Friday, February 26, 2016

OVP: Animated Short Film (2015)

OVP: Best Animated Short Film (2015)

The Nominees Were...

Gabriel Osario and Pato Escala, Bear Story
Richard Williams and Imogen Sutton, Prologue
Sanjay Patel and Nicole Grindle, Sanjay's Super Team
Konstantin Bronzit, We Can't Live Without Cosmos
Don Hertzfeldt, World of Tomorrow

My Thoughts: A while back we did the Documentary Short films that were nominated this year for the Academy Award, and I figured that while it's still a tad touch-and-go whether or not I'll get to the Live Action Short films before the ceremony (I haven't missed it in a decade, but real life has been kicking my butt lately), I wanted to make sure and get to the animated films before Oscar bestows his own personal trophies.

The animated films this year are collectively shorter than you'd expect, with the major exception of World of Tomorrow, which has the gorgeous photo up-top (anyone else still all about the orange-and-blue?).  I went to these films with my mom, and will admit first-off that we both left this particular film with one of those "are we not smart enough to have understood that?" sort of reactions.  The film is about a woman visiting herself in a previous body through means of current technology.  As the story unfolds, we learn that the world has largely descended into chaos, with this girl (Emily) eventually becoming something of a mechanical android, falling in love with non-human objects and largely having a pointless, continual existence.  The film's animation is interesting, with backdrops that feel like they are framed by Roger Deakins but stick figures from your first grade notebook as the actual characters and I actually quite liked the idea of the film, but there was something lacking.  I don't know if it was a resolution to the problem or a little bit more of a focus on the anguish of the past and futility in trying to change it, but the script missed the bucket in that regard.  This isn't a bad movie, but there's clearly some missing pieces that kept me from loving it and its grand-scale (but missed) ambitions.

Bear Story, on the other hand, succeeded in finding that sweet spot.  The film's animation isn't really my cup of tea (I thought it was cool to go with animatronic bears, but in the end I just wasn't wild about the color palette, which seems done-to-death in these animated shorts).  That being said, the story itself is heartbreakingly beautiful, about a bear who lost his wife and child, and then spends his days as a street performer, giving them the happy ending they never had in real life.  It's weirdly bittersweet, a wonderful little reminder of how short films can get across one specific emotion so well.  I think a little more distinction that his story-box was in fact fiction may have made the lines a bit clearer (I could see some people misinterpreting the ending), but overall I really enjoyed this one, even if the animation wasn't always to my liking.

Sanjay's Super Team is the rare short film you've all already seen.  The movie, this year's entry from Pixar, actually played in front of The Good Dinosaur so this might be a repeat if you go and see the film in theaters.  The film follows Sanjay as he tries to bond with his dad over their shared Hindu religion, except Sanjay just wants to celebrate his cartoon heroes.  The movie goes into an extended fantasy sequence where these heroes are replaced with Vishnu, Durga, and Hanuman, and it ends with Sanjay finding a way for he and his father to bond over their shared interests.  It's classic Pixar, and aside from a great color combination (pink/blue/green is one of those rare cinematic looks that hasn't really been done that much), it's intensely watchable-I remember thinking it was actually better than The Good Dinosaur when it came out.  I am usually relatively biased to the Pixar universe in terms of short films (they're even more consistent there than in their feature length films), but this is a delight from start to finish.

The Russian entry We Can't Live Without Cosmos may be the most disarming of the films.  With an animation style that approaches something more that you would see in a Sunday funnies page rather than Oscar-winning field, it actually has a relatively compelling story.  The film follows two men (brothers, friends, lovers?-who can say, though I suspect that there are enough hints at the latter to make this a braver entry than it seems coming out of the homophobic land of Putin), who are training for the space program in Russia, and then eventually are separated by the hand of fate.  The animation is rudimentary and I don't feel like it's particularly special, or at least I didn't when I first saw it, but it moves me still so there's clearly something there.

The weakest entry by far is the violent Prologue.  The violence, watching naked men castrate each other (no, really, that's an actual scene in this incredibly brief Oscar entry), is pretty much the only calling card here.  The film lacks the emotional clarity of something like World of Tomorrow, the whimsy of Sanjay, and the depth of Bear Story, and it's kind of hard to imagine that this was chosen over pretty much any other film, quite frankly.  If there was a deeper meaning (other than man is violent), it was lost on me, but I'm not going to try this film again to see what it is.

Other Precursor Contenders: The Academy releases a shortlist of the films eligible for this award so we know that Carface, If I Was God..., Love in the Time of March Madness (I wish I had been able to see that one), An Object at Rest, and My Home were all relatively close to being on this list.  The BAFTA Awards oddly doubled-up with a nomination here (they usually don't), with Prologue and Manomen losing out to Edward.
Films I Would Have Nominated: Sadly they don't put short films before films with regularity anymore (don't you wish they did?) and so I don't get to see enough nominees to complain.
Oscar’s Choice: Oscar went with the charming Bear Story over Pixar's Sanjay and the inventive World of Tomorrow.
My Choice: It may be a bit pedantic to go there, but I'm picking Sanjay, the film I actually liked the most.  Bear Story's incredibly moving story comes next, followed by World of Tomorrow (which I have a feeling will grow in stature as the years flow by but I left it relatively cold), Cosmos, and Prologue way in the back.

Those are my thoughts-what are yours?  Did you see these films, and if so, who did you cheer for?  Share in the comments!

Also in 2015: Documentary Short

Past Animated Short Film Contests: 20122013

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