Every year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awards Oscars in three categories dedicated to short films. Every year, viewers at home use the giving of these awards as a good time to get a snack or go to the bathroom. It’s ironic that people don’t care that much about shorts, given that we live in the YouTube age. But we at Movie Mezzanine care, and we’ve seen all of this year’s Oscar-nominated animated shorts. We might not be able to tell you which ones will win (though you can usually count on the most heartwarming one), but we can tell you what’s good and what isn’t.
The Bigger Picture
A marvelous visual style, which combines three-dimensional environments with two-dimensional characters who act like living murals on walls, would already make this short remarkably distinctive. But it’s combined with a devastating story about two brothers grappling with the impending death of their mother, which gives it an emotional resonance more potent than most of the other Oscar-nominated shorts, animated or not.
The Dam Keeper
The painted look of this film, like that of a children’s picture book brought to life, sets it apart as perhaps the most beautiful of the animated shorts (though The Bigger Picture’s style is more inventive). It’s a pity that this beauty is in service of a story that’s frankly weird, a parable involving talking animals in which a young pig in charge of vital machinery protecting his small town decides to let everything burn because people are mean to him.
It’s about a puppy. It’s cute. It’s probably the only one of the Oscar shorts most people have seen, since it played before Big Hero 6 in theaters. It’s also completely airless, relying on its cuteness to carry a nothing story (oh, hey, this couple has problems, but don’t worry, their dog can bring them back together). Its variation on Paperman’s three-dimensional-yet-hand-drawn look doesn’t look nearly as good as the former film, either.
Me and My Moulton
Previous Oscar winner Torill Kove concocts an autobiographical tale about her youth in Norway, growing up with her two sisters and embarrassing parents, and wishing desperately for a bicycle. The simple designs, like a graphic novel in motion, act as an avenue for winning comic exaggeration and gentle observations about growing up. I’d watch a whole film like this, but the short is satisfyingly self-contained.
A Single Life
An incredibly brief movie that lives in service of a single concept — a woman discovers she can skip through her life by skipping the record she’s playing. A very funny short with some terrific thematic undercurrents about mortality, this nonetheless left me wanting more. There’s so much left unexplored about the idea, variations that went ignored.