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The Animation Pimp: Alright Alright Alright

Here’s a list of animation short films that made life more enjoyable in 2015.

Here’s a list of animation short films that made life more enjoyable in 2015.

The Master, Riho Unt, Estonia

This one came out of nowhere. I’ve never been a huge fan of Riho Unt’s work. Always a bit too long…and I dunno…just never touched me the way some Estonian work does… but that’s not the case with this fantastic piece of stop-motion horror. I got chills watching it. It’s such a simple idea on the surface. A pet dog and monkey are alone in a house. They are waiting for their master return. When he doesn’t they start to fend for themselves and develop a violent, dangerous relationship. The ending and subsequent dedication will leave you in tears, shock, laughter and confusion.

Small People with Hats, Sarina Nihei, UK/Japan

Nihei’s ambiguous narrative (are the small people with hats the villains imposing their will, or in fact the ones being imprisoned and brainwashed?) is complemented by crisp, surprising edits that simultaneously generate humour, horror and mystery (while poking the audience to keep up). And let’s not overlook the movie’s innovative and expressive sound design, a rare feat in this era of talk/music drenched animation, which is so vibrant that it becomes a character of its own.

Pig, Steven Subotnick, USA

A rapid-fire, poetic-comic musing by American independent animator Steven Subotnick, on the connection between humans and our little pink friends.

It’s this overlap between swine and man that lies at the heart of his movie. Considering humanity’s endless hunger for something, anything to fill some imagined void, we’re left to ponder just who the real pig is.

One of the most underrated films of the year.

Creation Myth, Angela Stempel, USA

From a first blast of guitar, the animation jumps right on board like an old friend.

Just as Creation Myth has a garage band/lo-fi feel in the vein of the Pixies or Guided by Voices, Stempel’s mix of contemporary and traditional (cut-out) animation techniques gives the video an old-school vibe that births a delirious, heart-pumping, head-shaking fireworks-feast of colour, rhythm, crunchy guitars and dizzying animation.

Anatomy of a Spider, Vojtech Kiss, Czech Republic

Yeah, I admit the prospect of watching a 25 minute puppet film from the Czech Republic about some guy’s drunken alienation didn’t exactly excite me… but shit… before I knew it…I’d watched the film twice…and, well now, three times. How do I explain it? Imagine Aki Kaurismaki characters starring in Dante’s Divine Comedy as directed by Space Odyssey-era Kubrick using puppets. Yeah, something like that.

A disenchanted chap goes on a whirl of a booze bender as he struggles to figure out just what the fuck IT is all about. All around he sees empty distractions. No connections. No intimacy. No purpose. Then one night, while sitting at the edge of a building (perhaps. This still might be all part of a big bad dt-inducing bender) he, ala Dante at the end of Inferno, finally SEES … above and beyond the distractions and lights and buildings… he sees the sky the stars, the universe…LIFE.

House of Unconsciousness, Priit Tender, Estonia

“So your chimneys I sweep, and in soot I sleep,’ once wrote William Blake in one of his two odes to Chimney Sweepers. Estonian animator, Priit Tender, takes us a little farther as he dives inside the dreamscapes of the chimneysweeper who sleeps in soot. Beautiful designed and animated, House of Unconsciousness plays a like a surrealistic spaghetti western (check out the cool, twangy guitar accompaniment) for chimney cleaners. It’s bizarre, mysterious, tragic and utterly riveting, nailing the feel of a dream that shifts illogically from one baffling scene to another. Oh…and it might also be about wanking. Or not.

World of Tomorrow, Don Hertzfeldt, USA

Although this smart, funny and tragic piece of mind-bending existentialist time travel loses a little with each screening and doesn’t quite match the masterful, I am So Proud of You (2006), Don Hertzfeldt continues to impress and grow. Has any other animator grown and blossomed conceptually like Hertzfeldt? He’s come a long way from his earlier so-so films, Rejected, Billy’s Balloon and Lilly and Jim.

Unhappy Happy, Peter Millard, UK

Maybe he’s taking the piss out of Hertzfeldt’s trilogy, animation in general, or all of us. I’m not sure. I’m not even sure I care cause the dynamic sound, silence and timing in Millard’s mumbling absurdist chaos is unrivalled in animation.  

In Unhappy Happy, I feel like I’ve drifted into the entrails of the Teletubbyland to find the colourful quartet bloated, damaged, and overtaken by an alien illness (likely prisoners of the Noo-noo) that has left them incoherent and discombobulated, swimming in disorientation and desperation, as they struggle inevitably towards their end and, mercifully, ours.

Mynarski Death Plummet, Matthew Rankin, Canada

The best Canadian animation of 2015 came not from the fabled NFB but from indie animator/filmmaker, Matthew Rankin. Using a clever mix of stylized, silent cinema-era live-action with cameraless/scratch animation, this ingenious lo-fi short reimagines the final moments of Canadian WW2 hero, Andrew Mynarski, who sacrificed his life trying to save his pilot. Mynarski’s final plummet is a spectacular and thrilling death ballet that looks like footage taken from a lost collaboration between Norman McLaren and Guy Maddin (The Forbidden Room).

Teeth, Tom Brown & Daniel Gray, UK

This slithery, grinding, haunting and insane tale ingeniously conveys the story of a man’s life through the history of his teeth. Combining the pacing of Robert Bresson with the lunatic first person narrative of Poe, Teeth takes us inside the mouth of a deeply troubled individual.


A Nods as Good as a Wink

A couple of nods to the always fine Theodore Ushev (Sonambulo) and Andreas Hykade (Myself: Universe, Myself: Smoke) for their hypnotic and lighthearted appetizers. Also a nod to Paul Bush’s The Five Minute Museum (which runs at 6 minutes!), Yul and The Serpent by Gabriel Harel. A lot of good stuff in 2015.

Chris Robinson's picture

A well-known figure in the world of independent animation, writer, author & curator Chris Robinson is the Artistic Director of the Ottawa International Animation Festival.