(Some material in the final short film is not suitable for children under 17. A warning during the presentation will appear before it is shown.)
During every Oscar ceremony, there’s a stretch of categories with lists of films that virtually no one has ever even heard of, let alone seen: the shorts.
Divided into three competitive groups – Animated, Live Action, and Documentary – the Academy Award nominated shorts can make-or-break a person’s Oscar pool ballot.
Thankfully, for several years now, the slate of nominated shorts have been made available in separate feature-length programs to movie theaters nationwide. This year, many theaters (like Circle Cinema in my city of Tulsa) have debuted one program per week leading up to the Oscars.
Below is my look at the five films nominated for Best Animated Short Subject, ending with my prediction of Who Will Win.
Borrowed Time (USA, 7 minutes)
dirs. Andrew Coats & Lou Hamou-Lhadj
This was an independent piece made by a duo of Pixar animators on their own free time (and with Master Lasseter’s blessing), and it shows. It looks and feels like a Pixar movie – but Rated PG-13 (for a brief instance of off-screen gun violence, complete with blood splatter, and a despairing mood). It’s a Western about an old, weary sheriff who reflects on a tragic incident from his early days as a lawman. Beautifully animated and poignantly told, Borrowed Time takes the Pixar tone and turns it darker…but in a meaningful, not provocative, way.
Blind Vaysha (Canada, 8 minutes)
dir. Theodore Ushev
Employing Picasso-style characters set against Van Gogh-style landscapes, Blind Vaysha is a somber melancholic fable about a girl with a unique eyesight problem: one eye can only see the past, and the other can only see the future. Thematically, this clever (and visually inspired) approach helps us to consider the anxieties many people create for themselves when they’re blind to, or unable to be happy in, the present.
Pearl (USA, 6 minutes)
dir. Patrick Osborne
Utilizing Virtual Reality technology, Pearl is a work of 360-degree animation. Produced by Google, it enables viewers who are wearing VR gear to look around the world of the story from all angles, as if they’re really there in that animated world themselves. (In the theatrical presentation, however, this will be screened in a traditionally edited visual narrative, with the director/editor choosing the shots for you.)
With a distinct visual style by the director who won the Oscar for Disney’s short Feast in 2014, Pearl is the story of a folk singer who travels the country with his young daughter as he makes a living through his music. Their car is their home. But change occurs as the girl grows, ages, and begins to follow in her father’s footsteps. The whole narrative is told through a folk song, too, which is a perfect construct. Pearl really works (whether in 2D or VR) because its heart is found in the sentiment of the Daddy/Daughter dynamic, and it taps into the universal spirit of chasing dreams.
(Note: for those with access to VR gear, the actual 360 version of Pearl can be found here on YouTube.)
Piper (USA, 6 minutes)
dir. Alan Barillaro
Given that this played before Pixar’s Finding Dory (the biggest blockbuster of the summer), Piper is the most widely-seen nominee of the shorts and, quite possibly, of any category. The wizards of 3D-style have made the most photo-real animation to date. This wordless cinematic warm-fuzzy is about a baby bird that slowly gains courage to face the ocean tides of a beach where the other birds find their food. Clearly an R&D project for Pixar, Piper is cute and adorable as well, because it’s also rendered with that team’s requisite heart.
Pear Cider and Cigarettes (Canada & UK, 35 minutes)
dir. Robert Valley
The one bad egg of the bunch, this final entry in the program will garner walkouts even by people who stick around after seeing the Adult Content warning. It’s an interminable half-hour-plus of noir-ish comic book style animation that, while superbly conceived and designed, is a real chore to sit though. For the entire time, a storyteller recounts the life of a risk-taking alcoholic in dire need of a liver transplant. Pear Cider and Cigarettes is as abrasive and dull as it sounds, becoming redundant after about two minutes yet never shifting gears for the remaining thirty.
Along with the five nominees, this theatrical presentation also includes three non-nominated contenders to help fill out the feature-length program. They will all play before Pear Cider and Cigarettes. They were not made available for review, but here are their titles and run times:
- The Head Vanishes (additional film) – 9 minutes
- Asteria (additional film) – 5 minutes
- Once Upon a Line (additional film) – 7 minutes
And finally, my prediction for Who Will Win the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Subject:
While there are three other very worthy contenders, including that Pixar behemoth that amazingly hasn’t won this category since 2002’s For The Birds, I think the Academy gives its prize to Google’s Pearl because it’s a sweet, sentimental story that – in both technology and form – pushes the medium forward. This is Next Level stuff.