In addition to the many heavily marketed and, therefore, very visible films nominated for the Oscars, there are a handful of films for whom the Oscar nomination provides them their only real international spotlight. These are the films nominated in the Documentary Feature and three Short Film categories. In many cases, these are the richest films highlighted by the Academy.
Until very recently, these films were difficult for the average movie-goer to see because of the limited distribution methods available to filmmakers and film watchers. If it didn’t somehow make it to the multiplex, most people would never get the chance to experience these amazing films. Now, because of the internet and various video-on-demand services, almost all of these films are available for audiences to screen with little effort.
Case in point, three of the five Documentary Feature nominees are available to stream on Netflix Instant (5 Broken Cameras, The Invisible War, and How To Survive A Plague). Searching for Sugar Man is available on disc, and The Gatekeepers, perhaps banking on an Oscar win for greater publicity, will release in theaters in April and will, surely, be available via some service shortly thereafter. (I reviewed all the nominated documentaries currently available here.)
The Oscar nominated short films are, in come cases, even easier to see. In this review, I am going to go through the Animated Short nominees, and next week, we’ll look at the Live Action Shorts. When possible, I’ll either embed the films or include links to where you can watch them.
At only one minute and forty-five seconds, Fresh Guacamole is the shortest of the animated short nominees and the shortest film ever nominated for an award of any kind by the Academy. Watch it here.
The film is mainly a display of astonishing technique. PES’s (Adam Pesapane) stop-motion animation is so fluid, the film appears to be live action. The way he blends real life objects with those made of clay is almost unsettling. I shudder every time I watch him slice open the Christmas light. The film is a follow-up to his 2008 film, Western Spaghetti, in which he similarly uses everyday objects to make a bowl of ersatz pasta.
What’s the point of Fresh Guacamole? Much like with real guacamole, the point it that it’s amazing. Savor the animated flavors. Maybe double-dip and watch it again. Wonder at the marvelous mix of stop motion tastes. People are incredible.
Maggie Simpson in “The Longest Daycare”
Confession: I’ve only seen one episode of The Simpsons in my life. It was the monorail episode, and I thought it was hilarious, because I grew up loving The Music Man, the episode’s obvious antecedent. So, I’m not the best person to review a Simpsons short.
That being said, It’s difficult to be a media-aware person without knowing a lot about The Simpsons and its brand of culturally-aware humor. Here is what I like about this short, which I cannot embed, but you can watch it here.
The Longest Daycare is very “current,” poking fun at airport security, tracked education systems in which the kids deemed “gifted” are placed in better learning environments than those deemed “average,” and Ayn Rand’s brand of philosophy. I’m mystified how governmental oversight/control and self-determination are connected, but in the short, there they are.
Maggie’s odyssey through the day includes most notably an attempt to protect a caterpillar from a hammer-wielding tot with a unibrow. Maggie hopes the caterpillar will become a butterfly, but, of course, it can’t if it gets squished. This may be a very obvious metaphor for her childlike innocence, but it’s also a very funny sequence. The short feels mostly like a play on prison movies where the protagonists struggles to maintain their freedom while in captivity, and there are many visual cues in this vein.
Head Over Heels
The category’s other stop-motion offering this year is Head Over Heels, a British claymation film about a married couple who are at odds with each other. You may watch the short here (Once again, I am unable to embed it).
This film is the most emotional for me. The visual conceit of him on the floor and her on the ceiling, two people living together but completely separate and at-odds lives, is heartbreaking. Even when they try to reconcile, their age-old grudge has put them on such separate planes of existence, they are unable to ever see eye-to-eye.
Head Over Heels is a sobering look at marriage, showing how two people can be technically together but still truly apart, how conflict (Who knows how theirs started? It doesn’t matter.) undealt with and left to fester can ultimately define a relationship, how in the midst of such a conflict, even little things become big irritants.
Head Over Heels tells a more complete and realistic story than most mainstream fare. It makes me more eager to make up with my loved ones. It reminds me that conflicts well-handled can bring us closer together, but conflict mismanaged can keep us tragically apart.
There’s a reason why when we hear “animated short” we think “Disney” (and in recent years, “Pixar,” whose creative team has now infiltrated Disney Animation). Paperman is the cutest “meet cute” I’ve seen in a while. If you haven’t already seen it (or even if you have), watch it below:
The short originally appeared prior to Wreck-It Ralph this past fall and was, honestly, my favorite part of going to see that movie. Ralph was fun, but Paperman has that Disney magic that manages to linger.
Why is that? What is it about Paperman that makes it so heartwarming?
The cynic in me says Paperman appeals to our culture’s delusional dreams of amorous destiny, that it eschews anything that takes time to be rewarding – like work or patient love – in favor of the fast and furious feelings of initial attraction, feelings that invariably fade with time. “Work is a prison that keeps us from romance,” suggests Paperman. Paperman encourages belief in and hope for a magic moment of sudden love that radically reorganizes your life. I would then point to the black and white color scheme and traditionally animated form to support my claim that Paperman propagates nostalgia and the worst kind of sentimentality instead of the sober realism necessary to sustain a life-long, loving relationship with a spouse.
The romantic in me though says that Paperman isn’t insidious at all, that instead of being a sappy short that sets false expectations for how marital relationships will be, it is a homage to that moment of initial attraction that is as turbulent as Paperman makes out. Falling in love is something of a whirlwind that does dramatically reorganize one’s life, and yes, sacrifices are necessary to make that relationship work. It’s a wonder to me that any two people are ever interested in each other at the same time, much less that they both act on that attraction and sustain it to marriage and beyond. Paperman captures a bit of that magic and is a delight.
Paperman makes a perfect pairing with Head Over Heels. In fact, I wish I could show each short film to the other couple. The man and woman in Head Over Heels would do well to remember their first love, to work to rekindle those initial sparks. The boy and girl in Paperman need to steel themselves for the hard work of continuing to love each other over the years, no matter the conflicts that will inevitably arise.
Adam and Dog
In the beginning… God created everything including, obviously, dogs, and this remarkable short from Minkyu Lee and fourteen of his friends posits that from the beginning the dog has been “man’s best friend.”
Adam and Dog is the longest of the five animated shorts at just over 15 minutes. It’s very much worth that small amount of your time though. Watch it here.
First of all, the compositions are beautiful, aren’t they? At times it seems like the characters are skipping through a world of backdrops that don’t come into contact with, and at other times their movements impact and alter their environments. My favorite moment is when Adam and the dog are walking through the water at sunset, and their steps splash water and color around their feet. This is animation that owes perhaps more to Studio Ghibli than to Disney.
I adore the animators depiction of Eden as more like an untamed jungle and less like a manicured garden as well. You can almost smell the humidity, and there’s no doubt this place needs a caretaker to tend it. Forming the dog as a mutt is also an astute choice. I can believe that all dog breeds came from the likes of this dog. Had Adam and Dog featured a golden retriever instead, it would have felt too refined for the early days of Earth’s civilized history.
Sin is featured so perfectly as well, as deception of the dog by Adam to get the mutt out of the way while Adam and Eve cavort. Then the dog is confused, lonely, frightened, and exposed – the full effect of man’s fall felt by all creation. And finally, there is the moment of mercy and forgiveness given by the dog to Adam and Eve, a glimmer of hope as man and beast step off into the misty future of a world marred by sin.
Even without the brilliantly conceived, visual theological resonance, Adam and Dog would be my favorite film of the bunch because of its beautiful technique. It’s the kind of animated film that makes you want to watch more animated films, the kind of animation that makes you aware that in many ways, more depth is able to be communicated via animation than any other method of filmmaking. In the skilled hands of filmmakers like Minkyu Lee and his team, animation, the oldest of cinematic arts, is revealed to be the most graceful and nuanced of all movie forms.