2016 Oscar-Nominated Animated Short Films

world of tomorrow

We are living in a glorious age of animation. Some of the best programs on television are animated. From the great Gravity Falls to the always awesome Adventure Time and on to the fractured genius of Rick and Morty, animation has been fertile ground for visionary storytellers as of late. Cinema has not been ignored either. Heralded auteurs Wes Anderson and Charlie Kaufman have both made the move to stop-motion features. Kaufman’s Anomalisa is one of five films duking it out in this year’s Best Animated Feature race. For all of the flack the Academy has received for its homogenized choices this year, the Oscars should be commended for their Animated Feature field which sports five idiosyncratic films, only one with talking animals. Three of the five nominees come from foreign countries, two are stop motion and only one is completely computer generated. One! The days of dominance from the big studios like Dreamworks and Disney are over, at least temporarily.

bear story

Then why are most of this year’s five nominees for Best Animated Short so pedestrian? It’s odd that the features are more adventurous in their narratives and visual style than the shorts. There are certainly novel elements to the short films, whether it is the fluid “one-shot” look of the hand-drawn Prologue or the eye-popping color of Sanjay’s Super Team from Pixar. But some of these films feel like half an idea or their mission statement overwhelms the narrative itself. Both are the case with Bear Story from Chilean director Gabriel Osoro. The film is about a toy-making bear who builds a box that cranks out a mechanical version of his imprisonment in the circus and eventual escape back to his family. The animation is solid for the toy sequences but a little too flashy at other spots (Osoro really likes showing off the computer’s ability to generate dust floating in sunbeams) and the whole thing doesn’t quite gel.

prologue

While Osoro’s well-placed abhorrence of the circus can be seen as heavy-handed in Bear Story it’s got nothing on Prologue‘s clunky treatise on the inhumanity of war. Director Richard Williams tells a silent tale with just pencil and paper that begins with a leaf before flying across the page to a centuries-old battle with shields and swords. Naked men thrust at one another, slicing arteries and severing genitalia, all gruesome images seen by a young child who runs back to the safe confines of their mother’s dress. The end. There isn’t anything more to it than that. And while the hand-drawn style is sweeping in its motion, freezing any frame in the battle would just look like something out of that stoner kid in high school’s notebook.

We Can't Live Without Cosmos short film

 

More effective and affecting is the Russian curio We Can’t Live Without Cosmos from Konstantin Bronzit. The film is about two cosmonauts who are inseparable. They share a deep love of space and one another. The film begins with some goofy humor as the duo work their way through their rigorous training regimen before the film turns into an exploration of loss. There are some indelible images contained within, if not any impressive animation. The turn of events from the thrill of exploration to the dull of devastation is interesting but not necessarily better than the deadpan antics that came before it.

sanjay

Longtime Pixar animator Sanjay Patel gets his first directing credit on the personal Sanjay’s Super Team. The title character is a restless boy who daydreams that he teams up with Hindu gods to defeat a villain demolishing a temple. It’s no surprise coming from Pixar that the short looks fantastic. The sound design is equally stunning with a great blending of the musical score with the action onscreen. If anything Sanjay’s Super Team should have been longer than its seven minutes, as the film brings up some great possibilities that are left mostly unexplored. If you’re searching for an animated look at the complexity of Hindu culture, stick with Nina Paley’s Sita Sings the Blues.

world of tomorrow snow

Which leaves us with Don Hertzfeldt’s World of Tomorrow. Hertzfeldt’s film, about a young girl being visited by a clone of herself from the future, is the only nominee that can hold its own with the aforementioned animated features. In a mere 16 minutes World of Tomorrow manages to cram in meditations on love, identity, and loss across a distinctively designed digital landscape. There is enough narrative here for a feature. Hertzfeldt’s decision to keep it confined to a short means that it’s bursting at the seams with ideas. The film is heartrendingly sad yet it brims with a resounding sense of wonder. It’s a film of bleak humor that doesn’t much care if we laugh at it, at ourselves, or at the world. World of Tomorrow is not just the best animated short of the year, it’s one of the very best films–animated, short, or otherwise.

(The 2016 Oscar-Nominated Animated Short Films play exclusively at Landmark’s Guild 45th for two weeks beginning January 29. Note that the program includes an additional four shorts non-nominated that were not available for review.)

The 87th Annual Academy Awards

Boyhood-Gallery-2

The Academy Awards are this Sunday night, and a pair of local theatres are hosting festivities. The Central Cinema‘s shindig starts at 4 pm while the Grand Cinema (hosting the party at Theatre on the Square) kicks things off at 4:30.

Here’s a brief look at the top contenders for this year’s Academy Awards:

Boyhood: Filmed a little bit at a time over 12 years, director Richard Linklater’s epic portray of one boy’s coming of age made a whole generation of male film critics weep with self-recognition. It’s a fine film, and Linklater, one of the best filmmakers of his generation, may finally get some awards recognition. Almost certainly Patricia Arquette will for her supporting performance as The Boy’s mother.

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance): The inexplicably parenthesized title of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s study of an actor on the edge of insanity is the dark horse (dark bird?) contender for the major awards, but will almost certainly take home the prize for Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography, given how many people equate length-of-shot with quality-of-shot. Less certain are Michael Keaton’s chances at Best Actor. He should be in more, better things.

The Grand Budapest Hotel: Wes Anderson has his best ever shot at the Oscars this year, with his first Directing and Picture nominations to go along with his third Screenplay nomination (he was also nominated for Best Animated Film in 2009). He’s never won, and his best shot this year is probably in the Original Screenplay category. The film is also a heavy favorite in Production Design, Costume Design and Makeup.

American Sniper: Clint Eastwood’s latest box office smash is a stealth Best Picture contender, but will likely have to settle for simply making a ton of money. Brady Cooper received his third and fourth nominations in the past three years for Producing and Acting in this film. remember when he was Jennifer Garner’s goofy best friend on Alias?

Selma: The biggest snubs of the season were Ava DuVernay missing out on a Directing nomination and David Oyelowo for Best Actor. This might be the best of the Best Picture nominees, but it has no chance to win. It will likely earn only Best Song as a consolation prize, which is pretty awful in a lot of ways.

The Imitation Game: This won the Writer’s Guild Award for Adapted Screenplay, which is absolutely appalling. And it’ll probably win the Oscar too. There is likely to be no less deserving winner Sunday night.

The Theory of Everything: The best chance this by the numbers biopic has for a win is for Eddie Redmayne, for his performance as a real person with a disability, which is perennially an Oscar lock. Only sentimentality toward cinema’s third greatest Keaton can stop him. The film has a shot at Best Score, too.

Whiplash: A lock for Best Supporting Actor for JK Simmons, who has been one of our best supporting actors for years. A very good chance in Sound Mixing as well. I like it’s chances for Editing, though that could go to Boyhood instead. The Academy tends to favor volume in that category, and Whiplash has the most editing of the year. That the quick cutting is impeccably timed and used to expressive purpose is a bonus, largely irrelevant to its Oscar chances.

Best Actress: It’s been making the rounds on the internet in recent weeks the fact that the films that annually contend for the Best Actress Oscar are almost never winners, or even nominees in any other categories. That is again the case this year, with Julienne Moore likely to win for Still Alice. It’s kind of shocking considering just how good Two Days, One Night and Gone Girl are, both of which should have been multiple nominees anchored by terrific lead performances (by Marion Cotillard and Rosamund Pike, respectively). Also shocking is that Anna Kendrick isn’t nominated despite giving three fantastic lead performances in 2014, in Happy Christmas, The Last Five Years, and Into the Woods. Perhaps it was her supporting turn as Jennifer Aniston’s ghost-mentor in Cake that knocked her out of contention (Aniston got shut out as well).

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya: Isao Takahata’s film, likely the last production by Studio Ghibli’s two masters (Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises lost to Frozen last year), probably has no shot at Best Animated Feature (How to Train Your Dragon 2 is the heavy favorite), but if it did somehow get the prize, no win on Oscar night would make us happier.