A look at the Oscar-nominated animated shorts for 2015.

by Martin Hafer

Each year during the last decade or so, a select number of movie theaters across America have hosted special showings of the various short films nominated for Oscars.  The Best Animated Shorts show is always a bit different, as these nominees tend to be shorter in length than the other categories (Live Action and Documentary Shorts).  Because of this, following the presentation of the Oscar-nominees, a set of commended films are shown.  The commended ones were nearly good enough to receive the Oscar nomination–and sometimes I have actually enjoyed many of these more than the nominees themselves. In this article we’ll take a look at the nominees.

Me and My Moulton: Grade: A-

Me and My Moulton is a joint Norwegian/Canadian production by Torill Kove.  Kove previously won in this category with The Danish Poet and was also nominated for My Grandmother Ironed the King’s Shirts.  Because of this, she might just be the favorite to repeat in this category.  Like the previous films, the animation itself is only fair, but the story abounds with a wonderful sense of humor and is exceptionally sweet.  It consists of the recollections of a little girl, her life and is filled with charm.  I only rated it an A- due to the quality of the animation.

Feast: Grade: B+

Feast is one of the best looking shorts here. Directed by Patrick Osborne, Feast is animated using the unusual cel-shaded technique. This sort of animation was very popular with video games a decade ago and it’s rarely seen today.  This short accompanied Big Hero 6, so it’s been the most widely seen of all the Oscar nominees.  It’s a cute little story but it also seemed rather safe and conventional–something that I don’t particularly expect from an Oscar-winner.  Because it’s been so widely seen and pulls at your heart, it’s a very likely choice to win the award but is my least favorite of the nominees.

The Bigger Picture: Grade: A-

The Bigger Picture is a very depressing short from Daisy Jacobs and Christopher Hees.  It’s not depressing just for the sake of it but has something to say about life, death and responsibilities towards elderly parents.  In particular, one son is seen as successful though he seems to pay his dying mother much attention.  The underemployed brother is seen as a bit of a failure, though he selflessly cares for her for many years.  Interestingly, the animation is done with paint, which is a very labor-intensive process.  It’s good, though this sort of work doesn’t come close to the greatest of the animators using paint, Aleksandr Petrov.  Sadly, since Petrov’s last nominated film, My Love, he’s been unable to secure funding for more work.  Had you not known of Petrov’s work, The Bigger Picture would seem better.  I did appreciate the film–especially the story.

A Single Life: Grade: A-

A Single Life is the most enjoyable of the shorts by far.  It’s a weird story about a cutely animated girl whose record player acts much like a time machine.  You’ll really have to see this one for yourself to understand what I mean.  However, at only 2 minutes in length, it’s hard to imagine it taking the Oscar.  Fortunately, the ending is quite dark and quite funny and I heard many in the audience laugh during this film.  I think this Dutch offering by Marieke Blaauw, Joris Oprins and Job Roggeveen has little chance of winning, but it did make me laugh.  I certainly would love to see more from these folks, as they have a real knack for CGI and humor.

The Dam Keeper: Grade: A+

The Dam Keeper is my choice for the best of the animated shorts and I think the quality difference between this and the rest of the films is pretty obvious.  Like The Bigger Picture, this one has the look of a painting–which is quite unusual for an animated film.  But the paintings are of a much higher quality and there is amazing artistry that set this one apart—it just looks great.  While the style isn’t quite as lush as Petrov’s (but whose is?!), it is gorgeous, and the filmmakers, Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi,  used over 8000 paintings to make the film.  The story is very sentimental and sweet–and not in anyway cloying or over the top.  It left me feeling satisfied. I love the website for the film. It’s nearly as creative as the film itself.

Overall, you’ve got five excellent films and I am certainly pulling for The Dam Keeper.  I want it to win but also realize that sometimes the film that wins often seems to come from the biggest studios.  However, Tsunami and Kondo are both very experienced and have worked on many top animated films.  Here they are striking out on their own, without the finances you’d find with a ‘big’ film.  The studios don’t need the Oscar–but such an award could really do a lot to help a poor young filmmaker to make their mark and get the opportunity to do bigger projects.

If you’ve seen these films, feel free to let me know what you think.  The shorts programs will continue for the next two weeks–so check with the program’s website.