Oscar Nominated Short Films…anyone that has ever done an office Oscar pool is familiar with these categories. These are the nominees with names of films you’ve never heard of and if you’re like me you usually pick the one that sounds the most Oscar-y or the one with the craziest title. For the past few years, the Academy has been packaging these films and presenting them in theaters or for download online to give audiences a chance to see these and maybe make more than a blind guess. In years past I’ve made it to the Documentary Shorts but this year I wanted to make sure I hit the Animated Shorts and Live Action Shorts as well.
Maggie Simpson in “The Longest Daycare”
The Simpsons have been around television for over two decades but aside from a modestly successful big screen adventure, they’ve been absent from the big screen. This thin effort was interesting enough to earn it a place on Oscar’s short list but it’s hard to see the true award potential in a fairly standard offering. Don’t get me wrong, there are some nice touches (Baby Maggie goes to a daycare named after Ayn Rand – complete with Raggedy Ayn Dolls) but is it Oscar worthy or just merely amusing? I’m in the latter category but did enjoy the vivid design and several clever ideas presented.
Adam and Dog
Where the Maggie Simpson short was bursting with color, Adam and Dog employs a muted color palate to tell its story of a dog exploring the jungle of Eden and happening upon a naked Adam. The two play fetch and briefly explore the mysteries the new world has to offer. Then Eve shows up and everything changes. Director Minkyu Lee has an interesting narrative that fully envelops you for the sixteen minute short…but there’s something hollow about it if you dig down a bit.
At two minutes this is the shortest nominee but what it lacks in length it more than makes up in creativity. A stop-motion how-to video for whipping up a bowl of guac, it uses random items (grenades, poker chips, dice, and pincushions) to stand in for traditional ingredients and it’s mighty impressive. Its sheer simplicity of design and creativity made this an audience favorite – I wouldn’t have minded if they showed this one twice.
Head Over Heels
Another stop-motion short, this is a bit more crudely designed than what you’ll see in the likes of Animated Feature nominees Frankenweenie and ParaNorman but it doesn’t lack for heart. Documenting an upside down relationship (literally) between an old couple, Head Over Heels is a fine short that has a greatly satisfying finale. Though already short enough, I think it could have trimmed a minute or two off to maximize its impact.
Walt Disney hand drawn animation has taken a bit of a backseat to the impressive likes of Pixar and DreamWorks Animation. With Paperman, it’s not only the black and white design that creates a sense of nostalgia; it’s the overarching themes that only Disney can seem to tap into so well. A fulfilling mini masterpiece, it’s a big city set tale of two people destined to meet. Wisely, Walt Disney Studios has made this short (originally shown before Animated Feature nominee Wreck-It Ralph) available online for free. Make sure to check it out!
When you combine all of the shorts it was less than an hour of material…so the showing also included three additional films that didn’t make the final cut but were still highly regarded. First was Abiogenesis, a sci fi/nature marvel that reminded me a bit of Prometheus in its design. Dripped, a neat little French fable about a man who eats famous paintings and then starts to exhibit qualities of the different styles of art. The final short was the longest of them all, the nearly 30 minute The Gruffalo’s Child. Based on a respected children’s book, this features some famous voices who bring to life a cautionary tale reminding children to listen to their parents.
Interviews with the winners in this category last year are interspersed between the shorts and I liked hearing about what the experience was both making the film, being nominated, and winning was like. Valued insight is given by the two men, creating an overall enjoyable program.