The yearly tradition of releasing into theaters the Oscar nominated Short Films – Animated and Live Action is upon us. Others can have the red carpets, the long speeches, and slow motion reveal of the losers looks. But give me short films from around the world shown on the big screen, and this reviewer is one happy cat. Whether they focus on the surreal or the deeply tragic, the stories are told with such focused precision that it is impossible not to feel connected. Enjoy these shorts and happily rejoice in what has become a favored ritual of awards season. (Read my review of the Oscar-nominated live action shorts.)
Animated Shorts – Nominated
Directed by Bruno Collet, France
Memorable, beautifully and tragically tells the story of an artist’s struggles with dementia and the impact it has upon loved ones. His world is distorted and he watches it disintegrate before his eyes. This movie hits home and adeptly displays how a person with dementia or Alzheimer’s can recognize a person as a loved one, yet still not be able to identify their name. The reality is literally breaking away in slow bits and their hold on the world they knew is leaving. It is heartbreaking and moving in one stroke. .
Directed by Daria Kashcheeva, Czech Republic
Daughter is the story of a woman watching over her ailing father confined to a hospital bed. A bird flies through the window and dies triggering a memory from her childhood. This memory captures that intense fear of losing a loved one and how we think on those lost moments in our life. Where we reached out and weren’t understood or when we couldn’t say what we felt. In these times of pain, there is often a moment, a look, or a discovery of things remembered where a new connection is formed. These can almost literally resurrect a relationship and alter memories. It is that first step of healing. Haunting and beautifully rendered, this film also hits close to home and is impressive how much love and emotion can be displayed in characters who say nothing at all.
Directed by Matthew A. Cherry, USA
Hair Love is a perfectly told story in 7 minutes. A young girl Zuri, wants to have her hair made up for a very special day. Unfortunately, all she has on her side is a fashion forward cat and a woefully overwhelmed and underprepared father. And her hair fights back. This story really hits upon a full range of emotions and uses comedy effectively in a story that will make you cry. There is hope. With a cat by their side and a loving supportive household, a family can work through anything and come out smiling.
Directed by Siqi Song, China/USA
Sister tells the story of a boy and his loving relationship with his annoying little sister in China in the 1990s. They fight and share sibling specific moments that guide his life. Growing up under the stringent laws in China had a powerful impact on his family’s life and shows us how strongly we can miss what and who we never knew. Beautifully animated with poignant imagery, you feel the loss of this family throughout and of how difficult it must have been to bring up a family during this time in history.
Directed by Rosana Sullivan, USA
Kitbull is the feel good film of this series. It is an eminently lovable story about the friendship formed between an abused dog and a stray cat. It hits all the emotional notes to make this an enjoyable story and perhaps even a potential dark horse to take the Oscar. Not to mention this movie completely blasts away the stereotype of aloof cats who only care for themselves. This cat is sensitive, nurturing and affectionate. However, this film lacks the emotional depth and complicated imagery of its competitors.
Animated Shorts – Highly Commended
Directed by Léo Brunel, Loris Cavalier, Camille Jalabert, Oscar Malet, France
Deserving of nomination Hors Piste is the only true comedy in the series. Two incompetent mountain rescuers seek to save a fallen skier. Everything goes wrong. Their helicopter plummets; they take a space wall; and make the descent down the mountain quite uncomfortable for the skier now cinched onto a stretcher. The 80s workout soundtrack is perfect. This film hilariously shows how any obstacle can be overcome, even despite the efforts of the rescuers themselves.
The Bird and the Whale
Directed by Carol Freeman, Ireland
This is probably the most beautifully animated film in the series which is certainly why it is so well received. Animating paintings, The Bird and the Whale is the story of an unlikely friendship built between the two animals. Joyous and tragic, this film shows how our friendships carry us through our lives and their memories give us joy.
Directed by Rachel Johnson, USA
Henrietta Bulkowski is a stop motion animated story of a woman with a crippling physical defect in her back. All she wants to do is fly and see the world, but her back issues prevent her from getting a pilot’s license. Based off the play The Snow Hen written by Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen, itself based off of a Norwegian myth, this film succeeds in bringing mythology to real life. The bleak animation is eerie especially in the landfill with the trash mounds covered in snow but the story is a little too predictable and the message is a heavy-handed even when looking at it as a children’s story.
Directed by Florian Babikian, Victor Caire, Théophile Dufresne, Gabriel Grapperon, Lucas Navarro, France
Maestro is my kind of jam. A less than two minute film showing a spontaneous operatic jam session by woods animals. That is the awesomeness of animation in making the impossible real. This is the world I wished I lived in and for two minutes, we all can revel in it.
Personal Favorites: Memorable, Daughter, Hair Love
Oscar Prediction: Hair Love
Philadelphia screenings of the Oscar-nominated Animated Films begins January 31, 2020, at Ritz Five landmarktheatres.com