Don Hertzfeldt is an impressive artist. Hertzfeldt is a two-time Oscar nominee, and a 2012 Indiewire Best Director poll placed Hertzfeldt above filmmakers like Richard Linklater and Steven Spielberg. While the short film genre has always been an artistic platform for profound ideas, few short films have captured the public’s attention more than Hertzfeldt’s. Rejected, for example, has gained a cult following. Rejected was first screened at the San Diego Comic Con and has since been viewed by Cartoon Network audiences and Sundance Film Festival attendees. Rejected is a simple, absurd animated short film that tackles big concepts. In about nine minutes, Hertzfeldt introduces audiences to an assortment of supposedly rejected cartoon clips. Though the characters seem basic and the narrative seems fractured, the short film as a whole shines a somber light on the plights of the forgotten.
The idea of the copy-pasted brain, and the moral quandaries that could stem from it, has enjoyed a quiet revival in sci-fi recently, with World of Tomorrow as the must-see standard-bearer. Hertzfeldt, whose work always tends towards the absurd, had never experimented with the genre before making this short, which was his first digitally produced film. As Emily and her clone drift through the “outernet,” the virtual reality through which all people in the future apparently communicate, the environment pops and crackles around them. But for all of his fantastical imagery, Hertzfeldt triumphs by focusing tightly on his protagonist’s emotions, which are seemingly haywire thanks to their being a Xerox of a Xerox of a Xerox. “I am very proud of my sadness, because it means I am more alive,” the clone proclaims, while acknowledging that she has occasionally fallen in love with inanimate objects in the past.
As World of Tomorrow proves, short films can wrinkle your brain as much as feature films can. Below are some short films (some by Hertzfeldt) that you can watch right now. Enjoy!
Everything Will Be Ok (2006) dir. Don Hertzfeldt
Created after Rejected and before World of Tomorrow, this animated short film is the first portion of a three-part story about Bill, a passive, thoughtful stick-figure man. Everything Will Be Ok is seventeen minutes of social commentary that slowly transitions from amusing and relatable to unsettling and poignant.
Are You the Favorite Person of Anybody? (2005) dir. Miguel Arteta
Written by Miranda July (The Future) and starring John C. Reilly (Step Brothers), this short film features three different responses to a seemingly simple question. Bob Davidson calls it a “profoundly simple short.” (Warning: Film may be a trigger for those with depression.)
Julianne Moore, “Still Alice”
Best Supporting Actress
Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood”
Honorable Mention: Emma Stone, “Birdman”
Should not have been nominated: Keira Knightly, “The Imitation Game”
Should have been nominated: Tilda Swinton, “Snowpiercer”
Michael Keaton, “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
Should have been nominated: Ralph Fiennes, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Best Supporting Actor
J. K. Simmons, “Whiplash” Continue reading
Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”
Best Supporting Actress
Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”
Honorable Mention: Julia Roberts, “August: Osage County”
Honorable Mention: Bruce Dern, “Nebraska”
Honorable Mention: Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”
Should have been nominated: Tom Hanks, “Captain Phillips”
Best Supporting Actor Continue reading
Should win: Emmanuelle Riva, “Amour”
Will win: Jennifer Lawrence, “Silver Linings Playbook”
Best Supporting Actress
Anne Hathaway, “Les Misérables”
Daniel Day-Lewis, “Lincoln”
Best Supporting Actor
Tommy Lee Jones, “Lincoln”
Honorable Mention: Robert Di Niro, “Silver Linings Playbook”
Will win: “Argo”
Honorable Mention: “Les Misérables”
Steven Spielberg, “Lincoln”
Should win: “Wreck-It Ralph”
Will win: “Brave”
Best Production Design Continue reading
Viola Davis, “The Help”
Honorable Mention: Rooney Mara, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”
Best Supporting Actress
Should win: Bérénice Bejo, “The Artist”
Will win: Octavia Spencer, “The Help”
Honorable Mention: George Clooney, “The Descendants”
Best Supporting Actor
Christopher Plummer, “Beginners”
Honorable Mention: Jonah Hill, “Moneyball”
Honorable Mention: Terrence Malick, “The Tree of Life”
Best Animated Film
Should win: “Kung Fu Panda 2”
Will win: “Rango”
Honorable Mention: “A Cat in Paris”
Best Art Direction Continue reading
Natalie Portman, “Black Swan”
Best Supporting Actress
Melissa Leo, “The Fighter”
Honorable Mention: Hailee Steinfeld, “True Grit”
Colin Firth, “The King’s Speech”
Honorable Mention: James Franco, “127 Hours”
Best Supporting Actor
Honorable Mention: John Hawkes, “Winter’s Bone”
“The King’s Speech”
Will win: David Fincher, “The Social Network”
Best Animated Film
“Toy Story 3”
Best Art Direction
Will win: “Alice in Wonderland”
Should win: “Black Swan”
Will win: “True Grit” Continue reading
Prior to seeing Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010), I knew very little about the world of graffiti and street art. After seeing Banky’s film, I still know little about this world, but I now have a growing appreciation for those who can climb about rooftops late at night with large sheets of personalized paper and buckets of paste. And I have an even bigger appreciation for those who can do so with grace and style.
The film outlines the evolution of Thierry Guetta (later known as Mr. Brainwash), a hopelessly enthusiastic videographer and aspiring street artist. The film’s juxtaposition of Guetta with the suave, laid-back Banksy offers viewers a comedic introduction to a number of street art subtleties, not the least of which is the existence of street art imitators. Guetta, though endearing, is (spray-)painted as a somewhat annoying copycat of established street artists such as Shepard Fairey and Banksy. After discovering the world of street art, Guetta follows Fairey, Space Invader, and others as they make and share street art. Guetta documents the entire process, occasionally offering odd commentaries to otherwise stunning scenes. Guetta later tries his hand at beautifying cities with his own street art and eventually hosts his own high-profile art show as Mr. Brainwash. The transformation of Thierry Guetta into Mr. Brainwash challenges many assumptions about art and graffiti. Even Banksy himself wonders aloud (with perfect comedic timing) if art is truly accessible: “I used to encourage everyone I knew to make art; I don’t do that anymore.”
Some speculate that Exit Through the Gift Shop is another elaborate Banksy hoax. Perhaps Banksy hired Thierry Guetta. Or, maybe, Guetta and Banksy are one and the same. As a recent convert to the wonders of street art, including the works and character of Bansky, I have no guess as to how the film came to be. Hoax or not, Banksy’s film is wickedly entertaining and offers a commentary on some genuine issues within the world of street art. The film, despite its aggressive satire, is surprisingly inspirational. Were my drawings anything more than oddly high-brow stick figures, I’d be tempted to share them with the world. For those, like me, who don’t have great artistic abilities, Exit Through the Gift Shop is an entertaining reminder that beauty can be found (and put) anywhere. Amidst this often misunderstood counter-cultural movement, true art can emerge.
Exit Through the Gift Shop, Banksy’s directorial debut, received a Oscar nomination in the Documentary Feature category, and Banksy was nominated for an award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer. In the Oscar race, I’m rooting for Exit Through the Gift Shop. I have nothing against the other Documentary Feature nominees (Gasland, Inside Job, Restrepo, and Waste Land), but I’m curious if Banksy would show up to accept his award.
This year’s Academy Award nominees for Best Director seem fairly standard. All five directors are nominated for films that also received Best Picture nominations. All five films feature well-known celebrities. All five films and directors fared relatively well in other award ceremonies this year (though the Coen pair was nudged out of the Golden Globes by Christopher Nolan, and David O. Russell didn’t get nominated for a Critics’ Choice Award). David Fincher has already grabbed the Golden Globe and the Critics’ Choice Award for directing The Social Network, and many have written off the Directing category at the Oscars as an easy win for Fincher. But these five (the Coens here considered a single unit) directors have interesting backgrounds and unique perspectives. While Fincher may very well grab the Oscar, viewers shouldn’t underestimate the other four.
Darren Aronofsky: The Weirdo
Sliding into the pop-cinema scene with the psychological thrillers Pi (1998) and Requiem for a Dream (2000), Darren Aronofsky quickly made a name as the creator of bizarre brainteasers. Aronofsky’s films tend to leave moviegoers confused, amazed, and slightly disturbed. Some of his movies look and feel like a combination of Christopher Nolan’s intriguing psycho-cinema and Reefer Madness‘s, well, madness. While The Wrestler (2008) was arguably a break from the typical Aronofsky dazzler, Black Swan, his latest thriller and 2010 Oscar-nominated film, certainly bears the Aronofsky mark of madness.
This is Aronofsky’s first Oscar nomination. Despite the bizarre brilliance of some of his past films, none of them gained Aronofsky notice as a director or writer at the Academy Awards. Aronofsky has screenplay writing credits for Pi (1998), Requiem for a Dream (2000), and The Fountain (2006). Interestingly, Aronofsky is also a producer of The Fighter (2010), the film that gained David O. Russell his nomination for directing. Regardless of what one may say of his past films, Darren Aronofsky’s recent breakthrough at the Oscars gives me a reason to see the upcoming installment of the Jackman-as-Wolverine franchise (The Wolverine), which Aronofsky will direct.
David O. Russell: The Underdog
The Fighter (2010) is just David O. Russell’s latest addition to his expanding underdog filmography. His early films, Spanking the Monkey (1994) and Flirting with Disaster (1996), feature humorously agitated underdogs who struggle with romance and identity. His 1999 film, Three Kings, transformed three male prima donnas (George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, and Ice Cube) into an underdog trio of soldiers who become thieves and, eventually, heroes. And perhaps his most popular film until now, I Heart Huckabees (2004), features a couple of hopelessly lost thinkers (Jason Schwartzman and, again, Mark Wahlberg) who simply want to understand the world around them.
In addition to the out-of-towner-like qualities of his characters, David O. Russell may be the underdog of the 2010 nominated directors. When all counted, Russell has less past nominations/awards than the other four nominees. Not only is this Russell’s first nomination for directing, this is Russell’s first nomination in any category at both the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes. The film that landed Russell these nominations, The Fighter, is also Russell’s first high-profile attempt at a drama.
Tom Hooper: The Historian
Tom Hooper’s filmography almost reads like the index of a history textbook. Hooper featured the life of English sports manager Brian Clough in The Damned United (2009). He highlighted the voice and mind of British politician Lord Longford in Longford (2006). In 2005, he directed a mini-series about Queen Elizabeth I , and, in 2008, he directed a mini-series about John Adams. And, now, Hooper presents the life of King George VI of England in his Oscar-nominated film, The King’s Speech (2010). According to this interview with Tom Hooper, bits of Lionel Logue’s actual diary even made it into the movie’s script.
Like Russell and Aronofsky, this is Hooper’s first Oscar nomination. This is, however, not Hooper’s first nomination for directing. The majority of Hooper’s directing experience is in television. In fact, Hooper has been nominated for three Emmy Awards. He was nominated in 2004 for directing ExxonMobil Masterpiece Theatre: Prime Suspect 6; in 2006 for Elizabeth I; and again in 2008 for John Adams. Of the three, only Elizabeth I won Hooper an Emmy.
David Fincher: The Voyager
From Seven (1995) to The Social Network (2010), David Fincher has dazzled audiences with his wonderfully risky direction. His early films, Alien³ (1992), Seven (1995), and The Game (1997) showed that Fincher had a knack for putting his characters through emotional (and sometime physical) hell. Fincher fine-tuned his bold approach to filmmaking in 1999 when he directed Fight Club. Fincher’s screen adaptation of the Chuck Palahniuk novel earned him status as a pop-culture icon. Having improved his adventurous, risk-taking style of direction, Fincher went on to direct two thrillers, Panic Room (2002) and Zodiac (2007). Fincher’s first brush with the Academy Awards came from his direction of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008). The movie earned thirteen Oscar nominations, one of which was for Fincher’s directing. Though Danny Boyle was given the Oscar that year for directing Slumdog Millionaire, Fincher’s film still won three Oscars (Art Direction, Makeup, and Visual Effects).
Through The Social Network (2010), Fincher has once again polished his adventurous approach to films and protagonists. Feature-length films, however, are not the only items on his resume. Fincher has worked on music videos for Aerosmith, Paula Abdul, and Madonna. And Fincher lent his voice to the Oscar-nominated short film Logorama (2009). Fincher’s intensity and unpredictability (and his work with Aerosmith, perhaps) make him a true voyager.
Joel and Ethan Coen’s resume is as diverse as it is brilliant. The early films Raising Arizona (1987), Miller’s Crossing (1990), Barton Frink (1991), and The Hudsucker Proxy (1994) seemed to serve as test drives of the Coen brothers’ unique and eventually well-rewarded style. Their first big break, Fargo (1996), caught the eye of the Academy Awards, earning them nominations for both directing and writing. The Coen brothers then went on to direct The Big Lebowski (1998) and O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000). Both films earned the brothers esteem and recognition, and O Brother, Where Art Thou? helped the Coens’ grab another Oscar nomination for writing. Turning back to a directing style reminiscent
of their early work, Joel and Ethan Coen then directed The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001). Despite the comparisons, The Man Who Wasn’t There was substantially more successful than the Coens’ earlier work of a similar style. Intolerable Cruelty (2003), The Ladykillers (2004), and Paris, Je T’Aime (2006) were relatively well-received by the movie-going public. From 2007 to 2010, the Coen brothers directed four films that received notice at the Academy Awards, the Golden Globes, or both. No Country for Old Men (2007) won Oscars for directing, writing, and best picture. Burn After Reading (2008) received two Golden Globe nominations, one for Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical. A Serious Man (2009) was nominated for two Academy Awards, including best picture. And, now, True Grit (2010) is nominated for an impressive ten Oscars. The fact that True Grit went unmentioned at the Golden Globes seems to be less indicative of the quality of the Coen brothers’ film and more of the quality of the awards themselves.
Christopher Nolan: The Runner-Up
Success at the box office sometimes parallels poor performance at the Academy Awards. And, given some of the movies that succeed at the box office (Clash of the Titans and New Moon, for example) this heuristic is well-proven. In Christopher Nolan’s case, however, many (including myself) believe that his successes in directing should rise above the stigma of the box office. In terms of direction, perhaps films like Following (1998), Insomnia (2002), and The Prestige (2006) aren’t Oscar-worthy, but Nolan has directed other films that, in regards to direction and writing, rival those of the Coen brothers and James Cameron. Many Nolan fans felt robbed when Nolan was not recognized at either the Oscars or the Golden Globes for The Dark Knight (2008). Though the film received eight Academy Award nominations, none were for Nolan, the film’s director and writer. And, now, Christopher Nolan’s directing talents go, once again, unnoticed at the Oscars despite the originality and flow of Inception (2010) (though he is nominated as the writer of Inception‘s original screenplay).
At least Nolan fans have the next installment of Nolan’s Batman franchise to look forward to in 2012. The Dark Knight Rises is looking like it will be a dream-come-true for those who love superheroes and celebrities. Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Caine will return as Batman, Gordan, Fox, and Alfred. Tom Hardy (from Inception) and Anne Hathaway will be added to the cast as Bane and Catwoman, respectively. And, recently, it has been rumored that Robin Williams will play Hugo Strange. Though, I’m learning not to trust rumors about the cast of The Dark Knight Rises. Past rumors suggested that either Eddie Murphy or Johnny Depp would play the Riddler; Philip Seymour Hoffman would play the Penguin; and Shia LeBeouf would play Robin. So, while I think Robin Williams would be a wonderful addition to the film, I’m not holding my breath.