Thursday, 31 December 2009

Top Ten Animated Shorts: No's 1 & 2

And now to my top two films of the year. Deciding between the two has been an impossible task because they are so very different. One is so emotional, the other uplifting. Perhaps it is our grim UK winter that draws me to the latter......
No 2: Kunio Katô: La Maison en Petits Cubes . The Japanese director was awarded the Academy Award for his intensely moving film about a man marooned in a flooded world, stoically rebuilding his house above the rising waters before revisiting the layers it was built upon. In doing so he remembers his family as they too proceed through life. The old man smoking his pipe in a reducing room, donning his diving gear, setting a table for two will linger in your memory in a film that is distinctive in style.

No.1: Emanuel Luzatti, Luigi Berio and Stefano Cabrera: Genova Sinfonia della Città might seem a strange choice to top this year's list of favourite films. It is a commissioned film extolling the virtues of Genoa as a tourist destination. The late Emanuel Luzzatti's gorgeous paintings celebrate the city's rich history to a glorious soundtrack from Stefano Cabrera. Director Luigi Berio uses a traditional cutout technique. I was effulgent when first reviewing this 2005 film. So simply revel in the pageantry, the exuberance and glorious sense of history. A feast of a movie, it lacks the narrative drive of Kunio's work but more than makes up in gorgeous spectacle. What animation is all about.

There are a number of other awards I should make before the year ends:

Best Movie for Children:

Yoann Lemoine: The Balloon - what happens to discarded balloons

Big Studio Production

Doug Sweetland: Presto (Pixar) - big studios make magic as of old

Best Music Video

Yuval and Merav Nathan: Her Morning Elegance - stunning stop motion photography, design, actress, song and would have made top ten

Best Classic Animation

Jack Kinney: Der Fuehrer's Face - fight Hitler by making him look funny

Favourite Ad

Psyops: UPS Store - corrugated epics not made from card

  • François-Xavier Goby and Matthieu Landour (Nexus): All Together Now - countries pulling together for the Olympic spirit

For Technical Excellence

Tyson Ibele: Hemlock - 3D realism but he's not real

Enjoy your New Year!

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Top Ten Animated Shorts: No's 3, 4, 5 & 6

Continuing my favourite films featured here in 2009 .....

No 6:

Jake Armstrong: The Terrible Thing of Alpha-9! is a student film made in Flash which will not please everyone, I realise. But here Flash is used so well, as if a comic book were being animated. The science fiction story, liberally laced with humour (and a kind of pathos) is well scripted, the action meticulously staged, full of interesting angles and perspectives. The narrative is enthralling. One has to see if this terrible alien is as terrible as reports make out. It is terribly funny.

No 5:

Rodrigo Blaas: Alma delighted from the first with the young boy making his way towards the strange toyshop like a moth to the light. In all its 3D majesty the dolls come alive, vibrant with colour and personality, their eyes expressing so much with barely a flutter. To escape is akin to bashing one's head, or bike, against the closed shop door. A compelling chiller for Christmas with just the faintest of icy finger tickling my spine. A splendid movie.

No 4:

Frédéric Back: Tout-Rien should not be compared to, say, the work of Jake Armstrong. He is talented young man commencing the business of animation. Back is one of the greats. Of course, the Animation Blog features an eclectic range of animators at different stages in their careers and this top ten reflects that diversity. In the hands of a master the movie savages the fur trade in a manner that is all the more telling being that the savagery is so elegantly drawn. From paradise to slaughterhouse, the theme is of man's fall from grace.

No 3:

Joanna Quinn: Dreams and Desires: Family Ties is as unlike the previous short as can be imagined. Joanna, or rather her character Beryl, does not do elegant, dressed up to the eyeballs until the alcohol and an incontinent dog wreck her career in films. I know of no-one in the industry who manages the hilarious so well. Sketched with a sureness of touch that catches every nuance of working class life here in the UK at least, Joanna's portraiture is warm and affectionate, never critical. Beryl ........ a force of nature.

Tomorrow my top movie of the year and runner up. Also several special category winners.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Top Ten Animated Shorts: No's 9, 8 & 7

Continuing my favourite films featured here this year...

No 9:

Izabela Plucinska: Jam Session is a love story set above a jazz club. The coarsely shaped clay figures act out a touching courtship as the ageing couple's dancing days are reignited by the band beneath. I grew into the movie as it progressed, just as the man and woman's romance is rekindled.

No 8:

Spela Cadez: Lovesick is a love story with the heart in the wrong place. That's all one needs to know about the plot but this beautifully observed comedy has such appealing puppets that make unlikely, gauche, would-be lovers. If the festivities have left you immune to the movie's charms, there is no hope.

No 7:

Yevgeniy Sivokon: Laziness was recommended to me as a satire. How right you are, Niffiwan. Indolence, lethargy, slothfulness... I'll do anything to put off work. As an object lesson in what can happen if you let the grass grow beneath your feet, let me inform you that it sprouts to jungle size, you fall over and the tiger gets you. Alternatively, the fish devours the owner of the bowl. A remarkable movie, an object lesson for all of us. And droll. No dilly-dallying from now on.

Monday, 28 December 2009

Top Ten Animated Shorts of 2009: Disqualifications & No 10=

Two shorts were declared ineligible for the top ten animated shorts. The Scrutiny Committee declared Bruno Bozzetto's Bolero - Allegro Non Troppo to be in breach of the competition rules as it was deemed not a short, but a feature movie of which Bolero is but a section - a contentious decision as it deprives the list of one of the most spectacular musical animations ever created. Sarah Van Den Boom’s The Skeleton Woman was likewise disqualified on the grounds that it was only a trailer. The list is thereby denuded of its stylish depiction of a woman's struggle with identity and self-worth, reality and fantasy.

Number 10= If the officials were unnecessarily pedantic over disqualifications, they were lenient in the extreme when it came to allowing three movies to tie at 10=. They were....

David O'Reilly: Please Say Something was not I confess a first choice. Many of the features I look for in an animation are missing. (I can only say "beautifully drawn" so many times, I suppose.) However in its penetrating examination of relationships between husband and wife it made its mark with surprising power. Intellectually vigorous, economic in its presentation, it surprised and challenged.

Georges Schwizgebel: The Year of the Deer was a compelling work with a visual swagger in its broad brushstrokes. The narrative kept one gripped as hunter and hunted were brought together before what, in retrospect, was always going to be the conclusion. Georges is a marvellous animator capable of stunning imagery and inventive animation.

Kristian Andrews: Rabbit Punch is a contemporary animation that is ultra-realistic in its presentation of adolescence. (I wanted to include graduation films in the final ten.) Made at London's Royal College of Art, Kristian's partly autobiographical portrayal of two boys intent on mischief was superbly voiced, had a personal style in its drawing and drew one in to the action.

Tomorrow number 9, 8 and 7 in my selection of the movies of my year.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Top Ten Animated Shorts of 2009: Those that made the long list

With 300+ movies reviewed this year, reducing to a top ten is not an easy task. Leading up to the New Year there follows, in stages, my favourite movies of a busy year. No national bias, no favouring a particular style, only those ten animations that struck a chord. A number failed to make the final shake-up to the top ten however through no fault of theirs. The failing is entirely mine.

In strictly alphabetical order....

  1. A Sheep on the Roof - quirky, whimsical, beautifully drawn, funny, sad
  2. Boy and Girl - such romantic artistry, tempered by realism from a great director
  3. Good Vibrations - another great director making his point with an engaging comic touch
  4. Love Recipe - I simply had to choose a Supinfocom movie; this won for slickness and timing
  5. Milovan Circus - modern puppetry at its best, sad and magical
  6. Run of the Mill - I wish I had a better copy of the great man's educational video warning of the dangers of drugs
  7. The Last Knit - as No 1 above but miss out the sadness
  8. The Little Drummer Boy - loved song, technique and that true sense of Christmas with the family
  9. The Man with the Beautiful Eyes - there is still something cutting edge in the marriage of words and images
  10. Voyage To Next - an animation chosen because it represents an age where hope reigned above cynicism

Tomorrow I dip into the top ten.

Friday, 25 December 2009

Graham Ralph "So Many Santas" (2000)

Merry Christmas from all the staff at the Animation Blog. But at this seasonal time of the year we want you to remember all those Santas now out of a job. They were difficult enough to get in the first place: So Many Santas.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Happy Holidays (2009)

Blacklist's againstallodds have created this film for JWT's Christmas card. A cow weathers the financial storm that threatens to decimate the world or barn whichever is the finer. Winds may blow, foreclosure notices appear like spots on an adolescent's chin but there is an udder world out there. Happy Holidays.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Selina Wagner: "Chewits" (2009)

Selina Wagner has been working for Christmas for a few weeks. She sends something to chew over though there seems no escape this Christmas. The lack of focus in the bird below is deliberate. And turn your sound up for Chewits.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Review of 2009: December

And finally, December's highlights..... Nexus' Trust Dave saved energy for Britain, entertaining as it did so. The Greenpeace promotional video for Greece was arty enough but Anchored surpassed it with considerable aplomb, Lindsey Olivares a name to remember for the future as she assuredly brought the sailor back home. Agata Gorządek's The Episode was memorable too in its fascinating depiction of mental illness with a deft, comic touch. Plastic Horse's music video What Do They Know made me want to get the camera out this winter and attempt a spot of stop motion. Bit cold at the moment though. David O'Reilly’s Please Say Something was decidedly not your typical animation yet made its mark with a tale of matrimonial difficulty. Ilias Sounas offered happiness in a rainbow with his Happy Cloud. The humour of Amylase from Henning Thomas and Björn Verloh was of a different nature, less sunny, darker as our man loses his face. The Little Drummer Boy, Bob Dylan and Jeff Scher encapsulated family life at its best. Kristian Andrews projected a harsher portrait of childhood or, more accurately, adolescence, in the very powerful Rabbit Punch. Posthaste was a splendid cartoon cops and robbers romp in the traditional style from Robert Zywietz. Milovan Circus from Gerlando Infuso infused me with enthusiasm for puppetry, Monica Gallab’s Nice Day For A Picnic lost me in a surreal loop, Katy Milner’s Mervyn amused and The Man with the Beautiful Eyes from Jonathan Hodgson had me questioning just how many films I could squeeze into my top ten movies at the turn of the year, so fine and varied was the drawn animation of a complex poem. The Dark reminded me of those nights as a boy sleeping in the attic of our new house, the only one in the family to do so. Not that I was ever scared, mind you! Nice comic debut for NMTrix. Rodrigo Blaas's Alma terrified all right. Dolls (or children) can be such frightening demons. Today's The Little Story is a pleasing antidote to all that is sugar at Christmas. From these and eleven months like them I shall attempt to select the movies I most enjoyed in the year.

Jacques Colombat "The Little Story" (1967)

Based on a story of the same name written by Ambrose Bierce in 1874, The Little Story was made in 1967 by Jacques Colombat, a French director I do not know. It is a more savage version of The Little Match Girl, though in this case set by the writer in the city of San Francisco. Like that itinerant seller, the bare foot heroine of this little satire is an orphan out on the streets in the snow, poorly clad and yearning after the food and warm hospitality enjoyed by the good people of the town. Straining to see the heaped confectionery in the shop windows, she has the temerity to imagine that she too is sampling their delights. Tarts are conjured up, a full Christmas meal. Why, she evens envisages herself at the centre of the party, by a hot stove, surrounded by her family. As dawn breaks, as manna from heaven, delights cascade on the town and the citizens are able to gorge on the riches strewn around. Somewhere under that deluge lies a young girl flattened by the goodness of it all. A kind family bear her up and place the thin thing in a position at the heart of their festivities. Beautifully drawn with an evocative sense of period, unexpectedly laced by black humour, the five minute short is an unexpected find and I am grateful for the YouTuber, whose "obscure animations" provide such a treasure trove.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Rodrigo Blaas "Alma" (2009)

Vimeo's HD channel is featuring Rodrigo Blaas's Alma by a special arrangement with the studio. There used to be a tradition on the BBC here in the UK of a ghost story over Christmas. Alma is not it but do not be seduced by the seasonal opening as the young boy skips through the snow in a provincial town in which he discovers a magnificent toy shop, notable for a timber framed front window that looks for all the world as if it has grown from the pavement, so curved and organic is the woodwork. But in the window is a doll that is identical to the boy. No-one seems around and the door to the shop is stubbornly shut. When the door mysteriously opens a world of beautiful life-like dolls is revealed in 3D so sharp, one could just take one of the dolls home to the kids, except you wouldn't. The mystery of the shop was not in doubt for one moment but such is the atmosphere generated by this superb short that a tingle does creep down the spine. Originally from Spain and now working in the USA, Alma is Rodrigo's first short as a director. The full list of credits for a team effort is available via the website link above.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Michael Visser/NMTrix "The Dark " (2009)

Strange bedroom, nervous sleeper, noises off. The Dark is a debut short for Dutch studio NMTrix. The 3D piece is extremely well made in a technical sense whilst the rolling eyes of the nervous would-be sleeper, sudden loss of power and reliance on flash light keeps one interested in terms of character and plot. Night terrors make for good drama and here the suspense, tempered by humour, sustains interest until the terrifying conclusion. Now I have to confess the bedroom does not match the classic haunted house on the hill exterior witnessed in the opening moments, this being if anything an adolescent's bedroom, but it goes to show how terror can strike in the most unlikely places. Whatever, a burst of Perry Como can alleviate any horrors of the night. And don't monsters have big teeth. As a means of showcasing the talents of the commercial studio, a good short like this works wonders.

Review of 2009: November

November had arguably the strongest collection of movies. Alexander Alexeieff and Claire Parker’s The Nose used such an unusual technique it compelled respect for that alone. The humour was a bonus. Stilt Walkers from Alexis Van der Haeghe was boy’s own fantasy stuff with elongated villains. Colour in abundance and a pair of grotesques in Max Crow’s well voiced The Tourist Trap. Instruments provided classy advertising, cool animation and smooth jazz for Honda. The Terrible Thing of Alpha-9! from Jake Armstrong was comic book excellence, telling a tale of a fierce alien whose reputation for butchery was well merited. We inhabit a society where only the new is valued. Try Gerald McBoing-Boing from 60 years ago to test if Robert Cannon’s short has stood the test of time. (It has.) Tom Schroeder’s The Mexican Cloud-Swing Disaster was a nice amalgam of his student’s work within an artistic brief. The Cat Piano is in the running for an Oscar. Eddie White and Ari Gibson offer a stylised treat. Icarus And The Wise Men demonstrates why men continue to leap from cliffs. Soyuzmultfilm’s Fyodor Khitruk hits the spot with an economical touch. I have not seen it in a few weeks and Sheldon Cohen’s lead song from her charming I Want A Dog is still in my head, damn it. Faith and John Hubley’s Voyage To Next entertains and educates in its portrayal of man’s capacity for self destruction. The comic Le Nouveau from France’s ESMA students is superbly edited and animated. Shorter by some margin, KJFG No5 from Alexei Alexeev makes one laugh but not so much as Johannes Nyholm's stop motion and puppet saga, The Tale of Little Puppetboy. Yevgeniy Sivokon's Laziness made me think as sloth inexorably enacts its retribution. The Lighthouse Keeper ignited wonder at the tremendous visual effects and admiration of the work of Gobelins. Oskar De Rycker delighted with Walking the Dog, his hand drawn dog taking master for a walk. Bruno Bozzetto is the Godfather of not just Italian animation, wonderfully entertaining in his Lilliput Put series. The link to Oscar contender, Fabrice O. Joubert’s French Roast is now down. Long enough to impress with its café based mistreatment of pompous guy with lost wallet. Galina Barina gave us another of the impressive Russian movies in A Long Time Ago, a parable using a variation on what we in the UK know of as George and the Dragon. Chris Shepherd massacred trees in humorous fashion in Ax Men. But Brave Circus was much more sensitive in its bright 3D treatment of performing snails. Supinfocom will not be kept out. Fellow Frenchman Jérémy Clapin is a classy perfomer. Good Vibrations, apart from being wryly amusing, was a lesson in tolerance. Arts Institute at Bournemouth gave us circus entertainment in colour provoking manner in Cirkus Spektakular. Rémy M. Larochelle’s music video The Flood enigmatically captured the mood of the song and I commenced the month with Irene Fuga and Rafael Sommerhalder's Pica, a provocative work of art.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Jonathan Hodgson "The Man with the Beautiful Eyes" (2000)

Jonathan Hodgson's The Man with the Beautiful Eyes is a film I saw shortly after release in Channel 4’s Animation Week nearly ten years ago. It has stayed in my memory. Based on a Charles Bukowski poem the film relates the experience of four boys who ignore their parents’ instructions and play near a house with tall bamboo and a fat goldfish. On one occasion only they meet the resident of the house, pushing open the door with a stream of invective aimed presumably at a partner we do not see. Drunk, complete with bottle of whiskey, unkempt long hair and unshaven he is nevertheless polite to them: “Hey little gentlemen, having a good time, I hope.” He departs with a smile. When his house is burnt down, the boys blame their parents whose fears for their children and very mundaneness conflict with the children’s perception of the man’s free spirit. For the man had striking beautiful eyes. Bukowski was an influential spirit himself in 1960s and 1970s America, a voice for the young against the establishment – he was also prone to heavy drinking. The boys blame their parents, the viewer might well think otherwise. A missing child poster is conspicuous in the opening scenes. The film concludes with a declaration by the children that “many people would have to die” followed by a lengthy black and white scene of a very normal street (featuring the shop front for Chinaski’s, the poet’s pseudonym.) It is either oppressively monotonous or reassuring depending on one’s point of view. The animation I find extraordinary. Designed by Jonny Hanah, hand drawn, constantly switching colour and perspective, realism and symbolism, text used as powerful images; the freewheeling nature is entirely suited to a narrative in which ambiguities are everything. Which brings me to my Christmas present and a request for one member of the family to buy me British animation: The Channel 4 factor by Clare Kitson. You may recognise the cover illustration.

Review of 2009: October

And so to October. Leerone sent me an album or two of her songs. No inducement needed for me to favourably review her haunted house, Empty Houses. Alina Constantin featured a gentle race of beings in Shrug, gentle watercolour too. Amazing what can be achieved with the latest 3D software. Judge for yourself with the big movie feel of Michael Sormann’s rather spectacular Bunny Situation. A hand drawn comic style, playing tricks with the media is Singles, a confident thesis film for Rebecca Sugar. George Ungar is an established director. The Wanderer L'Étranger is an account of devilish intervention that featured a really distinctive look etched black and white. Very impressive technique. Ondrej Svadlena impressed rather than clarified in Sanitkasan. I feature a few music videos, less than I’m sent. I liked Bottom of the River from Trunk Animation. Enjoyed the tune and sentiment also. Anthony F. Schepperd used Flash to good effect in Wail to God. Shynola’s Strawberry Swing gained the awards though for Cold Play. Mumu was a class act all the way in the best tradition of Russian animation. Valentin Karavayev uses cut-outs and the finest artists. Blip might not have the finesse but Ben Harper and Sean Mullen use colour and shape well. California Institute of the Arts had three featured films, Ian Worrel’s Second Wind being the superior I reckon. Galina Shakitskaya inevitably strikes another fanfare for Russia with Night on Bald Mountain and the marvelous music of Mussorgsky. (Too many m’s: good film.) Una Giornata Perfetta from an Italian director I did not know, Virgilio Villoresi, was recommended to me. A vehicle for the singing of Vinicio Capossela, it captured an essence of 1950s Europe you could smell. Reza Dolatabadi’s Khoda was an accomplished graduation film full of enigmatic images whilst Donato Sansone did the complex flicking through his flipbook in Videogioco. All entirely digital but you might have thought Quba Michalski got his scissors out in his promotional video for the Turkish edition of New York Times. I am undecided about which Georges Schwizgebel movie I most favour. The Year of the Deer might just be it. I have not mentioned Supinfocom yet. All Together Now for Nexus and the Olympic movement was made by two of their ex-students. Nations pulling together. And they claim advertisers deal in reality. The smooth Café Serré employs 3D realism from a team of their existing students. 3D to the fore again. Spot the real man in Tyson Ibele’s incredibly lifelike Hemlock. Bill Plympton’s figures are anything but, his hand operated pencil being much in evidence in the typically exaggerated western, Mexican Standoff. If you want to know how a simple digital camera can be wielded with wit and distinction, view The Bedwetter by Ingo Schiller and Stephan Müller. I found Her Morning Elegance from Oren Lavie a lovely song and the stop motion animation from man and wife team Yuval and Merav Nathan was sophisticated elegance indeed. Utterly delightful.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Katy Milner "Mervyn" (2002)

Those of you who enjoy light-hearted frolics will revel in Katy Milner’s Mervyn particularly if you are able to tolerate cat throwing competitions. Katy’s hero is ten years old, believes in Russian spies though his dastardly adversary turns out to be a very English villain, Alan Key. The problem is Maximus the champion cat. He is such a champion and very much in demand. Don’t worry. Maximus is hurled to the rafters and lives to purr again. Bold and colourful in its depiction, the short is a kid’s adventure, escapist and an invitation to the imaginary world of childhood, lighting up a dark winter's day. This adult enjoyed it. Having studied Fine Art at Nottingham Trent University Katy progressed to the Royal College of Art. She directed Mervyn for Channel Four TV in 2002. I have a collection of C4 films to write about in future months.

Review of 2009: September

In contrast to August, September was a busy month. Géza M. Tóth’s choice of sand for animation Ikarosz was an appropriate technique with which to tell the story of the doomed aviator. Rather beautiful too. Selina Wagner is one of the most versatile of animators in the UK, as shown in her expose of the treatment of seals by fisherman, Bonnie’s Tale. The University of Hertfordshire has a great animation department, Static generating an unsettling atmosphere with typical technical elegance. I have other movies of theirs to post on shortly. Psyops contributed a notable series of ads for UPS Store with their corrugated cardboard take on epic movies. Zoologic was a very high quality thesis film from California Institute of the Arts student, Nicole Mitchell, witty with a sound grasp of the cartoonist’s art. Zoya Kireeva's Foolish Girl used delicate soft colours in its depiction of a girl who was anything but delicate. Frédéric Back is one of the giants of world animation, his classic Tout-Rien ramming home the evils of trapping animals for the fashion industry, yet possessing a rare artistry in that portrayal. Polish director Izabela Plucinska impressed with her puppet drama Jam Session that left me with a warm smile on my face at the conclusion. I trailed Sarah Van Den Boom’s marvellous The Skeleton Woman showed a woman blessed with artistic and emotional skills. Michael Stevenson’s Pigeon Pilfer made me smile at the cute clay birds. Moongirl was a bigger budget movie from Henry Selick giving a romantic explanation for moonlight. Laura Neuvonen has a more finite budget and limited wool. I loved her The Last Knit. Back to budgets and Doug Sweetland’s Presto has Pixar behind it. They know their stuff as did the great studios of old. A lovely subtle mood is established in The Chimney Sweep, Joseph Mann creating a delightful set in which sweep and young boy sit on a roof and help each other. Supinfocom contributed Love Recipe this month - clever, slick excellence. Robert Breer made a late entry to the blog, his Swiss Army Knife with Rats and Pigeons a complex manipulation of images. I made a mistake when presenting four Gobelins movies in two consecutive posts. Lesser movies have received more individual treatment. I was reminded of this when responding to one of the team responsible for Un tour de manège. I watched it again and realised a subtlety and charm I failed to address at the time. This note is offered in apology. I love Russian animation, Rozalia Zelma being one of many directors whose work receives scant individual recognition. Her Female Astrology and Boy and Girl forming part of a six film series. Rozalie directs works of art, totally different in form, united by brilliance. Bulgarian director Ivan Rusev has a wry sense of humour, Grey observing life at a bus stop with grey, rather than rose, spectacles. Jeff Scher memorably said goodbye to the sun in Summer Retreat. Jeff captures moods.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Tundra "Back to You" (Brett Anderson 2007)

Reminding me of David Bowie in his pomp, ex-Suede singer Brett Anderson's striking vocals from the album "Pleasure 2" is animated by UK studio Tundra. It was one of the music videos I had intended to post some time ago though the link is to a HQ version. Back to You is a mix of flat, black and white animation together with bright colour as the lonely astronaut sends off messages of love to his planetary girl. I seem to remember Bowie's astronaut lost in space. This guy discovers nuts and bolts sufficient to escape back to a crowded Earth.

Review of 2009: August

August was my blissful Italian sojourn. It left time for only four movies. My Chinese had Cédric Villain at his mischievous best, witty and charming in his analysis of stereotypes. Malcolm Sutherland is a busy animator whose work is varied in its styles. The Astronomer's Dream explains how astronomers think, a whimsical world beautifully created. Push, Osamu Tezuka’s satire is also funny but with a cutting edge that has a lesson for all of us in a changing planet of consumerism. Kenny Frankland’s Lion’s Den was all action from Ms Dynamite’s vocals to the heroes on screen.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Monica Gallab "Nice Day For A Picnic" (2008)

A second successive film from Belgium with Monica Gallab’s Nice Day For A Picnic, an absurdist short in which a whole bizarre series of incidents loop in an interconnected way. Thus a drowning man struggles to hold onto an upside down chair, or men wrestle a vacuum cleaner from each other, the said machine having been donated by giant men, the tiny men having walked naked over hot coals for the privilege. In a series of revolving rooms, propelled on its way by a young girl, an identical man follows in the loop of the girl’s skipping rope attempting vainly to snip the rope with scissors. Elsewhere the same men walk round a circle of chairs before one stands on one, propelling himself headlong into a light bulb. Such is the machinations of an intriguing film documenting in bizarre fashion the struggles of men to woo the opposite sex or compete with each other in the journey of life. Idyllically, mother, father, son and infant picnic in a bare world beside a huge canvas of a landscape, itself pretty basic. Father admonishes son for throwing ball onto his head, and has to admonish him again, and again. (I teach pupils like this.) Ants crawl over the deserted picnic, a mother peels slices from the back of a tiny man. Monica has drawn and animated the frames in neat, clinical fashion, colour pared down to basics. The man drowns. For all its surrealism there is verisimilitude. Men are treated like this. An intelligent, thought-provoking film.

Review of 2009: July

Christopher Minos' Knight Fever was a fine example of 3D work, always a popular subject in my mailbag. Aaron Lampert is one of those talented guys from Trunk Animation, his expertly narrated Dillon’s Story reminding us of the haves and have nots in society. Hikikomori was another serious subject from Jonathan Harris about a boy lost in his bedroom, endlessly awaiting an email. Trunk Animation again, and this time Grigoris Leontiades, in a throwback to bygone animation days in Dancing Jack in the style of the Fleischer Brothers. Natalia Malgina is a talented Russian director, her Zina’s Walk funny, sentimental, well made. Swiss animator Georges Schwizgebel has a style that sets him apart. Les Jeune Fille Et Les Nuages is ravishing with its thickly daubed paint. It doesn’t seem much in description but a collection of walking people on New Yorks’ sidewalks can be fun in the hands of Jeff Scher: The Parade. Kara Nasdor-Jones (I Slept With Cookie Monster) survived to tell a scorchingly honest and yet amusing story that could have turned out so different. Talent and therapy. Rafael Sommerhalder plays productively with a flowerpot in Flowerpots, what else. An amusing little piece. Andrei Khrzhanovsky had his man walking throughout Soviet Russia on a pointless pursuit. There lived a man called Kozyavin was a classic animation with a real sense of style. Street of Crocodiles from the Quay Brothers demonstrated why they have been so influential, their dolls and the derelict factory they inhabit unsettling. Back to that word style again with Gianna Ruggiero’s Gretel and Hanzel in vivid colours. 3D a-plenty in the spectacular Flapflap & Mindplotter and Murray John made me nostalgic with his Goodbye London.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Gerlando Infuso "Milovan Circus" (2008)

Commencing with a majestic sweep through and around a travelling circus set some time in the early part of a different century we discover Iakov applying his make-up with expert hands though even he is unable to disguise the passing years. Events trigger memories of his past when as the star of the Milovan Circus he commanded respect for his range of skills. Acrobat, magician even the human cannon ball. Shrouded in mystery a woman appears on a woven trapeze, viewed from the wings in amazement by the now ageing performer. All the time the seedy circus owner rewards his prodigy until a replacement arrives against whom there can be no opposition. Iakov is thrown on the street to make one last, and impressive, pavement performance. Old stagers never die. Belgian director Gerlando Infuso is responsible for an atmospheric recreation of the circus, with a set and manipulation of puppetry that is startlingly good; one can almost reach out and wipe the dust from the much travelled scenery whilst the puppets themselves are expertly made. Works of art. Philippe Tasquin composed truly wonderful music that supports a very superior movie that, amidst all the theatricality, is an affecting statement on growing old laced, of course, with all the magic of the circus. I am busily writing up the highlights of the year. Who knows, Gerlando's wizardry may well just get into the top ten.