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Best Animated Short - The Nominees

Tim here, with a look at one of those Oscar categories that always screws up everybody's office pool. It's time for the Best Animated Short Film nominees, now playing in a theater... maybe not "near" you, depending on where you live. But they're supposedly hitting VOD in the next couple of weeks, along with the live-action and documentary shorts. Anyway, let's dive right in!

The Bigger Picture (Daisy Jacobs and Christopher Hees, UK)
The obvious nod to the animation buffs out there; it's by far the most stylistically unusual, aside from being the only one of the five that openly grapples with adult topics. Two brothers deal with an ailing mother: one lives with her, taking care of her every need, quietly resenting as she lavishes all her praise on her other son. Which doesn't sound like much, though it's told with bluntness and a lack of sentiment that serves it well. The exciting part is the look of it: the characters are painted on the back wall of a (full-size) room, and their arms and the objects they interact with are all three-dimensional. It's breathtaking (literally, as attested to by the gasp I heard from my friend when we saw the films). The mixed-media experiment that calls attention to the flatness of the characters and the tactility of the world around them. And for my tastes, it's easily the best of the five A-

The Dam Keeper (Robert Kondo and "Dice" Tsutsumi, USA)
The longest of the nominees at 18 minutes, it's a stylistically delightful exercise in moving storybook illustrations made by former Pixar staffers, in which a socially outcast pig makes a friend and learns that not all the world is bullying and cruel. It's handsome and detailed with charming character studies, but the message starts to get treacly, rather than just uplifting. Besides which, it's much too long (which is a daft thing to say about anything that runs to 18 minutes). Indeed, I would confidently peg this as my least favorite of the batch, but more thoughts on that in a moment. B-

Feast (Patrick Osborne and Kristina Reed, USA)
The Disney short that screened with Big Hero 6, in which an adorable bulldog puppy eats his master's table scraps, and can only tell from the nature of the food being given him what's going on in his master's love life. It's darling and creative: like the Oscar-winning Paperman from 2012, it's a demo for a new piece of software meant to marry CGI and traditional hand-drawn techniques and aesthetics, and the result is a lovely chalky look, like an early 20th Century poster given life. It's also yet another in the run of Disney/Pixar shorts that explore new technology through a by-the-numbers romance, which is starting to get a little old. But the dog is hella charming, and the way it's stitched together to make time bleed through matching cuts makes it sort of like a more condensed, breezier, animated Birdman. B+/B

Me and My Moulton (Torill Kove, Canada)
I had very little affection for Kove's 2006 Oscar-winner, The Danish Poet, and I went into this one with knives drawn. But it's a splendid little comic piece about clear-eyed childhood remembrances, in which an alternation of absurd and distressing moments march through with brisk, acerbic humor, matching perfectly with the bright, solid-color look of the animation (it's the most traditional piece here). The big crowd pleaser of the bunch, at least based on my crowd, but insightful and honest, too, and the cheery look of it is pleasing and memorable, even if it's not really all that challenging. B+

A Single Life (Joris Oprins, Netherlands)
A two-minute gag reel, in which a woman finds she can leap through time based on where the needle is in the groove of a vinyl single she receives on day. The CGI animation is colorful and fun, and the sets are jam-packed with inventive details (it might be the shortest and simplest nominee, but it's also the one that would benefit the most from multiple viewings), while the sense of humor is impeccable droll in its morbid European-ness. Pure delight, with a message about savoring the present moment that matches well with its brevity and apparent triviality. B+

The only one of these that absolutely can't win, I think, is A Single Life. Too short, too flimsy. As for the rest: for many years, I had an infallible method for picking the winner: my least-favorite of the nominees would take the Oscar. That's changed since 2012, but given how overtly appealing The Dam Keeper is, and how much easier it is to appreciate its stylistic complexity than The Bigger Picture or Feast, I think it's got a good shot of taking it. That said, Everybody likes a dog, and Disney's been on fire the past few years. I'm predicting Feast wins, with The Dam Keeper a very sensible runner-up choice.


P.S. if you see the films in the Shorts HD Oscar nominees program, you get four bonus shorts. One of them is Duet, another tech demo about heternormative love, this one by ex-Disney genius Glen Keane. Stunning sketches and a flawless understanding of human shapes; it's failure to get a nomination is baffling.

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Reader Comments (10)

I've got my fingers crossed for The Bigger Picture. I loved it a lot.

I was just grateful there was absolutely no Gruffalos this year,

February 5, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterwill h

I am so excited to see these. tick tock tick tock

February 5, 2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

A Single Life was my favorite for all the reasons you said above. The Dam Keeper is my vote for the most beautiful (though I agree that it drags) and The Bigger Picture is my vote for the highest degree of difficulty (though I felt that its story was underdeveloped).

The only one I disliked was Feast and you sorta get to the reason-- the movie is trying SO HARD to be "moving" with that background romance. I swear I've seen the "cute up-front animal to woo the audience, but dramatic story in the background to give depth" thing before, but an example fails me.

But my audience went bananas for it. I fear it will win.

Out of the other four showcased shorts, I loved Duet (I'd give it the Oscar, actually) but also Bus Story. Bus Story is not particularly beautiful or challengingly-drawn, but I did find it hilarious.

February 5, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

Grr, this category always minimally sticks in my craw and part of the the problem comes down to what Tim basically outlined in that the most accomplished, fully well rounded short rarely actually wins. In this case, it's apparently The Bigger Picture but he ranks it only 3rd, at best, among the likely winners? Tell me there's not something wrong with that. I've been seeing them all from 2007 and Logorama from 2009 was the last one that won that was genuinely amazing.

But my real issue is what they don't nominate when they show those bonus shorts at the end. Why are, like, a couple of them always SO MUCH BETTER than 60% of what you just saw? I remember Jérémy Clapin's snubbed Skhizein from 2008 blowing the rest of them out of the water and walking away wondering how that ended up.

Does anyone know if the animators who nominate these films are the only ones who vote for them or is it a free-for-all like most of the other categories?

February 5, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMark The First

Mark the First- I'm sure Tim can explain it better than me, but as of last year (I think), there are screeners of these shorts sent out to all Oscar voters. They are encouraged to only vote if they've watched all five nominees. One would think that this rule change would make the contest more populist though judging by last year where the rather esoteric Mr. Hublot beat out Disney's Get a Horse and the cutesy Room on the Broom, maybe not.

I'm not sure I agree with you either that the best film normally loses. I rarely agree with the winner, but there have been a number of complex (both artistically and thematically) winners recently. Mr. Hublot, The Lost Thing, and Logorama come to mind within the past five years. And the two exceptions, The Fantastic Flying Books... and Paperman, were hardly artistic slouches, at least to my admittedly amateur eye.

February 5, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

I Love The Danish Poet, its one a of my favorite films of all time... I'm not kidding... why you don't like it?... cheers from México! We care for the Oscar Race too...

February 5, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterÁngel Ramos

It was actually two years ago that the rule change allowing everybody to vote on the short categories kicked in, so the first beneficiary was Paperman. Which is about what one would expect. But then as Evan points out, Mr. Hublot was by no means the "easy" choice last year, so basically, nobody knows anything. As they say.

Mark- Oh, man, Skhizein. The failure of that to get any Oscar love still haunts me.

February 6, 2015 | Registered CommenterTim Brayton

^ I knoooooow, it was incredible! I was blown away and then subsequently shocked that fellow animators would pass over such a fascinating achievement. I'm really hoping we get a full feature from Mr Clapin one of these days, he needs to be seen to be believed. Same goes for Aleksandr Petrov, he's a genius but no one knows who he is. Big fan of Torill Kove as well.

Thanks for the clear up about who gets to vote for these. I thought it has been going on a lot longer than 2012 but that sorta explains why Paperman got such an easy win but yeah, can't account for the randomness of last year's Gilliam-lite upset.

Evan - I think since 2007, I'd replace each winner except for two -- Logorama and Peter and the Wolf, both outstanding. I see the type of clear visual artistry they go for but sometimes I feel as though they're not even paying attention to the clarity of the story, defined characterizations or tonal shifts going on. The Lost Thing from 2010 is a perfect example: perfectly imaginative and beautifully rendered but hardly has anything new or interesting to do or say, when some of its nominated co-company are crossing off all the boxes wonderfully.

February 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMark The First

I'd say the Academy knows about Aleksandr Petrov considering they've awarded him with four nominations and one win with The Old Man and the Sea in 1999. And My Love was my favorite nominee from 2007. That may explain why I thoroughly enjoyed The Dam Keeper. I guess I'm a sucker for emotionally manipulative films.

And as for deciding the nominees, first members of the Animation Branch can volunteer to review of all of the qualifying films (in I believe a showing) and vote on the films on a 6-10 scale. The ten films with the highest average go on to the shortlist, of which all members of the Animation Branch receive screeners. Those that say they've seen all ten films will get a ballot for which they rank their top five films. The five with the highest scores end up getting nominated. Unfortunately the rules don't say how the math works, but I assume that films that are divisive have less of a chance of getting nominated. That would lead to some puzzling results, such as having Skhizein being left out in 2008, or in 2009 when Granny O'Grimm and La Dama y la Muerte beat out the (in my opinion) superior The Cat Piano and The Kinematograph. But then again I'm a guy that likes The Dam Keeper and My Love.

February 6, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterajnrules

I cried a single George Clooney in "The Descendants" tear during The Dam Keeper. It's so beautiful (very Miyazaki!) and so manipulative and I don't care that I'm a big sucker. The Bigger Picture is just amazing with the use of life size paper mache, but the ending is slapdash. I think Me and My Moulton is the weakest of the five by far. The five other guys I went with loved "Feast" the best. I felt it was essentially Paperman with a dog. But we are all suckers for a cute dog. I think you are right, Tim. Feast will probably take this one.

February 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterCharlieG

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