As with my selections in the Best Foreign Language Film category, I decided to go in a different direction (sort of) instead of following the herd, and consider stories more pertinent to the times we live in. Thus, you won’t see among my recommendations THAT film from a certain Bay Area animation studio whose parent company is looking to ingratiate themselves to the Latino audience. Deal with it. I will say, the soundtrack was pretty good, tho…
THE BREADWINNER Directed by Nora Twomey
I can certainly take points off for the simple fact that this otherwise gorgeous animated drama was created by Irish animators, and NOT Afghanis — to me, sinful considering that the story is Afghan through and through. However — and this is a BIG however — the universal themes of girl-power, courage, and strength in the face of stifling patriarchy make this a far more relevant tale than another, ancient, more-heralded story that shares a remarkably similar narrative template — uhhh, ever hear of an animated film entitled MULAN, anyone? An important film for these troubling times — maybe it can get screened for the President, eh?
IN THIS CORNER OF THE WORLD Directed by Sunao Katabuchi
Based on a well-regarded manga serial of the same name, IN THIS CORNER OF THE WORLD falls in the same wheelhouse as other, live-action period pieces from Japan that assess the costs of war and geo-political aggression from the viewpoint of those whose lives are affected by world events. Following ten years in the life of Suzu, a talented aspiring artist living in a small township on the outskirts of Hiroshima City, director Sunao Katabuchi and team bring to life Suzu’s story not with a flourish, but with a stated, measured palette that leaves a lasting impression in the mind long after the movie is over.
THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE Directed by Chris McKay
Never mind that this clever mash-up between graphic novels ARKHAM ASYLUM and THE DARK KNIGHT gains a bit of levity when imagined as a bunch of Lego characters — THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE confirms in my mind how comedian Steve Martin described how the world sees Hollywood and its many creations as part of his 2001 Oscars® host monologue: “[They think] we’re all gay.” Ahhh, so be it. I haven’t had this much fun viewing the tortured soul of the caped Crusader and his menagerie of crime-fighting colleagues since the original AVENGERS nearly…what, nine years ago? Seeing this earn a nomination will ALMOST make up for the Academy not nominating the brilliant puppet animation spoof TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE in 2004. This is MY ballot. THIS can be the year…
LOVING VINCENT Directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman
A masterful, innovative blend of arduous hand-painting and rotoscopic cinematography, LOVING VINCENT, for my money, outstrips Richard Linklater’s similarly revolutionary WAKING LIFE. Not so much a breakthrough as it is another, more tactile way of seeing the life and art of famed impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh, LOVING VINCENT explodes from the screen in vibrant color and inventive mis-en-scene. Well, okay, the story itself can be a bit, ehhh, trenchant at times, but who’s quibbling? This unique window onto an important period of history is one that deserves some Academy Award© love. I’m glad to be the one to give it.
WINDOW HORSES: THE POETIC PERSIAN EPIPHANY OF ROSIE MING
Directed by Ann Marie Fleming
Veteran Canadian filmmaker Ann Marie Fleming brings not only her own Eurasian identity to bear in her first all-animated feature — she even finds a prominent place for her longtime onscreen doppelganger, The Stick Girl (personified here as Rosie Ming) as director Fleming takes us on a soulful journey to Shirazz, Iran, land of poets, lovers — and perhaps even the secrets behind Rosie’s own mixed identity. Colorful while not being showy or self-conscious, WINDOW HORSES offers a much-welcome respite from the constant finger-pointing that occurs far too often these days when foregrounding non-native communities in North America. It’s also a terrific primer that confirms Iran’s identity as a land of cultural antiquity and literary folklore — and perhaps even something more…
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