Amir here. Every year I promise myself to try harder to keep in the loop with short films. Then, on this weekend I realize just how badly I've failed and console myself by watching the few that are Oscar-nominated. In an incomprehensible feat of planning, TIFF cancelled its screening of the documentary shorts for the second year running (presumably for copyright reasons?) so I’ll stick to the other two categories. Let’s start with the animated ones.
The shortest film in the crop is Fresh Guacamole – you can watch it here - a stop-motion recipe for making guacamole with light bulbs, baseballs and dice. Though it had the theatre laughing throughout its short runtime, I think its similarities with Western Spaghetti will keep voters from going for it. It’s an innovative film that takes the audience by surprise if they’re unfamiliar with its predecessor. It’s also the only film to ever make an entire room of people salivate over poker chips, but down the line, I think it will have to be happy to be nominated.
An equally unlikely threat for gold is The Longest Daycare (screened before Ice Age: Continental Drift) starring Maggie Simpson. In this five-minute story packed with theatrical and cinematic references ranging from Greek tragedy to Toy Story 3, Maggie enters a daycare that allegorically represents the increasingly Orwellian atmosphere of the American society. When she comes across another toddler, Gerald, who brutally smashes butterflies on the wall, she decides to save the life of a caterpillar before it transforms. It’s a smartly constructed film, with clever humour and animation that enriches The Simpsons’ aesthetics, but if voters are looking for something more original, The Longest Daycare will falter.
The longest film of the bunch, and possibly the best, is Minkyu Lee’s Adam and Dog, the story of the encounter between the first man and the first dog. The impressionist, gorgeously hand-drawn film creates an extremely moving narrative of friendship between the two without resorting to anthropomorphizing the dog. We first meet Dog as he wanders through the fields looking for company in a majestically rendered version of the dawn of time. When Dog crosses paths with Adam, the two gradually become close companions, until Adam meets a bosomy Eve and drifts off. Dog, however, knows where his loyalties lie and won’t let go of his friend. It’s an incredibly touching story and one that gives an ample opportunity for lovers of its unique aesthetics to embrace this type of old school animation. If the field was as CGI-heavy as last year’s I’d call this a slam dunk for the win, but this year’s slate is surprisingly devoid of any such contender.
Adam and Dog’s biggest obstacle to Oscar glory is perhaps Paperman. If you watched Wreck-It Ralph in theatres, you’re already familiar with this 7-minute black and white love story by Walt Disney. Back when I first saw this marvel, I found it infinitely superior to the sugary feature it accompanied and described it as “charmingly fleet, artfully rendered and perfectly balanced between reality and chance, and melancholy and romance.” This second screening has reaffirmed my conviction that Paperman is one of the best animated films of the year, short or feature-length.
The final piece of the puzzle is Head Over Heels, a British claymation about an elderly couple who live their lives literally head over heels; one on the floor and the other on the ceiling of a house that floats in the air. When their house crashes down on the ground, the husband is involuntarily bound to remain on the ceiling and complications arise. As a big fan of claymation, I was left disappointed by this one. The animation is beautifully created and features a sweet love story at its centre, but it lacks the thematic depth to match the quality of its imagery. It's never a good sign when you check your watch during a short film.
The audience at my screening seemed to agree that two films here are ahead of the pack, both in terms of quality and with regards to the Oscar race. My guess is that Paperman's bigger profile and its splendid combination of hand drawings and computer animation will sway the voters that way.
Will Win: Paperman
Could Win: Adam and Dog
Should Win: It’s toss up for me. Paperman and Adam and Dog would both be deserving champs.
If you've seen the films, which would you vote for?