by Carrie Specht
The Academy Award nominated shorts are currently playing in select theaters, and whether you’re a fan of the medium or not (though I don’t know anyone who isn’t) you’ll find that this year’s nominees are well worth the price of a feature film. In fact, they’re so good you’re likely to enjoy them more than anything else currently playing in the multiplexes. Furthermore, you’re going to have a bit of a hard time making a pick for your office Oscar pool. There is a standout among the bunch, but there’s definitely a dark horse too that could pull off a surprise upset. So, to be safe I think you better see them all and judge for yourself.
If you’ve been involved with any kind of social media over the past few weeks then you already know that Disney’s The Paperman is the odds on favorite to nab the golden statuette come February 24. It’s a gorgeous, traditionally animated tale of boy-meets-girl told without any dialogue what so ever in a beautifully depicted sepia tone. The film evokes a nostalgic feel heightened by its period setting and use of multiple planes of focus. You know, just as if you were watching a movie shot on actual film stock. Thus avoiding the error made by most early digital films and many animated ones: that of having everything in focus. There is a wonderful tangible quality of reality in The Paperman that I just haven’t seen in an animated film in a very long time if ever. This is the safe bet for winner.
Unlike Maggie Simpson in the Longest Daycare. I had very high hopes for this one given its origin, its main character and the title’s allusion to one of my favorite war films. However, I was sadly disappointed. The short just doesn’t have the feel of either the popular TV show from which it spawns or the movie it tries (I think) to emulate. Which is particularly disappointing given all the prestigious names (Matt Groening, James L. Brooks, Hans Zimmer) involved with the production. With this kind of pedigree you expect to have at least something that would stand up to being a good episode for the weekly show, but not so. I guess it was a case of too many cooks or something because these talents just don’t play on the screen. And the animation itself is certainly nothing new given that The Simpsons has dominated the television airwaves for more than twenty years. It’s not that the short is bad, not at all. It’s just that Maggie Simpson in the Longest Daycare has the least chance of winning the coveted award. You’ll enjoy seeing it, especially on a big screen. I just wouldn’t lay any bes for it to win, place or show. Not with these other strong entries.
The same can be said of Fresh Guacamole. Yes, this cleverly devised short uses stop motion and claymation to create the most unique bowl of dip you’ve ever seen remaining entertaining from start to finish. But there’s no real story here. It’s kind of a case of art for arts sake. No doubt there will be some that favor it for that very reason, and I’m very pleased that it demonstrates a form of animation highly underrated by the common man. However, when you’re up against a film like The Paperman you have to bring more to the table than the impressive visual gymnastics demonstrated here. Fresh Guacamole certainly deserves its nomination and will likely be the film you’re thinking about most as you leave the theater, but it will not take the Oscar. Not that that will hurt the filmmakers. I’m sure we’ll be seeing more from them at future award ceremonies, and they will likely be taking home an Oscar of their own someday. Just not this year.
Now I get to the two possibilities for an Oscar upset. First there’s Head Over Heals. An interesting story of an elderly couple who for some unexplained reason occupy the same space but live in separate gravitational pulls. It’s a complicated concept that is very well demonstrated in a brief amount of time. Which is notable since, like all the other nominees in the animated short category this year, there is no dialogue. That’s right. Not a word is spoken to explain anything. Nor is it needed. Although it might be nice to have some questions answered the through line of the story is clear and delightfully touching. Stop motion is the animation form of coice, but more like a puppetry style so it stands out from Fresh Guacamole. Another compelling aspect to the short is the fact that it is a student film made by a young man in the UK who is currently forming his own production company. Very likely he will be following in the steps of Nick Park, so there’s no doubt we will be seeing the name Timothy Reckart again. But will we see it on a golden statue this year? I say maybe. Not the strongest choice, but maybe.
And then there is Adam and Dog. It’s picturesque backgrounds are mixed with a somewhat rougher style for the characters of a man and his dog. I should say the first man and the first dog. This short is longer than the others and certainly paces itself when revealing its story, but it’s worth it. It too is wordless, but clearly offers up a reason why man’s best friend is a dog. As lush as it is rough around the edges the differences highlight the opposites between the garden of eden and the flaws of man. Given the beauty of the artistry demonstrated here there will be those who’ll pick Adam and Dog as the favorite. And that very well may be. However, I think not.
Given the popularity of the style of animation used in The Paperman, its graceful beauty, its stylish presentation and accessibility of its universal story I think it’s the one to beat. But by all means I encourage you to see for yourself. After all, you’re probably going to see all of the feature film nominations. Why not the animated shorts too? Especially if you have the opportunity. It might very well be the best day you spend at the movies so far this year. And most importantly you’ll have an upper hand in your Oscar pool. You can thank me later.