Oscar Best Short Film (Animation) 2018 Roundup
Well, let's start with the fun stuff.
I've never really made a super concentrated effort to sit down with the short films nominated for Academy Awards. I've seen winners and nominees over the years, but usually long after they'd won or been nominated for anything. That's all a prelude to say that I honestly didn't know what to expect from the films I saw.
However, I've written some student short films and my big takeaway from writing some is that it's really difficult to do, possibly even harder than writing a feature length script. Yes, a feature length script has a lot of moving parts to keep track of, but that's the thing about short scripts: You have less to keep track of because you have less space to deliver a beginning, middle, and end. That lack of space makes building characters and situations so much harder, so I have the deepest respect for these films.
In the first of two posts, I'll be giving brief reviews of each nominated film. These reviews will be pretty brief, especially since most of the films in this particular group are around five to seven minutes long (with one exception) and to say too much about them would spoil the fun. First up, Animation.
So, Glen Keane directed the animation for this short. That name might not mean a lot to some, but for hardcore animation geeks, it sets an immediate standard. He was a master animation director associated with being in charge of Disney's most famous characters of the 1990s, including Aladdin and Tarzan. I have the highest respect for Glen Keane as an artist, and the idea behind Dear Basketball is compelling, an adaptation of Kobe Bryant's poem of the same name, narrated by Bryant himself.
And it's disappointing how flat it all feels. The short doesn't pack much of a punch beyond some really pretty sketchwork animation and plays less like an emotional ode to basketball and more like a self-promotional piece for Kobe Bryant. It's not a waste of Glen Keane's talent, but it's definitely my least favorite of the animated shorts.
The simplest and sweetest of the short films still manages to have a dark streak to it. I have the least to write about Negative Space, but that's because it's so beautifully and painfully simple, a dry but effective examination of a man's relationship with his father and how they bonded over... Packing suitcases. It's not the most technically impressive animation in this lineup, but the stop-motion style finds some clever visuals to envision in this scenario. And the final line of dialogue in this piece is just perfect.
I don't know much about the animation short film category at the Oscars, but I do know that Pixar almost always gets one nomination a year, and the short film LOU that played in front of Cars 3 was their lock this year. I didn't see Cars 3, so this was the first time I'd seen LOU, and it's pretty good. The Pixar shorts are always pretty solid fun, but LOU has an inspired premise and takes that premise to a heartfelt place.
The whole story unfolds on a playground where a particularly nasty kid finds himself being confronted by a pile of junk from the "Lost and Found" bin after taking toys from fellow classmates. It starts fun, but it definitely ends on the kind of emotional beat that Pixar nails with workman-like precision. It's a solid story told well, but it can't help but live in the shadows of previous Pixar short films from the excellent Day & Night to the recent Piper. Still worth seeing.
Revolting Rhymes (Part One)
So, this is a really odd entry on this list for two reasons. One, it's the only entry here that's technically part one of a two part special on BBC television that's somehow in the running here. I don't know how that works, but whatever. Two, since it is part of a TV special, it's significantly longer than the other short films, clocking in at around thirty minutes.
And man is it a fun as hell thirty minutes. An adaptation of Roald Dahl's book of the same name, a wolf sits down in a restaurant to tell the story of Red Riding Hood and Snow White to a babysitter. But in Roald Dahl's hands, the stories twist, turn, and collide in increasingly strange (and occasionally macabre) ways. It might run a bit too long for its own good, but the wolf is played by Dominic West, who puts in an incredible performance as the narrator of the whole piece. Combine that with a killer ending, and I'd love to track down Part Two at some point.
The films that I tend to research after I watch them tend to be the films I love. To be fair, I researched The Mutilator (a bad slasher film) after I'd watched it, but I tried to dive deeper on what group of madmen put together Garden Party. The answer turns out to be a collective of French film students that call themselves "Illogic," and they've made nothing short of a technical achievement that has me in complete awe of their abilities.
Garden Party is easily my favorite of the five short films, a quiet, simple, and slightly sinister tale of frogs exploring an abandoned luxury home. Some of the frogs look for love, some of them look for human food to eat, and others chase butterflies about the house while accidentally getting closer to what's happened to the humans that once occupied the estate. It's a story told without a single word of dialogue, but the true achievement here is the aesthetic. This isn't hand-drawn animation, stop-motion, or even stylized 3D animation, but photorealistic 3D animation.
It's one of the most technically astonishing short films I've ever seen, and I can't believe that Illogic went for something as ambitious. I'm a huge visual effects and special effects geek, and this film consistently made my jaw drop every couple of shots. And the simple story is fun, and like any good short film, it has a hell of a punchline to deliver at the end.
I saw these five short films at the Detroit Film Theater, and the schedule sheet for the film line-up had space for ranking the short films. With that spirit in mind and as a sort of wrap-up to this piece, I thought I'd rank the short films from my favorite to least favorite. This is a "personal favorite" ranking, so anyone reading this wondering which of these five will win the Oscar won't find a straight answer from me. It's kind of a toss up and I'd be happy to see just about any of them win. Enjoy the ranking, but do try and see all of these films, and next time, I'll be back with the live action short films.
- Garden Party
- Negative Space
- Revolting Rhymes
- Dear Basketball