names come and go, come and go. I've been following the news on one of these projects for awhile - Kill Your Darlings first blipped onto my radar back in 2009, when it was announced that Chris Evans was going to play Jack Kerouac. That's the sort of headline that grabs my attention, you see.
KYD is about the sordid story at the start of the Beats, involving the poet Lucien Carr who was friends with Kerouac and William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. Carr murdered a man named David Kammerer, supposedly because Kammerer came onto him. That gay-panic defense seems somewhat unlikely given the fact that Ginsberg maintained he'd had sex with Carr, but you can read more about the background to the story here.
Besides Chris Evans, KYD was originally going to have Ben Whishaw playing Carr and Jesse Eisenberg was going to play Allen Ginsberg. Then silence. Who knows what iterations of actors came after that, but the next thing we heard was two and a half years later, this past November that is, when Daniel Radcliffe was announced as set to play Ginsberg.
Well a couple of days ago we got more casting news. A lot more, actually. Young Leonardo DiCaprio doppleganger Dane DeHaan, who just topped the box office this month in the generally well-received found-footage movie Chronicle, is set to play the murderer Lucien Carr. Dexter's Michael C. Hall will be playing the victim, David Kammerer. Elizabeth Olsen is set to play Carr's girlfriend Edie. The great Ben Foster is playing William Burroughs, while Jennifer Jason Leigh and Kyra Sedgwick are set to play...we don't know who. Somebodies!
Finally Jack Huston, of yes those Hustons, is going to play Jack Kerouac.