Less odd a collection than in previous years, the 2017 Oscar-nominated Animated Shorts are, nonetheless, all over the place thematically, artistically, and in the audience they cater to. The animated shorts nominee formula (one beautifully made film, one from Disney/Pixar, and three that are very good, but just “off” enough to have no shot of winning) holds true for the most part. However, I found this group to be less saccharin than usual, which made for more interesting viewing. Although in the theatrical release of the nominees, they added two “Highly Commended” shorts, one of which was so extraordinary that you were left wondering how it was not nominated over the weakest of the nommed five.
And, for the eighth consecutive year, there is nothing to challenge the greatest animated short film of the last twenty years, 2008’s winner, “La Maison en Petits Cubes“. One day…
A truly varied bunch…here are your 2017 nominees…
“Blind Vaysha” (Canada)
Directed by Theodore Ushev
An examination on the repercussions of failing to live in the present, this Canadian film is made exclusively with stop-motion wood-cuttings, which provides more than a little wonder. To add to the instant magnetism, the narrated story begins with a fabulous setup. Alas, it runs out of gas soon thereafter, finishing with the narrator literally telling you the moral of the story, which feels like both a cop-out and a real disappointment. Granted, it is based on a short story by Bulgarian author/artist Georgi Gospodinov, so some preaching can be forgiven, but I had hoped for more of a payoff. Nonetheless, I believe this is the first nominated short I’ve seen using this visual technique
“Borrowed Time” (USA)
Directed by Andrew Coats & Lou Hamou-Lhadj
My favorite of the bunch (which means it has no shot), is simply stunning, direct, emotional and provides a thrilling three-act structure in six minutes with not one word of dialogue. Concerned with the power of regret during the final chapters of a long life, this visually arresting film is the epitome of what a short can be. The closest thing to a perfect animated short film as I’ve seen in the last few years, I would hope the voters see the brilliance in it. Alas, as ever, I fear Pixar will steal it’s thunder come envelope time. Hope I’m wrong, and I hope you have the chance to see it in the near future if you choose to miss the theatrical release at your theater.
“Pear Cider and Cigarettes” (Canada/UK)
Directed by Robert Valley
Created and written by graphic novelist, Robert Valley, from a story he wrote/drew for Massive Swerve magazine, this is easily the most adventurous entry with a running time of thirty-six minutes (in comparison, none of the other nominees last more than seven). It is also, as you might expect from a graphic novel, the most adult-themed. In fact, in spite of the long warning to remove children from the theater before it began, a parent decided the kids accompanying her would be just fine, only to have them leave with much hubbub after just three minutes. Embarassed children notwithstanding, this highly stylized film is quite the accomplishment. However, I found it pretty dull after the first act and certainly not worthy of its length. That the author acted as his own narrator didn’t help matters. He has a nice enough voice, but a pro might have given it enough intensity to carry us through in spite of repeated imagery throughout and a story that meanders instead of moves. I think the voters will find it as dull as I did, and thus, will pass on it as their winner.
Directed by Patrick Osborne
Easily the least successful of the nominees, “Pearl” just felt so millennial to me in the way it romanticizes the rags/busker to riches/Grammy winner fairy tale – all in the guise of a family epic. Its animation also seemed really simple and unfinished to me…resembling the 3D graphics from the Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing” video of a bygone era. HOWEVER, after some research, I have discovered that the short was intended as a Google 360 experiment, which explains it’s flatness on a big screen. I can only guess that the nominating committee experienced it in its original format which might explain its inclusion. However, Academy voters will more likely experience it as I did…in the theater which should preclude it from any chance of winning. But even after watching it in its intended form (which you can here), I still had no emotional investment in these characters at all, and the song was outlandishly Ed Sheeran-esque.
In its place, the nominating committee should have included the incredible French short, entitled “The Head Vanishes”, from director Frank Dion, which is also on the bill if you see these in the theater.
Directed by Alan Barillaro
While, as a rule, I hate that Pixar shorts are included in the mix (since they have the entire force of Disney behind them, as opposed to the few craftsman who create the other nominees each year), “Piper” really is a beautiful, and often delightful little film. Originally released as the warmup act for “Finding Dory”, it is a spectacular feat of animation and has just the right amount of humor, character development and empathy for its subjects. It also doesn’t hurt that Adrian Belew composed the music for it. Pretty sure this will win. And if it does, it will be MUCH more deserving than Pixar’s last win, the cloying and annoying “Feast” which beat out the brilliant “The Bigger Picture” in 2015.
Nonetheless, for my money, “Borrowed Time” was the standout of these five.
Written on 2/13/2017