Here’s the final batch of Oscar Nominated Short Films after the documentary and live action batches earlier this week. Sure, the live action nominees were an embarrassing lot, but the animated films are always a better and more enjoyable collection. There’s more levity usually allowed for one as well as far more variety, at the very least by the natures of the various animation styles. I’m still annoyed that the best animated short of 2017 (as well as one of the best films of the year) didn’t get nominated this year after being released too late to be eligible for last year’s ceremony, but I’ll try not to hold it against the ones that did. At one point these were all free online, but it seems like that has since changed. They are still available as part of the VOD package or by heading to a theater (if that’s even possible).
Bao (USA) – It’s probably for the best that the package started off with the film that most people have already seen. Short films rarely get a release cinematically, but Pixar shorts have of course served as some of the rare exceptions each year. I summed up the short before (about a baozi that comes to life and is watched over by its hovering, overprotective “mother” concerned about how easily damaged it is) in a single word as “cute”, but I feel I owe it a bit more discussion this time around. I also mentioned that I was far more interested in the food portion of it than anything else and that didn’t change this time around, as I made steamed buns the day before in preparation for rewatching the short. The other reason I kept my summation so short last time was I wanted to avoid having to talk about the twist or even hint at the twist’s existence. The big twist is a trope of the live action shorts and here, I didn’t think it was a short breaking one, just unnecessary. It did set the stage for another common trope among animation nominees this year (and in the past for that matter) that the story is told wordlessly and balancing in tones.
Late Afternoon (Ireland) – We move from the massive studio of Pixar to a far simpler hand-drawn animation style. By simple I mean more in the level of detail as the short is incredibly dynamic and switches between different looks and palates as it flows between different portions of the film. It’s a story of an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s or some related disease, we watch as she gets lost in her thoughts and drifts between old memories and the present day. In a way it’s both sweet and sad and there’s some real beauty in those images even with the emotionally manipulative music. I am much less fond though of the fact that for a number of these, they brought back the cloying reaction videos to the Oscar nomination announcements.
Animal Behaviour (Canada) – I said that the animated films have a lighter tone and while that is true, the category is rather light on comedy. Animal Behaviour is the only straight comedy and along with Late Afternoon, one of two of the nominees with dialogue. The subjects, as hinted at by the title, are anthropomorphic animals all attending group therapy together. Each takes on personality traits associated with both a stereotypical therapy patient and a corresponding animal. Isn’t it wacky… That’s the one joke of the short along with one character essentially repeating “I don’t know, that seems pretty weird to me” over and over again to make sure to really draw attention to the joke. It has its moments and I appreciate the way that the film stands out tonally from the pack (much as I felt with The Eleven O’Clock in last year’s group of live action entries), but I wasn’t all that impressed. The animation is intentionally a bit ugly and not all that distinctive.
Weekends (USA) -There’s a statement at the end thanking Pixar for their support and it’s not hard to see their fingerprints all over it. It’s not in the visuals which are a choppier, hand-drawn style (even their recent short Kitbull which wasn’t in the Pixar standard CGI, was far closer visually to the studio’s normal output), but in the tone and story. Then again, it’s understandable since animator Trevor Jimenez made it while working for Pixar as part of a program that allows employees to make independent shorts. It follows the child of divorced parents who splits his time between the simpler house of his mother who is studying to further her career, and the fun if irresponsible weekends in the city with his father. It mixes in some surreal dream sequences that are usually just strange, but occasionally dip into the delightfully horrifying. The music’s pretty stock otherwise and for as long as the short is, there’s not much to it in all honesty, but it’s one I was generally appreciative of.
One Small Step (USA & Canada) – Speaking of Disney/Pixar, we have a film from two Disney vets, Andrew Chesworth & Bobby Pontillas. This time, the visuals, tone, and beats all seem to be extremely Pixar-esque. In fact, I almost believe that they were chosen to bookend the group of nominees to keep the two films far apart. The Pixar formula works for a reason and the combination of loving shoe repairman father and girl with a love of space who wants to be an astronaut and grows up before our eyes are an effective one, but it’s also an easy one. It wasn’t helping that I was getting fatigued by these types of shorts by this point (it’s a bit sad and a bit sweet), but I was mentally becoming more aware that I was becoming emotionally manipulated in both story and music too diminishing returns.
Owing perhaps to the longer than usual feeling animated shorts, there’s only two “Highly Commended” title this year. Once again, inexplicably, the shorts seem to be pretty randomly selected and were not even on the shortlist.
Wishing Box (USA) – Another comedic entry and probably the most insubstantial film of them all (not inherently a bad thing). It’s a CGI one features a pirate, his monkey, and a seemingly empty treasure box that only the monkey can pull things out of. It’s simple, harmless, wordless, fluff.
Tweet-Tweet (Russia) – The CGI elements of this film mix between very photorealistic and some more Pixar-y humans and a bird. The setting of the short is variety of tightropes, that are shared by a bird and a human which we watch as it grows up (because of course we do) from when it was a baby girl until it is an old woman. The camera keeps its focus largely on the feet, never showing the faces of the human which works from a stylistic and probably from a practical perspective. The bird component though just feels completely unnecessary addition to the thematic tale the short is telling. The symbolism is all over the short, sometimes really well done, other times going a bit too on the nose, but it stretches the basic tightrope concept far further than I thought possible.