2019 Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts
For AshevilleMovies.com’s dialogue about the 2019 Oscar-Nominated Live Action Short Films, click here.
Bruce Steele: There's much to enjoy in this year's selection of animated short films nominated for the Academy Award, but none of them leaps up and shouts "I'm the winner!" as has been the case in some previous years. Are there any you'd especially like viewers to know a little about before they head to the Grail Moviehouse to see the whole program?
Edwin Arnaudin: I think it’s a weaker overall slate than the one we saw in 2018, but I’m especially taken with “Animal Behaviour,” a hilarious Canadian export in which troubled anthropomorphized critters attempt to work through their issues in a support group. The animation quality is your basic, borderline TV-level style, but it’s a fine conduit for the barrage of jokes that have fun with these creatures’ various traits. It might be too silly to win, especially with some well-made tearjerkers in the mix, but I’m glad to see it here. How about you?
Bruce: You picked the only short that's not about parenting in some way, which is an odd coincidence this year. Of the four shorts examining different aspects of growing up and raising children, my favorite was “One Small Step,” directed by Disney alums Andrew Chesworth and Bobby Pontillas. It's about an older dad (or maybe granddad) nurturing his daughter's dreams of becoming an astronaut, and it's animated in a bright, emotionally engaging style. It's CG but with its roots in traditional 2D animation, and it tells the most linear story of the bunch. It's sweet and touching, though not groundbreaking. What did you think of the Pixar front-runner, "Bao"?
Edwin: It freaked me out on the first viewing over the summer as a wackadoo preamble to Incredibles 2, and I’m still not crazy about it after a revisit, even accepting it for what it is. The Chinese perspective is welcome and I respect the ambition of its relatable mother-child metaphor, but like Darren Aronofsky’s mother!, the disturbing means by which it gets its points across make me never want to see it again. And yet, with its accompanying Pixar feature an almost assured also-ran and the other Asian nominees in various categories also unlikely to win, I think it stands a decent chance at victory. Do you see strong competition from “One Small Step” or the other two finalists?
Bruce: Given the workaday quality of the other nominees - that is, they're solid work but not game-changers - I think the "disturbing" quality of "Bao" may give it an advantage. And betting on Pixar is usually a wise choice. Cartoon Saloon’s “Late Afternoon” (directed by Louise Bagnall), a poetic dive into the mind of an elderly woman, is quite lovely, in both its flowing hand-drawn visuals (with CG assistance), but its "twist" can't compete with that one moment in "Bao." That leaves the Pixar-adjacent "Weekends" (directed by Trevor Jimenez, a Pixar storyboard artist) to try to unseat "Bao." How do you handicap that match up?
Edwin: Well, in the opening minutes of “Weekend," I thought Jimenez had been spying on my life, what with him featuring two of my favorite songs: Satie’s “Gymnopédie No. 1” and Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing.” That tailor-made feeling soon departed, however, as the dialogue-free tale of a child of divorced parents dragged on at least twice as long as necessary, alienating viewers with weird imagery and strange, sparse sound design. “Bao” may be nutty, but it’s not boring.
Bruce: I didn't find “Weekends” boring, but it is increasingly sad as it progresses, and it goes off the rails at the end, abandoning its rather detailed narrative of the boy's shuttling between his parents' very different lives in favor of something more impressionistic. It's interesting that the director is a storyboard artist, since that accurately describes the animation style. I was intrigued for a while, and I think it's worth a look, as long as you're prepared for its lack of resolution. So are we predicting an Oscar win for "Bao"?
Edwin: Apparently so. WTF factor aside, its mix of humor and heart allows it to stand alone amongst its peers, whereas more pure heartstring-tuggers “Late Afternoon” and “One Small Step” seem less emotionally diverse by comparison. Were I in the Academy, my vote would go to “Animal Behaviour,” but I don’t see it getting sufficient support. Is that basically your thought process, too?
Bruce: Pretty much. I think I'd vote for "One Small Step" for its emotional directness and clear, beautiful imagery, but I agree that "Animal Behaviour" is a hoot. Those who head to the Grail will also get a bonus of a couple additional shorts that weren't available for preview. Sounds like a pretty good deal, since any of these shorts beats the heck out of, say, "Miss Bala" or "Replicas." It's nice that some short-film creators get to reach audiences directly in a real movie theater, even if it's only once a year.
Overall grade: B. Not rated. Opens Feb. 8 at Grail Moviehouse.
(Photos: Disney/Pixar, National Film Board of Canada, Cartoon Saloon, Past Live Productions, TAIKO Studios)