Starting this weekend, you can see all fifteen of the 2018 Oscar-Nominated Shorts as they’re released into roughly 200 theaters nationwide (see below for a link to the list of theaters). For the next three weeks, I’m going to cover each of the three categories to share my opinion of the nominees, hopefully without spoiling your own enjoyment once you get a chance to see them. (Unfortunately, few people will watch all of the shorts which tend to be a big decision-maker in office pools.)
I’ll start this week with the animated shorts, mainly because they’re the shortest, all but one of the nominees running in the five to seven minute running time, making them perfect fodder for those with a short-attention span.
What’s interesting about this category is that it tends to always be a mix of cute family-friendly comedy shorts and more serious films that show off innovative animation techniques. The fact that the very popular viral short In a Heartbeat wasn’t nominated despite being shortlisted is telling that this might be another year where this is not the most obvious category to predict.
Directed by Glen Keane and Kobe Bryant
I first saw this animated film as part of the recent 19th Annual Animation Show of Shows, and I was blown away by what NBA superstar Kobe Bryant was able to do in the animated field along with long-time Disney animator Glen Keane. Keane uses innovative 2D seemingly hand-drawn animation to illustrate a short memoir by Bryant about how he first fell in love with basketball at six years old, and the rest, as they say, is history. This is a film so full of warm emotions and sentimentality that it stands apart from the more comical animated shorts below, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that helps it win the Oscar, because you don’t have to know anything about basketball to appreciate it. Rating: A
Directed by Victor Caire and Gabriel Grapperon
From France comes this photo-realistic animated film about two frogs cavorting around an abandoned house while getting into all sorts of trouble. It’s a fun silent film that’s impressive not only for its animation but also its storytelling, reminding me of last year’s winner Piper without being nearly as immediate or entertaining. It’s a movie that shows off impressive technique but also reminds me of that famous Budweiser commercial with the frogs, and I’m sure I won’t be alone in that. Rating: B+
Directed by Dave Mullins and Dana Murray
This is another wonderful animated short from Pixar Animation Studios, who has received 14 nominations for previous shorts, winning four including last year’s Piper, 2001’s For the Birds, Geri’s Game in 1997 and John Lasseter’s early short Tin Toy. The point is that although Pixar makes much-loved features and shorts, that doesn’t guarantee it will always win this Oscar category. That said, Lou is directed by a veteran Pixar animation, and it’s another wonderful and joyous wordless short, this one about a pile of toys left out on a playground during recess that attains its own anthropomorphous autonomy to take on the schoolyard bully. Having premiered in front of Cars 3, Lou doesn’t veer too far away from what makes other Pixar shorts work in that it can appeal both to kids and adults, because it’s able to achieve a sentimentality that comes from nostalgia. All of us have lost toys as kids or had our favorites taken by a bully, so Lou puts a twist on this idea. (It’s still surprising to think that In a Heartbeat which utilizes the Pixar formula quite well to explore LGBT feelings wasn’t nominated. One step forward, three steps back.) Rating: A
Directed by Max Porter and Ru Kuwahata
The second animated short from France is more in line with Dear Basketball as it comes from a very personal and autobiographical place, adapting a poem by Ron Koertge remembering his late father teaching him how to pack a suitcase to travel. That’s what the short is about – That’s it. While one can appreciate the craft in this short, especially its ability to animate the inanimate, I neither cared for the look of the animation nor the general premise, which just isn’t as evocative or memorable as some of the other offerings. Maybe it’s the English narration that threw me off, but this was my least favorite in this category. Rating: B-
Directed by Jan Lachauer and Jakob Schuh
The British short from Magic Light Pictures is the longest of the nominees at 29 minutes. It’s based on Roald Dahl’s book of rhymes illustrated by Sir Quentin Blake that’s based around the Wolf from Little Red Riding Hood as he interacts with other fairy tale characters. Its voice cast features a number of prominent British stars like Rob Brydon, David Walliams (Little Britain), Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones), Dominic West and Gemma Chan. It continues the time-old tradition of animators getting into the Oscar race by adopting classic fairy tales, as we see one of these almost every single year. The last one of these to win the Oscar was 2007’s Peter and the Wolf, and unfortunately, while this has a similar sense of humor as Nick Park’s Oscar-winning animated shorts, it just seems a little too storybook to be considered a bonafide contender, reminding me of Magic Light’s last two Oscar-nominated shorts Room on a Broom and The Gruffalo. Similarly, I didn’t really care for this film’s whimsical British tone that seems more for kids than adults, but obviously the Oscar nominating committee must enjoy their work. (Magic Light also produced Chico and Rita, which was one of my favorite animated features the year it was nominated for an Oscar.) Rating: B
It feels like this should be Dear Basketball’s Oscar to lose, but if the non-sports fans in the Academy don’t care about Kobe Bryant’s musings (or are reminded of his 2004 dropped rape case), Pixar should win its fifth Oscar for Lou. I liked them both equally and would have a tough time deciding if I had to vote.
Edward Douglas | East Coast Editor