If you’re anything like me, then when during the very long Oscar telecast the attention is turned to the short film categories you own tends to wander a bit, or it’s an ideal time for a drink refill or a trip to the kitchen. It’s hard to get invested, or even muster some interest, in a category made up of films hardly anyone watching the awards ceremony has seen. Sure, every year around February some very select movie theaters showcases the nominated shorts, but I personally have not gone out of my way to find out where exactly they are screened, and don’t know anyone who has seen the films. The only short films general audiences do see are those that screen prior to Pixar feature animated movies, so anyone who went to see The Good Dinosaur (I didn’t) probably saw one of the nominees, otherwise, like me, you hadn’t seen any. I decided to change that, and made it a point to try to dig around and see if I could get my hands on the five nominees that made up the category. It wasn’t easy. I had to use my skills as a researcher to view all five, but in the end I did manage to see them. The fact that it’s so difficult to view the films is a problem, and it should be fixed. I get that feature films are heavily regulated due to the financial bottom line of movie studios, but short films, more often than not, serve as calling cards for up and coming directors and filmmakers, and if they do not find an audience, it seems counter intuitive to the process of becoming known. In the past, nominees in the short categories have gone on to produce compelling documentaries, feature films, and animated movies, so why cheat an audience out of the opportunity to view something special? Some filmmakers have put their work on publicly accessible forums like YouTube, and I am grateful to be able to view the art that clearly required a lot of time, energy, imagination, and skill on the part of all those involved. The shorts categories should not be a yawn fest, a time to check the phone for messages, we should be as interested in this category as we are with the ones rewarding feature films, otherwise what’s the point of having the category at all? So I am doing my part, and am dedicating a post to the nominees of the animated short category from this year’s Academy Awards (presented in alphabetical order).
Cinematographer & Director: Gabriel Osorio Vargas
Writers: Gabriel Osorio Vargas & Daniel Castro
The winner of the category, and it’s not surprising why it did take home the Oscar gold. Bear Story tells the tale of a bear family whose patriarch is taken from his home, in front of his wife and cub, and sold to the circus. The titular bear breaks free of his prison and makes his way home. The entire tale is told through a diorama created by the bear himself and showcased on the street to anyone with a coin in their pocket. The ending is heartbreaking and open to interpretation, depending on your reading of the scenes the ending is either a happy one, or it is devastating. As impressive as some of the other films were, this is the only short that actually emotionally affected me. Especially if this film is read as a fantastical retelling of the Chilean Pinochet regime. Definitely my favorite amongst the five nominees.
Director: Richard Williams
Prologue is just that, a beginning to what is meant to be eventually a feature film, though who knows if it ever will. As is, it doesn’t really stand on its own. The animation is beautiful, even though stark and simple, but I kept asking myself what the point of the whole thing is. Images of plants and insects eventually give way to a violent and bloody battle between Spartans and Athenians, all witnessed by a young girl watching the gruesome scenes with dismay and disbelief. Eventually this is supposed to be a retelling of Aristophanes’ play Lysistrata. Without reading up on the short film, you would never know that. Definitely a case of style over substance.
SANJAY’S SUPER TEAM
Writer & Director: Sanjay Patel
Composer: Mychael Danna
While the premise and moral of this short is quite lovely, this short film, in my opinion, should have been edited waaaay back, and was just so noisy and overwhelming. I had heard a lot of praise bestowed upon this animated short, and after viewing it I just cannot understand why. Not only did I dislike it, but I don’t even think it was the best Pixar short this year! The quieter and lovely little short Lava, which accompanied Inside Out in theaters, was more cohesive, to the point, and worked from beginning to end, even though very simple. Sanjay’s Super Team attempts to show how a first generation child of immigrants attempts to marry his family’s culture and heritage with his newfound interests provided by his family’s adoptive home, specifically Hindu gods and a love for superheroes and video games. The end result is a bombastic and overly saturated disco jam that is reminiscent of Street Fighter arcade games and a bad eighties rave with Vishnu, Durga, and Hanuman battling Ravana. Seriously: WTF?!
WE CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT COSMOS
Writer & Director: Konstantin Bronzit
Composer: Valentin Vasenkov
I quite liked this Russian entry in the category. A beautiful story about friendship and loss, We Can’t Live Without Cosmos recounts the story of two childhood friends who together become astronauts and excel over all over recruits in the program. A tragedy separates the two best friends and what follows is a study on depression, loneliness, and the inability to cope when the most important person in your life is taken away from you. As much as I liked the film, I did find it a bit puzzling. The relationship between the two men, and the heartache that is explored after the incident, was so emotional and the devastation so deep that it was hard not to read the movie as borderline homo-romantic (it did win at least one LGBT festival award from what I could find), and thusly perplexing as it comes from a country that isn’t exactly gay-friendly. Regardless of how the story is read, it is still a lovely little silent film about friendship and true love, never mind if romantic or platonic.
WORLD OF TOMORROW
Cinematographer, Writer & Director: Don Hertzfeldt
I watched this one on Netflix. The animation style of this little film is the most basic amongst the nominees, but the content and ideas proposed are the most extreme and out there. The short is a science fiction story of a little girl whose future clone manifests and begins a dialogue with the toddler, all delivered in a monotone robotic voice and cadence. The little Emily doesn’t seem to acknowledge or register anything that is being presented to her by her future alternate self, which does not deter the clone in any way. The information the clone reports vacillates between dystopian and utopian, unbelievable and existentially pragmatic. Definitely the most inventive and original amongst the nominees, and very worthy of the category. The only reason it wasn’t my favorite is because it left me a bit cold and alienated, as was its intention, I believe.