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Award season is winding down, and I have seen NONE of the best picture nominees this year, so I figured I should at least make an attempt at one of the categories. I ended up going to see the Oscar-nominated animated shorts, since I went last year and it was pretty fun.

Unfortunately, this year none of the animated shorts really blew me away. I found most of them rather blah, actually. Also, a surprising number of them were from the USA, and the others were from England and Canada (and maybe one from Norway?). Can’t say I’m surprised, considering the nominations in the bigger categories. Yeah, ok, so the Academy Awards are hosted by Hollywood, but would it kill them to consider diversity a bit more?

But I digress. This is about the nominated animated shorts, and the runners up, and my film-uneducated opinions of them.

Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts 2015

The Bigger Picture

The Bigger Picture

This short was from Great Britain, and probably had the most interesting art style. It was part 3D, part 2D, but I thought they did a cool job of blending them together. The story is of two brothers, one who takes care of their aging mother, and the other, who appears to be the favorite, and takes all the credit for the care. While I was impressed by the art style, the story was not unique. It didn’t add anything to this story, which has been told many times before. The mother dies, neither of her sons were with her, it’s very depressing and tragic, but in the end the brothers reconcile (the reason why was not very memorable), and then it’s over. This one felt like Oscar bait to me, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it won, but I don’t think I’d mind either.

The Dam Keeper

The Dam Keeper

 

The Dam Keeper is about a town full of anthropomorphic animals, and focuses on the children. One of them is the Dam Keeper, a pig. The only pig. And he’s an orphan child. So already we’re supposed to feel bad for him, and then he shows up at school and all the other kids make fun of him, because he’s a pig. Also a little bit because he’s often dirty because he works at the dam, but mostly because he was a pig. Let me remind you that all the characters are animals, and the pig was one of the cuter ones. The new girl, a fox, befriends him, but then the pig thinks she’s betrayed him, and he lets his dam duties slide. For some reason, this dam keeps away noxious fumes, so when he neglects his duties, the fumes enter the town below the dam and everyone starts getting sick. Eventually he realizes that she HADN’T been mean to him, and he rushes to save the town and fix their friendship. It ends happily enough. But again, this was a very tired story, and the animation was not all that impressive to me. I’d be surprised if this won the Oscar.

Feast

Feast

 

Of the animated shorts that actually got nominations, this one was far and away my favorite. Feast was Disney’s contribution to the animated shorts, and it was MUCH better than what they gave us last year. The style was typical of Disney’s animations, so it was very clean and well-practiced. It tells the story of a dog owner and his love life as seen through the eyes of the dog. The owner finds a stray puppy and lures him into his home with delicious french fries. The puppy grows up accustomed to other scrumptious human meals and snacks… until the owner gets a girlfriend who is super into healthy food and only gives the dog veggies on top of his regular dog food. The people split up, and after seeing how sad his owner is, the dog finds a way for them to meet and reconcile, despite his distaste for her food. Eventually the happy couple gets married and has a baby, who becomes the dog’s new best friend. Like many other babies, this one finds great joy in spilling its food on the floor, straight into the dog’s waiting jaws. This was a super adorable film, and I enjoyed it for that alone. I wouldn’t be surprised if it won by virtue of the very well-done animation, but it wasn’t that unique. I’d be happy if this one took the Oscar, even though I’m not a huge fan of Disney.

Me and my Moulton

Me and My Moulton

 

I found this animation to be the most boring of the bunch. It is simply one girl telling the audience about a short period of her life in which she and her sisters wanted a bike. Spoilers: they get a bike. There were a few funny bits, like when she tells the doctor she feels sick because her dad has a mustache and no one else in the town does. But it’s the kind of story that only really feels interesting or important to the person living it. The narration was dull. The animation was simple, but clean. But I was bored.

A Single Life

A Single Life

 

This was maybe the most entertaining of the nominated shorts. A Single Life is a very short animation about a woman who finds a record that, when played, can speed up or slow down her life, depending on which direction it’s played in. She jumps from young adulthood, to childhood, to parenthood, to old age, to death. It’s pretty funny, and I like how simple the concept was. The animation style was also a little different, which I liked. I’d be happy if this one took the Oscar.

Runners Up:

Like last year, I found I liked the runners up better than the shorts that actually got nominated. Oh well.

Bus Story

Bus Story

This story was told in a similar style to Me and My Moulton, but it was considerably more humorous, if totally strange. It tells the story of a woman who has always wanted to be a bus driver, because she wants to say hello and wave at people and things. She finally gets her wish, but it turns out she’s pretty terrible at it. The students are weird, she breaks a mirror, she runs over a dog, and eventually she lands the bus in a ditch. It reminded me a bit of that Ed, Edd, and Eddy cartoon that used to be on Cartoon Network back in the days I used to watch that channel, at least in style. It was fun, and I wish it had been nominated, despite how weird it was.

Duet

Duet

I really liked Duet. It was a really pretty, fairly simple animation style. It tells the story of a boy and a girl from birth to adulthood – their separate lives, how they finally meet and, of course, fall in love. The animation was very fluid, and each scene morphed into the next. The story itself was not that unique, but I liked the way it was presented. This deserved a nomination.

Footprints

Footprints

The story was funny, weird, and a little mind-bending, but the animation style hurt to look at. It was that weird shaking sketch-and-watercolor style (if that description doesn’t make any sense, watch the trailer, you’ll know what I mean). It’s the animated version of shaky camera, and it was really distracting and obnoxious to look at. Footprints is about a man who is woken by something breaking his window. He immediately leaves his house and searches the globe for the “creature” that committed the crime. The whole while, we see this monster evolving and growing in the man’s imagination. Eventually, he thinks he’s found it, and shoots it, only to discover that he’s shot at his own house. HE was the monster who broke his window all along. See? Mind-bendy. It may not have been great, but at least it was interesting. I’m not offended that it didn’t get a nomination.

Sweet Cocoon

Sweet Cocoon

Sweet Cocoon might have been my favorite of all the animated shorts we saw. The concept was simple, the animation was pretty and well-done, and the ending was excellent. This short tells the story of two bugs trying to help a caterpillar fit into its cocoon so it can turn into a butterfly. The caterpillar is a bit too bulbous for its cocoon, and so it is a great struggle, and therefore pretty hilarious. Eventually, they succeed, and the two bug friends watch as the caterpillar emerges as a beautiful butterfly. Everyone is pleased with their efforts, and everything is great. That is, until a bird flies up and snatches the butterfly out of the sky. None of them saw that coming. I wish this short had gotten a nomination.

And now it is time for the red carpet! Time to make burritos and live tweet the event!

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Last week I reviewed the Oscar-nominated Live Action Shorts for 2014, and today I’m reviewing the Oscar-nominated Animated Shorts. These were much more fun to watch, and they included 3 runners-up. I also claimed last week that I would ignore the rest of the Oscars after this post, but that was before I found out Ellen is hosting! She’s hilarious, so I’ll probably watch it just for her. And the dresses. Because that’s really the most important part, right?

So, without further ado, I give you my reviews of the 5 Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts:

1. Feral – USA

feral

Children are terrifying enough without making them feral wolf-children. I wish that was all I had to say about this one, but I actually really liked the animation style. It looked like it may have been hand-drawn, and it was able to tell the story without any actual lines of dialogue. In this story, a city man finds a feral child in the woods, who appears to think it’s a wolf. The man takes the child back to the city, dresses him up like a child, and sends him to school. But children are cruel in the world of this story, and they pretty much just torture the feral child and laugh at him. The feral child runs away in fear, and then transforms into a series of different animals, which I think is the highlight of this short film. In conclusion, the artistic style was interesting and very well done, but the story was mostly just creepy, and didn’t have a whole lot of substance. But then, I’m not that into symbolism and things, so undoubtedly other people got more out of it than I did.

2. Get a Horse! – USA

Mickey+Mouse+Get+a+Horse

Not going to lie, I absolutely hated this one. Possibly this is colored by the fact that I was really excited to see Frozen the first time I saw this short film, and I therefore viewed it as a waste of my valuable time. It doesn’t help that the plot is incredibly boring and repetitive, and pretty much treats Minney as an object to be won. But, sexism and repetition aside, this film showed an interesting intermingling of several different animation styles, showing the evolution of Disney since it started a million years ago with Mickey Mouse. I don’t think it has a chance to win amidst the other animated shorts.

3. Mr. Hublot – Luxembourg/France

HUBLOT_2

Steampunk made it to the Oscars! (Forgive me if this happened a couple years ago, as I haven’t paid attention to them over the last few years.) Of the five nominees, this is the one I hope to win. Mr. Hublot is an extremely OCD mechanical man, living alone in his adorable little apartment. His dilemma begins when he hears a sad robot puppy out in the street, completely ignored by everyone passing by him. When the puppy is truly in danger, Mr. Hublot abandons his mundane daily tasks and rescues the robot puppy. The attention to detail in this animation, subtle handling of OCD, and its ability to tell the story without a bit of dialogue were brilliant. The story was clear, and leaves nothing unfinished. It really was the most creative and original of the bunch. I really want it to win, and I think it has great potential to do so.

4. Possessions – Japan

Possessions

This film is based on an old myth that tools will gain souls after 100 years, and begin to play tricks on their owners. A repair man traveling through a forest takes shelter from a storm inside a little shack that appears to be cluttered with a random assortment of abandoned things, like umbrellas and lengths of fabric. I haven’t seen very much anime, but this has the appearance and feel of all the ones I’ve seen, so I wouldn’t say its animation style is unique in that respect. The man goes through a couple hallucinations (?) with spirits and ghosts, in which he must repair a series of items in order to get out of the shack after the storm. It was pretty fun, especially when the tiny frog spirit appeared. The dragon made out of all the random odds and ends was pretty cool, too. I liked how the big, tall, muscular repair man had to solve all his problems by sewing and praying to the spirits in the shack. If Mr. Hublot doesn’t win, I’d bet on this one.

5. Room on the Broom – United Kingdom

Room-on-the-Broom

The claymation in this film was fun, but the plot was not very engaging. Room on the Broom is based on a children’s picture book, and it is quite obvious. The film is narrated by Simon Pegg, and it tells the story of a witch and her cat, who have a terrible habit of dropping their belongings and picking up new passengers on their broomstick. Oh, and there’s a dragon. This was very cute and sweet, and like I said, the claymation was very well done, including the landscape. I can see why children would enjoy it, but I found it terribly slow until the dragon catches up to them, and they must work together to save the witch from certain death. The new broom they have to make in the end was pretty sweet, too, with high-backed chairs and other entertainments for the passengers. That said, I don’t think this was the best adaptation of a children’s book to film. The pace for the first two thirds of the film was extremely slow, and it definitely could have been tighter. I don’t think this is Oscar-worthy.

And the Runners-up:

1. A la Francaise – France

À-la-Française

Chickens in Versailles. Need I say more? Ok, I will. This film depicted Versailles in its prime, with elaborate dance parties, games out on the grounds, and loads of gossip. But instead of people, all of the characters are chickens. I found this very short film highly engaging and entertaining. The chickens’ costumes, hair, and makeup were priceless. I honestly thought this one deserved an Oscar more than a few that were actually nominated. If you get a chance, it’s a fun watch.

2. The Missing Scarf – Ireland

george_takei_missing_scarf_film_animated_squirrel_poo

This one was my absolute favorite, and not just because it was narrated by George Takei. The animation style was very geometric, including an origami squirrel. This film starts out as an innocent story of a squirrel searching for his scarf. He runs into several of his forest animal friends, and helps them solve their own various fears (the owl is afraid of the dark, and the fox is afraid that none of the other foxes like him, etc.). The friend’s problem is solved, and the squirrel continues his hunt for his scarf. It seems an innocent children’s story, until the squirrel runs into his friend the bear, who fears the end of the world and the universe. It is all very dramatic and exciting, and narrated by George Takei, which makes it that much more crazy fun. The squirrel appears as though he’s just going to give up on this one, and then suddenly returns an equally robust argument about why the bear’s fear is absurd. While everyone else’s fears are resolved, the bear has only just begun to understand and move on from his fear. At this point, the squirrel decides he no longer needs his scarf, and then the world ACTUALLY STARTS ENDING. Complete with fireballs. Beware of showing this to your children, lest they end up like the bear. But really, I loved this animated short. I wish it had been nominated, not only for its style, but for the story as well.

3. The Blue Umbrella – USA

blue umbrella

Last but not least, we have The Blue Umbrella, which is a short romance between a blue umbrella and a red umbrella. The story was not that exciting (they meet, their humans start walking in opposite directions, the blue umbrella gets upset and allows himself to get carried away in the wind in a desperate attempt to find his red lady love), but the animation was astonishing. I’m still not quite convinced that it WAS animated, aside from the umbrellas. The streets and buildings and cars and everything look real. That alone should have gotten it a nomination, but I guess it was just too adorable for the academy.

Well, there you have it – my reviews of the Oscar-nominated animated shorts. I have reviewed the live action shorts here. If you’re headed to an Oscar party where predicting all the winners could earn you a jackpot of money, I hope this helps. I don’t pretend to be a connoisseur of high literature or film, but I know what I like, and I can make predictions of which films are “Academy Bait.” I look forward to watching the show on Sunday!

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I gave up on the Oscars a couple years ago. It started because my schedule kept conflicting with their air time, and then I realized that the Academy is really too pretentious for my movie tastes. I really ought to get into the Golden Globes, since they have more categories and such. I mean, how can you compare a comedy and a drama for best picture? The truth of it is that the movies I want to win never do, and I never get around to seeing the rest. I have a rule for determining which movies I’ll go and see in the theater: the movie has to deserve a big screen. Movies that fall into that category for me are superhero/big action movies, movies based on books that I loved, and movies that for one reason or another I’ve been dying to see. So a mere Oscar nomination? Not going to get me into the theater.

However, a few of my friends always go see the Oscar-nominated live action and animated shorts. Small, funky local theaters always have showings of these, and you get to see all of them at once. I’ve never made it a point to watch any of the short films, and usually when Oscar time comes around, I’ve only seen one or two by accident.

So this year, I’m going to watch all of the live action and animated shorts nominated for Oscars, tell you what I think of them, and then probably completely ignore the rest of the Oscars. If you’re headed to an Oscar party, maybe this will help you vote!

1. Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me) – Spain

This short film tells the story of an African child soldier who is rescued by a Spanish woman. The rescue is entirely happenstance, as the woman and her husband are doctors trying to leave dangerous territory at the beginning of the film. This film was by far the darkest and grittiest of the lineup. While the cinematography was beautiful (despite the excess shaky camera), and the acting was brilliant, it didn’t have much of an impact on me psychologically, aside from the rape scene. The entire movie is a flashback, as told by the child soldier (though in the flashback we see the perspective of both the boy and the woman) to a university lecture class, yet it felt as thought we still knew nothing about him as a person by the end of the film. The woman, on the other hand, we know that she and her husband are happily in love, she is deeply affected by this traumatic experience, we can see her thoughts and feelings on her face when she doesn’t voice them aloud. But the boy? We have no idea how he became a child soldier, we don’t see him after he is “rescued,” except as he’s talking to the lecture hall. The title is a reference to a line the boy says to the class at one point: That wasn’t me. But we don’t know who he really is. The focus wasn’t on the boy, but on the woman who forced him to help her escape.

This story didn’t feel unique or fresh to me, and I found myself wanting to know more about the boy. I couldn’t have cared less about the woman who inadvertently saved him. I also really hate seeing rape scenes. There is no more invasive trauma a person can go through. That said, I would not be surprised if this one took the Oscar, based solely on its content.

2. Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything) – France

The plot for this film took a while to get going, but finally we learned it was about a woman taking her two children to run away from her abusive husband. Once the plot eventually made sense, the suspense built quickly. The woman takes her children to her workplace, where she puts her affairs in order (gets “fired” from her job, opens a new bank account, arranges for her sister to pick them up, etc.) with the aid of her coworkers, who seem quite fond of her. However, their fondness doesn’t seem genuine. I’m not sure if it was bad acting, or because they all thought she was crazy for not reporting her husband’s abuse (at one point we find out he aimed a gun at her in front of the children). The husband shows up at the store, and the woman must frantically put on her work uniform and face him, all the while hiding the fact that her sister could arrive at any moment and ruin everything. The lack of a musical score made the action that much more tense, and this was probably the most impressive aspect of this particular film, to me. Once again, this story as a whole did not feel fresh or unique. This story has been told countless times, and while it is definitely one worth telling (domestic abuse is a serious problem), the film didn’t strike me as deserving of an Oscar.

3. Helium – Denmark

“Helium” is a very sweet film about a child in a hospital who befriends the hospital’s janitor (who really wishes to be a storyteller). It doesn’t take long to realize that the child is very ill, and likely doesn’t have long to live. The child is very fond of hot-air balloons, which reminds the janitor of his brother who died when he was young. They bond over this, and the janitor then decides to tell the child about a magical realm called “Helium,” which is where all sick children go to regather their strength. The child’s demeanor goes from defeated to hopeful the more the janitor tells him about Helium. The cinematography of the world of “Helium” is gorgeous, too – the air sparkles, and houses sit on floating islands. The child’s illness takes a turn for the worse, and the janitor panics that he won’t be able to finish the story – the child is terrified he won’t be able to get to Helium without instructions from his friend. The friendly nurse helps the janitor into the critical care ward so he can finish his story, and ease the child’s fears.

As all movies about child illness seem to end, the child does pass away, but the film doesn’t portray it as such. Instead, the giant zeppelin from Helium comes to pick him up, following the signal of the red helium dog. He leaves this world with a smile on his face. He moved on to somewhere better, and it wasn’t heaven, which was very refreshing. I can see this one winning the Oscar.

4. Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?) – Finland

This was a cute film about an incredibly disorganized family that thought they were late for a wedding, only to arrive at the church and find they were a week early. This was the token Oscar-nominated short comedy film. It was really funny (my favorite part was when they found that the daughters’ dresses for the wedding were in the laundry, and the only thing they could find to wear instead were their Halloween costumes), but it didn’t stand out to me beyond that. It was cute, and the shortest of the short films, but I don’t think it will win an Oscar.

5. The Voorman Problem – United Kingdom

Of all these films, The Voorman Problem was the most interesting and original, in my opinion. Were the Oscars based on story alone, I bet this one would win, hands down. The story begins with a prison psychiatrist visiting an overflowing prison for the first time, do deal with a Mr. Voorman. This Voorman claims to be a god, and has been a god for nine days. He declares that the world is held together by his imagination, and he could change anything on a whim. The psychiatrist, played by the brilliant Martin Freeman, is quite perplexed, and of course doesn’t believe Mr. Voorman. Mr. Voorman then tell him he’ll prove it by making Belgium disappear, to which the psychiatrist scoffs and leaves for the day.

At home, he tells his wife about this troubling patient, including the bit about Belgium, which she then appears to have no knowledge of. Frantically, the psychiatrist pulls out a map and discovers that Belgium has, in fact, disappears, to be replaced by a large bay. He returns to the prison and Mr. Voorman the following day and they battle with words. The battle suddenly ends with the psychiatrist in Mr. Voorman’s place, wearing his straight jacket, while Mr. Voorman backs out of the room in the psychiatrist’s clothes, telling the poor psychiatrist that he’s going to go be him for a while.

I love psychological stories like these, and I loved that it was told in a short film. It leaves you wanting to know more of the story, but at the same time, it’s very appropriate that it ends so abruptly. Was Mr. Voorman really a god? Was the psychiatrist crazy and in prison the whole time? This was the only film of the bunch that left me thinking as I walked out of the theater, despite the fact that this was the first film I actually saw. I would love this one to win the Oscar, but the Academy and I very rarely have the same taste.

Next week I’ll review the Oscar-nominated animated shorts!

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