10:23am

Mon February 18, 2013
Arts & Culture

An animated bunch of Oscar nominees

I’ve always been intrigued by the short features that are nominated for Academy Awards every year. Everybody (who watches movies) is familiar with the best picture nominees, the best actors, actresses, and directors. But only recently have I become aware that the shorts that win the same awards are available to be seen as well.

Last year, my wife and I went on a date to see a double-feature. Actually, it was more of a fifteen-feature. We watched, in succession, all of the Oscar nominated live action short films along with all of the Oscar nominated animated short films, with several honorable mentions thrown in to boot. It was a delightful experience to see so much distinctive motion picture artwork and acting at one time.

This year, it’s possible to do the same thing, and I recently watched all of the short animated films up for Oscars. The collection is hosted by William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg, who directed last year’s winning “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore,” which was also my favorite of that bunch. There are five nominees, including:

“Head Over Heels” - This is a clever abstraction of a married couple grown apart who live in a house on different floors. Quite literally. She lives on the ceiling, and he lives on the floor. Their house, improbably (but, hey, it’s an animated short film), is hurtling through the sky, flipping first up and then down, while the two find a way to coexist. It’s a creative take on growing apart and the effort it takes to come together as a pair.

“Maggie Simpson in ‘The Longest Daycare’” - If you like The Simpsons, there’s no reason you wouldn’t enjoy this short. It’s a rare chance to focus on the youngest daughter, who is forced to take on challenges at the Ayn Rand Daycare Center. (Of course, if you like The Simpsons, you can also just watch the TV show.)

“Paperman” - I actually saw this short as a bonus feature showing immediately before what was my favorite film of 2012: Wreck It Ralph. It’s a classically animated love story in which an office worker in one building tries to get the attention of a woman in another by hurling paper airplanes high across the streets of a city’s financial district. It’s sweet, and clever, and because it’s the only one of these shorts that was tagged to a feature film (that I know of), I believe it will win the Oscar this year.

“Fresh Guacamole” - This one is remarkable for a number of reasons: 1) Some of the animation (of human hands, for example) is so realistic, my wife and I spent much of the short debating whether or not they were filmed or invented; 2) The storyline, about making guacamole, is amazingly creative, in that every cut of avocado, every shake of salt and pepper, turns the ingredient into something completely different. Like … dice, for example. It’s fascinating; and 3) It’s only 1 minute and 41 seconds long, including credits. Makes me wonder if there should be yet another Oscar category for Best Animated Extremely Short Films.

“Adam and Dog” - This story of the Garden of Eden, as seen mostly from a dog’s perspective, is my favorite of the group. It’s long (for a short) at 15:01, and it lingers on scenes of mastodons and hippopotami, jungles, lakes, and plains. That is time very well spent, in my eyes, because the artwork is beautiful. The storyline, about the beauty of paradise and the inevitable fall, is perfectly fine, but the short format serves as a wonderful canvas for great animators, who take the opportunity to create many gentle, lovely scenes.

The breadth of animation in the Oscar nominated shorts is terrific, and I appreciate having had the opportunity to see them. It’s become something I’ve come to look forward to annually, like simultaneously reading a collection of the year’s best short stories while walking through a gallery of modern art. My only wish is that more people would have the chance to see these short films, because, currently, the only opportunity is to see one tagged on to the beginning of a big-budget animated movie. That said, in my opinion, having the chance to see these all together, right before the Academy Awards Ceremony, is well worth the time and price of admission.

You can see all of the individual Oscar nominated animated short films online here. If possible, though, it’s great to see them in a theater. And the collection, with bonus films, is also showing, in collected form as hosted by last year’s winning filmmakers, at Bay Area locations, including the Rafael Film Center in San Rafael, the Landmark Embarcadero Center Cinema in San Francisco, the Landmark Shattuck Cinema in Berkeley, and the Landmark Aquarius Theater in Palo Alto.

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