Wednesday, February 5, 2014

2013 Oscar-Nominated Shorts: Animated

The short-film Oscars have long been a beguiling mystery to me. They are films that don't get big theatrical releases, or trailers, or Super Bowl commercials (or trailers to Super Bowl commercials, because that's a thing now). But luckily, the Carousel Luxury Cinema in Greensboro had screenings of ShortsHD's annual showcase of the nominated short films, separated into an animation showcase and a live-action showcase.

My charming little screening room, tucked way back into the back of the building.

Of course, with the proliferation of online content these days, you don't have to wait for these shorts to come to a theater near you. Many of them are available online, in the iTunes Store, and through Amazon Instant Video. I'll provide that information where I can.

The nominees for Best Animated Short Film are (after the jump):

Get a Horse! (directed by Lauren MacMullan and produced by Dorothy McKim)

Disney's first Mickey Mouse short in 18 years played in front of Frozen last year, and it's a perfect match for that film. Get a Horse! is a simple film, as Mickey and Minnie, along with their friends, outwit Peg-Leg Pete once again, with the characters passing from the classic animation through the screen into CGI creations. It's a clever way to honor the studio's rich history of animation while moving forward into the future, and it's nothing short of charming for its entire seven minutes. The only real problem with it is that its a very slight film, which makes it feel a little too gimmicky once its over. But this is a small qualm, especially given how much fun it is to watch in the moment. (Clip available here)

Mr Hublot (directed by Laurent Witz and Alexandre Espigares)

Mr Hublot is a simple story with a futuristic twist: the title character is apparently a counting machine, living in a robotic city when he rescues a robot dog from the street. The film has a very unique look, with a steampunk vibe that gives the film an unusual energy. However, the substance of the film doesn't quite hold up as well, with the latter half feeling forced for narrative after the leisurely world-building of the first half, and the inclusion of pop music feels a little disingenuous. Still, the design and animation are interesting and exciting, so it gets by on style. (Trailers available here)

Feral (directed by Daniel Sousa and produced by Dan Golden)

In Feral, a young boy grows up in the wild until a hunter discovers him and tries to integrate him into human civilization. The animation is gorgeous and evocative, a stunning mix of what appears to be watercolor backgrounds and figures drawn by colored pencils. What's most astonishing about this film is how it makes the most of its minimalist design, brilliantly suggesting the boy's emotional state and creating a melancholy tone overall. Of these five films, it's the least complex visually, but the most emotionally rich. (Full film can be rented or purchased here)

Possessions (directed and produced by Shuhei Morita)

Possessions began life as a part of the Japanese anime anthology Short Peace, and tells the story of a passerby who takes shelter in a forest shrine, only to be compelled to complete a number of tasks by the spirits of discarded objects. The animation is lush and gorgeous, filled with rich details and beautiful colors. Despite never being given a name or explicit backstory, the film does a terrific job at giving the passerby a compelling backstory. Overall, it's a really stunning, exciting, and entertaining film. (Not available online as far as I can tell)

Room on the Broom (directed by Max Lang and Jan Lachauer)

Room on the Broom is an adaptation of a popular children's story by Julia Donaldson, and tells the story of a witch who keeps adding passengers to her broom, while - unbeknownst to her - being pursued by a dragon. While the story and the animation has its charms, the film is too long even at 22 minutes, stretching its simple, repetitive premise too thin. Similarly, with the exception of Simon Pegg's narration, there's very little dialogue throughout the film, meaning the starry cast - including Gillian Anderson, Sally Hawkins, and Timothy Spall - is largely wasted in these roles. It's a cute film, but not a particularly great one. (Available on Amazon Instant Video)

So if I were voting, my ballot would be as follows:

1. Feral
2. Possessions
3. Get a Horse!
4. Mr Hublot
5. Room on the Broom

"Just tell us who's going to win the Oscar, Jason, god." Disney's shorts have had a lot of luck here in the past, and by shear exposure, Get a Horse! seems like a real frontrunner. But I guess it just depends on what the voters are feeling this year. I can easily see Possessions - especially with its Miyazaki-like whimsy - and Mr Hublot being winners as well.

Check back tomorrow for the live-action shorts.

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