This week the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences announced the shortlist for the two short subject categories, and obviously Pixar is a strong contender once again for the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film with its relatively traditional-looking “Day & Night.” If you’re a good moviegoer you saw this ahead of “Toy Story 3,” and while I don’t think the feature had to be seen in 3D, the short is best appreciated in the format. In fact, it might be the best use of 3D I’d ever seen at the time (now Herzog’s “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” might have that honor). It’s pretty much a given that it will be one of the five nominees announced on January 25.
So is there anything that could win the Academy Award instead? First, let’s remember that this isn’t the Animated Feature category, which Pixar typically dominates. Consider the fact that Pixar has lost the Oscar the last five times the studio has been nominated in the category. Their last win was with 2001’s “For the Birds.” Pixar also lost its first bid in 1986 with “Luxo Jr.” But “Day & Night” is a pretty special film, unlike the forgettable recent nominee “Boundin'” and the “Monster’s Inc.” spin-off “Mike’s New Car.” I wonder, though, if the voters will have a chance to all appreciate the 3D element. Without it the film is still great, but it’s clearly made to be seen with a certain perception of depth.
Thanks to the site Rope of Silicon, which found at least previews for almost all of this year’s 33 eligible animated shorts, we can get a glimpse of Pixar’s competition. Check out my thoughts on each of the other 10 films after the jump.
1. “The Cow Who Wanted to Be a Hamburger”
Bill Plympton has been nominated for an Oscar twice, and if he couldn’t win with the classic “Your Face,” I doubt he’ll be redeemed through this squigglevision work. But I haven’t seen anything more than this 56-second clip. I have faith that it gets better, but compared to the rest of the nominees as well as to his own past work, it’s not a very good looking film.
2. “Coyote Falls”
It’s been a long time since the Looney Tunes (or Merrie Melodies) appeared at the Oscars — the last nominee, Warner Bros.’ 26th for the brand, was “Now Hear This” in 1963. And it will probably remain absent for another year, since this computer-animated 3D reincarnation of Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner is atrocious. The characters were previously nominated forty years ago with “Beep Prepared.” Giving an award to them now, with this, would be like giving Best Picture to “The Phantom Menace” or “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” The brand still has more Animated Short Oscars than Pixar, for now, but Warner Bros. needs to step it up if they want to compete with today’s cartoons.
3. “The Gruffalo”
A British entry that isn’t from Aardman? Interesting. And the trailer begins the same way as the one for “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole.” Oops. This BBC-aired special stars the voice of Helena Bonham Carter, who has possibly been a good luck charm to past Animated Feature nominees “The Corpse Bride” and “Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” (the latter also won the Oscar). But what little I’ve seen of the 27-minute short lead me to believe it’s anything remarkable, at least not in this context. The film was nominated for a BAFTA this year, though. [Update: I’ve seen the full version of the film, which is a pretty well-vocalized children’s book put into motion, but nothing too great. Watch it entirely (in two parts) here]
4. “Let’s Pollute”
A rather cute but very old-fashioned cartoon, this one comes from Disney/Pixar vet Geefwee Boedoe, whose credits go back to “The Little Mermaid.” He co-wrote and developed “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “A Bug’s Life,” was animator of the Beast in “Beauty and the Beast” and title designer on the Oscar-nominated “Mike’s New Car.” So why is his solo debut so uninteresting? The video below is in French with no subtitles and so maybe there’s more to it than what I’m seeing. It just comes off as a dated public service announcement. The only way it’ll be nominated is if favoritism politics come into play.
5. “The Lost Thing”
Based on the children’s book by Shaun Tan, this work co-directed by Tan and BAFTA-nominee Andrew Ruhemann is the kind of animated short that you wish was an entire feature. Perhaps it could be lengthened as such in the future. Brad Bird should be involved. It could get a nomination for the same reason that Shane Acker was nominated with his short version of “9” (later adapted into a full-length film), because it shows that kind of potential. It probably won’t be, though, because of all the returning talents and fresher forms of animation seen by the other newcomers.
6. “Madagascar, Carnet de Voyage (Madagascar, a Journey Diary)”‘
First of all, thank goodness this isn’t another “Madagascar” spin-off from DreamWorks, as I initially presumed. I really like what I’ve seen so far of Bastien Dubois’ collage-heavy short, which appears to be working with a rotoscoping technique made to look like animated pencil drawings and watercolor paintings. It’s different, it has the appeal of Third World sensitivity and though it sometimes feels like a travel advertisement (or could at least be adapted into one) I think it should earn at least a nomination. I still like “Day & Night” a lot more, but I think this could be one of the strongest competitors. I need to see more than the two excerpts below to be sure. [Update: full version can be seen courtesy of the FLUXUS online film fest here]
Abstractly animated interpretations of musical compositions is a very classic concept. Michel Gagné’s new film, set to three different improvisations by avant-garde musicians Barry Guy and Paul Plimley, is both familiar and seemingly easier in the era of motion graphics. Yet for at least three quarters of the film I was almost as entranced as if I were watching something by Mary Ellen Bute (“Synchromy no. 2”). Even if it were the most brilliant film shortlisted, though, I’m going to assume, even following last year’s non-traditional win by “Logorama,” that the Academy will prefer something with a narrative.
8. “The Silence Beneath the Bark (Le Silence Sous L’ecorce)”
Of all the shortlisted films I’ve seen only part of, Joanna Lurie’s is the one I’m most anxious to see in full. In a way it’s the most similar narratively to the Pixar selection. Two characters, magical things happening transparently in their torsos, a play on seasonal setting. I have a feeling this beautiful and adorable short just might have what it takes to overcome “Day & Night.” Again, I want more than a taste. [Update: full version can be seen courtesy of the FLUXUS online film fest here]
Already a winner at film festivals in Santa Barbara and Melbourne, Moritz Mayerhofer’s film reminds me a bit of Sylvain Chomet’s “Triplets of Belleville,” which should have beat Pixar for the Animated Feature Oscar back in 2003 (Chomet’s latest, “The Illusionist” is also the biggest competition for “Toy Story 3” this year). The animation style is different, of course, but the adventurous old lady in the trailer is the obvious connection.
And here, in case you’ve never seen it (too bad since you missed the 3D enhancements), here’s “Day & Night”:
My difficult prediction for the five nominees are: “Day & Night,” “The Silence Beneath the Bark,” “Madagascar, Carnet de Voyage,” “Urs” and maybe “The Gruffalo.” I believe Pixar will go all the way this year.