Movie review

2020 Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts

And then, oh my God, there were this year’s animated shorts.

I have urged friends and family to go see these — and to bring three boxes of Kleenex. Touching, creative, humane, beautiful in spirit and sensibility. I could gush on, but instead I will try to give a sense of each. And the real treat is that in addition to the five nominees, the film also features four honorable mentions, a couple of which pile on the poignancy, and a couple that provide some much-needed humor and quirkiness.

The most marvelous aspect of the program is that several tell their tales absolutely wordlessly. While classic cartoons have always done this (I’m looking at you, Road Runner), and a couple here function like those, as silent films whose heroes, actions, and point of view are utterly unambiguous, two in particular — Daughter and The Bird & The Whale — immerse us in pure imagery with extended visual metaphors that sweep us —even literal, word-driven me — to a place of intuitive acceptance and understanding way beyond and without any need of language, logic, and linearity. (Mémorable does this as well, even though it uses dialogue.)

In order of presentation:

I understand that Hair Love is favored to win in this category. It is a very heartfelt, rich, warm, and touching film (which you can see in its entirety below) about an African American father learning to do his daughter’s hair. My small quibble was that I think that alone would have been a sufficient story to tell; the destination the newly coiffed girl and father arrive at in the short’s “second act” might undercut or even negate the preparations of the first act if you think about it too much.

The movie is written and directed by a former NFL player; see more here; I totally did not know this:

Daughter took me through so many emotions, and of course to one inevitable memory. My analogous experience lacked the tragedy this film depicted of words not said, thoughts not shared, communications missed and opportunities lost. But the sorrow it evoked made the loss fresh and raw. And the thing with feathers made it bearable.

Daughter (official trailer) from Daria Kashcheeva on Vimeo.

Sister continues the thread of female-dominated narratives. But this story is told through the brother’s eyes, and it is a lovely one of sibling-ness and alone-ness. And the Chinese art is glorious throughout; I particularly loved the Sumi-style goldfish in the bowl.

妹妹 / SISTER by Siqi Song – Trailer from Siqi Song on Vimeo.

Mémorable, like Daughter, contemplates loss of a loved one. But a different kind of loss: a loss of sentience. Louis is an artist, and we watch as his world swirls away with his memories, until there are only the barest connecting threads holding shapes and life and love together. But then, we dance. Oh this one’s a killer. The filmmakers use Louis’s artistic grounding to create his mileau:  he and his surroundings morph into Van Gogh’s Starry Night; his psychiatrist inquisitor channels Giacometti. It is a sad state that Louis is descending into, but oh what marvelous company.

MÉMORABLE le making of from Nicolas MARTIN on Vimeo.

The final nominee is the Pixar crowd-pleaser Kitbull (this too is available in its entirety). A throwback to long-honored cartoon tradition of natural enemies setting aside their differences to play and share and help and love — but set against man’s inhumanity and abusiveness. And damn if it doesn’t work.

The weakest, and one of the longest, pieces is the first Honorable Mention, Henrietta Bulkowski. It simply has too much story and could have used a few more drafts to tighten it up.

Henrietta Bulkowski Trailer from Rachel Johnson on Vimeo.

But then we come to another beauty, The Bird & The Whale. This fragile, lovely work was constructed on glass, of over four thousand separate paintings. The fluidity and immediacy of the technique infuse and inform the work. See more and learn about the technique here.

The Bird and the Whale – Teaser Trailer from Paper Panther on Vimeo.

Hors Piste is great slapstick fun, of a rescue mission gone so very, very awry but it all seems to work out (for now) in the best Bugs Bunny tradition.

Hors Piste by Léo BRUNEL, Loris CAVALIER, Camille JALABERT, Oscar MALET from Miyu Distribution on Vimeo.

Maestro is also a delight. Short and charming and silly and sweet: how all can come together just for a moment to make something lovely. What a nice message to end on. This is the entire short:

Maestro from Bloom Pictures on Vimeo.

And if you liked that, here are some more short shorts from Bloom Pictures.

Such a rewarding and wonderful selection.

2 thoughts on “2020 Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts”

  1. Thank you thank you thank you. Starting with Bloom Pictures which I adored, although the end through me off a bit. So well done and so amusing until the finale although some might think the ending is funny too.

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