Released: January 31, 2020
Runtime: 83 minutes (5 short films)
Program: Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts for 2019
There’s a stretch of categories during every Oscar telecast 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 through separate feature-length programs at movie theaters nationwide. On Friday January 31, all three packages will be released. Check your local listings, most likely at your city’s independent theater.
Below is a look at the five films nominated for Best Animated Short Subject of 2019, ending with my prediction of Who Will Win.
Hair Love (U.S.A., 7 minutes)
dir. Matthew A. Cherry
From the team at Sony Pictures Animation, Hair Love is a super sweet father / daughter story about an African-American dad who does his best to tame and style the knotty, out-of-control afro on his cute little girl. Writer / Director Matthew A. Cherry undoubtedly pulls from his own experience, one he shares with humor and heart.
This 7-minute piece focuses strictly on the intimidating act of hair styling, but one could imagine a whole feature-length movie that compiles these kind of anecdotes, the type that inevitably define the specific daddy / daughter dynamic for African-Americans while still being universally resonant and meaningful.
Dcera (Daughter) (Czech Republic, 15 minutes)
dir. Daria Kashcheeva
The first of three stop-motion nominees, each of a different style (this one utilizes paper machete figurines), Dcera (Daughter) is as sad as Hair Love is heartwarming.
It tells the story of a woman who, as her father lays on his death bed, reflects on moments from her youth when she and her dad tried to connect with each other but never could.
The style and tone initially comes off as somewhat cold and distant, while some visual flourishes (though creative) are abstract, but the power of Dcera starts to sneak up on you, drawing us in with its dialogue-free poignancy. That “silent” approach also speaks to just how effectively director Daria Kashcheeva animates the intimate emotions of each of these characters.
And yet, even for as cathartic as this may be for someone who can relate, Dcera (Daughter) still packs a heartbreaking wallop.
Memorable (France, 12 minutes)
dir. Bruno Collet
A French entry that takes a very French approach — i.e. abstract and impressionistic — Memorable depicts the onset of dementia in an elderly man (most likely Alzheimer’s). The mental capacity of this aging painter begins to decline as his wife remains by his side through the decline.
Claymation is Memorable‘s stop motion style of choice, one that director Bruno Collet executes with meticulous artistry. It’s a textured, topographical aesthetic, one that seems to pull (fittingly) from painters ranging from Van Gogh to Picasso.
Sister (China/U.S.A., 8 minutes)
dir. Siqi Song
The last of the three stop motion entries (this one being three-dimensional felt), Sister is told by a brother who recalls growing up with his younger sibling. He recounts moments both good and bad, of happiness and frustration, but all through a affectionate lens.
It’s a bit of warm nostalgia with some inspired visuals, but it’s the ending that makes this one resonate, re-contextualizing everything we’ve seen in a very sobering conclusion.
Kitbull (U.S.A., 9 minutes)
dir. Rosana Sullivan
From Pixar’s new “SparkShorts” series on Disney+, this 2D animated piece tells the story of a stray street kitten who, after becoming trapped in a back yard, cautiously befriends the new pitbull that has taken up residence there.
The dog is playful, oblivious to the fear he strikes in the kitten, but slowly they begin to connect. This is set against the reality of the dog’s abusive owner, a sympathizing current that ultimately seals this unlikely friendship.
Along with the five nominees, this theatrical presentation also includes three non-nominated contenders to help fill out the feature-length program. Here are their titles, countries of origin, and run times:
- Henrietta Bulkowski (additional film, U.S.A.) – 16 minutes
- The Bird and the Whale (additional film, Ireland) – 6 minutes
- Hors Piste (additional film, France) – 5 minutes
And finally, my prediction for Who Will Win the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Subject:
Such a tough choice here, particularly considering how worthy each one is. Despite Dcera (Daughter) being my favorite, both artistically and emotionally, my hunch is that the sincere sentimental appeal of Hair Love will win the day. (And if it does win, expect director Matthew A. Cherry — a former NFL player — to pay homage to the retired professional athlete who won this category before him: Kobe Bryant.)