Oscar History

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21 Days 'til Oscar: The Animated Shorts

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 Guacamoleyou 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.

four more after the jump

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.

Adam and dog Trailer from Minkyu on Vimeo.


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?

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Reader Comments (14)

The only chance for me to have noticed an animated short is that if it is paired with a theatrical release. That means I have only watched The Paperman when it was paired with Wrech-It Ralph and The Longest Daycare when it was paired with Ice-Age. I've also watched La Luna through Brave, and loved it so much more than the other two but then found out that it was already nominated last year (but didn't win). Both The Longest Daycare and The Paperman were just okay for me, they didn't wow me as much. But out of the two, I agree that The Paperman is the better one.

February 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPJ

Of all the shorts they are showing as part of the program, I would have voted for the Highly Commended one about the guy eating pieces of art, but I'd vote for Adam and Dog out of the nominees.

February 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterWill H

Will H - YES! Dripped, is what it's called.
I totally forgot to mention it in the post, but I loved it. And I'm so surprised it didn't make the cut. It showed a great understanding (and terrific execution) of different styles of painting. Would have swapped it for any of the nominees other than my top two.

February 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmir

I think the fact that Paperman has gone viral in the past few days will significantly help its chances.

February 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSean

Whoa, I need to see Adam and Dog - that looks great.

And maybe I'm just too practical-minded for Paperboy. I mean, that's no way to determine compatibility! And you can't go throwing away your job for someone you've hardly met, supernatural paper-related disturbances or no.

February 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVictoria

Paperman is a lovely short, full of qualities.
Haven't seen Adam and the Dog and I will try to do it in order to compare...

February 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLuiz Carlos

Saw the animated shorts in the ShortsHD program this weekend, and my husband and I were so bored during Adam and Dog! We liked the look of the animation - almost like a watercolor painting sometimes - but it just felt like NOTHING happened. I think I would have appreciated it more if it were shorter; I felt like much less happened in those 16 minutes than in any of the shorter films. We also felt like the animation seemed choppy. Loved Paperman and hope it will win - Longest Daycare was hilarious, and I fell in love with the trailer for Head over Heels but wasn't as taken with the short as I had expected. Fresh Guacamole amazes me each time but I agree with what you said about Western Spaghetti. Also...in the ShortsHD program...LOVE the snake in The Gruffalo's Child. Husband and I have been impersonating him to each other all weekend.

February 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKatie

I would vote for The Longest Daycare because it handles its theme and subject matter so well. I also hope that there will be more Simpsons shorts in front of films in the future. The current showrunners know film very well judging by their spot-on skewering of the Academy Awards and the precursors (when Bart was brought in to create the Angry Dad feature film, the studio shot it down, and he edited the footage into a critically acclaimed short) and their best episodes nowadays are collections of shorts.

February 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

I watched both the live and animated shorts this weekend. I'm so proud of myself. :-) It's a special treat I allow for each Oscar season since they've started this (2009, I think). No one else in my circle would come anywhere near these films, which is sad, b/c there's always some great gems in these lineups. This is also the first year my arthouse theater is showing the Documentary Shorts. I feel guilty for not supporting them, b/c if people like me don't bother with them, then who will? The crowds for the live and animated shorts were strong though. They've divided the Doc. shorts into "A" and "B" though, and I don't know if I want to spend money on two showings. And I have a feeling that they're only going to be around this week (until Thursday). Big ole' dilemma! I heard "Inocente" is really good. I don't know what to do.

But anyway, animated shorts. I'm rooting hard for "Paperman." Loved it ever since it premiered in front of "Wreck-It Ralph." I've read that non-Pixar Disney shorts rarely win here, and that's disappointing. With the rules change in effect this year, the "popular" shorts have a bigger chance than ever to win over the more obscure choices. I guess that "Adam & Dog" is the frontrunner. It would be a good winner. "Fresh Guacamole" is a nice novelty, but not much else. "The Longest Daycare" is cute. It's weird that they nodded this and not the "Simpsons Movie" in animated film a couple years ago. "Head Over Heels" is a spoiler. If voters are in an old folks/"Amour" sort of mood, then watch out for it (same for "Henry" in live action shorts). Get to the live action shorts category soon so I can post about those too! I have no other outlet to do so. They're really good this year.

And though its predecessor lost, I'm surprised that "The Gruffalo's Child" didn't get in. It was also included in this presentation with some others. They nodded "The Gruffalo" a few years ago (lost to "The Lost Thing"). I predicted it to win, but the "sequel" is just like the original, and if voters didn't go for the first one, I can see why this one lost the nomination outright.

Did anyone get annoyed with the asides of the "hosts" to these presentations rambling on about their Oscar wins? I get the general idea, but it felt overdone after awhile.

February 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLiam

Adam and the Dog ... so gorgeous. It probably won't win (Paperman is great too ... but it's very Disney). But I just loved it.

@Liam - I totally agree that the "hosts" were super annoying. Rambling ... pointless ... they are not hosts. It was like a bad interview.

February 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCharlieG

I had to go to the Shorts HD showings in order to watch all of the nominees, but I made it to showings on back to back days (in cities halfway across the country no less) to get a better sense of the films I hadn't seen. I wrote my full thoughts on my blog (shameless advertising), but here's a simplified version.

Adam and Dog - The aesthetics are amazing, and it wasn't as slow as it's often made out to be. The characterization of the dog is terrific, but I found Adam to be incredibly annoying.

Fresh Guacamole - Like most other PES films, it's got amazing production values (boosted by a higher budget), and wonderful creativity. However, its complete lack of a meaningful plot makes it the "Glad to be nominated" film.

Head Over Heels - The concept is wonderful and it the execution was terrific, but the stop motion has that student film look, and I found the actual romance elements to be mundane and uninteresting.

The Longest Daycare - It's not exactly earth-shattering, but it elevates Maggie from an oft-forgotten character to a clever and heroic one. It's a good mix of the visual gags and cultural reference that made the Simpsons great in the first place.

Paperman - I'm probably biased since I saw this film more times than the rest, but it takes a rather unoriginal story of love-related tropes and turns it into something magical with its animated acting, cute visual gags, and wonderful soundtrack. The much-hyped 2D-on-3D look works well without being distracting. I do feel the climax borrows a lot from Spirited Away, but the rest of the film is sweet enough.

I feel that Paperman's combination of being a crowd-pleaser and something that is technologically bold makes it a front-runner, but at the same time I wonder if voters would choose not to vote Disney for Best Animated Short if they are voting Disney for Best Animated Feature (which is a distinct possibility considering Frankenweenie an Wreck-It Ralph are both from Disney). So Adam and Dog could certainly pull an upset. I won't exactly be surprised if that happens. Disappointed? Yes, but surprised? No.

February 5, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterajnrules

I caught the animated shorts this afternoon. I'll pretty much echo your sentiments-- Paperman and Adam and Dog are both noteworthy for aesthetic and story. I'll give Paperman the edge because I started to tear up (and it was the second time I'd seen it, mind you). Loved the ending of Adam and Dog, but it might have been cut by a couple of minutes.

I'm not a fan of the Simpsons, but I loved The Longest Daycare. I guffawed a number of times, but ultimately it just doesn't feel as weighty as the others. The same goes double for Fresh Guacamole.

Head over Heels I enjoyed intellectually as a metaphor for the way we put arguments past us, but only after it was over. I found the animation rather ugly and the story hard to get into.

My prediction: Paperman. It's wonderful, emotional, beautifully rendered, and the viral campaign doesn't hurt.

February 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

Additionally, did anybody notice how lovely the music was in a number of these? I've been enamored with the song from Paperman since I saw it for the first time back in November, but I also really fell for the scores of Adam and Dog and The Longest Daycare today.

February 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

I haven't seen The Longest Daycare as it hasn't gone viral yet, but of the rest, Head Over Heels is my favorite, simply because the touching story was told so brilliantly, although I'm not a big fan of claymation. I also loved Paperman but in the end, it's a bit thinner. Stil lovely, though. Adam and Dog did absolutely nothing for me and I don't get what it had to say that hasn't already been said. And I did not get Fresh Guacamole at all.

Should win: Head Over Heels
Will win: Paperman

February 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMYS

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