Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Review: The 2009 Short Animated Film Oscar Nominees

The Oscars are only a week away, and I finally had some time to sit down and watch all the nominated animated shorts. As per usual, the selection comes from a variety of countries -- Russia, Japan, & France to name a few -- and feature styles ranging from computer animation to traditional hand-drawn. It's always a treat to get to see independent animation up on the big screen, but I felt this year's selection was a tad lackluster.

Nominee Photo Gallery

Of the five films up for the statue, Pixar's Presto was honest to God the best. As much as it hurts me to say it, the Pixar short was just more entertaining: livelier, brighter, sillier, and simply more impressive than the rest of the bunch. A relatively insignificant short about a hungry rabbit and his inept magician owner, the film looks gorgeous and stands head and shoulders above the other entries on technical terms. It goes up against three love stories (one about a Lavatory attendant in a nice but ultimately flat 2D flash design, one from Japan about an old man revisiting his life in gorgeous hand-drawn that's just too long and depressing, and another CG one about Octopi that just doesn't hold a candle to Pixar's lush lighting and shading techniques) and a silly CG animation about two pallbearers that just looks like crap (no offense, producers Mike Judge & Don Hertzfeldt. I still love you and the Animation Show).

The real treats lay in the short list entries, including Plympton's latest Dog short and a real gem from France titled Skhizein about a man who gets hit by a meteor. Worst of the lot was a 24 minute self aggrandizing, overly simplified treatise on the state of the environment called Varmints, directed by Marc Caste. Despite the lush CG and beautiful score by Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson, the film is a gratuitous plea for environmental change. I'll take my metaphors a little less ham-fisted, thank you.

All in all, last year's shorts were a better lot, and I'm surprised so many of the short-listed nominees didn't make it to the top five. Oh well. Either way, it's nice to be able to catch cartoons on the big screen, and I'm glad the AMPAS airs these guys out for everyone to see, even if it is just a glorified screener. (For those who see it -- be on the look out for awful, awful DVD style transitions with insipid quotes about the benefits of the short film medium).

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