2018 Oscar Nominated Short Films: Animation (2018)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
Always a great presentation and fantastic trip to the movies, you have to look fast because the short films are only in theaters for a few weeks, prior to the Oscars.
Oscar pools and Oscar party contests can be won and lost with the Short Film categories. Experiencing these nominees achieves both a better chance at victory and the opportunity to see some terrific and original films.
Casual movie watchers tend to watch high profile, big name star movies and convincing people to watch short films is a challenge. No matter how good these films are, a large number of people are not going to care much.
You are not a fan of a wide range of genres and themes. You never know what you are going to get with these short film presentations and that mix of styles can throw people off.
Every year, the ballot busters for Oscar pools and Oscar parties are the short film categories. Some advocate for their removal from the televised ceremony. Others seek them out e very February and celebrate the creativity that lies within each slate of nominees. I, for one, love uncovering these each year, as well as other short films which gain traction within the industry and hope to make it to the highest stage possible – the Academy Awards.
Each year, ShortsTV and Shorts International secure the rights to the 15 short film nominees in the Animation, Live Action, and Documentary Short Subject categories and release them as individual screening packages in theaters. The week before the Oscars, they shift them to digital platforms for people to buy and watch at home.
The Short Film packages have proven wildly popular. Each year, the box office numbers have grown and the mini-film festival idea has really caught hold with Oscarwatchers, and those genuinely curious about the potential next wave of storytellers and filmmakers out in the world.
Before these nominees received theatrical distribution in 2005, the short film nominees were nearly impossible to find. Now, we cannot envision an Oscar season without them playing at a theater near us.
And so, without any further ado, let's dive into this year’s nominees for Best Animated Short Film.
Dear Basketball | 5 Minutes
Directed by Glen Keane | Created by Kobe Bryant
Yes, you read that correctly. Retired NBA legend and superstar, Kobe Bryant, has landed an Oscar nomination as producer and co-creator of Dear Basketball, a visual incarnation of a poem he wrote, which coincided with his retirement from basketball in 2015.
Quite honestly, this is something of a baffling choice. The film features Bryant reciting his poem, published on the eve of his retirement announcement. Thoughtful, he reflects back on the love he had for the game of basketball from his youngest days. He takes us through what the game has meant to him and how playing the game through different phases of his life, and having the chance to play it on the biggest stage possible, has prepared him for life's biggest challenges.
Directed by Glen Keane, who was lead animator on numerous films from the Disney Renaissance of the 1980s and 1990s, presents a mixed approach of pencil/sketch-style drawings, rotoscoping, and animated real-life footage. On top of that, Dear Basketball is scored by no less than John Williams (!), who provides a swelling orchestral score to give weight and heft to Bryant’s words and Keane’s visuals.
Though really meaningful to Bryant and devout NBA fans, and a nice complement to his retirement celebration, Dear Basketball never really connects beyond those realms. For a category typically using animation and fantastical imagery to serve a deeper and more thoughtful purpose, Dear Basketball is nice enough, looks terrific, but seems to exist to serve the legacy of one man, rather than serve as inclusive to a wider audience.
Garden Party | 7 Minutes
Directed by Illogic Collective
A surprise twist awaits viewers and amphibians alike, as Garden Party adds a little bit here, and a little bit there, to a most curious story of a group of frogs who maneuver in and around a palatial mansion in the after-effects of a wild party.
The film is created by a conglomerate of French animation students known as Illogic Collective, and Garden Party was a project they made for graduation. Masterfully created, the film is simple and patient. We explore the landscape like the frogs and other animals do. The camera lingers and swings around, until we ultimately see more and more of what went down at this massive party from an indiscriminate number of days ago.
As clues start to increase, we ultimately learn what led to the amphibians having free rein over the estate, but the sound effects, flawless animation, and the clever use of dialogue-free storytelling makes this a Garden Party worth attending again and again.
Lou | 7 Minutes
Directed by Dave Mullins
Pixar is always is in the hunt for a win in this category and Lou might be the most widely seen of these nominees, after playing in front of Disney's Cars 3 over the summer.
Set on the playground at an elementary school, a recess finds common bully J.J. roughhousing, mocking, and being obnoxious to the other kids on the playground. When they are not looking, J.J. nabs other kids' toys and personal belongings and shoves them in his backpack.
Surprisingly, the lost and found box on the playground comes to life, and a friendly monster starts emptying J.J.'s backpack. After a chase ensues back and forth, a surprising discovery by the monster brings forth an opportunity to change behaviors for the better.
Lou is charming, takes a moment to establish its story, but ends up with a wonderful message about misunderstandings, inclusiveness, and kindness that we all kind of need to think about nowadays.
Negative Space | 5 Minutes
Directed by: Ru Kawahata, Max Porter
This one sneaks up on you. Negative Space is a quiet, contemplative, meticulously crafted stop-motion story about a son who, growing up, had a largely unspoken bond with his father around his father's frequent need to travel for business on a regular basis. Reflecting back on the fleeting moments he got to share with his father, we see a shared connection over packing a suitcase.
Of all the awards that short films can win over the course of a year, Negative Space has far and away exceeded the competition, which, on that merit, would make it the Oscar frontrunner. However, when picking the winner in this category, you have to remember the entire Academy membership votes for the short film recipients and Negative Space, with a somewhat melancholy look and feel, might be left behind when we look at some of the other more recognizable nominees in the category.
With that said, this is astonishing work, remarkably crafted and a movie I watched several times to really take in everything on screen. The attention to detail is exquisite and the optics are fascinating.
Negative Space's characters look as if they are made from paper, (paper clay was used for molding the characters), and the words shared have a somber, powerful cadence. There is remorse, respect, disappointment, and pride all swirling around these five minutes and a reminder that connections with parent and child, even with the most innocuous and silent of interactions, can leave a lasting and unshakable impact on us as adults.
Revolting Rhymes | 29 Minutes
Directed by: Jan Lachauer, Jacob Schuh, Bin-Han To
The rules can prove nebulous in these short film categories. In addition to a retirement ceremony video making the cut, so does Part 1 of a BBC television special, which aired in December 2016.
Revolting Rhymes, in both volumes, did play numerous film festivals in the United States last year and picked up awards along the way. On top of that, the film is a lot of fun, embracing Roald Dahl's re-imagining of classic fairy tales and sprinkling British humor on top of all of it.
As a young girl (Rose Leslie) encounters the Big Bad Wolf (Dominic West) at a restaurant, she is waiting a few minutes before she is babysitting across the street. Spying a book on Little Red Riding Hood, the Wolf proceeds to blend together the story of Red, Snow White, and even the Three Little Pigs get involved.
This feels appropriately made-for-television, so some of the wonder of witnessing something new and perhaps groundbreaking gives way to something more traditional. With that said, the animation is impeccable and the work of West as the Wolf is perfectly delivered. At 29 minutes, Revolting Rhymes is more than three times as long as its competitors, and, when compared to the other nominees, it feels long in the tooth.
But it is a comfortable watch and thoroughly entertaining, for sure a definite crowd-pleaser for anyone who spends the time with it.
Dear Basketball is the nominee that seems out of place here, especially when the wonderful viral gem In a Heartbeat didn't make it to the shortlist. Negative Space is thoughtful and innovative, Garden Party is compelling with a eye-raising twist tossed in for a great payoff, Lou is Pixar doing what they do best, and Revolting Rhymes feels like the primetime television special it was originally designed to be.
CAST & CREW
This Animation slate will also feature other critically-acclaimed Animated Short Films from 2017.
Directors: Glen Keane (Dear Basketball), Illogic Collective (Garden Party), Dave Mullins (Lou), Ru Kawahata and Max Porter (Negative Space), Jan Lachauer, Jacob Schuh and Bin-Han To (Revolting Rhymes)
Release Date: February 9, 2018, with VOD availability on February 27, 2018