2019 Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts

It is often the case that the animated shorts are among the more interesting Oscar nominations. I wouldn't say that's the case this year, but there are certainly a few that deserve to be seen. The Academy has made a big deal out of the fact that there are more Asians, Asian Americans, and women represented. It might want to pay more attention to quality rather than ticking PC boxes; none of the 2019 films are path breaking.

As is customary, the five nominees are packaged with a few also-rans for theater release. If you poke about you can also see most of them online. My order of preference:

Late Afternoon, Directed by Louise Bagnall, 10 minutes (Ireland)

My favorite is this poignant little film from Ireland. An old woman—who bears the director's first name of Louise, though Bagnall is not elderly—sits in an arm chair as her daughter wraps her belongings for what we infer is a move to assisted living. As she sips a cup of tea, her biscuit breaks off and falls into the cup. This is the device through which Louise accesses youthful memories and flies through time, her red tresses flowing behind her. Bagnall uses watercolor imagery and leading lines to take us back and forward chronologically. Her film is sweet, poignant, and moving. ★★★★

Animal Behaviour, Directed by David Fine, Alison Snowden, 14 minutes (Canada)

Objectively speaking, the device of animals in a therapy session has been done before—many times. Nor is the straight cartoon animation likely to impress Oscar voters. That said, this one is the most fun of all the nominees. The shrink in command of this gaggle of emotionally wrought critters is Dr. Clement, a pit bull in touch with his inner Shih Tzu. All is fine until the session is forced to confront the gorilla in the room. Delightful chaos ensues. ★★★ ½

One Small Step, Directed by Andrew Chesworth, Bobby Ponitllas, 8 minutes (US/China)

This one is also sweet, though most of the buzz has been over the fact that it's thought to be the first American/Chinese joint animated venture. Luna is an Asian girl being raised by a single-parent dad. She dreams of being an astronaut; her cobbler father is content to play shoemaker to she who years for the stars. Do dreams come true? Exactly as we would have them play out? This one also tugs at the heart strings.★★★

Weekends, Directed by Trevor Jimenez, 16 minutes, (USA/Canada)

This is probably the dark horse candidate to win as it sports the most creative use of animation: shake effects applied to sketchy drawings that evoke atmosphere rather than aiming for realism. It features a little boy from a broken family who shuffles back and forth between his mother and his samurai-loving father. He is also a vivid dreamer. This one has attracted notice because several of its reviewers haven't done their homework and have tried to connect it to US policies on immigrants. Not only is that a stretch, it ignores the fact that the "space needle" seen in backdrops is from Toronto, not Seattle. Canadians have appropriately cried foul over such ethnocentric assumptions. ★★★

Bao, Directed by Domee Shi, 8 minutes, (USA)

Here's the odds-on favorite to win the Oscar and it's a piece of sentimental rubbish! Why is it favored? Two words: Disney/Pixar. An empty nester woman makes the film's namesake steamed dumpling, when one of them pops to life. She raises the little bao to fill the space in her heart vacated by her absent son. Oh, for Pete's sake! What a bunch of essentialist twaddle. Not to mention that we've seen this sort of dough figure (pun intended) animation from Pixar over and over and over. You might also recognize that this film is a boring and insipid spin on Pinocchio. Hand me the Pepto-Bismol.


Wishing Box, Directed by Wenli Zhang, 6 minutes (USA)

Speaking of derivative, Wishing Box is a swashbuckling take on King Midas. A disappointed pirate opens a treasure chest and finds it empty. His pet monkey, however, manages to pull all manner of things from the box, especially bananas. If only the pirate could get the monkey to shift his focus from fruit to doubloons…  This is slight, but funny enough to keep your interest. (It is technically a 2017 film.) ★★★

Tweet-Tweet, Directed by Zhanna Bekmambetova, 11 minutes, (Russia)

Call this one the we-wuz-robbed pick. This Russian film has a precious animated sparrow as its only recognizable character, but more is afoot (another pun) than cuddly cuteness. Our little bird on a clothesline sees only pins, snow, and a pair of legs and shoes that balance upon the rope. Those legs and feet change and we soon learn that this is not the sort of rope we had imagined. Had this been a nominee, it would have been my choice as best in show. Note: The director's father, Timur, is also a noted name in film. ★★★★

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