Sunday, February 21, 2016

Ranking the 2016 Oscar Nominated Shorts: Animated

And the winner of the Animated Shorts should be... Documentary Short nomineeLast Day of Freedom! No no, just kidding—but not really. This year's collection of Oscar-nominated shorts is vastly varied, and last weekend, I trekked out to my local independent theater to catch the Animated flicks—an 80-minute presentation that included five nominees, and four additional (non-nominated), specially featured shorts.

To be honest, I found the entire group of nominees very underwhelming this year. While I was impressed by a couple, most left me scratching my head as to how and why they were being honored with a nomination at all. And screened alongside a few shorts that didn't receive nominations and should have (specifically, If I Were God...), the shortcomings really stood out. I'm realizing that my investment in animated films, particularly shorts, is hard to achieve. So without further ado, here is my ranking (1-best to 5-worst) of the 2016 Oscar Nominated Shorts: Animated:


Directed By: Konstantin Bronzit
Country: Russia
Run Time: 16 min
View the Trailer

If ever there was a more pointed representation of friendship and shared dreams than this, I haven't come across it. Two best friends endure physical and mental strain to realize their childhood fantasy of becoming Cosmonauts. Through rigorous testing, these comrades blow away the competition and, finally, get fitted for their coveted space suits. As the dangers of galactic travel hit the men hard, the connection between the friends and their passion for the stars secure their bonds beyond all time and space.

The mood is playful, almost throughout, despite the weight of tragedy and the existential denouement that followed. Of all the films on this list that remain "silent" (i.e. there is no spoken dialogue), this one worked the best. There was nothing trite about the emotions here, and it wasn't manipulative even as it wrenched your heart and brought all the feels. As the action plays out, reality becomes less and less grounded—it's here where some viewers may have been lost, but it gripped me so fully, I found the ending quite powerful. Where equally as-good co-nominee, World of Tomorrow, was humorous and fantastical, We Can't Live without Cosmos is an emotional roundabout kick to the face. While I see the Oscar going to my #2 pick, this is the one I'll most remember.


Directed By: Don Hertzfeldt
Country: United States
Run Time: 17 min
View the Trailer

For any Don Hertzfeldt fan, this is far and away his Citizen Kane. That means that it's brilliant, but probably slightly overrated. Known for his spectacular 2000 animated short, Rejected, a 9-minute series of vignettes that contributed some of the most quotable material from the noughts ("My spoon is too big!"), Hertzfeldt creates a rare fully-realized story in his signature stick-figure style, about a young girl named Emily who is contacted by her third-generation clone, Emily, from the very distant future. It is then that clone Emily whisks "Emily Prime," as she's designated, away on an all-too-lighthearted tour of a far more disturbing future.

Existentialism is the theme of the day with the two best nominees in this category, as subjects of space and time and reality and science are explored with aplomb. The brilliance of World of Tomorrow is in its desperately dry dialogue. Clone Emily is terrifying, but Emily Prime doesn't even realize it—the stories she's casually telling of a festering and tormented universe, overrun by scientific innovations and experiments, fall on deaf ears. Emily Prime's, that is, not ours. No, we're left to take in all of the laughably awful things Clone Emily feels inclined to share, and it is a remarkably fabulous ride. Not to mention, the animation itself couldn't be more unique in its flat and colorful beauty.

The only animated short—so far—available to stream instantly on Netflix. And very likely the winner come February 28th.


Directed By: Sanjay Patel
Country: United States
Run Time: 7 min
View the Trailer

Pixar's standard entry for the Animated Short Oscar category this year—usually the only cartoon short I end up watching—was missed by me this year, having been paired with the studio's last year release, The Good Dinosaur (sadly, their least successful film to date). While I still can't speak to that film's merits (it's on the "To See" list), this sweet semi-biographical fantasy has gotten some good Academy attention, likely surpassing the viewership of its initial release. A story about young Sanjay and his passion for the cartoon 'Super Team'—much to the dismay and distraction of his pious father. When Sanjay is implored by his father to partake in prayer rather than play, Sanjay reluctantly finds a connection through his imagination between his beloved heroes and the Hindi gods he's more or less dismissed.

There are no 3D animated graphics that can rival Pixar. In that sense, this is the most familiar film, stylistically, for most audiences on this list, particularly 21st century children. I was impressed by the sweetness of the story and the colorful imagination of our little protagonist. It's sweet, and there are touching moments that cap the film off nicely. Yet it doesn't quite feel... special. The subject here simply can't compete with the depth of the previous two shorts, two stories that had so much more to say than was confined in their short run time. With Sanjay, what you see is what you get. An exemplary effort from Pixar, but no where near their best contribution to this category.


Directed By: Gabriel Osorio
Country: Chile
Run Time: 11 min
View the Trailer

A lonely Bear tells the story of a family of happy bears through the complexity of a paw-made mechanical diorama on the street corner of his city, one that may well reflect the tragedy of his own life. In his construction, a father bear—among many other animals—is kidnapped by a human traveling circus, taken away from his family and abused for the entertainment of the unknowing masses. His eventual escape propels his fight to return home and find the family that he lost. There's a political undercurrent to this film that I wasn't familiar with upon my first viewing, one that explains the allegory of this tragic Bear's story—more specifically, the kidnappings that take place in Chile, where people are taken and seemingly disappear off the face of the earth.

Having seen this connection, however, made me realize that my dislike of this short isn't because of the story—it's because of the animation. The still images and parts of the moving diorama were impressive, and creatively realized, a technical achievement that was metallic and geared, moving the way a cranked machine just might. But that same mechanic spilled over into the protagonist's reality as well, the animation broken and uneven. This never felt like a stylistic choice, but rather, a messy, unintentional one. Movements of the character were never smooth and the transitions were really rough. Sadly, it distracted from the true weight of the film, one that had a significantly stronger personal message than many of these other films could claim. Unfortunately, I just wasn't impressed.


Directed By: Richard Williams
Country: United Kingdom
Run Time: 6 min
View the Trailer

What... what was this movie?

Thank the gods this was the shortest of the bunch. I wanted it to be over immediately. Following the viewing of the fourth nominee, we were treated to a "Parental Warning" citing this final short as completely inappropriate for children. Intriguing, to say the least. Graphic violence and nudity were included, so little tykes needed to be taken out of the theater after a handful of "non-nominees" screened. As this film started, I was taken by the lightly textured pencil sketching that began to take form, the only film that felt like we were watching it be drawn in real time on real paper.

But then the story unfolded. Four warriors, two Spartans and two Athenians, fight brutally to the death, unknowingly displaying the carnage of their battle in front of a young child. If you view the trailer, it's in fact an interview with the director, who speaks about his vision for this as a longer, more complex feature film (hence the title Prologue.) Considering the animation itself, pencil-drawn and soft, completely organic and almost tangible, that would likely be a vast improvement. It was difficult to watch this and connect with the story in any way, because it seems so empty and gratuitous, and without motivation. In fact, it also felt like a desperate call for attention from the director, and I resented sitting through something that was so unfinished and hastily pushed out for an audience. Impatience on the part of an artist, if I've ever seen it.

There are my thoughts! Have you seen these movies yet? If so, what were your thoughts?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...