REVIEW: 2019 Oscar Nominated Shorts: Animation

The 2019 Oscar Nominated Shorts in the Animation category explore similar themes of family and time, evoking certain emotions over and over again.

Many of the shorts, including Bao and Weekends, were autobiographical. Bao, Disney Pixar’s short released with Incredibles 2 and applauded for its cultural representation, tells the story of a lonely Chinese mother and one of her dumplings when it comes to life as a little dumpling boy. This narrative with animations characteristic of Pixar plays with the idea of parental possessiveness and the need for familial love and attention, taking a harrowing turn at the end that leaves one to wonder the costs of overprotection. Also featuring an Asian-American family is One Small Step, the cleanly-drawn animation about big dreams and realistic achievements. Through the passage of time, Luna must grapple with her dreams of being an astronaut and the obstacles in her way, supported by her single father the entire time. The crisp 3D animation was certainly appealing, turning this “dream-chasing-believe-in-yourself” storyline into something fresh and emotional.

Another short that deals with family is Weekends, a hand-drawn melancholic tale of childhood after a recent divorce. The absence of dialogue brings all the focus onto the universal mood of this film, as a child bounces between homes and lives and relationships evolve as a result, offering a compelling story of a fractured family with purely the art of animation. Late Afternoon looks at the painful issue of memory loss, as Emily, an elderly woman, goes through old memories in order to make sense of the present. Through the use of color, Emily was able to weave through all the different memories, and the flow through time between the present, the subconscious, and the memories. The emotions associated with memory loss was heightened with the use of water throughout the film, washing over her as she searches for clarity.

The last nominee shown, Animal Behaviour, features anthropomorphized animals in a group therapy session. As the most comedic short in the featured films, it is filled with crude animal jokes based on their natural traits until an ape gets going and sets off the dog therapist. The lineup also included two additional selected shorts, Wishing Box and Tweet Tweet. Wishing Box introduced us to a greedy pirate and his hungry monkey companion who come across a box that will give you anything you wish for, while Tweet Tweet gives us the courage to balance on a tightrope as a girl befriends a sparrow who guides her throughout her life.

All the short films used a variety of animation styles, opening my eyes to how diverse animated films can be. From the scratchy and homey feel of the hand-animated Weekends to the colorful, flowy vibe of Late Afternoon to the crisp 2D-on-3D animation of One Small Step, the animation nominees were all both visually appealing and emotionally resonant.

REVIEW: The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2018 — Animated.


List:
Dear Basketball – Glen Keane and Kobe Bryant, USA, 5 min.
Negative Space – Max Porter and Ru Kuwahata, France, 5 min.
Lou – Dave Mullins and Dana Murray, USA, 7 minutes
Revolting Rhymes – Jakob Schuh and Jan Lachauer, UK, 29 minutes
Garden Party – Victor Caire and Gabriel Grapperon, France 7 minutes
Lost Property Office (additional film) – Daniel Agdag, Australia, 10 minutes
Weeds (additional film) – Kevin Hudson, USA, 3 minutes
Achoo (additional film) – Elise Carret, Camille Lacroix, Charlotte Perroux, Lucas Boutrot, Maoris Creantor, Pierre Hubert, France, 7 minutes

Somehow, The Boss Baby is now an Oscar-nominated film – and so maybe it’s sufficient to say it’s been a darn slow year for animation.

But even with an unexpected nomination in the category, there’s no lack of talent featured in the animated Oscar Nominated Shorts of this year. Dear Basketball, Negative Space, Lou, Revolting Rhymes, and Garden Party are all contenders. Lost Property Office, Weeds, and Achoo are additional, highly-commended films you can catch in theatres alongside the Oscar nods.

In 2018, Kobe Bryant is now both a star basketball player and a star film producer, with Dear Basketball penned as a love letter to the end of an illustrious career. It’s sweet and simple, pleasant to watch, but probably more touching for basketball fans than for the uninterested layperson.

Despite a narrative that perhaps borders upon just being a highlight reel of Kobe Bryant’s career, Glen Keane does what Glen Keane does – just as he had in many other short films like Duet and Nephtali, and just as he did for Disney. His animation style in undeniably compelling, sketches full of a motion and fluidity that fills us in where the film may come up empty in terms of a more captivating story.

Opposite of what Dear Basketball may lack, Negative Space gives life to a suitcase, to the simpleness of Ron Koertge’s poem with clothes like a tidal wave, belts slithering like snakes into the sides of a bag. The premise is easy, but the execution is sophisticated.

A boy floats in an ocean of clothes and emerges between of the buttons of his dad’s shirt. A taxi cab drives onto wooden floorboards and becomes a toy car circling around the living room. These are beautiful transitions done through stop-motion, a creative practice in breathing tone and vision into a script. It’s uncomplicated at only five minutes long, but the visuals are delicate, creative, and with an incredible punch line.

The obligatory Pixar nomination of the year is Lou – cute and heart-warming and absolutely beautifully rendered. It follows the story of a pile of lost and found objects that becomes the guardian of the playground, rising from its box to set things right when a bully begins to terrorize the other kids.

The film is interesting and very endearing, but is also very standard Pixar-fare. Not a bad thing at all, considering the general consistency and quality of films produced over the years by the studio. And Lou is no exception to that. It’s engaging and sweet, but it is also nothing ground-breaking.

Much less feel-good, much less full of those clear-cut morals of Lou, Revolting Rhymes is an adaption of Roald Dahl’s poems, featuring the nominated first episode. Having read these fairytales a long time ago, the film does measure up in some ways by wrapping up the story with a terrific ending and some very tongue-in-cheek story-telling. However, it still comes second to the charm of the original rhymes. It feels a bit lacking in some ways, but the characterization, the animation details, the picture-book perfect palette, and the satirical material it’s built upon prove to be still very appealing to watch.

When we move away from the obvious comedy of Revolting Rhymes, we have Garden Party, a pic that is much more subdued and sinister in its humour. It’s a gorgeous, hyper-realistic film, full of lush colours and gaudy scenery. And while Garden Party is a visual banquet, it’s an understated story of macabre undertones, an apprehensive underbelly to the stunning animation. Amphibians from the garden follow their instincts into an extravagant house. A fat toad feasts in a rotting kitchen on multi-coloured macarons. Two frogs find themselves underneath the plush covers of a bed in disarray, and countless croaking creatures lounge about, swimming in the murky depths of a pool. As night falls, the lights come up, the garden is lit with fountains, music, and a terrible twist.

There’s an interesting selection, from realistic CGI frogs to the organic pencil and pastel sketches of basketball players. And while I have my opinions, it’s difficult to predict a winner from the fact that Dear Basketball, Negative Space, Lou, Revolting Rhymes, and Garden Party are pretty much nothing alike.

So catch the Oscar Nominated Shorts at Michigan Theater and other select places before March 4th, and decide for yourself.

Student tickets are $8.

PREVIEW: Oscar Nominated Shorts at State Theater

Oscar season is right around the corner, and while it is relatively easy to view all of the nominated films at local theaters, seeing the short film versions is not as simple.

Luckily for us, you have the opportunity to see ALL of the short films if you go this week: The nominated live-action films, the animated films, and both halves of the documentary films.

Where: State Theater

When: Right now! Films play 2/6 – 2/12

Cost: $10

To save you time, below are the links for each of the films sections:

Documentary

Live Action

Animated

REVIEW: Sundance Live Action Short Films

This was the first year I was able to see the Sundance Live Action short films. Therefore, the only comparisons I have are to other film festivals and to the Sundance animated shorts from last year.

Many people consider Sundance to be a festival that launches the careers of independent and relatively unknown filmmakers. Each year audiences around the country get to see their live action and animated short film collections.

In their collection description, Sundance stresses diversity, and this is something that is true without a doubt. Ranging from astronauts training in the desert to a BDSM-themed opera remix, the short films brought forth a wide range of emotions. This inconsistency was as much a weakness as a strength, however. Some shorts had clear and provoking deeper meanings, while others were simply entertaining little pieces that didn’t have as much staying power.

One of the best–if not THE best–was “Afronauts,” a fictional recreation of Zambian exiles preparing for a trip to the moon in 1969. Beautifully shot in black and white, it is a chilling commentary on the lengths we go and the sacrifices we make to achieve a perceived goal. My favorite part about this was the actors’ performances that didn’t even require dialogue to do most of the work.

An interesting thing about this collection of films was the importance of the story. Two examples here are “Dawn,” about a young teenager seeking to escape from her sheltered life, and “I think this is the closest to how the footage looked,” about a man striving to recreate the memory of his last day with his mother.

The film quality and production design of these two films is not even in the same ballpark. Yet, despite “Dawn’s” superior look and beautiful shots, I found myself enjoying “footage” much more. “Dawn” plays to tropes and its ending is basically a punchline, whereas “footage” strikes at the raw fears that we all have of losing those closest to us. This was an amazing example of how even films with lower budgets can shine brighter than more cinematic films.

Sundance’s selection of foreign films was refreshing. We had films in Hebrew, French, Russian, English, and a smattering of Mexican Spanish. Not all of them were thrilling, but they were genuine and unflinching depictions of the cultures that produced them. “Love. Love. Love” transported us to Russia and gave us different way to look at intimacy. “I’m a Mitzvah” was a fantastic collision of Hispanic and Jewish cultures in a foreign country.

Overall, a great slate of films. Completely incomparable to the animated films, these films are worth your time if you ever get to see any of them.

PREVIEW: Sundance Live-Action Shorts

Are you looking for something to fill the void before Game of Thrones airs season 5? Do you want to expand your film appreciation palette? You’re in luck, because the Michigan Theater is bringing both its Live Action and Animated short films to downtown Ann Arbor.

In their words “The Live Action program (94 minutes), featuring both fiction and documentary films, ranges from beautiful insight and the struggle to understand life to a hilarious, all-too-familiar government deposition.”

Bring a friend and take a break after that first semester exam by taking a trip to the Michigan Theater.

What: Sundance Live Action Short Films

When: Sunday, February 1 and Wednesday, February 4 at 7 PM

Where: Michigan Theater

Cost: $12

How about a taste of what you’re about to see? Check out the trailer

And while you wait, watch the Sundance Live Action Shorts trailer!

REVIEW: Ann Arbor Film Fest Award Screening

Ann Arbor Film Fest Award Screening

On Sunday night, the Ann Arbor Film Fest holds a closing screening of the year’s award winning short films. I sat in for part one of the two part award show and saw a variety of films that took home impressive titles for this year. The evening opened with a short film made by – no artist in competition- but by audience members themselves. Over the course of the Festival, a dry erase board in the lobby captured the doodles and scribbles of patrons of the films. The final collection of drawings was compiled into a stop motion film and was presented as a prelude to the award winners. It was so gratifying to see audience work transform into something experimental and avante-garde over one week of time.

The sequence of winning pieces  included about 10 films from a variety of genres. Stills from my favorites of the collection are featured above. “Split Ends, I feel Wonderful” was a montage of vintage footage of women and men in hair salons getting cornrows. The shots  was overlain with the bourgeois accent of a man commenting on the coif and the culture that so often sports it. The short film carried obvious, but gentle, socio-political commentary.  The second film, which was my favorite of the whole competition, was called “Dad’s Stick.” The British filmmaker made a portrait of his late father, using a slide show of colored panels and a few of his personal belongings beneath short text that described the relationship between each item. It was a very touching film- surprisingly so- given how simple it was; I felt I knew the father so well after seeing only a few of his things. The final film of my top three favorites was one I had already seen at the animated short film screening. It was called “Bite of the Tail.” It told the story of a troubled marriage that was strained by the wife’s mysterious health problems and her husband’s obsession with hunting for snakes in an empty city lot. The narrative was very unusual and the animation was so human that it was captivating to watch.

While these three films were intriguing to me, most fell flat in my opinion. They were too experimental to be accessible; too epileptic and flashy to be pleasant to watch. I noticed a thread of commentary about film- the actual medium- by simulating VCR videos with digital recording devices. I adore the film fest so I was happy to see what this year brought, but I didn’t walk away feeling particularly fond of the selections. Perhaps I just don’t know enough about experimental film. maybe I need to study up before I go back for more screenings next year.