Combustible Celluloid

Live Action and Animated Oscar Shorts (2017)

Garden Party

The Big Shorts

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

February 9, 2018—Once again, I've taken a look at the ten short films nominated for Oscars in the Live Action and Animated categories, always on the lookout for little treasures, but sometimes enduring short bursts of discomfort.

This year the animated category is a strong one, with three of the titles worthy of winning, and the other two worth watching. At the bottom, I'd rank Jakob Schuh and Jan Lachauer's Revolting Rhymes, which runs a full half-hour (the longest of the bunch) and is based on a story by the great Roald Dahl. It's a twist on several old fairy tales, and casts the Big Bad Wolf, Snow White, and Little Red Riding Hood in a fresh, twisted new light. The storytelling is the highlight here, although the computer animation isn't anything special.

After that, I'd rank Max Porter and Ru Kuwahata's Negative Space, from France. This is a stop-motion short about a young man who inherited his father's obsession for packing things neatly and efficiently. It effectively builds up to a rather morbid joke, though it's a little on the ugly side.

Glen Keane and Kobe Bryant's Dear Basketball is gorgeous, drawn with swirling, waving pencil lines, comfortably nuzzled somewhere between realism and a kids' cartoon as Bryant reads his own love letter to the game that made him. (Whoever would have thought that Kobe Bryant would be nominated for an Oscar?)

Pixar's Lou (by Dave Mullins and Dana Murray) takes a simple idea — the stuff inside a lost-and-found box becomes sentient and coaxes a bully to return everyone's lost items — and turns it into a visual whirlwind, with a moving conclusion besides. I'd add this to my top five or so favorite Pixar shorts, and it has a strong chance to win.

Finally, my own personal winner by a slight edge is Victor Caire and Gabriel Grapperon's amazing and shocking Garden Party. Using animation so detailed and textured that it seems more real than realistic, it focuses on several frogs. As they explore their terrain, we begin to realize that they are in a mansion, and that the mansion is perhaps deserted. And then... I might just add that this one is probably not for young kids. But I loved it.

The Eleven O'Clock

As for the Live Action nominees, rather than celebrating the myriad ways a story can be told in the short form, we have four message movies, and one clever little comedy. The latter is also the shortest of the bunch, Derin Seale and Josh Lawson's The Eleven O'Clock, and my clear favorite, though hardly the most likely winner. It concerns a psychiatrist who sees a patient that believes he's a psychiatrist!

Katja Benrath and Tobias Rosen's Watu Wote/All of Us is the longest (about 22 minutes), telling the true story of a meeting between Muslim and Christian passengers on a bus ride in Kenya. It's a little more heavy-handed and messagy than I am prepared to handle in a short, complete with a text crawl at the end about the real event and how we can all learn from it.

Chris Overton and Rachel Shenton's The Silent Child is yet another melancholy message movie (also ending with an informative text crawl), this one about a young deaf girl born to busy parents; they hire a specialist (the lovely Shenton) to help her open up, but the parents don't have the time or the inclination to learn sign language or help in any way. It hammers its message pretty hard, pushed harder by the weepy music score, but Shenton and the young girl (Maisie Sly) have a nice bond.

Reed Van Dyk's DeKalb Elementary (20 minutes) is also a little heavy, taking a look at an attempted school shooting, but in zeroing in on just two characters, the shooter and a level-headed receptionist, it eventually begins to stir the emotions. This one seems to be the most likely candidate for Oscar gold.

Finally, Kevin Wilson Jr.'s My Nephew Emmett — also a true story — takes place in 1955, Mississippi, and it's a story of racism, told simply and with few characters. The "Emmett" of the title is Emmett Till, and if you haven't heard of him, then you should probably see this.

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