Thursday, January 29, 2015

Short Film Oscar Nominees, 2015: The five animated short films open theatrically tomorrow

It's always a treat to see the short films -- animated, live-action narrative and live-action documentary -- that have garnered Oscar nominations, and this year is no different. Featuring the best in short films from around the world, these three programs offer a quality level that is almost always top-notch. For the past decade, these shorts have been receiving a theatrical release prior to the Oscars ceremony, and this year they open tomorrow, January 30, in theaters across the country (click here to see the complete list of cities and theaters).

Below are the five nominees for the short animated film award, with their statistics and content information followed by TrustMovies' brief opinion in italics. I'll finish watching the complete three series soon, and my take on the other two -- live action narrative and documentary shorts -- will quickly follow.

A SINGLE LIFE,   The Netherlands / 2 mins.  
Production: Job, Joris & Marieke 
When playing a mysterious vinyl single, Pia is suddenly able to travel through her life.

Brevity is not just the soul of wit; here it's the soul of animation, too. In just a couple of minutes, this Dutch wonder packs in an entire life and a ton of humor -- even if it is a bit dark. A Single Life is a sensational treat: fast, funny and amazing. That it is so brief, as well, just makes it all the more wonderful.

FEAST,  USA / 6 mins.  
Director: Patrick Osborne;  Producer: Kristina Reed 
A new short from first-time director Patrick Osborne (Head of Animation, “PAPERMAN”) and Walt Disney Animation Studios, Feast is the story of one man’s love life as seen through the eyes of his best friend and dog, Winston, and revealed bite by bite through the meals they share.

Disney's latest tackles the eating habits of a new puppy in a manner that is by now standard for this acclaimed studio. In other words it's a sentimental delight -- full of the usual anthropomorphization of animals, some first-rate animation, a ton of charm and, yes, just a little predictability, too.

ME AND MY MOULTON,  Canada & Norway / 14 mins.  
Director: Torill Kove;  Producers: Lise Fearnley, Marcy Page;  
Production: Mikrofilm AS, in co-production with 
the National Film Board of Canada
One summer in mid-’60s Norway, a seven-year-old girl asks her parents if she and her sisters can have a bicycle. Me and My Moulton provides a glimpse of its young protagonist’s thoughts as she struggles with her sense that her family is a little out of sync with what she perceives as “normal”.

Normality, and the need for this among children, is front and center in this Norwegian/Canadian co-production. Narrated by a "middle child," the short is full of envy and "otherness" and is probably the deepest of all the films, if not the lengthiest. It's bright and smart and funny, as it takes us to a place that most of us have been -- but probably not in such an intelligent and clever fashion.  

Director: Daisy Jacobs;  Producer: Christopher Hees
'You want to put her in a home; you tell her. Tell her now!' hisses one brother to the other. But Mother won't go, and their own lives unravel as she clings on. Innovative life-size animated characters tell the stark and darkly humorous tale of caring for an elderly parent.

The darkest of the animated shorts, The Bigger Picture also offers the most innovative blend of animation, as well as the angriest of protagonists. These brothers have (and want to continue) their own lives despite their mother's progress toward dementia and death. It's all told with black humor, anger, and not a little sadness. Excellent.

THE DAM KEEPER,  USA / 18 mins.  
Directors: Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi;  
Production: Tonko House
Telling the tale of a young pig encumbered with an important job, and the meeting of a new classmate who changes everything, The Dam Keeper is a first-time collaboration between some of the most talented artists in animation and made its world premiere as an official selection at the 2014 Berlin International Film Festival and is slated to make its US premiere at The New York International Children's Film Festival this spring. Made up of over 8,000 paintings, the film blends traditional hand-drawn animation with lush brush strokes. Danish actor Lars Mikkelsen of television's Forbrydelsen (The Killing) and BBC's Sherlock, narrates.

The most painterly of all the shorts film, this little gem stars a pig as its somewhat compromised hero, with a menagerie of other animals in the supporting roles. The theme here is -- among other things -- bullying, and how the filmmakers combine this with their tale of an unexpected friendship leads to something quite different. As lovely as the film is, an ineffable sadness seems to hang over it. Expect to talk to your children for awhile, post viewing.  

Because the program of these five nominated films is so short (around 48 minutes), I believe that the program will include a few other of the shortlisted shorts, bring the total running time to around 75 minutes. In any case, I've seen the other shorts, and while they, too, are good, I think the Academy, in this case, chose wisely regarding these five nominees.

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