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Favorite Short Films from Annecy 2014

The 2014 Annecy International Film Festival  screened 500 new films in the beautiful resort town of Annecy, France. Since 1960, the best animated films have been shown here, with emphasis on experimental short films. I've attended since 2004, and each year been amazed--and often overwhelmed--by the quality and diversity of ideas. Last year I began posting summaries of my favorite films.

My 2014 favorites films are here. I'm partial to representational; uplifting, humorous, or sexy; narrative shorts. From recalling the previous years' award winners, this is the festival audience's preference as well. That bias is perhaps partly because it is hard to present a new aspect of important but well-explored topics such as abuse, genocide, and aging; and also because it is very easy to make overwrought films on those topics.

Yet, this year many of my favorites were atypical. In those cases, they took on difficult subjects with maturity and grace. My favorites usually overlap heavily with the festival award winners, however this year only two appeared on that list and my (tied) top two choices won no awards in competition at all.

The Best Film of Annecy 2014

These two radically different films impressed me greatly. Both displayed mastery of the medium, expert pacing, and bent in unexpected directions. I consider them tied for "best short".

Hipopotamy () - A beautifully executed film for its animation, music, pacing, and maturity, with deeply disturbing content: human forms applied to animal (titually hippotamus, but most likely elephant seal) behaviors, which are deplorably not so implausible on human forms.  It is important and an intelligent combination of beauty and ugliness directed with enough space for the audience to draw their own conclusions and parallels.

Moulton og meg (Torill Kove) - Three girls raised by modernist architects. A killer concept with ready-made art humor, nice coming-of-age elements, and heartwarming comments on families. The clean modernist-meets-children's style of black lines and solid, marker color fits the material perfectly. The narration is top-notch, as is the script and timing. Trailer

Other Favorites

I recommend all of these films, which are refreshingly innovative and have some great moments. I'm a bit critical of the ones near the bottom because I think that they have flaws, whereas the others are solid all of the way through. All deserve viewing and discussion.

Hasta Santiago (Mauro Carraro) - A modern pilgrimage rendered in computer colored pencil. Told as a straight travel and character study with occasional surrealist flair and great pacing. 2014 award for first film, Sacem award for music. Trailer

Sandy (Joseph Mann/Blink Industries) - A boy at the beach, harmlessly aping adult sexual behavior. It is cute and giggly while remaining earnest and honest.

Laznia (Tomek Ducki- A short film about swimming and aging and friendship. The animation is what sets this apart, with two different graphic-design styles of clean lines and gradients. Trailer

Le Petite Casserole d'Anatole (Eric Montchaud/JPL Films- A touching claymation story of difference and acceptance delivered with a light touch and maturity. I look forward to sharing it with my children. 2014 audience award winner. Excerpt

Kaly Live Dub "Allaxis" (Thomas Fourniret) - A high energy music video with impeccable, anime-influenced animation. This is at the bare edge of narrative, but I didn't mind one bit. It is everything cool from heist movies and road movies at once. A Scanner Darkly should have been this good.

La Guillotine (Cédric Villain/Arte France Développement, Claire Doutriaux) - Rarely does a short documentary impress me, but this one is fantastic. It is a great example of the power of film as a visual medium for education. Even without any understanding of French, you'll understand the details and historical points. This was the right medium for the right subject.

Sneh (snow) (Ivana ŠEbestova/Feel Me Film S.R.O.) - An occasionally-surreal love story with just enough room for ambiguity at the end. It uses its longer running time well.

Salmon Deadly Sins (Steven Vander Meer) - I enjoyed the wordplay and wacky illustrations.

365 (The Brothers McLeod) - One second of animation drawn per day for an entire year. This could have been a bit shorter, but it is interesting to see their style evolve over the year, the recurrence of themes, and their impressive discovery of how to pull off single-beat stories. Trailer

FMX 2014 Rugbybugs (Carl Schröter, Martin Lapp, Emanuel Fuchs, Fabian Fricke and Matthias Bäuerle/Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg) - This trailer for FMX is an impressive piece of student work with great rendering.

Supermoine Holypop (Supamonks Studio) - A beverage commercial (with a NSFW heavy metal theme song) with terrific blockbuster-style movie rendering of medieval mayhem. I'd like to make a video game that looks like this.

Louis (Mathilde Parquet/École des Metiers du Cinema d'Animation) - An afternoon exploration turned horror movie reminiscent of David Lynch.

Marilyn Myller (Mikey Please- A well done styrofoam stop motion about a styrofoam stop motion artist. It has a typical but well-executed rendition of the modern artist's journey and uses a fun, different medium. Trailer, Behind the Scenes

Pickman's Model (Pablo Ángeles/Dei ar Guachin OS, SA de CV)- Beautifully rendered and voice acted, with a solid story from H. P. Lovecraft. I found the film complete after the first reveal and felt that the remainder overplayed the twist rather than trusting the audience. Trailer

Beauty (Rino Stefano Tagliafierro) - Oil paintings subtly animated. This is a good idea, although the execution doesn't quite work for me in this case. The animation and composition simply aren't up to the quality of the original images, so the film tars itself a bit as uneven and exploitative of its sources. Yet, I hope to see more of this. Some styles, like sand art, are becoming overused and this was a truly fresh direction.

Morgan McGuire (@morgan3d) is a professor of Computer Science at Williams College, visiting professor at NVIDIA Research, and a professional game developer. He is the author of the Graphics Codex, an essential reference for computer graphics now available in iOS and Web Editions.

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