The 2017 Oscar nominated animated shorts are a very painful lot to see
by Martin Hafer
Last week, I went to the theater to see the live action short films nominated for the Oscar and it was an amazingly ordinary lot. I looked forward to the animated shorts this week because the films always leave me smiling….up until this year’s crop. Instead of feeling happy and uplifted, I felt like drowning myself in one of the theater’s toilets…they were that depressing and awful…with only one exception. It’s a shame as to me, enjoyability should be an important part of any animated film…and I hardly enjoyed or liked any of them. On top of that, the animation quality wasn’t even particularly good with many of them and it left me wondering who picked these shorts and what, exactly, was their the criteria they used for a film to receive a nomination! Seriously…I just left the theater confused and profoundly disappointed.
The story is very, very simple…too simple. An older man returns to the place of a tragedy back in the old west and he recalls exactly what happened. He then contemplates killing himself. He nearly does but the sight of an old pocket watch inexplicably saves him.
That animation for this film by Andrew Coates and Lou Hamou-Lhadj is probably the best quality about this short film. I am not saying it’s extraordinary…in fact it’s nice but nothing more. In fact this is my overall feeling….this is not a bad film by any stretch but I am confused why it was nominated. The story needed to be fleshed out more and it all seemed too short and too routine to have been included on this list of best animated shorts.
This short film played for me like a long television commercial for some car. The entire film was set within this one car and in it you see a man and his daughter age over two decades. It’s extremely sentimental and clearly is the type thing that is meant to tug at your heart. But there is a certain familiarity about sort of theme and the animation quality was severely lacking. The filmmakers chose to use cel shading (a popular style a decade or more ago in many video games) but it’s not even good cel shading. The overall effort looks like a nice student film and again I was left wondering how the short was nominated for such an important award. There’s absolutely nothing to dislike about the film but nothing to inspire or transcendent about it either.
I’ve already seen this one and it was shown before Finding Dory. I found that I enjoyed it much more than Finding Dory and the film is clever and cute. It also is clearly the best of the animated shorts this year. And, while I usually prefer to see the Oscar go to new filmmakers from small studios, Alan Barillaro and his team from Pixar deserve this award.
The film is told with no words and is the story of a very timid baby sandpiper. Unlike the adult birds, it is afraid of the water...particularly when it's hit by a big wave. So how will this adorable little bird overcome its shyness? See the film.
The best thing about Piper is the character design. The baby piper is adorable and is a great combination of a more realistic sort of CGI with a slightly cartoony character. Overall, the film was gorgeous and enjoyable...and rather sweet. Innovative, perhaps not…but it was clearly the best of the five nominees.
This is one of two Canadian nominees (the other being Pear Cider and Cigarettes). It’s sort of like a very, very dark modern fairy tale. It’s a strange tale about a little girl born with two very strange eyes. Through one, she can only see the past and with the other she can only see the future. So, for example, when she sees an adult, they appear in one eye as a small child and in the other incredibly elderly and feeble. As to what all this means, well I was left wondering this when the film ended.
As far as the animation goes, you’ll either love it or hate it and it strongly accentuated the darkness of the story. It certainly is NOT a pretty film to watch and many of the animations are a bit horrifying to watch. Like too many shorts this year, I did wonder why it was nominated as well as feeling a bit depressed after seeing it.
Pear Cider and Cigarettes—C-
Before they showed this film, there was an announcement that parents should take their children from the theater, as this one was not child-friendly, as it was laced with cursing, drug and alcohol use and sex. I just wish I’d left when they made that announcement.
This is by far the longest of the animated shorts and felt almost like watching a movie. The animation quality was only fair, though the music was a major plus—and they were able to cram many excellent tunes into the picture.
The story is about a guy named ‘Techno’ who is a free spirit…and always lives life on the edge. Robert was his lifelong friend, though you wonder why…why is there a connection between the two men? After all, Robert seems like a responsible guy and Techno is a selfish, self-indulgent guy who used people. He is a thief, alcoholic, drug abuser and ultimately destroys himself due to his own irresponsible actions. Most of the film centers on Robert traveling to China where Techno was buying a new liver (after all, he was rich and felt he deserved this donor liver)…all of which time Robert keeps watching over Techno like a hawk to keep him from drinking and smoking despite Techno being in the final stages of liver failure.
To say this story is unpleasant is like saying that Cookie Monster has a mild desire to eat cookies! With a completely unlikable guy as the subject of the story and no discernible reason to care about him or his friend, it made for hard viewing. As for the animation, it was splashy and interesting…though also extremely simple and almost felt like watching a slide show. I only give this one a C- because it’s obvious that Robert Valley put a lot of energy into making the short…unpleasant or not.
So, we have four films which didn’t even merit a B- rating up against a solid short from Pixar. Well, I can’t see there being a lot of suspense about these films and can pretty safely say Piper will take home the Oscar. But, before finishing, there still were three other films shown at the special showing—and, oddly, all three were far better than most of the Oscar nominees.
This is a simple story, but the CGI was really amazing and made it among the most beautiful of the shorts shown today. It’s a simple tale of humans landing on some desolate planet…and soon they are joined by some goofy looking aliens who just landed and claimed the planet as well. Instead of talking it out, it turns into a blood bath and soon a third ship lands.
Despite being a French film, the cartoon was in English and I assume they must have made multiple versions. As I said above, the story is very simple but was executed so well that it’s worth seeing…and it did something very few of the Oscar nominees did this year…it made me smile and was not oppressively gloomy.
The Head Vanishes—B
This Canadian story is a metaphor about dementia and is therefore a film children simply won’t understand or appreciate. When the film begins, you see a headless body at a train station. It soon finds the head and together they take a train…pursued by someone from the old folks home who insists that she needs to move there. However, the headless woman knows she can care for herself. Plus, if she moves there, they won’t let her take this pleasant little trip to the beach. Throughout her time on the train, this seemingly malevolent lady keeps following the beheaded lady.
Not surprisingly, in addition to being surreal, this is a sad film…but appropriately sad. I enjoyed it quite a bit but also understand that this is not a film for everyone. Beautifully animated…and wistfully sad.
Once Upon a Line—B+
Despite very simple animation, this American short was my second favorite—better than all but Piper. Using simple lines and a mostly monochromatic color scheme, it wonderfully tells the story about a very dull and ordinary man who lives a very routine life…until he meets a woman, drawn in pink lines. What follows is a lot of upheaval in his life and the ending is bittersweet…but worth the wait.
I was most impressed by this film because it achieved so much while appearing so simple and stark. Much more improbably, it makes you care a lot about these very simple drawings…and shows that Alicja Jasina is an amazingly talented artist and director.
So there you have it…the eight films shown for this year’s Oscar nominated short film series. Although I have loved seeing these films year after year, this is the first where I honestly say that you don’t need to attend this special showing if you aren’t inclined as they aren’t particularly enjoyable or out of the ordinary compared to past years. Sad…but that’s my honest opinion.
Blind Vaysha (Clip 1) from NFB/marketing on Vimeo.