This year I am being particularly thorough in my Oscar preparation. Not only will I have seen all the movies nominated for Best Picture and all the acting and directing categories, but this Sunday I had the chance to see all of the best animated shorts. The shorts are the one category that I tend to ignore simply because the opportunities to see them are very limited – they usually are not available on-line and have very short theatrical runs at art house cinemas. Unlike prior years when I have been scrambling to finish up the best picture nominees (like the year I drove 45 minutes to watch Precious on Valentine’s Day), I’m way ahead of the game so I decided to expand my horizons and perhaps get introduced to an artist before they became more established. I really liked Logorama, which was nominated in 2010 for best animated short, so I was hopeful that I would discover some other gems. 5 films were nominated for Best Animated Short, but we also got to see 3 additional films (Amazonia, Nullarbor and Hybrid Nation) which I guess were given “honorable mention” status.
- Dimanche/Sunday is one of two Canadian films nominated. It tells the story of a typical Sunday in the country through the eyes of a small boy – the trip to church, the visit to grandma’s and being surround by adult conversation that isn’t of much interest to you. The animation of this short is the simplest of the nominees and that unfortunately made this short appear less polished than its competition. The humor is a little dark, which may hurt its chances to take home the prize. This one was my least favorite of the bunch. I just didn’t feel like very much happened.
- A Morning Stroll is from the UK and retells the same joke in three different times – the past, the present and the future. The animation style and music evolve in each retelling of the same basic premise. I thought this was the funniest of the shorts and really enjoyed the evolution of each subsequent segment. Plus this short has the distinction of being the only one featuring zombies. Probably a little too hip for the Academy members, so I don’t expect to see this one win.
- Wild Life tells the story of a British man who decides to take up residence in the Canadian frontier of the early 1900s despite being completely unsuited for it. The short contrasts his optimistic letters home to his reality: his “ranch” is actually a one room cabin and his “veranda” is the field that surrounds his home. This is definitely the most “arty” of the bunch and focuses a lot on atmosphere. It also has the most realistic and linear story. I enjoyed it, but wasn’t blown away by it. Apparently I’m not a fan of Canadian animation (sorry Canada – I love your poutine though).
- The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is, at 15 minutes, the longest of the shorts and one of the two entries from the United States. In this fantastical tale, book lover Morris Lessmore is carried away by a tornado to a place where books are living and breathing entities that have personalities and can apparently grow sick and die if neglected. The film is a tribute to the transformative power of books as characters move from black and white to color as they embrace reading. A sweet film that will appeal to bibliophiles, I believe this is one of two contenders to win the Oscar. It is also the only film that is easily accessible on the internet.
- La Luna comes from the powerhouses at Pixar, who may be licking their wounds a bit from the failure of Cars 2 to be nominated for Best Animated Film, a category where they have previously dominated. This may garner them some sympathy votes from the Academy, but they are not necessary because La Luna is an incredibly charming film. Pixar has set the bar for animation and this does not fail to deliver. The film is visually beautiful and tells the story of a little boy learning the peculiar job that his father and grandfather have. I really loved this film and believe it is probably the frontrunner. I have mixed feelings about this because though this is a wonderful little film, Pixar doesn’t really need the boost that an Academy Award would give. It would be nice for the little guy to win who needs the recognition more. And yes, as a die-hard Yankees fan, I realize the irony of that last sentence.
All in all, watching the animated films was a fun experience. I’m glad they threw in the three bonus films to give you a little more bang for your buck as I believe the price of admission was the same for a full length movie. My guess is that the either of the United States films will be victorious, though Wild Life could be an upset win. The majority of the films were family friendly (Nullarbor does feature cigarette smoking), though I don’t know how interested kids who have been raised on Pixar would be in some of the films.
Many of the films are available on iTunes or on cable on demand channels beginning February 21st.