This is the time of year that news and media organizations begin the avalanche of annual “best of” lists and the like. The thought of doing a “best of” list strikes me as arrogant, especially when it comes to something as subjective as art. So instead I present you with my personal picks of the year. I make no claim that these are the best of 2008; these are only the things that I enjoyed most during the past year. Also be sure to read Cartoon Brew co-editor Jerry Beck’s personal picks of 2008.
Let me begin by apologizing for not praising this film enough on Cartoon Brew (thankfully Jerry has). So let me just say it now: Nina Paley’s Sita Sings the Blues is hands-down one of the most entertaining animated features I’ve ever seen. That fact is even more impressive because I went into the film thinking I wouldn’t be able to sit through an entire Flash-animated feature that looked like the image above. But Paley’s deeply personal story kept me captivated for its entire length, a rarity in my feature animation viewing experiences, and the animation only added to the story. There wasn’t a false note in the film. That it was made by one-person is nothing short of unbelievable. That nobody can see the film due to copyright issues is nothing short of criminal.
Violence and animation: a tried-and-true combination that is taken to new heights in Superjail, a surprisingly well-done piece of TV animation that airs on [Adult Swim] of all places.
It’s a tie between the same filmmaker–David OReilly. Whether he’s pranking the world with his Octocat series or exploring contemporary forms of animated storytelling in his Please Say Something series, OReilly is one of the most promising young animators on the contemporary animation scene.
There were plenty of fine animated shorts in ’08 including, but not limited to, Chainsaw by Dennis Tupicoff, I Am So Proud of You by Don Hertzfeldt, The Tale of Little Puppetboy by Johannes Nyholm, My Grandmother Beijing by Mats Grorud, Cattle Call by Matt Rankin and Mike Maryniuk and Drux Flux by Theo Ushev. One film stood out above all. It is a remarkable grand-scale animation experiment that turns the entire world into an animation canvas. Pencil or digital–who cares? All you need is a wall and housepaint. No doubt about it, my favorite animated short of 2008 is Muto by Blu.
Ironically, movement and animation are often the most ignored parts of an animated production, so I want to give special credit to two animated shorts that had creative tour de force animation performances. Both films can be viewed online though neither of them have English translations.
When will CG studios recognize that the opening and end credits are not the only parts of their films that should be interesting to look at? Case in point, the appealing opening titles to Kung Fu Panda. A joy to watch–I’m waiting for the CG equivalent of this.
One of the great joys of doing this website is that it affords me an outlet to record my personal discoveries about the art form, whether it’s learning about amazing films I haven’t heard about (FehérlÃ³fia), artists I wasn’t aware of (Stan Vanderbeek) or understanding the nuances of animation history (the unacknowledged diversity of the industry during the Golden Age).
ANIMATION STUDIO Fred and Sharon’s Movie Productions: Quality-wise they’re somewhere between Roadside Romeo and Space Chimps, but this Canadian husband-and-wife directing dynamo set themselves apart by tackling weighty subject matter like anti-war dramas:
Alcohol and drug abuse, male prostitution and child molestation are not exactly standard fare for animation biographies. The Ballad of a Thin Man: In Search of Ryan Larkin by Chris Robinson is the story of fallen-from-grace NFB animator Ryan Larkin (1943-2007). Robinson, the director of the Ottawa International Animation Festival, was responsible for bringing Larkin back into the spotlight in the 2000s which culminated with Chris Landreth’s Oscar-winning shortform biopic Ryan, but by the end of the book, Robinson largely regrets “rediscovering” Larkin. Chris also weaves in stories from his own troubled past resulting in a powerful and poignant book. The book comes with a DVD of Landreth’s Ryan and two of Larkin’s films, Walking and Street Musique.
ANIMATION BLOG (CONTINUING)
Michael Sporn’s Splog: The personal blog of Oscar-nominated and Emmy Award-winning animation director Michael Sporn is truly a thing of wonder. Updated every single day for three years running, it is a phenomenal resource of ideas and artwork. His passion for the art form comes through in every post.
ANIMATION BLOG (NEW) Animondays by David Levy. Technically, it started last fall, but 2008 was ASIFA-East president Levy’s first full year as a blogger. He writes just one post a week, but they’re invariably thought-provoking and insightful.
ANIMATION BLOG (NEW – HONORABLE MENTIONS) Popeye Animator ID: Master animator and timing director Bob Jaques tells you more about Popeye animators than you could ever want to know.
Spectorphile: A blog about animation legend Irv Spector created by his son Paul Spector.
ANIMATION ART EXHIBIT
Whenever I’m depressed about the state of the art form, I only have to watch a film by the Hubleys like Tender Game or Moonbird to regain my enthusiasm for the medium. Despite being intimately familiar with their work, I still wasn’t quite prepared for the awesomeness of seeing John Hubley’s background paintings and storyboard panels from Adventures of an * (1957). The exhibit covered all of one wall in the basement of the Museum of Modern Art this past summer, but that’s all that was needed. Hubley’s work represents animation at its most artistic and daring, and offers a guide for where we still need to take this art form. Piece after piece, Hubley discarded animation’s tendencies for crude mass-produced imagery and created a vision of uncompromising individuality and aesthetic beauty. More art from the exhibit can be seen at Michael Sporn’s blog.
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