Once again, Chase Branch has seen all of the Oscar-nominated short films and is here to give you an edge in your Oscar pool.
I’m a big advocate for the Oscar shorts. They’re a preview of tomorrow’s talents as they hone the skills that might make them the great feature-length filmmakers of the future. There’s an array of differing techniques on display, and it’s a treat to see how differences in approach can yield such interesting results. What are the advantages of voiceover? Long takes? Traditional vs computer animation? Reenactments vs living history? It’s a great experience.
Shorts can also make or break your chances in an Oscar pool, and I’m here to hopefully give you an advantage against the competition by breaking down all fifteen films and explaining which ones I expect to win*.
*No guarantee of success (1-for-3 in 2017, 1-for-3 in 2018)
Let’s talk shorts!
Bao – Domee Shi and Becky Neiman
Bao tells the story of a woman who finds that one of her homemade dumplings has magically come to life one day while cooking dinner. If there’s a growing sentiment that Pixar doesn’t actually make films for children, but rather for heartworn adults, Bao will do nothing to change that. The mother devotes her life to caring for her baby dumpling, but soon finds the distance between them growing as the aging dumpling desires a life of his own. It’s a movie about separation anxiety and the fear of an empty nest – clearly targeted at children, right? This is almost certainly the most widely seen of the animation nominees as it ran before screenings of The Incredibles 2. It’s a weird one, and it doesn’t represent Pixar’s best work. That said, it’s still likely to hit a lot of Oscar voters square in the heart.
Late Afternoon – Louise Bagnall and Nuria Gonzalez Blanco
An elderly woman battling dementia mentally slips between an afternoon with her caretaker and memories of the past in this animated short. The film’s simple line drawings give the project the feel of intimacy that the studio-backed projects just can’t replicate. Late Afternoon feels at once personal and like a labor of love, and its familial trappings only bolster the effect. This short covers familiar ground. Family always plays big in the shorts (and does again this year). Late Afternoon is good, but I’m not sure there’s much to put it above the rest of the competition.
Animal Behavior – Alison Snowden and David Fine
Snowden and Fine previously won this award for 1994’s Bob’s Birthday, and this year’s nomination is the duo’s third overall. Animal Behavior covers a group therapy meeting for an assortment of animals attempting to deal with their worst natural impulses. “The neuroses of psychotherapy-meets-pure animal behavior” definitely sounds like the kind of workshopped to death “clever” idea to come out of every creative writing class, but the film isn’t without its charms, from the leech with abandonment issues to the praying mantis who can’t help literally and figuratively biting her mates’ heads off. Visually Animal Behavior looks like the cross between a New Yorker comic and an old Squigglevision toon, so it’ll be up to the film’s story to connect with voters if Snowden and Fine are going to collect a second Oscar.
Weekends – Trevor Jiminez
While sharing a hand-drawn style with Late Afternoon and Animal Behavior, Weekends is the most visually impressive of the three traditionally-animated nominees. Jiminez’s personal story about splitting time between parents as a child of divorce is heartfelt and gorgeously animated with striking fantasy sequences punctuating the more mundane aspects of domestic childhood. We travel back and forth between mom’s suburban house filled with her college coursework and dad’s downtown apartment with takeout and kung fu movies and watch over the years as time changes them both. Weekends is completely devoid of dialogue, and it relies on its colors and images to tell the story, and I wonder if the lack of strong dramatic narrative will hurt its chances. That’s also what makes it timeless, and this would be my pick if I were an Academy member.
One Small Step – Andrew Chesworth and Bobby Pontillas
The last of our nominees is a love letter between animation studios as fledgling Chinese studio Taiko pays homage to their forerunner Pixar with this loving computer animated short about a girl longing to go to space, and the father who provides her with the support to achieve her dreams. The father’s support begins with making his daughter a pair of moon boots after they watch a rocket launch together, and the cobbling metaphor extends through the entirety of the film. It’s sweet without being saccharine, and it works much better than Pixar’s own weird dumpling entry. The emotional beats are very similar to Pixar’s Bao, and I wonder if they’ll cancel each other out.
2. One Small Step
3. Late Afternoon
5. Animal Behavior
What it Means: My heart is with Weekends, but it’s hard to pick against the industry titan that is Disney/Pixar. That said, Pixar shorts are hardly a shoo-in, having only won 4 of 14 nominations. Bao isn’t great, and the competition seems to be creeping up (and not just in the short film category). Still, I think Bao is going to win. The animation category is usually all about emotional feel as opposed to animation achievement, and thinking about their loving moms will make voters check Bao’s box on the ballot. If Weekends pulls off the upset, I’ll be very pleased to lose the category.