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Entries in Song of the Sea (7)

Friday
Feb132015

Interview: Tomm Moore on "Song of the Sea" and the Oscar Race

Tomm Moore, 38, is enjoying his second Oscar nomination for Animated FeatureOne of the semi-unexpected joys of the birth of the Animated Feature Oscar category in 2001 has been the steady stream of international cartoons that the Oscars have spotlighted. The first truly big surprise was a nomination for a film few had heard of at the time called The Secret of Kells (2009) -- that "what's that?" nomination has become something of a tradition in the category since then. The Oscar nomination for that hypnotic and singularly gorgeous tribute to Irish folklore did a lot to put Cartoon Saloon, an Irish animation studio, on the map.

Cartoon Saloon's co-founder and Kells co-director Tomm Moore has crafted another magical Irish winner in Song of the Sea, an adventure about a boy who discovers his little sister is a "selkie" and holds the key to saving all the faerie folk who are slowly turning to stone (long story!). 

I had the pleasure of speaking to Moore by phone where he was in San Francisco on his Song of the Sea tour and about to meet with Pete Docter (Up). He peppers his conversation with plentiful references to other animation giants (also sharing a story about hanging out with the Big Hero 6 team). It all paints a wonderful picture of a very tight mutual-appreciation niche within Hollywood's larger ecosystem.

We talked Oscars, storytelling, and Cartoon Saloon's next project...

NATHANIEL:  This is your second time nominated for the big show. Does it feel different this time?

TOMM MOORE:  For sure yeah. It’s more fun because we know a little bit more what to expect and am able to enjoy it a bit more rather than just be like “what?”

NATHANIEL: It’s been five years since your last movie.

TOMM: In the meantime I’ve joined the Academy myself and I understand a little bit better how it all works. 

Moore's favorite film of 2014 and the responsibility of kids movies after the jump...

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Feb042015

Tweets o' the Week, Film Bitch Awards Best Villains, More...

It's a combo post. We start with a random assortment of delightful tweets for those of you who don't use the twitter machine or those who do (it's easy to miss things on twitter. So impermanent!).

This collection features my most popular tweet ever (Spoiler Alert: It's about Best Actress), Joel Grey's coming out, the only Super Bowl tweet that mattered to me as well as a little detour into all time favorite movie villains.

In a related announcement I've updated the Film Bitch Awards with this year's nominees for Best Movie Villain of 2014. It wasn't until I was done writing it that I realized that one could safely say "My what big eyes you have!" to virtually any of them. They range from the literally petrifying Owl Witch (pictured above) in Song of the Sea to the 1/8th* metal Winter Soldier, aka Bucky Barnes gone Russian brainwashed assassin. 

*Okay, okay, your arm is probably not an entire 1/8th of your body -- I'm not a scientist! 

Here we go... 

MORE AFTER THE JUMP

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Jan152015

Tim's Toons: The newly wide-open animation race

Tim here. As you’ve probably heard, unless this is literally the first thing you’ve read on the internet all day, the Best Animated Feature category at the Oscars got thrown for a loop when the prohibitive frontrunner, The Lego Movie, was unexpectedly denied a nomination. In the blink of an eye, one of the most boring races suddenly turned into the most unpredictable of all 24.

So why don’t we start hacking away at the five titles, and see what we can make of them, now that we’ve suddenly got some excitement on our hands?



BIG HERO 6
Directors: Don Hall (1st nomination), Chris Williams (2nd nomination)
Studio: Walt Disney Animation (8th nomination)

Nathaniel kind of liked it, I kind of liked it a bit less. Which mostly describes the reception that the film has received from everybody: nobody much dislikes the genial adventure-comedy about a boy and his charmingly soft robot, but it hasn’t inspired the kind of culture-devouring passion that Disney’s Frozen was enjoying a year ago at this point.

Path to victory: If the glow of the Disney brand name, so recently rejuvenated by Frozen’s enormous success, convinces people that this one was probably good enough to get by in an uncertain year.



THE BOXTROLLS
Directors: Anthony Stacchi and Graham Annable (1st nomination for each)
Studio: Laika (3rd nomination, 4th if we include the pre-Laika Corpse Bride)

With The Lego Movie out of the picture, this has abruptly become the critics’ baby in the race. And it’s not an unfair position for the film, which bears its rough, handmade aesthetic with pride that shades into showing-off. Those of us who love stop-motion animation really love it, and the studio has done an outstanding job of positioning itself as the home for high-tech revisions to the most ancient of animation forms. The Boxtrolls is certainly not their most sophisticated piece of storytelling, but it’s a technical masterwork. For more praise, check out this top 10.

Path to victory: It’s in a great position to do some of the "look at our wonderfully fussy homey craftsmanship" campaigning that Laika does so well, and CEO Travis Knight has deep pockets. The film will have to work for it, but it’s work that I think can be done.

 

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2
Director: Dean DeBlois (3rd nomination)
Studio: DreamWorks Animation (11th nomination)

A sequel that many people liked and only some people particularly loved. A lot of that is the side effect of having two movies' worth of plot crushed down into one, cramping things and having unfortunate repercussions in the department of making Cate Blanchett's awesome character feel like an afterthought. It's also a little too desperate to make things feel grander and more epic, at the expense of the character-driven charm of the first. Still...

Path to victory: ...it feels like the default pick, right? DreamWorks proper hasn't won since the category's very first year in 2001, and voting for HTTYD2 can retroactively feel like rewarding the original, which surely would have won against any competition less fierce than Toy Story 3. The box office and the critics are fine without being in any way exceptional, though, so this is less the one that's surely going to take the Oscar, than the one that only takes the Oscar if nobody else can be bothered.

 

SONG OF THE SEA
Director: Tomm Moore (2nd nomination)
Studio: Cartoon Saloon (2nd nomination)

I must confess to having not seen it. Both Nathaniel and Margaret were pretty high on it, though, and on the strength of 2009's The Secret of Kells, I feel that following Moore down the rabbit hole of brightly-colored Celtic mythology is a pretty safe bet. Hopefully, I'll get a chance to look at this one a bit more closely in the next few weeks.

Path to victory: Margaret puts it bluntly: "breathtakingly stunning artwork". Being the most traditional, and probably also the most striking, of the nominees can only help. The big uncertainty here is that distributor GKIDS ended up with two nominees, and it's hard to guess if they have the resources to handle two campaigns. One of them almost certainly has to give.

 

THE TALE OF THE PRINCESS KAGUYA
Director: Isao Takahata (1st nomination)
Studio: Studio Ghibli (4th nomination)

As you perhaps know - because I won't shut the hell up about it - Takahata is one of the great living directors of animation, and Princess Kaguya is a gorgeous, challenging (potential) swan song. Retelling the most ancient story in Japanese storytelling using digtital animation techniques designed to mimic pencil sketches and watercolors, the film is a smart blend of fable and domestic drama without any anachronistic modern attitudes but also without old-fashioned fustiness. It's my favorite animated feature of the year, so I get a little over-passionate about it; it's also the only one of the nominees mostly meant for an adult audience.

Path to victory: See the above issue with GKIDS' split loyalties. These seems like the stronger play - it has more critics' awards, it's probably the last Ghibli film that will have a real shot at winning, the same for Takahata - but the category hasn't favored grown-up animation yet. And this is way Japanese. Besides, how many Academy members can possibly find "But Takahata might not ever make another movie!" a compelling argument?

 

Alright, so if you had to pick, right now, what do you think will end up winning? And was The Lego Movie robbed, or is that just the cost of making a feature-lenth toy ad? Sound off in comments!

Friday
Nov142014

AFI: 5 Reasons to see 'Song of the Sea' and 'Clouds of Sils Maria'

Margaret here, reporting from the LA festival beat with short takes on upcoming indies before they head to a theater near you.

FIVE REASONS TO SEE... SONG OF THE SEA
An Irish animated film from Oscar-nominee Tomm Moore about the mythical selkies-- women who turn into seals, or vice-versa-- and a small seaside family in Western Ireland.

1) Breathtakingly stunning artwork. This is quite possibly the most beautiful animated film I've ever seen. The lush backgrounds (reminiscent of Klimt paintings!) are all handpainted-- director Tomm Moore compared moving his designing from paper to digital with "Dylan going electric." Much of the team from 2009’s The Secret of Kells reunited here, though Sea's visuals are a bit softer and have more of a Japanese influence.

2) A refreshing lack of cynicism. Song of the Sea is a rare thing: a children's feature with no winking adult jokes, pop references, or corporate tie-ins-- just a lovely story, simply told.

3) A complex villain. As Nathaniel pointed out in his quick TIFF review, not only is "The Owl Witch" memorably designed, her motivations and development are unusually knotty and compelling for a simple folktale-type story.

4) Hauntingly beautiful score. The music has a key role in the plot, and perfectly serves the film's romantic mysticism. I defy anyone to leave a viewing without the selkie song looping in their brain.

5) It's got a strong shot at an Oscar nomination. While it's true that this is a competitive year for Animated Feature, Moore's previous film The Secret of Kells landed a nomination with much less recognition -- that heightened profile and the fact that it really stands out visually form the pack gives it a boost.

FIVE REASONS TO SEE... CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA

A multi-layered meta-fiction about acting, aging, love and attraction from Olivier Assayas, featuring Juliette Binoche as an actress returning to the play that made her famous, and Kristen Stewart as her personal assistant.

1) Juliette Binoche. Her Maria Enders is just delicious to watch. She's magnetic, emotionally rich, and adept at the aging woman, the brilliant actress, and the self-involved star. One devastatingly catty line ("He's a great actor") is tossed off with such a light touch I was almost on the floor.

2) The chemistry between Binoche and Stewart is insane. Their easy rapport, their mutual jealousy, their co-dependency is instantly convincing. When Stewart's Valentine runs lines for Maloja Snake with Maria as her younger lover, the textures of attraction and intimacy they play (Is this part of the text? How much of what we're seeing between them is real?) are fascinating.

3) Chloe Moretz... if you're into that sort of thing. She has a key role as the unpredictable tabloid-fixture actress cast to play opposite Maria Enders in the revival of Maloja Snake, and reliable sources tell me that she is good in it. I cannot be objective (she just bothers me) but that visceral dislike actually worked for the movie.

4) The Swiss countryside (and its clouds) are magnificent. Much of the film takes place in the Alps, and there is no skimping on sweeping landscapes and beautifully streaming light. Cinematography is by Yorick Le Saux, who also lensed I am Love.

5) That third act. Who saw that coming? How do we feel about it?

Song of the Sea is due in December, and Clouds in March (such a long wait time after its Cannes debut. And why?). Now, who still needs convincing?

Tuesday
Sep092014

TIFF: Two to see again in "Foxcatcher" & "Song of the Sea"

Nathaniel's adventures at TIFF. Days Whichever.

Here are a two films that I feel I should see again, primarily because they're ambitious works and I wonder if my response would change if I had more familiarity with their visual language. You know how that goes with more complicated art.

FOXCATCHER

Bennett Miller, a remarkably consistent auteurial voice, once again demonstrates great aptitute at exploring masculine intimate true stories and mining them for larger weighty themes, without any of the glazy sentiment that tends to be slathered onto both sports movies and biopics. His best move here is to study the alien body language of wrestlers, like it's a foreign tongue for which close visual track is your only form of subtitles. Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo speak this foreign tongue fluently. They play Mark and Dave Schultz, Olympic Gold Medalists in wrestling, "a low sport" (that's Mother DuPont's words as perfectly uttered by Vanessa Redgrave). Into their lives comes a would be patron and "coach" John DuPont, a filthy rich patriotic nutjob who completely takes over and irrevocably and tragically alters their fate.

I was interested the whole time, but unfortunately it never fully engrosses, and moves as if mired in grandiloquent molasses. The line deliveries follow suit with simple sentences feeling as long as paragraphs. The movie improves as it goes, though, ending with a gut punch. I'm not sure why I found it offputting, exactly, despite easily identifiable strengths, but I'm going to chalk it up to its over confidence in its own greatness and the conception and execution of the catalystic figure Steve Carell's John DuPont. It's a very prosthetics and mimicry-based performance of a very difficult role -- to say these words and bring nuance rather than "i'm a dangerous pathetic nutjob!" I can't imagine -- and it's hard to feel the inexorable gravitational pull of any of the great tragedies (which I think this wants to be) when everything is so telegraphed as to its danger and when that gravitational pull towards tragedy is so slow, that any able bodied athlete out to be able to outrun it.

Best in Show: Easily Channing Tatum, who holds his jaw and body so distinctively that you feel, at all times, the monotonous life of this character: the training, the muscle soreness, the lack of any stimulation outside of the physical. He's heartbreatking, really, unable to articulate what meager thoughts are in his easily manipulated mind and body. His body is thick but his skin is thin with easily bruised feelings. Tatum totally understands the character, a manchild who just can't wrestle himself out from under any father figure's shadow.

Honorable Mention: Mark Ruffalo, also excellent throughout, is particularly sensational in one of the movies rare scenes that plays as much for uncomfortable comedy as it does for dramatic arc. He's asked to be a talking head on a documentary and finds his lines thoroughly distasteful. B (but Channing & Mark are total "A"s)

Oscar chances: A threat in all categories but particularly Supporting Actor and maybe Director 

SONG OF THE SEA

This Irish animated film, from the team that brought you The Secret of Kells, is so visually impressive that my eyes were twice their normal size trying to take it all in. I'd need a second pass to focus on the story which might be presented a touch too juvenile, like it's an animated film for very young children when its beauty and imagination are such that it really should be thinking bigger and aim for all ages. It's the tale of a little boy who loses his mother in the birth of his sister, who he then blames for everything for years. Some time later he discovers she's a magical being which means the fairy tales his mother told him in the film's prologue were true. In this world which is our world but filtered through animation that sees everything in glorious watercolor style backdrops, two dimensional lines, bright circles, and dazzling color patterns (my god its beautiful), all the magical beings are slowly being turned to stone. But why and how can he save his sister from the same fate?

Other than the fairies, who I didn't really enjoy, the character designs are compelling, especially for the central family and any animals in the film. The two best characters are the family's giant sheepdog, all bangs and tongue and loyalty and a memorable villain in "The Owl Witch" whose motives and arc are unusually strong and fascinating for this sort of movie. B+

Oscar Chances: it's so unlike any American CG animated film that it will really stand out in the crowd. I'd call it a certain contender for the  Best Animated Feature Oscar - GKids will qualify it this year - but the category sure is getting competitive so who knows.

Also at TIFFA Little ChaosWildThe Gate, Cub, The Farewell Party, BehaviorThe Theory of Everything, Imitation Game1001 Grams, Labyrinth of Lies, Sand DollarsThe Last Five YearsWild Tales, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on ExistenceForce Majeure, Life in a Fishbowl, Out of NatureThe Kingdom of Dreams and MadnessCharlie's Country, and Mommy

Wednesday
Feb122014

GKIDS acquires Song of the Sea

Tim here with some great news for everyone who loved the 2009 Best Animated Feature Oscar nominne The Secret of Kells (which should, really, be everyone). GKIDS, the indie that Kells first put on the map, has announced that they'll be distributing diretor Tomm Moore's second feature, Song of the Sea, though they've rather cagily failed to announce a date just yet (the film is still in production). Based on the distributor's past history, I'd expect an Oscar-qualifying run in the fall, followed by a full release sometime in the spring of 2015, which isn't terribly comforting to those of us who want to see it, like, now. Just based on the images available on Moore's blog for the movie, it looks like the animators at Cartoon Saloon have taken the illuminated manuscript aesthetic gone to even richer, more tactile places.

 

Like The Secret of Kells, the new movie tells a story inspired by Irish folklore: in this case, selkies, a race of seal-humans whose previous cinematic appearances include the John Sayles family movie The Secret of Roan Inish and the Neil Jordan romantic drama Ondine. Kells veteran Brenan Gleeson is back to do voice work, and the music will once again by courtesy of Bruno Coulais and the band Kila, whose work was almost as key to the effectiveness of the earlier movie as the imagery was.

Having found Moore's last film to be one of the most fresh and enjoyable animated films in years, I'm ecstatic to have this clear indication that his new project will be treated with care for a North American audience. GKIDS has pushed films to four Oscar nominations in five years, including current nominee Ernest & Celestine; I'd (foolishly?) lay good money on Song of the Sea being part of the same conversation a year from now.