Academy unveils animated and live-action nominees
Short films more than stepping stones to features, learns Jason Korsner
18 February 2009
“This event can’t get any bigger,” boasted Jon Bloom, the Academy’s governor responsible for Short Films and Feature Animations, as he introduced a showcase of the ten films nominated for the animated and live-action shorts at the Academy’s headquarters in Beverly Hills.
The event was chaired by the director David Frankel, who’s mostly recently made The Devil Wears Prada and Marley & Me, but who previously won an Oscar for his live-action short, Dear Diary. Jon Bloom was keen to point out that this came after Frankel’s first feature – a sign that short films aren’t just a step on the ladder. That said, one of last year’s British nominees, Daniel Barber, is currently shooting his debut feature, funded by the UK Film Council, and recent British winners Andrea Arnold and Martin McDonagh also moved swiftly on to successful features.
The only British representatives this year were Alan Smith and Adam Foulkes, whose comedy This Way Up could see them following in the footsteps of last year’s British winners of the animation prize – Suzie Templeton and Hugh Welchman. “Smith and Foulkes”, as they title themselves in their credits, say they got into film-making because they used to do a lot of graphics, but wanted to tell a few jokes. Their goal in This Way Up – about a pair of undertakers struggling to deliver a coffin to the graveyard – was to focus on the faces of their characters as they did more and more horrible things to them.
They’re up against one of the sharpest sets of nominees in recent years – without fail, a remarkable collection of warm and witty animations. In The House of Small Bricks, Japan’s Kunio Kato tells a moving story of an elderly man who has to keep building a new storey on his house, because of rising water levels, recalling his past as he dives down and visits his submarine former homes. Presto – about a feud between a magician and his rabbit – is this year’s studio-backed contestant, with Doug Sweetland helming Pixar’s latest vision. Emud Mokhberi and Thierry Marchand, from France, are nominated for their colourful, fast-paced CGI tale of two octopi, fighting to stay together against the odds, Oktapodi. And Russia’s Konstantin Bronzit, who should be a comedian in his own right, presents a Spartan vision of a lonely public toilet attendant who finds love, in Lavatory Lovestory.
Unusually – and satisfyingly – in all five nominated short animations, there wasn’t a single word of dialogue – illustrating the effectiveness of animation to tell universal stories with unexpected warmth and humour.
The master of ceremonies, David Frankel, observed that in the live-action films, there were fewer laughs and more dialogue. There were no British representatives in this category this year. Two of the films were German – Reto Caffi’s half hour long On The Line, a tale of a department store security guard who falls in love with a book department assistant he observes through the CCTV cameras, with tragic consequences – and Jochen Alexander Freydank’s Toyland, about a six year old boy in World War Two Germany, who wants to go to the eponymous euphemism where his Jewish neighbours are being taken, clearly unaware of the horrors that would lie at the end of the train journey.
The other nominees in this category include French director Elizabeth Marre, whose imaginative Manon on the Asphalt, as the name suggests, presents a moving account of the thoughts running through the mind of cyclist who’s been hit by a car. New Boy, directed by an American, Steph Green, is a gently humorous Irish film, chronicling the arrival in Ireland of a young refugee schoolboy from Zanzibar. Another surprisingly satisfying drama came from Denmark’s Dorte HÃ¸gh. The Pig tells the story of a lonely old hospital patient, who takes solace from a picture on the wall of his ward, until the arrival of another patient disrupts the status quo.
As he closed the final Short Film Oscar nominees event of his nine year term as Academy Governor, Jon Bloom praised the fact that this year, it’s possible to see all ten of films in cinemas across the US, Canada, Mexico and Britain.