Amir here. Thanks to Shorts International and TIFF, I’ve had the privilege of watching the nominees for Oscar’s short categories before the ceremony for the first time. As enjoyable as it is to finally have a horse in these races and not leave that part of the telecast to refill my alcohol, I’m sad to say that I found this year’s nominees not just short, but also slight. Not that all the films are disappointing, mind you. There are some gems to be found but compared to last year’s batch, this was a letdown.
Without further ado...we’ll take a look at the animated films today and I will be back with the live actions over the weekend. (TIFF inexplicably scrapped the documentary shorts from its schedule. If you’re filling your Oscar pools, however, the smart money seems to be on Saving Face. I’ve not yet heard a single bad word about that film.)
Dimanche is about a young boy whose dull Sunday routine of going to the church and spending the day with his grandparents is only improved by deforming coins on the train tracks! There’s a pro-environment message as the grizzly bear on the coin comes to life and interacts with the boy, but barring a few funny moments, the film is as lifeless as its premise suggests. The colourless and sketchy design of the animation doesn’t help the film’s cause either.
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is a marvel as far as the quality of animation goes. (The full length version of the film is available online and Nathaniel reviewed it last week.) I’m cooler on this one than he is. I find the story interesting and I like the idea behind its execution, but I feel like the gimmick is repeated a few too many times. I think Nathaniel’s bang-on about the redundancy of anthropomorphism in the books. At 15 minutes, this is the longest film in competition and it certainly feels that way to me.
Then there’s La Luna. If we need further proof that the Pixar guys can do no wrong with their short films, this is it. I fear that saying anything about the plot will ruin the fun of it for those in the dark. Suffice to say that this story of male bonding between three generations of a family is intimately personal and yet, its fantastical twist is so clever and sweet that everyone can connect with. As usual with Pixar, the quality and detail of the animation is breathtaking. (Read Michael’s Film Experience interview with director Enrico Casarosa here. La Luna will be released later in the year, attached to Brave.)
A Morning Stroll is by far the weakest of the nominees. It tells the story of a chicken that strolls along a street, walks up a set of stairs, pecks at a door and is let in by someone. This morning stroll happens once in 1959, once in 2009 and again in 2059 and each time, the chicken confronts someone new on the street. The allegorical representation of the collective demise of the human race through the eyes of a chicken is an amazing concept but I think the shoddy execution of the animation and unwelcome tonal shifts between the three episodes don’t give the humour any room to breathe.
Finally, Wild Life is a gorgeously painted Canadian pastoral about an Englishman who immigrates to an unpopulated Alberta at the turn of the century. One the surface, the film is about one man’s depression as he faces the typical hardships of immigration, particularly the freezing cold of Midwestern Canada. But I found it to be a rich study of personal alienation and a rare look into the lives of Canadian settlers who are far less explored that their counterparts south of the border. Of all the five films, this is the one that most benefits from the technique it chooses, the oil painting effect giving it a romanticist 19th century look that fits nicely into the narrative.
Oscar Predictions: Pixar's Day & Night couldn’t manage to take the prize last year despite being the most widely acclaimed of the nominees. I have a feeling a similar fate awaits La Luna. Flying Books’ charm will probably carry it to the podium.
Will Win: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
Could Win: La Luna
Should Win: Wild Life