The Oscar Animated Shorts category can be trying under the best of times, as all too often it’s chock full of overly-sentimental pablum, but thankfully this year’s crop of nominees are supremely intriguing, thoughtful, experimental entries that play with the form. It’s also surprisingly wall-to-wall not-safe-for-work so, if you’re thinking about taking youths to see it, you might want to think twice.
The stand-out piece is AFFAIRS FROM THE ART, from the well-regarded Joanna Quinn & Les Mills; it’s fifteen minutes of a sister/mother/wife observing her very eccentric, very oddball sister, narrating all the way as she also visually impresses her own personal obsessions. Think: a more vibrant, more personal Bill Plympton-ish work, reverberant lines and thrilling mouth animation in a wildly stylized way, while still disclosing a very singular, private story.
Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s-xXpYGNPmk (NSFW)
Then there is the deeply skewed BESTIA from Hugo Covarrubias, about a Chilean fixer and her dog, all full of ceramic glistening, awkward pauses, and — as you might pick up by the title — it features perhaps the more tawdry sort of ‘downward dog’ you could imagine.
Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xm7eKAXOkkc (NSFW)
BOXBALLET is one of the two most ‘traditional’ animated short, from Anton Dyakov, as it traffics in the usual sort of physical dynamics of animation: a brusque and formidable bruiser intertwines with a lithe, tiny dancer, accompanied by a rugged ‘Russian brutalism’ aesthetic and a minimal amount of dialogue.
Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IQ4fXsXXGCg (NSFW)
It wouldn’t be an animation category without an obligatory Aardman (WALLACE AND GROMMIT, SHAUN THE SHEEP, CHICKEN RUN) contribution, the second of the ‘traditional’ animated shorts. ROBIN ROBIN is centered around a robin adopted and raised by mice, all framed by a Christmas story. It’s cute; it’s fine; it won’t change your worldview, but it is adorable in the Aardman tradition of wide eyes and plush fur.
Lastly, there’s THE WINDSHIELD WIPER from Alberto Mielgo — best know for his work on LOVE, DEATH AND ROBOTS and SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE. THE WINDSHIELD WIPER is an extraordinarily well-executed but emotionally faltering piece of CGI that hews closer to video game aesthetics than what one would normally consider an Oscar-nominated animated piece. There’s an extended scene with two people standing next to each other in a grocery store, swiping left/right on a Tinder-esque app until they swipe right on each other, but never lock eyes. Yeah, it’s that sort of threadbare meditation on cultural alienation and ennui. However, what it lacks in substance, it makes up for in stylization.
Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s36kOHSyjQ8 (NSFW)
None the less, this is one of the more intriguing Animated Shorts categories I’ve seen in some time, and it’s well-worth venturing out for! If you’re in the Chicagoland area, they’ll be playing at the Wilmette Theatre (1122 Central Ave, Wilmette, IL 60091, USA) come March 10th!