For the last few years now, the Motion Picture Academy has released their Oscar nominated shorts for general movie audiences a few weeks before the awards ceremony. 2013 is no exception with the short form animated, live action and documentary films being released wide this weekend. And to ensure an even great audience, the Academy will make the shorts available on iTunes and VOD starting February 19th. (Find out how to see them here: http://bit.ly/wrPvnv)
So, are the films worth a look? The short answer? Absolutely. The five animated ones are particularly exceptional this year. And just as I’ve done before (http://exm.nr/LMGnlm), here are my mini-reviews of this year’s nominees:
“Maggie Simpson in The Longest Daycare”
“The Simpsons” expanded from their long-running TV series to a feature length movie in 2007. And now they’ve got an Oscar-nominated short under their belts too. This one stars Little Maggie, the pacifier-sucking baby, who finds herself placed in a daycare center where she runs afoul of a bratty baby who likes killing butterflies. When she discovers a caterpillar about to turn, it becomes her mission to save the wiggle worm from the violent youth. This adventure is full of societal zings, but it also has a sweetness to it that is rare in the Fox series. I was quite moved, actually, and I hope the franchise continues to explore such new territories in more of the world of short-form animation.
The animator Pes is a visual satirist, and in this pithy stop-motion short he makes some fresh guac out of unusual objects - a grenade, a Christmas light, a baseball, etc. They all contribute to a cheeky yet appetizing concoction that plays with our expectations and our taste buds. It made me laugh numerous times in just two minutes and boy, did I have a craving for Mexican afterwards!
“Head Over Heels”
It’s not unusual for an old married couple to grow farther and farther apart, but in this dissertation on dysfuntion, Walter and Madge are so distant they’re not even on the same plane in their house. She’s walking around on the ground floor while he lives his parallel life up on the ceiling. This British export finds witty ways to comment on the disintegration of communication with our couple sharing the frame and yet not relating at all. I’m not sure how they shot all of this exactly, but it’s a stop-motion wonder that will have you laughing and re-examining your relationship with your significant other as well.
My favorite, and the one I think will take the Oscar, is a Disney cell-animated effort about a young man who has an instant connection with a comely young lady while waiting for the train one morning. He then spends the rest of the seven-minute short trying to get her attention from his downtown office space via paper airplanes. The near misses are a delight and this breezy romantic comedy has a sweeping passion to it that’s rare even in features. And it’s shot in black and white too, so it has a retro feel to it that makes it seem all the more like an instant classic.
“Adam and Dog”
If any short can beat “Paperman” it’s this one, a true underdog about…well, a dog. Adam discovers a playful pooch in his Garden of Eden and they soon become inseparable. Filmmaker Minkyu Lee creates the miraculous here, with amazing life-life movement in all of his cell-animated animals, and two human leads. (Yes, Eve shows up halfway through). His backgrounds are characters too, as the lush offerings of the environment are brought to full realization in every frame. And the dog character here could give Uggie from “The Artist” a run for his Milk-Bones. He’s more charming and delightful than most human actors ever are on screen.
That’s my take on the animated marvels, five worthy competitors that you should seek out before the Oscars. And look for my reviews of the live action shorts here on the Examiner as well (http://exm.nr/SN3ij5). It’s wonderful that the Academy is making these films available to non-Academy members. And with the shorts premiering on iTunes and VOD on February 19th, there’s really no reason any movie buff should, ahem, give these films short shrift.