The short films category is one of my favorites at the Oscars and seeing these films each year (thanks to the Ritz Bourse in Philly and Bryn Mawr Film Institute in Bryn Mawr!) is something I look forward to come February. The animated short films I find particularly important and interesting to watch because of their often varying styles and methods of storytelling. Most (all?) current feature length animated films are CGI and while it's fantastic to watch these gorgeously rendered films, we are beginning to lose touch with more traditional animation methods. Because hand drawn images are more cost feasible in a short film, it isn't unusual to find one or two films each year that use this method, often incorporating a unique style (see this year's Blind Vaysha). So without further ado, let's meet our contenders for this year's Animated Short Oscar prize.
Blind Vaysha (dir. Theodore Ushev) tells the story of a girl born with a very special affliction. Her left eye can only see the past, her right only the future. When she looks at her parents, or even potential suitors, she sees them simultaneously as children and older people. Her life is complicated by not living in any kind of present day and as a result she is viewed as effectively blind. Animated short films always have a knack for combining the perfect visual style to suit it's story and Blind Vaysha is no exception. Told like a fable, the visual style used is straight out of a traditional woodcut, the character designs and setting invoke a feeling of familiar fairytales we've heard time and again. I found the film to have a meaningful take on the idea of different perceptions of time but it's conclusion did not hit me in the profound way I think the director would have liked.
I remember seeing Borrowed Time at some point this past year. I believe it made the rounds on the internet due to its very depressing subject matter that arguably is not child-friendly. It should come as no surprise then, that it was made by two Pixar animators, Lou Hamou-Lhadj and Andrew Coats, as a side project. The film tells the story about a man returning to the place of his father's death, an act we come to assume he has done everyday for most of his life, and contemplates ending his own. Yeah, not quite the family-friendly fare you'd hope to see before Finding Dory, which is probably why you didn't. The animation is obviously top notch, and while I find the subject compelling because I'm a morbid person I mostly find the use of animation for this kind of story the most intriguing aspect of the film. I love the use of a "kiddy" medium to tell a dark story as I find the juxtaposition just as jarring.
Pear Cider and Cigarettes (dir. Robert Valley) was probably my favorite viewing experience from this year's crop of nominees. At first I found everything about it to be slightly self-indulgent, but the story of the narrator's relationship with his charismatic alcoholic mess of a best friend really hooked me and the manner through which we learn about this relationship keeps the viewer invested from start to finish. The style of this film is also something to mention because again, it's the perfect use of animation aesthetic to suit the purpose of the story. The story is pulpy, seedy, totally underbelly, and very reminiscent of Sin City especially in its narration. The film has the look and feel of a graphic novel, utilizing black and white sketchiness with bright neon color. I highly recommend a viewing especially if animation usually doesn't do it for you.
Director Patrick Osborne, who gave us the wonderful short film Feast a couple years ago, is back with his follow-up film Pearl. I do have to admit that while I loved the animation style in Feast I was not completely sold on its execution here. It's a small nitpick though, because Pearl is almost as cute as its predecessor, telling the story of a little girl and her musician father who travel the country and live out of their car. Until one day when dad decides he needs to grow up and be a little more of a stable influence in his kid's life. Just like Feast, this film is almost entirely shot from a single perspective - riding shotgun. From the front seat we get to view the life of this family and watch as Pearl grows up to become the version of her father he always wanted to be.
Ah yes, animated animals. My cinematic adorable kryptonite. I also saw Piper this year in front of Moana and I was squeeing with joy the entire time. There isn't much to say other than the animation is great, the story is simple and cute, and "piper" is - what's the word? - A-DOR-A-BLE!!! This film also resonates with me because I too had a traumatic experience at the beach when an ill-timed undertow nearly drowned me. It took a lot of courage and a firm but supportive hand to get me back in the water again but inside every little chick beats the heart of a lion.
The Oscar nominated Animated Short Film program begins today at the Ritz Bourse.