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What You Need to Know About the 2020 Animated Oscar Shorts

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Short, yet sweet

With less than a week until the Academy Awards, it's time to take a look at the categories that you may not have ever heard of. Sure, the Best Picture and acting categories may be all that people are talking about leading up to the awards, but I've always been fascinated by the variety of shorts that get nominated by the Academy. These shorts usually aren't shown in theaters and you have to actively seek them out, but they're the products of several small teams pouring their heart and souls into a film that seem to only exist on the festival circuit. To get a nomination for an Academy Award is a lifetime achievement for these creators, something that may never happen again, and it seems fitting to take some time to watch what they've created. 

Like last year, I'll be talking about the animated shorts with Sam taking the documentary shorts while I clean up with the live-action shorts at the end of the week. If you're interested in any of the shorts that we're talking about, you can watch trailers for them and even find out where they're screening over at Shorts.tv. Support your local cinema! So let's dive into our first breakdown of the week, the Animated Shorts. 

Daughter


Director: Daria Kashcheeva
Country: Chechia
Length: 12 minutes

What It's About

After a misunderstanding regarding a dead bird when she was younger, a daughter and her father become emotionally distant from one another, each torn thinking that the other doesn't care for them. 

How Is It?

Upon reflection, I probably shouldn't have watched Daughter first as my first impression of it wasn't all that favorable. The story itself is very open to interpretation with several moments that I'm sure were meant to be poignant instead coming across as underdeveloped. I understood by the end that these were two people that did care greatly about each other, but a misconception damaged their relationship in a way that is both believable and common for children. The daughter looked to her father for emotional support and while she thought that he didn't provide it to her, he himself had no idea how to even comfort her in that moment. 

On a second rewatch it made a bit more sense, but unfortunately no amount of rewatching could make me like the animation style that Kashcheeva went with. The first shot of the father was instantly discomforting even though it clearly wasn't their intent. All of the characters just look so unnatural and unsettling that I could never connect with them. The film takes several thematic cues from the work of Lars von Trier, specifically his Dogme 95 films, though I personally see more inspiration here taken from Jiri Trnka, which probably isn't a coincidence given his Czech roots. Trnka's style is very hit or miss with people and it is a very clear miss for me. Completely subjective, I am aware, but I can't deny that I was just left unimpressed by what I saw. 

Hair Love


Director: Matthew A. Cherry
Country: United States
Length: 7 minutes

What It's About

A dad helps his daughter, Zuri, get the hair she's always dreamed of. 

How Is It?

Chances are Hair Love is the one short out of the five that you've probably heard of. Released alongside The Angry Birds 2 and distributed by Sony, Hair Love got a lot of well deserved attention for focusing on a couple of important moments and ideas that don't normally get talked about in general, let alone as an animated short. Not only does the film feature an all African-American cast, but it shows a father-daughter relationship in a positive light, with the father trying his best to help do her daughter's hair, something that normally his wife takes care of. 

This was probably the most heart-warming film of the five nominees and it really does hit a soft spot for me. It's nice to see a father care for his daughter and the final few scenes really do manage to show just how wonderful this family really is. There's actually a fair bit of humor throughout, whether it's the dad getting into a boxing fight with his daughter's unkempt hair or the judgmental looks given from their pet cat. But really, the best thing I can say about Hair Love is that it put a smile on my face and just made me happy to watch it. It's the shortest of the five shorts, but it doesn't overstay its welcome and left me feeling happy with what I saw. 

Kitbull


Director: Rosana Sullivan
Country: USA
Length: 9 minutes

What It's About

A stray kitten meets a pitbull used for dog fighting and a friendship slowly begins to bond between the two.

How Is It?

It may not look like it, but Kitbull is actually Pixar's latest animated short feature... technically. Kitbull is the third movie in Pixar's SparkShorts initiative, where Pixar gives its employees six months to produce and create an animated short for release. All of these are available on Disney+, with the latest short, Loop, actually gaining some media attention for portraying Pixar's, and to my knowledge Disney's, first openly autistic character. The point of the SparkShorts program is to offer more challenging material than the usual family friendly, easily digestible, Pixar fare. 

Case in point, Kitbull features a pitbull who is used in dog fighting befriending a stray cat and the short isn't afraid to get dark. There's some minor blood and off-screen violence, content that Pixar would never show in any of their shorts, but it offers a nice change of pace. It's also interesting to see a Pixar short not rendered in 3D, but rather in 2D animation. The results are honestly a bit mixed. The colors are always vibrant and the designs are fine, but there were times where the animation itself seemed a bit jittery, like it was missing a frame of animation or two here and there. 

For a film that's mostly silent, Kitbull does a commendable job of establishing the relationship between the kitten and the pitbull. We see the kitten's fear of the pitbull, but slowly they begin to open up and play with each other. Sure, their relationship isn't perfect, but by the end of the film you're happy to see these two friends stick with each other through thick and thin. I wish that maybe it offered a bit more of a difficult look at the pitbull's life, since we only see the events from the kitten's perspective, but it's a well done, if safe, short that should hopefully be a sign of things to come for future animators at Pixar and Disney.

Memorable


Director: Bruno Collet
Country: France
Length: 12 minutes

What It's About

Louis is a painter who has a neuro-degenerative disease that is slowly affecting his everyday life. Whether it's from losing track of time, forgetting basic facts, or even forgetting the face of his wife, Louis both physically and mentally regresses.

How Is It?

By far the most challenging and complicated of the five nominees, Memorable is a strange and tragic look at a man slowly losing his grasp on reality. Although it's never confirmed exactly what kind of disease he has, though based on the signs it's almost certainly Alzheimer's, we slowly watch as Louis loses his memories, his ability to recognize his own family, and how he denies his own deterioration. 

At first it starts off simple enough, like him being unable to identify a pepper shaker and forgetting when his wife's mother died, but he passes it off as a joke and leaves it as that. As the movie progresses, Louis still tries to play off his own failures as jokes, but even he's aware that he can only deny the truth for so long. His breaking point comes when he can't even recognize his own reflection in the mirror, eventually residing himself to his fate. 

Probably the most striking aspect of the movie was the various different stop-motion figures used to represent Louis' own mind. At first he looks fairly humanoid, but over-time his own thoughts become abstract, with his family appearing as abstract shapes and eventually spots of color. Louis' wife plays an important role and by the end we see her as a perfectly normal person with Louis seeing her as a mess of textures and colors -- a few specks of paint that somewhat resemble his wife in her youth -- unable to distinguish that the woman in front of her is actually her. It's poetic, tragic, and frankly touching to watch as I'm sure it'll leave a large impact on anyone who has ever dealt with a relative slowly becoming a prisoner of their own body. Of the five shorts, there's no denying that Memorable is my favorite of the bunch. 

Sister


Director: Siqi Song
Country: United States
Length: 8 Minutes

What It's About

A Chinese boy describes his life with his little sister.

How Is It?

Sister was a short film that I felt really grew on me and I have to admit that I didn't understand what it was really getting at until the end. The majority of the movie is fairly straightforward with a brother telling us about him and his little sister growing up in China. His descriptions and the visuals that accompany them are VERY literal, and at its worst it comes across as basic. The brother says that his little sister is a big baby, which is visualized by his little sister as a baby being half the size of her room. It's almost as if we couldn't be trusted to connect the description with the visuals. 

However, to anyone who knows their history and the state of the world, there should probably have been a major red flag that popped up in that previous paragraph. I won't say what it is, but once I made the connection, the movie turned itself from being a fanciful story about two siblings growing up and instead became a strong piece of political commentary. It's almost brilliant in how well it sneaks up on you with occasional hints being dropped here and there, but it still managed to surprise me and made me think. Granted, I had to wade through about 6 minutes of buildup that didn't exactly impress me, but I'd like to think that it was worth it. Definitely not the best thing I've seen, but still respectable in its intent. 

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Filed under... #Academy Awards #Animation #Flixist Originals #Pixar #Short films #Sony

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