I’ve spent the last couple days ruminating on my long-time movie-going habits, the ways the changes in my life inform my cinematic practices and vice versa. You could chart the ebb and flow of it all in my annual movie lists, if you knew what to look for. In some ways, my spreadsheet of film titles is as telling a diary as any other I may keep.
And so it goes with the Oscar-nominated animated film shorts. Another tradition that started in 2010, two years after I had first met a former co-worker, right around the same time we transitioned into friends. She introduced me to the short films, and it eventually became a February ritual for us.
Now I enjoy the animated shorts every year for how frequently delightful and unexpected they are, but I also love how I associate them with a person who has become one of my closest friends. We saw the 2018 batch this morning, and I want to share my reactions while they’re fresh in mind.
Overarching Thoughts for 2018
- Why did they stop including the running time on the title card for each short? If a “short” is going to last almost half an hour, I need to mentally prepare myself for that.
- Is this the first year they used additional animated “Petite Interludes” between the nominated films? I feel like they didn’t always do that, but I can’t remember if they did it last year, too. If you remember, let me know in the comments. Regardless, I don’t care for it. Title cards only, please.
- Along with the five nominated films, they always include in the package 2-3 additional “highly commended” films. Inevitably, I fall in love with one of these and question how it didn’t get the official nod. That said, I generally find the whole concept of the Oscars utter bullshit. I don’t watch the Oscars, I typically don’t like the kinds of films that win Oscars, and I don’t know why I’m surprised that I’m not on the same page as members of the Academy when it comes to these short films. For that matter, I don’t know why I abandon my Oscar contempt when it comes to this one category. It’s literally the only one I care about.
This made me feel cynical more than anything else. Kobe Bryant narrates a tribute to his own life-long passion for the sport. I know hardly anything about basketball, and I am not anything remotely resembling an athlete of any kind. So perhaps I’m incapable of understanding his meaning and intent. All the same, this felt gross. Gross because it desperately tried to come off as humble, but instead wallowed in self-aggrandizement. Gross because I don’t think nominating a film celebrating this particular basketball star is a great message for a post-Weinstein Academy to send. Cute animation style, but gross nonetheless.
I often like the offbeat ones the best, and I found this a great use of the medium as the whimsical stop-motion visuals enliven a simple, nostalgic anecdote. An adult son reminisces about how his father trained him to properly pack a suitcase. It ends with a pungent joke at a funeral, and I perhaps appreciated it all the more because I attended a family funeral within the last week. Sometimes you really can’t help the stray thoughts that flit through your head at such times.
My bet for the winner this year because Disney and/or Pixar seem to win at least every other year. Because I have a strong aversion to legacy champs, I always root against them in favor of an underdog. But this charming anti-bullying short about an anthropomorphic lost-and-found box (like most Pixar high concepts, it makes sense in context) won me over. So long as Dear Basketball doesn’t win, I’ll be satisfied.
It rambled on for a little too long for my tastes, but I am quite fond of both fairy tales and twisted Roald Dahl stories nonetheless. And Dominic West voices an awesome Big Bad Wolf. Am I the only one who saw Snow White and Red Riding Hood as a romantic couple? They were so tender.
Cute frogs frolic in an environment where clearly something very bad has happened. Americans tend to regard animation as inherently for children, which is why I’m sure at least some parents will bring their little ones to animated Oscar shorts without much prior consideration. Those parents will regret that decision by the end of this short. Personally, I didn’t find the climactic moment upsetting so much as I was just amused that they went there. I kind of hope this one wins just because it’s so weird.
Lost Property Office (Highly Commended)
Meh. This story about a long-time employee of a train station lost-and-found office is well-made, and I adored the look and vibe. But I also feel like I’ve seen variations on this short before in previous years. There’s always one that looks sort of like this and sort of touches on the same themes. Skillfully made, but what may have once felt daring and original to me now strikes me as a bit stale.
Weeds (Highly Commended)
Simplistic perhaps, but I loved this one. I think Academy voters may have docked it some points for being a little too on the nose for current climate, but I find value in its metaphor of a dandelion that uproots from a patch of dry dirt in search of a better life on a lawn that gets watered frequently. I wish it were up for an award.
Ahchoo (Highly Commended)
A “little dragon that could” story about a pint-sized fire-breather with a chronic sneeze. I wanted to like it, but I honestly felt far less squicked out seeing an animated corpse in a different short than I did every time the little dragon sucked bright green mucus back into his nose. Eww.