Well, it has been three weeks since the Oscar nominees were announced, and once again reviews have been popping up all around the internet trying to make sense of the always-unpredictable short categories. So you can say that the last thing that the world needs is another review of the nominated short films, especially since I'm not privy to watching the films in advance and had to make it to one of the theatrical showings of the nominated films just to watch all of them. But you know what? This is a blog where I try to review all the nominated films in the category's history, and even though I'm on hiatus (because reality sucks), it would be wrong for me to go without a review for the latest nominees. Especially since I've "followed" this race on this forum from the longlist to the shortlist to the final roster of nominees. So yeah, it would be nice to take this all the way to the end.
Not much else to say (aka I don't feel like writing a massive introduction describing an Oscar ceremony that hasn't happened yet), so let's just head over to the reviews.
Adam and Dog
Where Can I Watch It?
Western Spaghetti, where he creates a spaghetti meal using toy pick-up sticks for noodles and pincushions for tomatoes, but the substitution of household items doesn't end there. Flames in the stoves are reproduced by candy corn and oil is simulated by aluminum foil. The film became a viral hit, amassing over 10 million views and was named by Time.com as the #2 viral video of 2008. Fresh Guacamole was a film commissioned by Showtime to serve as a follow-up for Western Spaghetti, this time detailing the making of guacamole. Like Western Spaghetti, the production values of Fresh Guacamole is undeniable. PES's films are believable because of his impeccable use of pixilation and stop edits, and Fresh Guacamole is no exception. Fresh Guacamole is a blast to watch because of the creativity. That said, it doesn't quite have the inventiveness or smoothness of Western Spaghetti. The film features little else but the ingredients involved in making the guacamole, and some of the transformation can be quite jarring, especially the transformation from slices of baseballs to dice. Plus, Fresh Guacamole offers little else other than an entertaining look into the creative minds of PES. At about 100 seconds it's the shortest short film ever nominated, beating out The Big Story, and has essentially no plot and even less meaning. Still, it's a blast to watch. Just don't expect it to be anything life-changing.
Where Can I Watch It?
Head Over Heels
Balance. The film doesn't make any effort to try to explain it, which is fine but at one point the house crashes in a strange land, which results in the couple's positions switching. At that point the levitation seems like it would be important, but it's never treated as such. It probably isn't important, but I still would like more explanations. And while the reconciliation scene is sweet, I couldn't help but think how physically unrealistic it would be. The stop motion animation isn't quite as smooth as some of the other stop motion films nominated in this category, but it does achieve some technological accomplishment in putting both characters on opposite gravitational fields at the same time. While Head Over Heels may not have lived up to my expectations, it's still a cute little romantic comedy.
Where Can I Watch It?
Like Adam and Dog, this film was put online briefly, but has since been removed. It is being shown in theaters as part of the Oscar nominated shorts program, and Shorts International also has it on iTunes for $3.
The Longest Daycare
*Technically, the film is known as Maggie Simpson in "The Longest Daycare" since that's what's featured in the title screen and was listed in the nominees list. However, I find it cumbersome and doesn't fit in with how films are titled. The Longest Daycare is the film's title, while "Maggie Simpson in" is just a modifier that tells us who is starring in the film. The title screen for the 1957 Oscar-winning Birds Anonymous has the words "Tweety and Sylvester in" on the title screen, but you don't see anybody calling it Tweety and Sylvester in "Birds Anonymous".
Where Can I Watch It?
How sweet. Fox went ahead and posted the film. Enjoy!
Spirited Away without the magic of the Miyazaki film. However, I saw it again after the shortlist was announced and it grew on me. A lot of people on Cartoon Brew are complaining about how flat the story was. Yes, it does rely on some of the most overused tropes such as "Love at First Sight" and "The Power of Love", but what makes the film work is its execution. The tale is completely without dialogue*, and that allows the physical action to take over, which it does with excellent use of physical movement and facial expressions to carry the story. And the film is filled with tenderness and emotions that adults will appreciate, and enough slapstick to make the kiddies happy. Much have been made of the animation style present in Paperman, where the film is done in CG-i Pixar style, but where the shading is more reminiscent of sketch drawings. To be honest it works quite well. It captures the homely style of sketches, and I hardly notice the CG-i nature. Of course that led to criticisms as to why they did this on the computer in the first place, but I'm sure the CG-i added to the film's charm. The film's monotone look except for Meg's lipstick also works quite well. The music by Christopher Beck complements the film well, even if the music in the climax seems a bit anachronistic from the film's setting. Yes, I do feel that the climax is weird, but I've learned to put it behind me as I can let myself be enveloped by the film's sweetness.
*Then again none of the five nominees have any dialogue. It is only the second time where none of the nominees have any spoken words, the other being 2008, the year of Lavatory Lovestory, La Maison en Petits Cubes, Oktapodi, Presto, and This Way Up.
Where Can I Watch It?
Well, it was too good to be true. Disney had the film online for public consumption for a couple of weeks, during which it accumulated well over 10 million views. Now that we're getting closer to the actual Oscars, they've put a charge of about $2 to watch it on YouTube. Or you can buy it on iTunes for $3 to watch it as many times you want. It's still better off than Redux Riding Hood, which was screwed for 15 years, and Lorenzo, which is still getting it up the hole-in-the-Lyra-plushie. Seriously, Disney. If you really want to squeeze consumers for more cash in your bottom line, why not just release Lorenzo with something like a $20 price tag? I'd be willing to pay 10 times that just to get it off my forsaken Lost Seven list.
Whee! Finally done with another set of review for the first time in months. (Stupid med school getting in the way.) Now comes the biggest question: what will win? Walt Disney Animation Studios used to dominate the Best Animated Short category, but those days are long gone. They haven't won since It's Tough to Be a Bird captured the Oscar in 1969, and have gone 0 for 6 since then. However, most experts are picking Paperman to finally break the futile streak. And why not? It's a major crowd pleaser and combines a touching story with an impressive new animation technique. Plus the mid-century setting would appeal to the Oscar voting demographic of mostly older white men. So it seems natural that Paperman would be the front-runner.
Yet there are some things that may work against it capturing the Oscar. It doesn't have the aesthetic value or challenge the viewer as much as Adam and Dog. It doesn't involve a veritable part of American pop culture like The Longest Daycare. It doesn't have the thematic hook of Head Over Heels, which may also appeal more to the demographic. And it doesn't have the quick painless entertainment of Fresh Guacamole. Plus, Wreck-It Ralph and Frankenweenie have become the front-runners in the Best Animated Feature race. Both are films by Walt Disney Animation Studio. I'm not completely sure how voters think, but if they vote for Disney in one animation category they may choose not to vote for Disney in the other animation category. So yeah, while my heart says Paperman, my head is screaming Adam and Dog. While I would love for my heart to win out, it usually doesn't end up that way. Although who knows? Two years ago my heart said Day & Night while my head said The Gruffalo. And yet the Oscar went to The Lost Thing in the end. So in the end despite my five years of following this category I really didn't learn anything*.
My rankings (by quality)
Paperman > Adam and Dog > The Longest Daycare > Head Over Heels > Fresh Guacamole
My rankings (by preference)
Paperman > The Longest Daycare > Fresh Guacamole > Adam and Dog > Head Over Heels