I reviewed the Academy Award nominated animated short films last year, and enjoyed searching for the films, which usually go unseen by most people, and checking out what the Academy saw in them. I liked some of them quite a bit and thought I’d try to do the same this year. Luck would have it, and I found all five nominees and watched them. I am writing this post on Oscar night, and while I haven’t watched the ceremony (yet) I do know that Piper has won. And I can’t be mad at that decision, as it was one of only two this year that I thought was very good. But I’ll get to the winner later. First, let me discuss the films in alphabetical order.
Writer & Director: Theodore Ushev
Cast: Caroline Dhavernas
The other short film I absolutely loved. It tells the story of Vaysha, a girl born with a particularly bizarre sight condition. Out of one eye she saw the world as it was, in the past, and with the other she saw the world as it would be, in the future. She would see her own parents out of one eye as children, and out of the other as elderly frail people. This way of life troubled Vaysha greatly, but if faced with the option to see the world in one way or the other, both options proved worse than seeing both. The story is beautifully told and narrated, but the visuals are breathtaking. The animation is abstract, artistic, deliberate, and beautiful. I would not have been mad had this film won, as it clearly was the most avant-garde of the bunch, and also the most interesting one by far.
Directors: Andrew Coats & Lou Hamou-Lhadj
Writers: Andrew Coats, Lou Hamou-Lhadj & Mark C. Harris
Cinematographer: Luke Martorelli
Composer: Gustavo Santaolalla
A theme of a couple of the nominated shorts this year was the struggle between generations. In this animated western a sheriff returns to the location of a traumatic event in his past involving his own father. The sheriff is haunted by his memories, which almost get the best of him. The story is a bit cliche and the animation is a bit too photo-realistic and computer generated for my tastes. I simply couldn’t fully connect to the story being delivered or to the artistic idea behind it. It’s a fine short, but just didn’t stack up against some of the others in the race.
PEAR CIDER AND CIGARETTES
Writer & Director: Robert Valley
Man this was a hard one to sit through! So much male ego and the pretentiousness was uncanny. While all the other shorts were roughly between 5 to 10 minutes in length, this one dribbled on for over 30 minutes and for no good reason. The narrator of the story, doing his best serious novelist reflecting on his life impression, weaves a horrific story of his best friend who he idolized, in spite of him being an all around horrendous human being who boozed himself into a liver transplant, and whose life amounted to lawsuits and womanizing on a self destructive crusade towards death. The animation is derivative of the worst Japanese anime from the 80s and 90s. The dialogue contains offensive words and stereotypes bordering on racism. What is this film doing in this category?
Director: Patrick Osborne
Another story of intergenerational strife. The animation is a bit basic, and doesn’t do anything really special with the medium, unless you count the fact that it is the first VR animated short in Oscar history, but I saw it in the traditional medium and wasn’t thus able to enjoy or appreciate this specific feat. The story is of a seemingly homeless rocker man who takes his young daughter around the country with his car. He decides for her sake to get a job and settle down. She grows into a rebellious teenager. She becomes a successful rocker, a success that had always eluded her father. He gets to live vicariously through her. The connecting threads are the car and the song that are present throughout. The short is fine, but I will most likely forget about it by the time I wake up tomorrow morning.
Writer & Director: Alan Barillaro
Cinematographers: Erik Smitt & Derek Williams
Composer: Adrian Belew
I quite loved this short. Yes, it’s by Pixar, the juggernaut of animation, but unlike last year’s short, which I hated, I did really like this one, even in its simplicity and very straightforward message. It’s easy to see why it won the Oscar. The story is about a small sanderling whose mother has decided that today is the day it learns to fend for itself and catch its own food. The birds feed on clams, which emerge from the sand when a wave rolls in. After some initial trauma, the chick realizes that the method employed by its kind is not applicable, and comes up with a new way to do things. It’s a story told a million times, even in animation (Happy Feet did this among others), but here it is done effectively, beautifully, charmingly, and without a single line of dialogue. I’ve seen it twice already, and would watch it again. I guess that says something about it.