On Friday night, for the third straight year, I nestled into a comfy seat the IFC Center and embarked on a four-hour journey through this year’s Oscar-nominated animated & live action short films! This has quickly become one of my favorite movie-watching traditions of the year and I can’t recommend it enough to movie geeks and casual fans alike. (This year, they’re also showing the Documentary Shorts for the first time ever, but I haven’t gotten around to seeing them yet.)
Let’s start off with the Animated Shorts, which, I have to say, weren’t quite as strong as they’ve been the past couple of years. Still some good & worthwhile stuff in there, though. Here are nominees:
MADAGASCAR, CARNET DE VOYAGE -- This French offering is essentially a scrapbook come to life, detailing a person’s trip to Madagascar and the sights, sounds, people and customs that he experienced there. Visually, it is quite impressive, as it seems to utilize every imaginable animation style, ranging from water colors to pencil etchings to claymation to CGI. There was also some amazing use of multi-plane animation that looks as close to 3D as you can get without wearing glasses. But in the end, it is little more than a Madagascar tourism brochure and didn’t particularly interest me.
LET’S POLLUTE – A satire in the style of those ridiculous ‘50s educational films, this hand-drawn American entry teaches that pollution is a part of life, has been the driving force of civilization, keeps the economy strong and is just plain cool. It goes on to instruct us how to be better polluters to ensure a more prosperous future, most notably by incorporating the Twice Rule, wherein we are instructed to “Always buy twice what you need, never use the same thing twice, waste twice as much as yesterday and never think twice about it.” It gets a little too preachy and over the top with the metaphors, but overall it’s funny stuff.
THE GRUFFALO -- Here we have a children’s story-turned-film that seems to suffer from some of the same problems as the failed WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE adaptation. I’d never heard of “The Gruffalo” before (should I have?), but it seems like it is also a very short tale that absolutely did not need to be stretched out so far (in this case, 28 minutes). Maybe five minutes would have worked -- as it stands, it’s just too damn long. Animation is glossy and cutesy and fine, but nowhere near Pixar-level CGI. It does probably contain some of the most impressive voice talent I’ve ever heard in an animated short (including Helena Bonham Carter, Tom Wilkinson, and Hagrid himself, Robbie Coltrane), but in the end, I was underwhelmed.
THE LOST THING -- Definitely the most bizarre, stylistically, of this year’s nominees. It’s the story of a boy who comes across a strange contraption/creature on the beach that nobody but him seems to notice. Turns out the thing is lost, and after bonding with it, the boy takes it upon himself to return it to its home. Bizarre visuals abound, as well as a clear commentary about living in a world where people are so caught up in their own routines that they don’t notice (or care to notice) anything out of the ordinary. An enjoyable film, albeit a bit slow -- I’m sure it will have its fans, especially among those who instinctively go for the odd stuff, but it didn’t really do it for me.
DAY & NIGHT -- Another year, another Pixar nomination -- and this time, they’ve outdone themselves with a little slice of brilliance that introduces a happy little fellow named Day to a surly stranger named Night. At first, Day and Night are appalled by and suspicious of each other’s differences -- but eventually they come to appreciate the qualities that they each have to offer -- and ultimately discover that they aren’t so different after all. The social commentary is not subtle, but it’s a hell of a lot more effective than, say, CRASH. It features the perfect mix of originality, outstanding animation, humor and poignancy -- very worthy of having preceded the great TOY STORY 3. I know I am a Pixar fanboy, but this is my favorite of their shorts in some time -- by far the best animated short of the year and most deserving of Oscar gold. Honestly, if the Academy has any sense at all, the voting shouldn’t even be close.
So, for the record, and to maintain my usual format for Oscar predictions:
I'M ROOTING FOR: Day & Night
WILL PROBABLY WIN: Day & Night
But wait, there’s more! As usual, to pad the program’s running time and make it worth the price of admission, we were also treated to two “highly recommended” shorts:
URS -- This was a bizarre and sad one -- maybe a little TOO bizarre and sad, which is why it wasn’t nominated despite featuring some pretty cool-looking animation. It’s about a German man who looks after his aging mother and decides to find a new home for them. Despite her protests, he straps her rocking chair to his back with her sitting in it, and embarks on a treacherous journey up a mountain. By the time they reach the top of the mountain, he finds that she has died. Something about the futility of life in there? Perhaps. Crazy Germans.
THE COW WHO WANTED TO BE A HAMBURGER -- I liked this one more than some of the nominees, too. A fun little ditty about a calf who sees an advertisement for a hamburger franchise and decides that he can’t wait to grow up to become a hamburger himself! He then goes to great lengths to achieve that goal, much to his mother’s horror. The animation is simple and the story is breezy and funny -- obviously loaded with commentary against the power of advertising, and, perhaps, eating meat. Personally, I didn’t want to see the cute little calf turned into a hamburger... but a nice veal parmigana? Yum.
Next up: Live Action Madness!