Oscar Nominated Short Animation

There’s no point in commenting on the big Oscar nominations unless you live in a place where all of the films have opened; to wit Los Angeles or New York. I’ve seen just three of the Best Picture nominees, of which Parasite was my favorite. (A Korean film has about as much chance of winning as a lone slice of pizza has of surviving a kegger.) I did see a program of Oscar-nominated short animation, plus several honorable mention entries. Here’s the dope:

One film is head and shoulders above the competition, but probably won’t win because it’s French. Mémorable (12 minutes, directed by Bruno Collet and Jean François Le Carre) is a Claymation production of an aging artist struggling with Alzheimer’s disease. If that sounds depressing, rest assured that it’s more poignant than heart-wrenching. The figures–the painter and his wife–are done with dappled Impressionist colors, akin to what was done in the stop-motion animated feature film Loving Vincent (2017). Trust me when I say you will find the film sad and beautiful. What better way to represent the long decline of an artist than to depict colorful drops dripping from his hands, rising into the air, and floating away? If you’ve never been around someone with dementia, lucky you. If you have, though, you will instantly relate to the dance between sublime moments of clarity followed by those in which they mind shatters like a thin crystal goblet knocked from its mental shelf. Though it’s just 12 minutes long, Mémorable is one of the better films I’ve seen this year.

My second favorite film was Sister (8 minutes, directed by Siqi Song). It’s another film that detours down a side road. This one uses boiled wool figures. We come in upon a young Chinese boy whose life as the apple of his parents’ eyes is disrupted by a new baby sister. The film is narrated by the boy as if he is sharing childhood memories about sibling rivalry. Then it dawns upon the viewer that under China’s one-child policy, there is no sister. Siqi Song gives us a unique perspective on loneliness.

If I had to pick the odds-on favorite for the Oscar, it would be Hair Love (7 minutes, directed by M. A. Cherry and Karen Rupert Toliver). It has the elements Hollywood likes: cartoon animation, made in the USA, and African American characters. (Hollywood loves to throw PC bones to small films to ‘prove’ how culturally sensitive it is.) It wouldn’t be a travesty if this film were to win, though. It’s a very cute take on a dad who needs to comb and style his daughter’s hair while mom is in the hospital. Call it little girl/really big hair. We’re talking hair that has a mind of its own. Discovering why mom is in the hospital is an ah-gee moment. Hair Love crosses the border between sweet and saccharine a bit too often for my taste, but it’s a crowd pleaser.

If Hair Love doesn’t win, Kitbull (9 minutes, directed by Rosana Sullivan and Kathryn Hendrickson) probably will. Not because it’s all that good, but because: Pixar. Let me just say that I find Pixar cartoons obvious, annoying, and about as substantive as cotton candy. This one is about the unlikely friendship between a stray kitten and an abused pitbull. Yeah, whatever.

Dcera/Daughter (15 minutes, directed by Daria Kascheera) is certainly the dark horse, unless you think the Academy has been dying to honor a Czech papier-mâché production. It’s emotionally heavy–a daughter holding vigil at her father’s deathbed and sifting memories of times in which she had been unkind to him. I found the storyline a bit fragmented, but mostly I found the papier-mâché figures grotesque.


To round out full-length theater releases of such short material, the Academy includes Honorable Mentions. Three of these could have easily replaced Kitbull or Dcera. You can catch several of these on YouTube, including the hysterical Maestro (French, 2 minutes, directed by Florian Babakian). A bluebird sits on a branch and just when you think things will be too-too precious, the bird lifts her wing and blasts out an aria. Cue the squirrel conductor and a marsh full of animals for the chorus. The abrupt ending is tone perfect.

On a more touching note, Henrietta Bulkowski (16 minutes, directed by Rachel Johnson) is a stop-action fairytale-like story of a young woman afflicted by kyphosis. Her hunchback is so severe that she can only look down and must use a mirror to see behind her. If only she could become a pilot, she could see the world normally. Know any airline that would allow someone like Henrietta fly? Instead she seeks to salvage a junkyard wreck under the nose of Danny (voiced by Chris Cooper), who guards the grounds. Danny has his own challenges and Henrietta Bulkowski is ultimately a nice take on disabilities. The ending is a bit odd, though, and tilts toward cliché.

The Irish film The Bird and the Whale (7 minutes, directed by Carol Freeman) also suffers from cliché, tinged with Pixar-like schmaltz. An undersized whale calf who cannot sing is rejected by his pod. He swims alone and comes upon a shipwreck whose only survivor is a caged bird. The two become friends and ultimately the whale finds his voice. What, are we 10-years-old?

French animators were busy last year. Leo Brunel and three others directed Hors Piste (6 minutes), which features the most inept ski patrol duo of all time. Even their names are funny: Salami and Parmesan. Their “rescue” of a backwoods skier adds insult to injury, which is doled out through broad but hilarious slapstick. It’s basically a frozen version of sappy TV fare like Baywatch and might have fared better had it been made 4 decades ago. Its look is very 1980s. Still, I confess to laughing aloud–even at the obvious pranks.

Rob Weir

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