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SMACKDOWN 1954

 "I love that two people independent of one another gave Claire Trevor an extra star simply for being Claire Trevor." - Glenn

"Interesting to see the take of young people on these movies." - Les

"That was fascinating. I love the thoughts on Executive Suite, post-post-WWII and the "benevolent patriarch." " - B.D.

 

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Entries in animated films (266)

Thursday
Sep032015

Tim's Toons: Norway (and TFE) salutes Torill Kove

Tim here. It's a good time  to be Torill Kove: the Norwegian-born animator/director, who has spent virtually her entire career working in Canada, received the Anders Jahre Prize in Oslo today (or yesterday, if you want to be strict about time zones). This award is given to artists at home and abroad who have enriched the cultural life of Norway, and while most of Kove's work has been funded by the invaluable National Film Board of Canada, there's no denying the national pride of her delicate, highly personal fables of life in Norway.

The easiest proof of Kove's prominence is to note that all three of the short films she has directed in her career were nominated for the Best Animated Short Oscar, and one won. Since the NFB, in its generosity and wisdom, has made two of those available online, there could be no better opportunity or excuse to wander through the imagination of one of contemporary animation's most vivid creators. [More...]

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Friday
Aug282015

Tim's Toons: Three Animated Oddities of 1954

Tim returning to duty.

August has been 1954 Month here at the Film Experience, and it now falls upon me to share with you the animation of that year. And man, it was a weird 'un. The important place to start is noting that in '54, Walt Disney - the man, not the multinational entertainment corporation - was massively obsessed with the creation of his brand-new theme park out in California, and the brand-new television show on ABC that shared its name and served as the new funnel for all his creative and commercial instincts.

With Disney - the multinational entertainment corporation, not the man - thus a bit rudderless, there was a void in American animation like there hadn't been since Mickey Mouse's 1928 debut, basically. Disney itself was beginning to experiment with form in ways that Walt did not approve of, since Walt wasn't paying attention anymore, and the result was things like the Oscar-nominated short Pigs Is Pigs, one of the very weirdest shorts in the studio's history.

More...

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Wednesday
Aug122015

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: "Chicken Run" 

With Shaun the Sheep currenty struggling at the box office, it's an ideal time to give a round of thanks to Aardman animation for all their wonderfully specific aesthetic and the painstaking stop motion or stop-motion-like CGI shorts and features they've made over the years. This week's Hit Me With Your Best Shot travels back to 2000, the year before Oscar added a Best Animated Feature category, to the film that surely would have won it had they started just a year earlier: Chicken Run.

This delightfully British comedy is about a tenacious 'hard boiled' leader Ginger who wants to rescue her fellow hens from their egg-making enslavery at the farm before they become roasts. Mrs Tweedy (perfectly voiced by Miranda Richardson), tired of the farm's low profits, decides to make them pies instead. Cue slapstick action, a sly morbidity, repetitive but highly effective sight gags and lots of jokes about prisoner of war films, organized labor, groupthink, and, you know, chickens.

Here are the Best Shots chosen by our informal club. Click on any of the images to read the accompanying article. My choice is at the end of the post.

CHICKEN RUN (2000)
8 shots chosen by 10 participating blogs 

I’m impressed with their smart set and costume designs that imitate the war time, including concentration camp (the chicken farm), clothing and even the gas chamber (the pie machine)...
-Chirapat

My favorite moments are the slightly darker and somber ones that really give this film its depth...
-Sorta That Guy

I always say when I judge a comedy the number one factor is- Did it make me laugh?  The answer for Chicken Run is Yes!  I laughed back in 2000 and I laughed today watching it. 
-54 Disney Reviews 

 There's a great mastery of visual grammar at work here, and directors Park and Peter Lord show a strong hand in their feature debuts.
-The Entertainment Junkie

The mixture of round, soft and mostly appealing character designs with its detailed and bleak world is jarring at first, but the mixture of the two give the film quite a striking look...." 
-Magnificent Obsession, um blog de cinema 

A very traditional movie in terms of plot mechanics, but it becomes something much more sentimental and endearing by telling this story from the perspective of a group of claymation chickens..." 
-Coco Hits NY 

The shot above is one of the many great sight gags in the film..."
-Film Actually 


More like people than the absolute dread of the Tweedies in their midst, the chickens quite quickly caught me off-guard with their stock yet recognizable personalities...
-Movie Motorbreath

The content and framing of this shot being rather conventional, save for the chickenification of it. Which is no sin, of course..."
Antagony & Ecstasy

As for my shot...

This is not it, but I have to share it because it was my heartiest laugh in 2015 (and I didn't remember it at all from 2000). A throwaway reaction shot during Ginger's planning meeting...

Now, i know our last escape attempt was a bit of a fiasco… 

The "acting" in this super brief cutaway is nothing less than perfection.

I normally select my shot before I've seen any from the contributors but I was late this week and of all the images I saved, two of the three I was struggling to choose between were Babs with her knitted noose, a great morbid sight gag, and that beautifully eery overhead shot in the oven, which is so bold design wise and unlike much else in the movie. Amusingly they happen to be the two shots that were both chosen more than once! Or perhaps it's telling considering that the film relies heavily on highly conventional, even cliché, shot types -- see Tim's article for a good description of why this is

The best shot in Chicken Run is not a single shot but the repeated motif of entire groups of chickens staring directly at the camera, blinking round eyes, dimbulb groupthink, and unified emotions, whether its awe, hope, or hysteria. But it's so much funnier in motion, so here is my choice.

Also funnier in motion, as the farmer does a double take with his flashlight, and the real chicken, hiding under the bed making awkward chicken noises. It's a great meta joke about this entire movie; a movie painstakingly crafted by humans with anthropomorphic clay chickens as their stand-ins, with the chickens themselves play-acting animal behavior for "humans" inside of it, with their own crafted objects. It's smart but, even better, it's sublimely silly.

NEXT WEEK: ANGELS IN AMERICA (2003) - Here are the details

Thursday
Aug062015

Tim's Toons: The wonderful world of Aardman Animations

Tim here. This week sees the release in the US of Shaun the Sheep Movie, a film whose nightmarishly anti-grammatical title hides the sweetest soul of any family movie of 2015. And this is no less than we'd expect, given that it is the newest film from the ever-reliable Aardman Animations of Bristol, England.

We're going to be taking a look at Aardman's first feature, 2000's Chicken Run, as next week's subject in Hit Me with Your Best Shot, but that's just a tiny slice of the studio's generally terrific output. If you'll permit me to go full fanboy - for y'see, people who love Aardman really love Aardman at an almost primal level - I'd like to sing the praises of the studio's other full-length films. Most of them, at least. Even fanboyism has its limits.

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)
Undoubtedly the most familiar title on this list, having won the 2005 Best Animated Feature Oscar, among other accolades. And because Wallace and Gromit themselves have become such iconic characters, arguably the most successful stars of a short cartoon series since the 1950s. [More...]

Click to read more ...

Friday
Jul312015

Tim's Toons: Auteurs and animation

Tim here. This week brought us the roll-out of the Venice Film Festival lineup, including one animated film, and it's a biggie. Charlie Kaufman's sophomore directorial work and first project of any kind since 2008, Anomalisa, is also his first foray into animation: it's a stop-motion feature for adults, on the same topics of loneliness and frustration that Kaufman has mined for his whole career. In celebration of the Venice announcement, the studio released the first still image from the movie, from which it is possible to draw no conclusions whatsoever.

Kaufman is the latest in a recent trend of established filmmakers dipping their toes into the world of animation. So in his honor, I'd like to share this capsule history of some of his predecessors, who made the jump into a new medium to see what they could do outside of the confines of live-action.

Richard Linklater: Waking Life (2001) & A Scanner Darkly (2006)

Using a brand new form of computer-aided rotoscoping to paint over videotaped footage with bright, unreal colors and subdued realism alike, Waking Life took Linklater's established gift for capturing moments in the lives of a huge ensemble, and amped it up. Instead of the laid-back Austin of Slacker, the setting here is the human subconscious, where the director's characteristic musings on all the little moments that happen in the gaps between plot are transformed into surreal explosions of psychologically loaded imagery. It's a great marriage of form and content, which is less true of A Scanner Darkly, a Philip K. Dick adaptation that's much more consistent and sober in its style, save for a few reality-bending moments. Still, kudos to Linklater for recognizing that a thin veneer of digitally heightened reality would create a more receptive mood for the story's druggy weirdness.

Robert Zemeckis: The Polar Express (2004), Beowulf (2007) & A Christmas Carol (2009)

Now that Zemeckis's dream of a perpetual machine of motion-capture films has fizzled out and died- nope, I still can't bring myself to say anything nice about his trilogy of dead-eyed humanoids pantomiming great works of literature, or paying obeisance to their terrifying zombie Santa-god. But we must concede that the films fall squarely in line with Zemeckis's career-wide interest in using the newest tools available (in addition to mo-cap, The Polar Express was the first film in the present 3D era) to find fresh ways into classical storytelling. That technology wasn't up to his ambitions is lamentable, but we can at least defend the films' rich fantasy design and-

Oh God, no, that's still just completely hideous.

Wes Anderson: Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

The clearest precursor to Kaufman's new film, Anderson's translation of his shadow-box aesthetic into shaggy, '70s-style stop motion animation netted him a Best Animated Feature Oscar nomination and rejuvenated his career: his subsequent return to live action in Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel won him better reviews and box-office than he'd had for years. Still, there's nothing quite like seeing his world-building turned towards literal dioramas in which every square centimeter can be designed precisely to order. It's fussy as it gets, but perfectly matched to the intricacy of the caper narrative, and the arch tone with which Roald Dahl's children's classic is brought to life.

Zack Snyder: The Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (2010)
Copious, unnecessary slow-motion, a preposterous fetish for military grandeur, overblown and idiotic internal mythology, dialogue that strives for weightiness and lands in shallow pomposity. Look, just because somebody's an auteur, that doesn't mean they have to be good at it. But hey, the owls look nice.

Thursday
Jul232015

Tim's Toons: In celebration of Bugs Bunny's 75th birthday

Tim here. We're coming hard upon one of the most important birthdays in animation: Bugs Bunny is turning 75 this week. It was on July 27, 1940, that the world first got to see the Merrie Melodies short A Wild Hare, written by Rich Hogan and directed by the legendary Tex Avery. And it was in this short that the unnamed comic rabbit character that the cartoonists at Warner Bros. had been noodling around with for a few years reached the final form of his personality. Though not, in fairness, anything close to his final design.

An ever-changing face notwithstanding, it was here that voice actor Mel Blanc premiered the sarcastic Bronx accent and the instant catchphrase, "Eh, what's up, Doc?", that separated the one true Bugs from the Bugs-like characters tormenting the primitive form of Porky Pig and Elmer Fudd in a few cartoons up to that point. And while refinements were still to be made – he wasn't yet an effortless in-command wit, but still a manic slapstick creation; it would also be five years before he'd take his first wrong turn at Albuquerque – it's remarkable how stable the character has been through all of the intervening decades.

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Jul162015

Tim's Toons: 1995, the year that changed animation

Tim here. We're celebrating 1995 this month at the Film Experience, and I'm ecstatic to bring the conversation around to that year's animated films. 1995 was, y'see, the most transformational year the animation industry had experienced in a generation, the dividing line between a 60-year-old tradition on one hand and the entirely different landscape of animated features in the twenty years since.

We have to begin even farther back. You can't tell a story about a revolution without looking at the ancien régime, and in '95, Walt Disney Feature Animation was as ancien as it gets. After having spent almost twenty straight years wandering around in the wilderness following namesake Walt Disney's death, the studio finally began righting itself through a painful learning process that started with the 1986 release of The Great Mouse Detective. Beginning with that movie, almost every subsequent Disney feature would improve upon the box-office take of its immediate predecessor.

This was the Disney Renaissance, when the studio just couldn't stop itself from cranking out one new classic after another. There was Beauty and the Beast, the only animated film nominated for the Best Picture Oscar in a field of 5; Aladdin, the first animated film to break $200 million at the U.S. box office; and then, the hit of all hits, 1994's The Lion King, a blockbusting monster that is, for many, the defining film of contemporary American animation. The company was at the all-time height of its influence and prestige. There was nowhere to go but down.

And down things went, with Pocahontas in June, 1995...

Click to read more ...