31. Blood Tea and Red String (2006). Dir. by Christiane Cegavske. USA.
Stop-motion animators are a patient and resilient folk. As proven by Cegavske, who made this dark and surrealistic gem of a feature by herself over the course of 13 years. Even though it’s slightly clunkier than studio-based or state-sponsored works, it possesses originality, superb puppet design, and undeniable charm.
It’s wordless, the plot is loose-aristocratic, red-tea-drinking white mice commission the plebeian Creatures to a doll for them, and then things get weird. There is a loose feminist message and the strong surrealist touch, but the film stands out as a labor of love and creativity. Sadly, it’s the director’s only work so far. Hoping for more to come.
32. Game Over (2006). Directed by PES. USA.
This one is literally a short, clocking in at about a minute and a half. PES utilizes common objects in uncommon ways. Here he shows the well-known arcade games (Centipede, Frogger, Asteroids, Space Invader, Pac-Man) with beetles, salt shakers, corn candy, etc. Object animation at its weirdest.
Other works: many similar brief but rewarding shorts, bringing objects to life via stop-motion. Roof Sex (2002) is a hilarious “XXX” chair-on-chair copulation. Of hilarious note are Fireworks (2004), Kaboom! (2004), Western Spaghetti (2008), Fresh Guacamole (2013). Director is rumored to have two features in the works, so keep eyes open.
33. Madame Tutli Putli (2007). Dir. by Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski. Canada.
A groundbreaking Oscar-nominated short from Canada. The titular character boards a train, but ends up embarking on a far more suspenseful journey than she bargained for. The addition of composite human eyes to puppets produces a startling effect. Watch out for those trains.
34. $9.99 (2008). Dir. by Tatia Rosenthal. Australia/Israel.
An existential claymation feature. Characters wander about, find and lose love, search for the meaning of life, speak to angels, etc. Very off-beat and quality combination of mundane and magical. Geoffrey Rush again steps up with amazing voice work.
35. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009). Dir. by Wes Anderson. USA.
Wes Anderson, who is known for his very distinct cinematic style, here takes on stop-motion in this adaptation of Roald Dahl’s story. And to great effect. Using puppets, he created an animated film that takes the best of both worlds-live action and animation.
From animation-unique visual look, hand-made world, singular atmosphere. From live action-the way to effectively tell the story. Using the vocal talents of George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, he makes the material his own while staying true to the spirit of the original story.
36. Mary and Max (2009). Dir. by Adam Elliot. Australia.
Adam Elliot’s claymated characters look strange-big mouths, uneven teeth, usually hyper-rotund shapes. But he makes sure that their feelings are real. When watching these films, a viewer can’t help but to empathize with the characters, or at least understand them.
This method peaks in Mary and Max, a downer of a tale about a lonely, bullied Australian child who becomes pen pals witha 44-year old New York resident with Ausperger syndrome. The message of the film is simple but effective-we all could use someone who understands us and relates to us.
As mentioned before, this one is decisively downbeat, and the color stock tones range from sepia to gray, with occasional dashes of color-the heroes are smart and soulful in their own way, but woefully unequipped to deal with the outside world. But at least they have each other. The voice work of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Toni Collette, and Eric Bana is an added bonus.
Other works: on his way to this feature Elliot made a cycle of award-winning shorts dealing with family matters, and appropriately titled Uncle (1996), Cousin (1998), and Brother (1999). They are worth checking out, as is the Oscar-winning Harvie Krumpet (2003), which features the vocal talent of Geoffrey Rush.
37. A Town Called Panic (2009). Dir. by Stephane Aubier and Vincent Patar. Belgium.
This feature is a puppetoon-meaning, a stop-motion film that uses the figurines and ready-made toys rather than mobile puppets. The main reason for it playing at the 2009 Cannes festival is simple-it’s really funny and witty.
The Belgian animators show the life and antics of three roommates-a cowboy, an Indian, and a horse (the horse being the brains and the voice of reason in that household). It looks simplistic at times, but the humor, the pop-culture references, and the overall zaniness of it hold it up well.
Other works: see the TV show by the same name and with the same characters.
38. Coraline (2009). Dir. by Henry Selick. USA.
Selick is the only one that gets a second entry due to Coraline being so different from Nightmare Before Christmas. The stop-motion excellence is still here, but whereas Nightmare was driven by Tim Burton’s strange imagination, this one relies on the storytelling of Neil Gaiman.
The results are worthy in both cases. This tale of a restless child who discovers a seemingly perfect alternate reality and learns that one should be careful what she wishes for has a message for both children and adults (though not very small children, preferably-the imagery is often disturbing), and its visual extravaganza needs to be seen to be believed. Oscar well earned.
39. The Ugly Duckling (2010). Dir. by Garry Bardin. Russia.
A well-adapted fairy tale-that is anything but fairy. A lanky, claymated duckling is thrust into the oppressive world of feathered chicken-duck-goose puppets. For a good portion of the film, he suffers from extreme bullying and abuse. The ending is optimistic, but the process of getting there is bleak.
Made by a veteran director, the world of the poultry yard is vivid and detailed, if not very pleasant. Perhaps this accounted for the polemics that the film encountered in its native Russia. On a hilarious note, the musical score is outrageously funny. The choruses set to Tchaikovsky’s music stand out on their own.
Other works: Garry Bardin made some of the most innovative and thought-provoking animated works in Soviet Union and Russia. Conflict (1983) is made with matches. The short Break! (1985) is a better boxing movie than Rocky. Banquet (1986) is crazy Russian drunk fest-without visible protagonist.
The Grey Wolf und a Red Riding Hood (1990) and Puss in Boots (1995) are hilarious political adaptation of fairy tales. The three Chucha films (1999-2004) are wacky, while Adagio (2000) is beautiful and melancholic.
40. The Boxtrolls (2014). Dir. by Grahame Annable and Anthony Stacchi. USA.
The latest noted stop-motion film that firmly keeps the tradition alive. The adaptation of Alan Snow’s story Here Be Monsters! justly received its Oscar nomination. The character and background design is stunning and takes the stop-motion technical virtuosity to a new level.
Add to it the voice talents of Ben Kingsley, Toni Colette, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost-this tale of the trolls that dwell in the underbelly of the city and wear cardboard boxes can be enjoyed by all.
Author Bio: Leo Poroshin is a Russian-born aspiring writer/director (film and theatre), residing in Michigan. He enjoys life, and, naturally, the arts, as they are one of life’s best manifestations.