There’s a theater in the University District called the Varsity, and every year right before the Oscars they do showings of all of the nominated short films. Words cannot describe how brilliant this idea is. Ever since I found out about it (which, admittedly, was only last year), I’ve been going. It makes you feel oddly smart when you watch the Oscars, because while everyone else only knows about the feature films, you can be all smug and hipster-esque with your knowledge of the shorts. And isn’t that what the Oscars are about?
Thus, having seen all of the nominated short films, I thought I’d give my own little summary of them, say which I liked best, and then which one I think is going to win the award (because my own personal tastes pretty much never coincide with the Academy’s). Today you get the animated shorts, which I saw first. On Thursday, you get the live action ones.
This Canadian film followed an imaginative young boy through a typical Sunday, going to church with his parents and then to his grandparent’s house for a party of sorts. The little town he lives in features a train track, which he enjoys crushing coins on. Also, there is a bear. A questionably imaginary one.
This was easily my least favorite of the animated movies, mostly because I didn’t feel there was much to it. The narrative was sloppy and hard to follow, the characters were flat (helped along by the lack of dialogue, which is a trick that I think far too many animations fall for), and thematically it was pretty much empty. I will say this for it, though: the animation style was really unique. Not good, necessarily, or bad, but definitely one-of-a-kind.
2. A Morning Stroll
This one was decidedly heavier-handed than the other movies. It took an old story about a man who encountered a chicken on the streets of new york, and told the story three times: once in the early 1900s, once in modern day, and once in the not-so-distant future, where the zombie apocalypse has destroyed humanity. Each version of the story shows a decreasing appreciation for the oddness and hilarity of the chicken’s existence, which parallels an increasing dehumanization of the man who sees it.
I think you may have already figured out why I thought this one was too heavy-handed. Maybe it’s because I always get ruffled when people accuse “the Internet generation” of being disengaged, vacuous sheep with no attention spans, but I felt very much as though this film was waggling a finger at me over something I don’t do. It rather took the funny out of the story for me. Also, the third time through, I was actually grossed out–something that doesn’t happen to me often. But I will say that I loved the way they used evolving animation styles to mark the different eras, which really worked to great effect at the very end.
3. The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
As the title suggests, this short is about a bibliophile who is swept away into a colorless world without reading, discovers a magical store where the books fly, and brings color back into the world by finding books for people and writing a book of his own. This was the short that I expected to like the most, given that it’s all about books and I’m such a book nerd, and I definitely enjoyed it. But it was…hmmm…underwhelming, I suppose.
For one thing, the idea that reading = adventure has been done to death, so it wasn’t saying anything new or interesting in my mind. In fact, the whole story was rather obvious, and I found myself entirely unsurprised at every turn. For another, the actual location of the story–whether it was suppose to be in the “real” world, or a far-off magical one–was hard to discern, which made it sort of annoying to try to gauge your expectations accordingly. But it was suitably brightly colored and up-beat, and overall a lovely film to watch.
4. Wild Life
This was my personal favorite of the films. It’s about a British man who moves to Canada back when it was all colonial, with big dreams of becoming a cowboy and a rancher and living the wild life. He finds he is wholly unprepared for it, though, and his gentility ends up being his downfall–as predicted by the locals, with whom there are several interviews.
What I liked about this film was mostly the character’s voices. The Brit narrates his story through letters to his family, which are always at odds with his reality; for example, he says he has a nice house, when in actuality he’s sitting in a shack. When the locals talk about him, they’re all nice enough, but there’s a definite sense of other-ness in the way they describe him that’s sad. Ultimately, it ends up tugging at your heartstrings in a sort of thoughtful way. I found myself thinking about what it is that makes people so willing to isolate themselves or even die rather than admit defeat and ask for help.
Plus, the art was beautiful. Sort of a combination of watercolor and construction paper cut out that I thought was lovely.
5. La Luna
This year’s Pixar film. I am positive that it is going to win the Oscar. Because…Pixar.
La Luna follows three generations of men in one family, out in a boat, for what is clearly the young boy’s first time. The two older men both want to make the boy in their image as they train him to do the family job: clean the starlight off of the moon. But the young boy works out his own style, and in the end the family all comes together and gets the job done.
What can I say? Pixar does heartwarming like nobody’s business. It was funny, sweet, and charming, and the central idea was just unique and interesting enough to keep me thinking about it afterward. But nothing new for them, especially stylistically. It’d be nice to see if Pixar could come up with something less Disney and more intellectual, but that’s never going to happen, so let’s just let that one go.
That’s all for the nominated ones, but there were actually four other animations showed, which were listed as “highly commended.” Here’s what I thought of them.
This short was hilarious. I don’t mean kind of funny–I mean everybody in the theater laughing hysterically and feeling kind of bad about it, since this film is essentially about how pollution is killing the penguins, and everything else. There’s only one running gag, though, so I’m not going to mention what it is in case you want to see it for yourself. Just know that this short will have you giggling like a prepubescent boy who just farted. The one thing I will say, though, is that I think the gag gets old before the film is over, so there’s a bit of a minus.
The Hybrid Union
This one was rather hard to follow. It starts with two different robot things in a desert, trying to outrun one another. One of them appears to be fueled by solar power, and the other by water. The two are being followed by a cloud, which is the deciding factor in who is ahead or behind at any given time. Then they get outstripped by a third robot thing (possibly run on electricity?), which they team up to defeat, but ultimately lose to when it starts snowing. I don’t know. I think maybe there was some sort of fuel efficiency message buried in there somewhere, but whatever it was, it was lost on me.
This Australian film was pure slapstick and cheese, but I loved it. It centers on two guys–a young bogun (redneck Australian) and an old dude–driving through the outback. The two get locked in a race/battle over cigarettes, which results in a Roadrunner-and-Coyote style showdown, complete with explosions and improbable survival rates. Ultimately, not a terribly intellectual movie, but good fun and well worth watching.
This short was so fast-paced it was almost hard to watch it. It follows a hungry lizard and his frog friend on their quest to find something to eat without being eaten. Literally every other second something is taking a bite, and the bright colors and constant motion make it almost headache worthy. At the end, the animals all suddenly notice the audience, and take bows. I think, perhaps, it was taking a shot at how we use animals for entertainment when in actuality their world is centered on the eat-or-be-eaten struggle, but in the end I just sort of found it vacuous and annoying.
So there you have it. All you needed to know about this year’s animated shorts. Live action ones coming soon to a blog near you! Specifically, this one.
“Animation can explain whatever the mind of man can conceive. This facility makes it the most versatile and explicit means of communication yet devised for quick mass appreciation.” -Walt Disney
pg. 135 of Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift