Wednesday, December 27, 2017

With THE 19TH ANNUAL ANIMATION SHOWS OF SHOWS, Ron Diamond curates yet another cornucopia of styles, art and ideas

“Because animation is such a natural medium for dealing with abstract ideas and existential concerns, the ANIMATION SHOW OF SHOWS has always included a number of thoughtful and engaging films. However, more than in previous years, I believe that this year’s program really offers contemporary animation that expresses deeply felt issues in our own country and around the world.” So states Ron Diamond, founder and curator of this yearly collection of some of the best animation from around the globe, now in its 19th go-round.

TrustMovies would agree with Mr. Diamond's assessment (the curator is shown at left), as this year's program, THE 19TH ANNUAL ANIMATION SHOWS OF SHOWS, offers at least three wonderful and near-great-or-maybe-fully-there examples of the best that animation can currently offer.

If some of the lesser lights on the program may lack what it takes to send them over the top, still, the variety of ideas, moods and animation styles that are present here, when coupled to the brevity of so many of the works, would suggest that viewers will hardly be bored. (And if they are, this will last barely a minute or two.)

Herewith is this year's program, listed first to last (along with my short review of each) in the order of presentation. I would greatly suggest that, should you find yourself growing a bit impatient with things, as did I, please hold on. The program grows better by miles as it moves along, with some of the richest, most provocative work appearing in the latter half.

CAN YOU DO IT, via Quentin Baillieux (France) offers a sleek style and very interesting color palette during its three-minute compilation of horse racing and, I guess, street life -- though the mixture left me mostly appreciative of this animator's style rather than anything he might saying.

In TINY BIG (2017) from Belgium, Lia Bertels uses simple black-and-white line drawings on a white background with now-and-then blobs of bright color to create "nature" scenes that are odd and occasionally compelling. Over five-and-one-half minutes, she takes us on a journey that's definitely her own but might translate to something you can understand, as well.

In just under three-and-one-half minutes, certainly the most famous of our animators, Pete Docter (of Pixar's Up and Inside Out) gives us -- in NEXT DOOR --  one of his noisy little girls, along side her very annoyed neighbor, and shows us how common ground is surprisingly found. It's cute and forgettable, but the animation is colorful, funny and fast-moving.

One of the longer pieces in the program, THE ALAN DIMENSION (2017) by Jac Clinch of the U.K., is also the Animation Show of Shows' most narrative-heavy segment. Offering an oddball "take" on precognition (our hero generally sees/predicts awfully run-of-the-mill events) and how this affects his home life, has some charm and some OK animation (of the mostly colorful, old-fashioned-but-enjoyable sort), but it all seems somehow too little, even at its certainly not-lengthy running time.

BEAUTIFUL LIKE ELSEWHERE (2017) by Elise Simard, Canada, is nearly five minutes of very personal though not terribly comprehensible visuals that seems to be an amalgam of various styles melded into a dark, strange piece that I could not connect with in terms of either theme or content. In fact, this is the one film of the batch -- given the week or ten days between first watching and then writing this review -- that I had to go back and view again just to remember what I had seen. Still, the animation is certainly varied and impressive.

A surprise here is something called HANGMAN by Paul Julian and Les Goldman (from the USA), which was actually created back in 1964 but only restored this past year. Based on a poem by Maurice Ogden that tells a tale of injustice and responsibility, the subject is certainly as timely now as it was then, considering its not particularly subtle references to everything from the Holocaust to Fascism, persecution and guilt. Its main achievement, however, is to remind us of how far animation has come over the fifty-plus years since, for this eleven-minute movie, despite its occasional painterly nod to the work of Giorgio de Chirico, is awfully heavy-handed and obvious -- right down to the "poetic" narration and the musical score.

Classical art lovers will get a kick out of the two-and-one-half-minute THE BATTLE OF SAN ROMANO, (2017) by Georges Schwizgebel, from Switzerland, a short that plays around with the famous painting by Paolo Uccello. The filmmaker animates this art work in so many clever ways, turning it into such movement and action yet without actually changing or demeaning it in any way that he brings the battle to life in quite a new and original manner.

TrustMovies has never been a huge fan of anime, and yet the seven-minute film that proves the most charming, funny and sweet of this whole batch is GOKUROSAMA (2016) by Clémentine Frère, Aurore Gal, Yukiko Meignien, Anna Mertz, Robin Migliorelli and Romain Salvini (from France, not Japan). Taking place in one of those modern malls, and another example that's strong on narrative, it tells the tale of what happens when an old woman's back suddenly goes out, and how the mall's denizens join together to help her. This one is a non-stop delight.

I don't even like basketball, and yet the pencil/charcoal line drawings that spring to wonderful life in DEAR BASKETBALL -- (2017) by Disney veteran Glen Keane (USA) and based on a poem written by Kobe Bryant, as he was about to retire from the game -- moved me to tears. The animation is just splendid, and the musical score, composed by John Williams, is a winner, as well, as the poem takes us through Bryant's early life and success, right through his goodbye to playing professionally, in five-and-one-half minutes of sheer beauty.

ISLAND (2017) by Max Mörtl and Robert Löbel, from Germany, takes a look at the mating rituals of the strange and colorful. Goofy and charming in equal measure, the two-and-one-half minute movie is here and gone before it can even think of wearing out its welcome.

The shortest of all these shorts -- UNSATISFYING (2016) by Parallel Studio, France -- is also one of the cleverest: just 77 seconds of near-misses brought to funny, animated life. Brevity is indeed and once again the soul of wit.

The absolute gem of this year's mix -- THE BURDEN (2017) by Niki Lindroth von Bahr, from Sweden --  is the longest, too: nearly a quarter hour. It's also a musical (of sorts), as fish guests in a hotel sing about their lives, dancing pigs cavort in their fast-food workplace, we meet telemarketing monkeys and a dog in a supermarket, and finally hear them all sing a kind of Swedish "spiritual" of longing, dreams, and lost lives in a slave-wage workplace from which no one escapes. This is both brilliantly conceived and executed -- the likes of which I have never experienced till now. I hope that the great Roy Andersson has seen this wonderful work, as it very much reminds me of his landmark films.

An oddball, two-minute domesticity festival that begins with a visit from The Grim Reaper is a film called Abeilles Domestiques (Domestic Bees) (2017) by Alexanne Desrosiers, from Canada. In a sense this one seems the least "animated" of all these shorts because it simply moves less. And it's an interesting, try-to-keep-up-with-it look at a "human" hive.

For sheer laugh-aloud humor enhanced with eye-poppingly colorful animation, watch Our Wonderful Nature: The Common Chameleon (2016) by Tomer Eshed, Germany. This three-and-one-half minute joke offers a take-off/take-down of those ubiquitous nature documentaries, and it is by turns hilarious, gorgeous and gross -- with a wonderfully clever finale.

In CASINO (2016) by Steven Woloshen, Canada, a little jazz-inflected, loosey-goosey animation and musical scoring goes a long way. Fortunately, the four-minute running time is just short enough so that the jitters don't quite set it before this ode to gambling and casinos comes to a close.

Remember Her, that great Spike Jonze film in which the "Operating System" (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), after exploring the work of Alan Watts, grows and evolves to the point at which she must abandon our hero and light out for "parts unknown"? Well, the words of Mr. Watts figure into the final and pretty-much masterpiece of this year's array -- EVERYTHING (2017) by David O'Reilly, USA --  in which the ideas and the writing of Watts actually overpower even the fine animation that gives visual life to those ideas. Everything's eleven minutes is full of a philosophy that asks you to try to take a different POV from your usual. The experience in an education and perhaps the best one we could get in these current and seemingly end-of times.

In case you hadn't noticed this 19th Annual Animation Shows of Shows gets better and better as it moves along. The movie,  which has a total running time of 92 minutes, opens this Friday, December 29, in New York City at the Quad Cinema, and will hit a number of other venues in the weeks and months to come. Click here to see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters.

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