During every Oscar ceremony, there’s a stretch of categories with nominees 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 a look at the five films nominated for Best Animated Short Subject, ending with my prediction of Who Will Win.
Dear Basketball (USA, 5 minutes)
dir. Glen Keane
On November 29, 2015, NBA legend Kobe Bryant announced his retirement from basketball in a very unique and personal way: he wrote a letter. It wasn’t to the public, to his city of Los Angeles, or to his team. It was to to his sport, Basketball.
Now, legendary animation director Glen Keane (a top Disney animator throughout the 1980s and 90s) has directed this animated short that puts visuals to Bryant’s ode to sport. Another film legend added the sweeping music score: John Williams, composer of iconic themes from Star Wars, Jaws, Indiana Jones, and much more.
The final result feels a tad self-promotional (it’s produced by Bryant’s nascent Kobe Studios) but, as a single piece, it works as sincerely rendered sentiment.
Negative Space (France, 5 minutes)
dirs. Max Porter and Ru Kuwahata
Fathers and sons connect over a wide variety of things: cars, sports, fishing, and favorite pastimes. In Negative Space, they connect over the art of packing a suitcase.
Told in reflection by the grown son, this stop-motion piece from France is a unique and heartfelt bit of nostalgia (not to mention visually inventive) that ends up packing a surprising emotional punch.
Lou (USA, 7 minutes)
dirs. Dave Mullins and Dana Murray
This year’s Pixar entry; it played in front of that studio’s summer feature release Cars 3. Directors Dave Mullins and Dana Murray have concocted a clever premise: the motley assortment of items in grade school’s lost and found box anthropomorphize into a sentient being to fend off a playground bully.
As inspired in its execution as in its concept, Lou builds toward a sweet and warm finish that delivers the kind of feels you expect from Pixar.
Revolting Rhymes (U.K., 29 minutes)
dirs. Jakob Schuh and Jan Lachauer
At a half-hour, this is the longest film of the bunch. It should’ve been half that.
Based on a story by children’s novelist Roald Dahl, Revolting Rhymes mashes together characters from three different fairy tales – Snow White, Red Riding Hood, and The Three Little Pigs – into a semi-dark tale of female empowerment (with subtle hints of a romantic spark between Snow and Red).
Subverting classic fairy tales has become a bit of a tired convention. This doesn’t offer anything fresh to that subgenre, and then belabors that convention for thirty minutes.
Garden Party (France, 7 minutes)
dirs. Victor Caire and Gabriel Grapperon
Despite a meandering narrative about four-legged amphibians having their way around a vacant upscale home, Garden Party keeps our attention with a spectacular level of visual quality that’s borderline unprecedented. Boasting a photo real detail that’s legitimately convincing, what makes this even more stunning is that it was produced by six French animation students for their graduation project. A very impressive calling card.
Along with the five nominees, this theatrical presentation also includes three non-nominated contenders to help fill out the feature-length program. They were not made available for review, but here are their titles and run times:
- Lost Property Office (additional film) – 10 minutes
- Coin Operated (additional film) – 5 minutes
- Achoo (additional film) – 15 minutes
And finally, my prediction for Who Will Win the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Subject:
I’m voting with my heart here, although the artistic merits of Negative Space are entirely worthy as well. Pixar’s Lou is a major contender because, well, it’s Pixar, and you can’t count out the achievement of Garden Party. Also, some may be swayed by the big names in Dear Basketball (although more could be just as turned off, not wanting to give Kobe Bryant an Oscar his first time out). In the end, I’m guessing voters will, like me, go with their hearts too.