Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): 90 Years of Shorts: my "alternate Oscars", 1923 - 2012

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

90 Years of Shorts: my "alternate Oscars", 1923 - 2012


My picks for best shorts year-by-year, based on my choices in the Wonders in the Dark weekly poll

Read the introduction for background & further explanation

Though this category tends to get overlooked, it's the one I'm most excited about for several reasons. First, precisely because short films are often ignored, this lineup is full of surprises, hidden gems of cinema history. Second, I get to focus more on animation and the avant-garde, areas usually drowned out in the more crowded and narrative-heavy feature field. Finally, after 1960 shorts were organized by me in the weekly poll, so I discovered many of the following films in the process of voting. Even so, this category feels incomplete because many weeks I could only see a handful of nominees (and I also missed some votes in the early years, as you'll see). Yet I'm satisfied with most every choice below, and I hope you'll watch these films too (most are available online) - maybe one a day for the next few months? Share your thoughts below!

To qualify as a short on Allan's ballot, the film must be less than 40 minutes. Same as yesterday, titles are accompanied by a single producing country, director or occasionally producer for some cartoons, and a genre (I focus on only one dominant characteristic so that something like a Quay brothers film - at once animation, music video, and avant-garde - is just tagged as "animation"). Beneath the full lineup, I've listed another series of links - these lead to other posts on this blog covering the film in question.

Yesterday I posted my top feature films for 1923 - 2012


Short

1923
La Retour a la Raison
(France, dir. Man Ray)
•avant-garde

1924
Ballet Mecanique
(France, dir. Fernand Leger)
•avant-garde

*1926
Emak-Bakia
(France, dir. Man Ray)
•avant-garde
*did not vote in 1925
1927
The Life and Death of 9413, a Hollywood Extra
(USA, dir. Robert Florey, Slavko Vorkapich)
•avant-garde
1928
Un Chien Andalou
(France, dir. Luis Bunuel/Salvador Dali)
•avant-garde
1929
La Mystere du Chateau De
(France, dir. Man Ray)
•avant-garde
1930
The Gorilla Mystery
(USA, prod. Walt Disney)
•animation
 1931
Dizzy Red Riding Hood
(USA, prod. Max Fleischer)
•animation
 1932
Minnie the Moocher
(USA, prod. Max Fleischer)
•animation
 1933
Snow White
(USA, prod. Max Fleischer)
•animation
1934
The Mascot
(France, dir. Wladyslaw Starewicz)
•animation
 1935
The Band Concert
(USA, prod. Walt Disney)
•animation
1936
Elmer the Elephant
(USA, prod. Walt Disney)
•animation
 1937
The Old Mill
(USA, prod. Walt Disney)
•animation
 1938
Porky in Wackyland
(USA, dir. Robert Clampett)
•animation
1939
Le Vampire
(France, dir. Jean Painleve)
•documentary
1940
Swinging the Lambeth Walk
(USA, dir. Len Lye)
•animation
 1941
Christmas Under Fire
(UK, dir. Harry Watt)
•documentary
 1942
Listen to Britain
(UK, dir. Humphrey Jennings/Stewart McAllister)
•documentary
 1943 (tie)
Meshes of the Afternoon
(USA, dir. Maya Deren)
•avant-garde
1943 (tie)
Red Hot Riding Hood
(USA, dir. Tex Avery)
•animation
 1944
Jammin' the Blues
(USA, dir. Gjon Mili)
•musical/music video
1945
Study in Choreography for Camera
(USA, dir. Maya Deren)
•avant-garde
1946
Ritual in Transfigured Time
(USA, dir. Maya Deren)
•avant-garde
 1947
King Size Canary
(USA, dir. Tex Avery)
•animation
 1948
The Foghorn Leghorn
(USA, dir. Robert McKimson)
•animation
*1951
Rabbit of Seville
(USA, dir. Chuck Jones)
•animation
*did not vote in 1949 or 1950 
 1952
Hallucinations
(USA, dir. Peter Weiss)
•avant-garde
 *1955
Night and Fog
(France, dir. Alain Resnais)
•documentary
 *did not vote in 1953 or 1954
 *1957
What's Opera, Doc?
(USA, dir. Chuck Jones)
•animation
 *did not vote in 1956
 1958
Free Radicals
(USA, dir. Len Lye)
•documentary
 1959
Wedlock House: An Intercourse
(USA, dir. Stan Brakhage)
•avant-garde
1960
High Note
(USA, dir. Chuck Jones)
•animation
1961
Catalog
(USA, dir. John Whitney)
•animation
 1962
La Jetee
(France, dir. Chris Marker)
•sci-fi
 1963
The House is Black
(Iran, dir. Forough Farrokhzad)
•documentary
1964
7 Up
(UK, dir. Paul Almond)
•documentary
1965
The Hand
(Czechoslovakia, dir. Jiri Trnka)
•animation
 1966 (tie)
Patriotism
(Japan, dir. Yukio Mishima)
•drama
 1966 (tie)
Meet Marlon Brandon
(USA, dir. Albert & David Maysles/Charlotte Zwerin)
•documentary
1967
Report
(USA, dir. Bruce Conner)
•avant-garde
1968
Pas de deux
(Canada, dir. Norman McLaren)
•avant-garde
1969
VTR: St. Jacques
(Canada, dir. Bonnie Sherr Klein)
•documentary
1970
Interviews with My Lai Veterans
(USA, dir. Joseph Strick)
•documentary
1971
(nostalgia)
(USA, dir. Hollis Frampton)
•avant-garde
 1972
Lucifer Rising
(USA, dir. Kenneth Anger)
•avant-garde
 1973
The Trip
(Japan, dir. Kihachiro Kawamoto
•animation
1974
Closed Mondays
(USA, dir. Bob Gardiner, Will Vinton)
•animation
 1975
Hedgehog in the Fog
(USSR, dir. Yuriy Norshteyn)
•animation
 1976
Children
(UK, dir. Terence Davies)
•drama
 1977
Powers of Ten
(USA, dir. Charles & Ray Eames)
•documentary
 1978
The Metamorphosis of Mr. Samsa
(Canada, dir. Caroline Leaf)
•animation
 1979
Asparagus
(USA, dir. Suzann Pitt)
•animation
 1980
Larisa
(USSR, dir. Elem Klimov)
•documentary
1981
Crac
(Canada, dir. Frederic Back)
•animation
1982 (tie)
The Snowman
(UK, dir. Dianne Jackson, Jimmy T. Murakami)
•animation
1982 (tie)
Malice in Wonderland
(USA, dir. Vince Collins)
•animation
1983
Skywhales
(UK, dir. Phil Austin, Derek Hayes)
•animation
 1984
A Girl's Own Story
(Australia, dir. Jane Campion)
•drama
 1985
Tony de Peltrie
(Canada, dir. Pierre Lachapelle, Philippe Bergeron, Daniel Langlois, Pierre Robidoux)
•animation
 1986
Street of Crocodiles
(UK, dir. Stephen & Timothy Quay)
•animation
 1987
The Man Who Planted Trees
(Canada, dir. Frederic Back)
•animation
 1988
Stille Nacht I: Dramolet
(UK, dir. Stephen & Timothy Quay)
•animation
 1989
Isle of Flowers
(Brazil, dir. Jorge Furtado)
•documentary
 1990
The Cow
(USSR, dir. Aleksandr Petrov)
•animation
 1991
Stille Nacht II: Are We Still Married?
(UK, dir. Stephen & Timothy Quay)
•animation
 1992
Stille Nacht III: Tales From the Vienna Woods
(UK, dir. Stephen & Timothy Quay)
•animation
 1993
Get Down, Get Down
(USA, dir. EBN)
•avant-garde
 1994
Stille Nacht IV: Can't Go Wrong Without You
(USA, dir. Stephen & Timothy Quay)
•animation
 1995
On Your Mark
(Japan, dir. Hayao Miyazaki)
•animation
 1996
Hyperballad
(France, dir. Michel Gondry)
•musical/music video
1997
Come to Daddy
(UK, dir. Chris Cunningham)
•musical/music video
 1998
Alone. Life Wastes Andy Hardy
(France, dir. Martin Arnold)
•avant-garde
1999
Psy Show
(France, dir. Marina de Van)
•thriller
2000
Origins of the 21st Century
(France, dir. Jean-Luc Godard)
•avant-garde
 2001
Star Guitar
(France, dir. Michel Gondry)
•musical/music video
2002
Darkened Room
(USA, dir. David Lynch)
•avant-garde
 2003
7:35 in the Morning
(Spain, dir. Nacho Vigalondo)
•musical/music video
2004
Ryan
(Canada, dir. Chris Landreth)
•animation
2005
Rabbit
(USA, dir. Run Wrake)
•animation
 2006
La Morte Rouge
(Spain, dir. Victor Erice)
•documentary
2007
Hotel Chevalier
(USA, dir. Wes Anderson)
•comedy
2008
Mama
(Argentina, dir. Andres Muschietti)
•horror
 2009
Phantoms of Nabua
(Thailand, dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
•avant-garde
 2010
Wisdom Teeth
(Spain, dir. Don Hertzfeldt)
•animation
 2011
These Hammers Don't Hurt Us
(USA, dir. Michael Robinson)
•avant-garde
 2012
Prom Night
(USA, dir. Celia Rowlson-Hall)
•musical/music video

13 comments:

Mike said...

Well, I haven't seen any of these, but you've piqued my interest. Starting tonight, I'll watch a few of these at a time (of my choice, not chronologically) and come back here with my gut reaction/thoughts. Should be interesting, considering I am basically short film illiterate right now. They are definitely the most major oversight in my film watching.

Joel Bocko said...

I look forward to hearing your thoughts, there is a good variety here between classic cartoons, some interesting documentaries, and very experimental stuff though admittedly not too many narratives.

Mike said...

Round 1:

Un Chien Andalou: This was the one I knew most about going into it; I remember seeing scenes from it in The Story of Film: An Odyssey, and had read much about it, but this is the first time I sat down with it (it's also the first Buñuel film for me). Very bizarre, but it certainly held my attention. If Buñuel's purpose was to provoke/madden or create a unique film watching experience, mission accomplished. But I don't think there's as much to take out of this from a 2013 viewing than a 1929 one. In other words, even though it was radical in its time, it still seems a product of its time, if that makes any sense at all.

Meshes of the Afternoon: This was not what I was expecting at all, but I liked it a good deal. Avant-garde like Un Chien Andalou, but unlike that film there is somewhat of a narrative here- a housewife struggling to find her identity? The repeated motifs of the key, knife, and mirror make this more fascinating. I will need to watch it again to try and pick up on more symbolism. The use of canted angles and subjective shots predate a lot of narrative films to come much later.

Jammin' the Blues: Awesome! I've been listening to a lot of Jazz lately, and I can see myself listening to the music here on its own. But the way it is shot makes it work so well as a short- the slow zooms in and out (like that amazing first shot) the impeccable editing, and the suggestive lighting set this film way ahead of its time. I'm starting to see a trend here- short films (at least non narrative ones) tend to open themselves up for more bold aesthetic choices? Anyways, I don't think I would have discovered this if it weren't for your list (it ranked pretty highly on your top 100 if I remember). I'll be watching this again very soon.

Street of Crocodiles- Hmm. My first Quay brothers film, and I went into it with very little knowledge of what it was, and was thoroughly confused pretty quickly. It wasn't until the poetry reading towards the end that gave it some context- I like the idea of ghetto dwellers not being able to manifest their own destinies, and are trapped to their own rituals like the dolls here (Side note- this idea is explored even further, and less vaguely, on the rap album The Cold Vein. On there, it's pigeons instead of dolls and New York City instead of Poland). Well that theme could have been further stressed because otherwise this is a very strange little film that I found myself tuning in and out of. The animation is impeccable, the atmosphere is there, but it left me somewhat cold.

Hyperballad: Loved it. Transcending blend of pop music and surreal visuals. If there's a deeper message here it went over my head, at least this time around. I'll be re-visiting this when I have heard the song on its own.

Joel Bocko said...

Love your thoughts here, Mike, & can't wait to hear more. You picked some of my favorites on the list to delve into first. Like you, I admire Un Chien Andalou but don't find it as powerful & provocative as some other avant-garde films of the time. Actually, in general Bunuel leaves me somewhat cold - I probably due like his early surrealist stuff best though.

With both Meshes and Crocodiles, I think there are themes more than a particular narrative. What I love about these films - I guess avant-garde non-narrative in general (and yes, the short form definitely lends itself more readily to this approach) - is that there are so many different angles from which one can view them. There are fragments of "real-world" stories embedded but also more abstract levels of appreciation, so that one can watch an experimental film closer to the way one views a painting or especially listens to a piece of music. Even before the advent of music videos, shorts tended to be more overtly rhythmic both in their visuals and soundtracks. Avant-garde films, for me, tend to blur that boundary between cinema and music, two forms that I love immensely, but usually in different ways.

And yeah, Jammin' the Blues is just brilliant - someone once called a proto-music video and I agree. Just so perfect, and a shame that Milli is so little-known and so rarely directed films. Although his LIFE photographs are pretty famous.

With Hyperballad, any "meaning" to me is again more thematic than narrative - to me it evokes a feeling of weird disorientation/disembodiment; I love how Bjork exists in three different states simultaneously. Gondry has spoken before of waking up from a dream with the weird, half-waking feeling that his hands were somehow completely disproportioned to the rest of his body, swelling with a life of his own, and I know exactly the sensation he's talking about. I love how his videos evoke that.

I've already noted the overlap between avant-garde shorts and music, but another overlap I really love is with dreams. Many of these shorts evoke the quality of dreaming and/or a half-woken semi-trance state in ways that a more drawn-out feature probably couldn't (there are some great experimental features as well but I find the fragmentary nature of shorts is more appropriate for this style).

Yeah, in many ways while most of my favorite films are features, I sometimes suspect that the great shorts come closer to my "ideal" of cinema, if I have one - a Jungian, mythological, dreamlike medium in which the inner life and the outer world mesh.

Joel Bocko said...

Oh and make one of the next shorts you check out the EBN "Get Down, Get Down" clip. Pretty funny and ingenious what they do with familiar found footage and as a hip-hop fan I think you'll dig it. The collective has another one somewhere with George Bush in it.

Mike said...

Ah, there is definitely a cyclical rhythm in these avant-garde shorts (Meshes especially) that evoke music. The drone music in that film was apparently added 16 years after it came out, and it fits the atmosphere of the short very well.

I tend to listen to music purely for visceral pleasure, hip hop especially. It's much more direct than full length films in emotional impact, and these short films do have a more immediate resonance. The phrase I keep thinking of is "go with the flow"- don't ask questions and don't try and link what comes before with what comes after. The dream overlap is also fascinating. I will have to read up more on Gondry because what he did with Hyperballad was really fascinating.

Mike said...

Round 2:

Red Hot Riding Hood: I remember this popping up your top 100 list and I can see why. Just as funny and irreverent as modern day cartoons (like Family Guy) but shorter and way ahead of its time. I laughed out loud at a few of the gags (like the elevator one, and when he killed himself at the end) and I did not expect to. Will be watching this again.

Hedgehog in the Fog: Not sure where I heard of this before but I recognized the name. Still, I went in with no further knowledge and liked it a lot. I love how it ended on a question rather than neatly tying everything up. This could be a statement on the banality of everyday life, and our fascination with the unknown, but I like to think it's more than that. There's a certain feeling comfort in the final scene, with the hedgehog wondering how the horse lives in the fog, but being glad he's back with his friend. Nice.

Get Down, Get Down: Ha, this is pretty crazy. Kind of like a primitive version of the YouTube Poop, although distilled to a music video of some sort. The comments on YouTube are pretty funny, one guy says "ahh the good ol' days, back when creativity used to exist".

The next round of shorts will be the Stille Nacht series. I know these are your favorites and I wanna give the Qays another shot.

Joel Bocko said...

I need to see Hedgehog again - I watched it specifically in preparation for that year in the poll, loved it enough to vote it top film but can't remember some of the details you're bringing up now.

The Stille Nachts are perfect distillations of the Quay vision especially the His Name is Alive music videos (in retrospect, I wouldn't have elevated the other two quite so high on my top films list or the yearly poll and wish I'd spread some more love around other Quay films too).

Mike said...

So, I've been listening to Björk for a little less than a year now... and this is where it all started. Well damn. Not sure what I meant in my original comment about a "deeper meaning", I probably didn't get at the time that the song was about suicide.

Anyways, guess I just wanted to reflect on how crazy it was for me to discover who has easily been my most listened to artist in the past year through such means... As for the video for Hyperballad, it's still my favorite of hers, although it has some tough competition. And it's obviously her best song (from what I heard- haven't gotten past Vespertine yet in her discography).

Joel Bocko said...

It's funny, as much as I love this video I haven't really dipped into Bjork's discography much at all. I have a few albums on my iPod but have only given them casual listens. And I never actually paid much attention to the lyrics - I actually had no idea they were about suicide! Glad I spurred you to look into it deeper than I did though haha. I'm thinking next year at some point I might do a video version of my Cities of the Imagination essay a few years ago, which will include Hyperballad. I'll keep that in mind...

Joel Bocko said...

Btw I feel like we may have discussed it before but why are your thoughts on Dancer in the Dark?

Mike said...

I think the line between a causal Björk fan and full on obsessive is pretty thin. Maybe kinda like Twin Peaks in that regard- you either love it or like it from a distance, maybe even feel a bit left out from the mania. She's unique enough to inspire that kind of fanbase.

As far as her albums, Vespertine is my favorite but even as a diehard fan it took a few listens to warm up to. Post is probably the best place to start exploring more in depth as that's her most accessible album.

I might have left a comment on here about Dancer in the Dark, I know I did on Wonders but I'll re-hash; I am mixed on it overall. The aesthetic didn't work for me, the story was manipulative and miserable for misery's sake, and the musical numbers felt clunky (which might have been the intention, but if that's the case then that's just not what I am looking for in a supposed anti-musical). On the other hand, it emotionally wrecked me by the end, the music itself was great, and of course Björk was magnificent. I just wish someone else had directed, someone who let the actors do the heavy lifting and cut out the shaky cam 'realism' stuff or at least tried to make it resemble a period film. And maybe not drive Björk away from acting forever ;)

Joel Bocko said...

Yeah, Post is the only one I've listened to with any regularity. As for Dancer, it's the one film where the criticisms of Von Trier seem somewhat valid to me but I've only seen it once (when I reviewed it). I could definitely see my view changing on a revisit...or not!