Each year since 2009 my wife and I have paid a visit to Keystone Art Cinema, the only dedicated art-film theater in Indianapolis, to view the big-screen release of the Academy Award nominees for Best Live-Action Short Film and Best Animated Short Film. Results vary each time and aren’t always for all audiences, but we appreciate this opportunity to sample such works and see what the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences deemed worthy of celebrating, whether we agree with their collective opinions or not. Usually we do both sets as a one-day double-feature date, but a non-negotiable scheduling conflict cut into our window of opportunity. We saw the live-action shorts two weekends ago, and caught the animated shorts this past weekend.
Presented below are my rankings of this year’s five Animated Short Film nominees, in order from “So Many Feels” to “Had Drawbacks”. They’re probably available on iTunes or other streaming services, but I honestly haven’t checked. Links are provided to official sites where available if you’re interested in more info. Enjoy where possible!
Historia de un Oso (“Bear Story”): A former circus bear earns a living performing his disturbing autobiography using a box of intricate stop-motion puppets. Chilean animator Gabriel Osorio weaves a narrative of kidnapping, abuse, escape, and loss with emotional parallels to his own grandfather’s experiences during the Pinochet years. The bear’s hard knocks become all the more heartbreaking when you realize he changed the ending — for the sake of his audience, and maybe a little for his own.
World of Tomorrow: A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of the vast imagination of Don Hertzfeldt, previously Oscar-nominated for the 2001 short “Rejected“. A clone descendant from a warped future tries to take her preschool-age progenitor on a grand tour of humanity’s painful, lingering side effects set before a scintillating backdrop and packed with more sci-fi concepts than any five summer blockbuster films. I thought it paused for thought a few times too many, but somewhere in the wacked-out whirlwind are lessons to be learned once we stop chuckling at the oblivious little girl. If you can only see one short this year, this one’s conveniently on Netflix.
Sanjay’s Super Team: If you were among the handful who saw Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur in theaters, you’ve already seen its opening act, about a devout Hindu father competing with super-hero cartoons for his son’s attention. Passing on your faith to your kids isn’t easy in our world made of distractions, so sometimes we have to find inroads through those distractions to connect them with the relevant meanings behind those old traditions. Also, that Sanjay is just totes adorbs.
We Can’t Live Without Cosmos: If you can see just two shorts this year, this one’s online for free. The Soviet space race as seen through the eyes of two best-friend cosmonauts vying for pilot’s position on the next flight outward. The initial, nauseating testing scenes you’ve seen in all those old American spaceflight films are as funny as they ever were, until what’s meant to be heroic takes a dark, sobering turn. The simplicity of this Russian 2-D effort doesn’t take away from the fact that both sides of the Cold War divide faced their own hardships in trying to reach the stars. (This one you can watch here.)
Prologue: Rendered entirely in pencils, longtime animator Richard Williams’ ambitious look at the brutality of ancient warfare is the deliberate finale of the Oscar Shorts program, prefaced by two content warnings encouraging parents to escort younger kids to the exits before its bloody arrival. Its unforgettable handcraft is kind of disgusting in parts, but that’s what happens when you portray man’s inhumanity to man without glorifying it.
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As with previous years’ shorts, the theatrically released collection includes additional “commendable” shorts as value-added incentives for your admission costs. This year’s four “Highly Commendable” shorts (listed in no discernible order) bumped the total program up to a mere 86 minutes:
The Short Story of a Fox and a Mouse: Because every one of these collections needs to pack in all the silent animal shorts ever made. This time it’s a fox and a mouse who become friends for reasons I couldn’t explain to you. My wife and I compared notes after the screening and realized we had both gotten bored and zoned out during the exact same short. It’s eerie how often she and I think alike. Or stop thinking alike, as the case may be. Kids should like this one, though.
Catch It: More silent animals. MORE. KNEEL BEFORE SILENT ANIMALS. If Scrat from Ice Age were a pack of meerkats and the acorn were an African fruit, it would look exactly like this. Toss in a vulture as the bad guy because they have no PR reps to help them fight back against stereotyping. Those poor, maligned vultures.
If I Was God…: Multimedia childhood memories of a junior high kid letting his biology-class frog dissection give him daydreams of omnipotence, with an emphasis on dealing with those pesky girls. Droll, cute, and in this case I’m okay with the dead frogs staying silent.
The Loneliest Stoplight: The bizarre Bill Plympton strikes again, this time with the assistance of narrator Patton Oswalt. Our Hero is a traffic signal doomed to hang at a desolate county intersection, bemoaning his purpose and wishing he had the chance to do more. Sure enough, life throws the plucky lightbox a few surprises. Last year in Indiana we endured a bridge damage debacle that saw dozens of miles of I-65 North shut down for weeks of emergency repairs. Much was written on the controversy, including an Indianapolis Star article about the effects of unprecedented diverted traffic on the tiny town of Romney and its lone gas station overwhelmed by new customers. With that fading bitterness in mind, I can appreciate the kindasorta ripped-from-the-headlines truth inside all this whimsy.