February 24, 2010

REVIEW: 2010 Oscar Animated Shorts

Viewing the Oscar Animated Shorts in the theater has become a favorite February ritual of mine. It's enjoyable to watch them online, too, but there's something about the immersive theater experience that really makes these short films pop, even more so than feature length film. In these, every frame and every second counts, so the rich details are just jam packed into every corner of the screen.

Last year I didn't think there was any question as to which of the shorts was the best - La Maison en Petits Cubes, as I posted here numerous times, was the deserving winner. This year I'm not as confident either in the winner or even in my own opinion of what should win. Two of the films - A Matter of Loaf and Death and Logorama - stand out for their quality and creativity, respectively, so my guess is it will be one of those two, but whatever happens, here are my thoughts on the whole bunch. I've included trailers for most, but if they aren't at a theater near you I really urge you to find them online, not for the purposes of winning your Oscar pool, but because they really are astonishing achievements in animation.

A Matter of Loaf and Death (Nick Park/U.K./30 minutes)
This Wallace and Gromit-starring short should be considered the front-runner at this point based on voters' familiarity with the franchise and the fact that it runs a full half-hour. Not to mention that claymation, in my opinion, is one of the most tedious forms of animation. A Matter of Loaf and Death features loads of humor on top of some really impressive effects; it's guaranteed to leave you smiling so I'd be surprised if AMPAS voters didn't reward it with a majority of votes.

Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty (Nicky Phelan/Ireland/6 minutes)

Every year features a dark comic short - this year has at least three, with this one being the shortest and funniest. Sweet-looking Granny O'Grimm is full of resentment in her old age, and her bitterness comes out in a horrifying bedtime story told to her granddaughter. It's well paced and consistently chuckle-worthy, but maybe a little too edgy to take the prize. You can view the full film below and decide for yourself.

Logorama ("H5": Franςois Alaux, Hervé de Crécy, Ludovic Houplain/France/16 minutes)

Speaking of edgy, Logorama was so adult-oriented that it was preceded by an extended warning before it screened at the end of the program (even after the Highly Commended also-rans), ostensibly alerting parents to get their kids the heck out of the theater ASAP. Those who didn't may have regretted it, as their kids would soon see Ronald McDonald cussing up a storm and indiscriminately firing an assault rifle in public while holding two kids hostage.

I have to admit I found Logorama to be conceptually brilliant but thematically lacking. It looked beautiful and repulsive at the same time, but when the characters started talking my overall impression of it went downhill rather quickly. The script for this was uninspired and what I originally considered to be a satire of Quentin Tarantino-style storytelling soon began to look much more like an homage to it, and a bad one at that. I was also intrigued by the what the French filmmakers chose as American brands - I didn't recognize a large chunk of them, and I consider myself pretty savvy when it comes to advertising. The result is a representation of the Los Angeles that looks foreign and intimately familiar at the same time.

Were the Academy to award Logorama the prize it would be a major departure from the feel-good warmth of previous winners. On the other hand, it may not be surprising for it to be rewarded for its ingenuity alone. It's also a film that gets people thinking and talking, evidenced by how much I've written here. Take a look at the first minute here for a taste; the full film is available but elusive online, so I wasn't going to bother embedding it only to see it removed.

The Lady & the Reaper (Javier Recio Gracia/Spain/8 minutes)

Here's yet another film about death, or rather Death. An old widow dies in her sleep and the Grim Reaper is about to reunite her with her husband in the afterlife, when suddenly she is revived by a heroic doctor, much to her chagrin. What follows is a charged battle between the doctor and Death for the woman's soul. There were some great comic bits in this one but it seemed a bit long, which is never good for a nine minute film. It became a little repetitive and might have packed more of a punch in five or six minutes instead. Nevertheless it looked fantastic from the first frame to the last - I'd like to see more from this director.


French Roast (Fabrice O. Joubert/France/8 minutes)

Full disclosure: We walked in late and missed probably the first minute and a half of this short, so I had to play catch up to figure out what was going on. I loved the camera work in this short (strange to say for an animated film, but when you see it you'll know what I mean) and it was charming enough, but on balance I don't think it showed me anything I hadn't seen before. It's tailor-made for an Oscar nomination, but I would be surprised if voters awarded what is a pretty plain entry in this field. The full-length film is available below, at least until it's removed from YouTube:

Highly Commended:
These shortlisted films were not chosen as official nominees, but they were still included as part of the short film package screened in theaters.

Partly Cloudy (Peter Sohn/United States/6 minutes)
This Pixar-produced short was shown before Up in theaters last year, so it's probably the most widely-viewed among the collection. I actually liked this one a lot more the second time around for some reason, and while I rarely use the word "cute" to describe a film, there aren't many words better to describe Partly Cloudy.

Runaway (Cordell Barker/Canada/9 minutes)
Featuring possibly the best music in all of these films, Runaway was chuckle-inducing and distinctively drawn, but, like The Lady and the Reaper, it was maybe a couple minutes too long. There isn't much of a story arc here, although the film can reportedly be read as a social critique: a runaway train with no one at the controls, the rich and powerful in the front car exploiting, stripping, and robbing the rest of the population in the rear car.

The Kinematograph (Tomek Baginski/Poland/12 minutes)
I'm actually shocked this incredibly poignant film wasn't selected as a nominee: it is absorbingly animated, well-paced, meaningful, and about the very history of film itself. One would think AMPAS voters would have eaten it up, and I can only speculate that not enough of them saw it? Who knows. It didn't bring me to tears, but among these eight is has to be considered the most moving. Evidently Baginski is someone to keep an eye on - he was previously nominated for The Cathedral in 2002.


  1. I'm a little less high on Loaf than you, not because it was bad but just because it felt like more of the same...you know?

    It'll probably win, but it wasn't my favorite.

    I liked Granny O'Grimm the most, right down to the lullaby she sings over the closing credits. Funny and sharp.

    Logorama totally left me cold. Your description of it being simultaneously beautiful and ugly is very very apt. I suppose one joke should be enough to carry a short, but this one didn't for me. Ok, familiar cartoons swear and shoot guns. Weeeee. Zzzzzzzzzz. Still, I've heard people gushing over this one so maybe it's the winner.

    I liked Lady and the Reaper quite a bit, though I wish the balance between poignant and absurd had been struck more effectively. I was suckered in by the soft opening, but the Looney Toons humor that follwed didn't quite blend for me.

    French Roast... even missing part of it you had the same reaction as me. Slickly done (also love the "camera" movements) but overall pretty dry and a little to impressed with its own cleverness.

    As I've said elsewhere, my confidence level in predictions is about zero. Officially I picked Granny, but I won't be surprised when it's Loaf.

    None of these even come close to last year's winner.

  2. I really don't know what my favorite was, but I would be OK if Loaf won. You're exactly right that it's more of the same, but that's how I felt for French Roast and even The Lady and The Reaper (great description of that by the way). Granny was definitely pretty clever, and I liked the mixed animation style, but I don't know, it was a little abrasive to me. That may have been because the volume level was off in the theater for just that one, though - it was deafening, so all of her screeches were incredibly shrill.

    The one thing that Granny does extremely well is move along quickly, and that may work in its favor. It doesn't overstay its welcome and gets the job done in just a few minutes.

    Logorama moved along pretty well, too, but I didn't care for how it devolved into a mish-mash action thriller disaster movie. I guess I would say I absolutely loved the concept and setting but didn't like the story.

    My guess is it will be Loaf or Logorama, but Granny might sneak in - not too edgy but not too light.

  3. I think you're probably right on. And yeah, Granny was a little shrill even with moderated volume.

  4. So I found out watching it again here.

  5. Well, I saw these last night at the Montclair Claridge Cinemas with two of my kids (both Wallace and gromit fans by teh way) and I found that your observations Dan are right on the money for my taste. The two best of this bunch were A MATTER OF LOAF AND DEATH and LOGORAMA. Both of were reasonable length, and as you rightly state the clay animation of the former is a meticulous and demanding process, while conceptually the latter was mind-boggling, and the genre mix enthralling. I didn't feel emotionally detached though as you did, and I would have no problem with it winning.

    I agree that overall this was a mixed blessing, but we were happy to see these in the theatre!

    Craig's favorite didn't do it for me and the opening short (which you claimed you missed the first minute of) was rather listless, and teh central character was a major bore. You really didn't miss anything.

  6. You came away feeling just about the same as me, Daniel. The Kinematograph was probably my favorite, and I think it would have won were it nominated. As it stands, it'll probably be Load, but it feels like that one shouldn't even be in this category. As I stated previously, it's like a lost episode of a W & G Saturday morning cartoon.

    Logorama was fun at times, but was schticky and shouldn't win. I almost disliked the Reaper one; the Looney Tunes-ish aspects that Craig pointed out really turned me off of it. But count me in the minority that enjoyed French Roast and wouldn't mind seeing it win at all.

  7. Sam, I have to say I'm surprised you were taken by the Tarantino-esque Logorama, considering your disdain for Inglourious Basterds. "Mind-boggling" is a great word for it, though. And great observation about the main guy in French Roast - I enjoyed the old nun much more!

    Fletch, it really is shocking that The Kinematograph didn't make it through, isn't it? Loaf and Death as lost episode, ha! Very true, but could be just what they were looking for.

    I'll be in for a shock if French Roast takes it, but maybe it's ordinariness will actually work in its favor compared to something like Logorama.

  8. I have to say I love how everyone sort of has their own favorites.

    I've been pretty hard on Logorama, but in the end I have to admit they're all pretty creative and admirable.

  9. Dan, perhaps I can accept this kind of thing with animation but not with live-action. It's odd I know, but maybe it's the inherent surrealism of the form.

  10. Craig, I know what you mean - it's one of the few Oscar categories or movie discussions you can have without somebody claiming that this or that short is THE BEST AND ANYONE WHO THINKS OTHERWISE DOESN'T KNOW ANYTHING. Of course that's pretty much what I said about last year's winner, but let's just forget about that. ;-P

    Well that's as good an explanation as any, Sam - makes sense to me!

  11. The thing is, last year you were absolutely right.

    It wasn't just the best short animated film of that particular bunch, it was one of the better things I saw all of last year.

    I wish the entries this year came closer to those heights.

  12. Well it (La Maison en Petits Cubes) was definitely one of the most memorable in-theater experiences I had in 2009. The problem with it is that it pretty much ruined my reaction to the montage in Up a few months later. I was like, wait, didn't I just see this? Sure, it wasn't exactly the same, but still similar enough to distract me.


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