For the last 8 years, Oscar-nominated films (animation, live action, documentary) have been released in independent theaters across the country. Now, before all you film snobs take issue with Oscar, please know I share your pain; I am not a fan. I see about 50 films a year, but don’t watch the Academy Awards on television. I have more appreciation (and interest) for smaller, grittier artistic endeavors – across all genres of the performing and visual arts. Thankfully, there are other award and festival forums where those types of films, their creators, and crew can get their recognition and due.
7 years ago, I stumbled upon a showing of the Oscar nominated short films at my local independent theater. At first, I was hesitant. Why would I want to see a bunch of short films nominated by the same people who would give “Titanic” an Oscar? Well, it was the only place I could screen a dozen or so short films from all over the world in one fell swoop – so I gave it a try – and loved it. Over the years, the annual (February) release of the Oscar nominated short films has become a winter tradition for me.
Growing in popularity, the packaging of the Oscar nominated shorts features is now more elaborate in design and sound. There is also another big change this year: for the first time, the features are hosted. The winner of last year’s Oscar is now the interstitial narrator of his/her/their respective category. This year’s live action shorts are hosted by Luke Matheny (“God of Love”), and the animation shorts are hosted by co-directors William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg (“The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore”). At first I was annoyed by the new “host” element, but it grew on me (truth be told, I may have been annoyed because the winners from last year who returned as hosts this year were not MY picks ☺).
I am not a film student. I am not a filmmaker. My reviews come from the perspective of an enthusiastic consumer of good story-telling and mad respect for artists who share their vision with the rest of us. These artists sometimes give up everything else in their lives simply to share their dream with the rest of the world. William Joyce, co-host of this year’s animated feature, summed that up nicely in his advice to anyone who has an artistic vision:
“If you have an idea, drop everything and do it.“
MY REVIEWS FOR LIVE ACTION SHORTS:
Death of a Shadow (Belgium)
This film is light years above the rest of the group in art direction and sound design. Director Tom Van Avermaet introduces us to Nathan, a WWI soldier, who gets a second chance at life – and Sarah, his romantic interest. The love story that unfolds is bitter and sweet, but the meticulous beauty of every frame of this film could distract you from Nathan’s painful pursuit Sarah. The artistic elements are SO breathtaking that the story just doesn’t stand up to the beauty of this film; you might feel like you’re in an art gallery rather than a movie theater.
If you have ever have loved an older person through the anguish of memory loss this one will capture you at your core. Yan England delivers a love story from the perspective of Henry (Gerard Poirier) and his soul-searing journey through the joys of his past and the cruel confusion of his present. Each scene manages to stab your breaking heart over and over, and the film closes with a quote that the film illustrated in gut-wrenching beauty: “The worst thing about old age is the awareness of being an old man losing his memory.” Tissue alert.
A disturbing opening scene sets the tone for a worrisome night, when a precocious 9 year-old, Sophia (Fatima Ptacek), is left in the care of her uncle whose demons still haunt him. Director Shawn Cristensen renders a stark look at mental health and addiction presented (thankfully) with some laugh out loud moments, little kid giggles, and flipbooks (!). A surreally enchanting bowling alley scene breaks the icy subject matter and the score is crazy-cool. Ptacek’s performance is beyond her years; if there were a best actor award for shorts, she’d get it for this film.
Live Action Short Factoid:
The name Academy Award for Live Action Short Film was introduced in 1974.
1970 – 1973 Short Subjects, Live Action Films.
1957 – 1970 Short Subjects, Live Action Subjects
From 1936 until 1956 there were two separate awards:
Best Short Subject, One-reel and Best Short Subject, Two-reel”
A third category “Best Short Subject, color” was used only for 1936 and 1937.
Buzkashi Boys (Afghanistan)
Directed by Sam French, an American filmmaker who moved to Afghanistan for love, but found fertile ground for untold stories. He remained in Khabul, founded a film company, and from that we get Buzkashi Boys. Buzkashi Boys is a sweet tale of hope and friendship. Ahmed is a homeless child beggar with big plans for his future. Rafi is a child laborer with a darker outlook on life thanks to an overbearing father. Together, Ahmed the dreamer and Rafi the realist embark on a little-boy adventure that takes a tragic turn. Nothing mind-blowing, a tad predictable but the film offers amazing Khabul landscape locations with a magnificent closing shot.
Asad (South Africa)
18 minutes of heartbreak and delight. A little boy in a war-riddled Somali fishing town tries to prove his manhood. Caught between his peers’ pull toward a life of crime and a hopeful old fisherman’s lure of making honest living, young Asad is just trying to survive. The film’s dark subject matter is tempered with rays of laughter and light. Director Bryan Buckley cites a trip to Africa where he befriended some Somali refugees as inspiration to write this film. He also employed an all-Somali refugee cast. As the end credits begin to roll, we read these sweet words:
“This film is a tribute to our entire cast
whom have lost their country but not their hope”.
MY REVIEWS FOR ANIMATION SHORTS:
The Longest Daycare (USA)
Maggie Simpson (yes THAT Maggie Simpson, of the television sitcom The Simpsons) has a very long day. In less than five minutes, The Longest Daycare covers a lot of territory surrounding the absurdities and perils of American education. Lots of laugh out loud moments, meaningful – but sometimes dark – social statements, a great score and a surprise ending.
Adam and Dog (USA)
Who knew there was a dog in the Garden of Eden? Well, in Adam and Dog, there was! And in this absolutely gorgeous animation, the Bible’s first man and first dog form a bond – for better and for worse –every dog owner will recognize. The art direction was so pretty I imagined owning and displaying a framed still of every scene and the score was so delightful, I’d like to have it piping through my house on a Sunday morning over coffee.
Animated Short Factoid:
The name Academy Award for Animated Short Film was introduced in 1974.
1970 – 1973 Short Subjects, Animated Films
1932 – 1970 Short Subjects, Cartoons
Fresh Guacamole (USA)
From the directors of Western Spaghetti, PES (Adam Pesapane) delivers Fresh Guacamole. This mouth-watering stop-motion animation short slices and dices itself into appetite-whetting micro-masterpiece. The sound design is so good you can almost smell it. Confused? Go see it!
Fresh Guacamole Factoid: With a duration of 2 minutes, it’s the shortest film to ever be nominated.
Head Over Heels (UK)
The only stop-motion claymation entry, and the only student film in this year’s group.
Head Over Heels is quirky and folksy take on the doldrums of relationships and how years of marriage can turn lives upside down – literally. Director Timothy Reckart toys with gravity to demonstrate the complications of human connections, and I found myself looking for metaphor where there may have been none, or, that may have gone right over my head. Either way, this is a tender little film, and it comes to us from a team of students who made the film over the course of 15 months at National Film & Television School, United Kingdom.
Paper Man (USA)
I am not a film snob, but when I see “Disney Animation Studios” to open the credits of a short film, it had better be good. And it was! John Kars’s 2-D drawing animation was an adorable romance: boy meets girl; girl get away; boy searches for girl. Does he find her? You’ll find out after a creative whirlwind of near misses. The sweet, romantic tenor is carried by a tremendous, building score, and overall, this is an adorable film.
Forget the Oscar! Director Richard Mans should get award for getting ME to enjoy a science fiction piece! I sat rapt and wanting more – and science fiction is my least favorite film genre! The sound design that depicted out of this world automation and technology was absolutely orchestral, and the art direction could be the most fascinating animation I have ever seen. My takeaway from this film was meaningful metaphor about the indiscriminate use of natural resources for short-term gratification without consideration of long-lasting results. This film’s biggest flaw is that it is too short!
Leo Verrier’s vibrant nod to art history and animation in general, Dripped opens in Paris with Jack, whose insatiable appetite for art leads him to criminal behavior, and a romp through NCY where he ends up painting the town – literally. As you recognize the art and artist tributes through the whimsy, you see how art nourishes Jack – through even MORE whimsy. This film is offbeat, so just relax and let it – and the jazzy score – take you wherever you are supposed to go – much like art in general.
The Gruffalo’s Child (Germany)
Presented in storybook rhyme, I was again distracted with the animation – especially the amazing use of light. In this case, the distraction was welcome because the nursery rhyme style was bothersome. There’s a sweet little twist at the end, but most of the piece is predictable, and I predict this could be a big winner with your kids.
There’s still time to catch these amazing films before Oscar night!