Movie Review: 2017 Oscar Nominated Short Films: Animation

By Justin Cudahy, Staff Writer

With The 89th Academy Awards coming up at the end of the month, many people will be looking to see who will take home the award for Best Picture, Best Lead Actor/Actress, Best Director, etc. The short films category is often overlooked by the mass audience leading up to it and during the show, which is a real shame. This year’s nominees for Best Animated Short Film takes viewers on a journey, whether it’s following a baby sandpiper overcome its fear of the ocean or watching a father/daughter relationship develop over the years in the point of view of a car.

Borrowed Time is a computer animated short written and directed by Pixar artists Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj. The premise around this seven-minute short follows an unnamed sheriff as he stands atop of a cliff in the middle of a desert. As he takes another step closer toward the edge, viewers are greeted by flashbacks to the old sheriff as a kid with his father, who relive what turns out to be a situation with a tragic conclusion. The short touches upon themes of tragedy and regret, but at the same time also shows signs of courage and strength leaving viewers with an ending full of hope. Two-time academy award winner Gustavo Santaolalla provides the score for the short which plays beautifully throughout, with a theme that will be hard to forget.

Pearl is a short guaranteed to pull at viewers’ heartstrings. By limiting the audience’s point of view only to a car, we are given a glimpse at the growing relationship between a father and daughter and their journey across the country living on the road. Viewers witness dreams being crushed, relationships start to develop and the juggling between some of the duo’s happiest moments and saddest moments. “No Wrong Way Home” is an original song written for this short and is the main drive in creating emotion.

As of right now, Piper is being predicted as the favorite to win this award and for good reason. The short premiered back in 2016 in theaters nationwide alongside with Finding Dory and was met with overwhelmingly positive reviews. It follows a young sandpiper, who fears the oceans after being wiped out by an unsuspecting wave while looking for food. Afraid and discouraged, he decides he would rather hide than go back out, that’s until he realizes that he’ll need to eat eventually. Going back out to face his fears, he meets a hermit crab who teaches the sandpiper to face his fears. Animation wise, Piper is by far the most visually appealing. The detail in every object is amazing, from the seaweed in the ocean to each individual grain of sand. It’s a short and sweet short that is hard not to like.

Based on the same story by Georgi Gospodinov, Blind Vaysha is an experimental short that pays off. It follows the story of a girl who can see the past in her left eye, see the future in her other, unable to live in the present. Of all the shorts, this one is the most creative in terms of animation style. Created on a tablet, it uses a linocut-style giving it the characters and everything else a wood-like texture. Director Theodore Ushev claimed to have drawn between 12,000 to 13,000 drawings for this 8 minutes short, a number that is hard to fathom. Its medieval setting and theme are accompanied by “Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary”, giving it its eerie and haunting atmosphere.

Asteria is the shortest one here, clocking in at just over five minutes. Created in France by a team of five people, it’s the only true comedy short out of the pile. Here, two spacemen land on a foreign planet to claim it for their home country but are interrupted by a group of aliens who have the same idea in mind. Tensions begin to rise between the two species, eventually erupting into an all-out firefight. For a short clocking in at a mere five minutes, Asteria does an impressive job forming a cohesive narrative with a beginning, middle and end while also incorporating original style and humor.

Once Upon a Line is a short that at first glance, looks like a simple project, but holds deep meaning to it. Animation wise, the filmmakers use nothing but stick figures and simple lines that never break, allowing for one continuous drawing throughout. The plot centers around the life of an average man who lives an average life. He follows the same routine every single day, until he meets a woman, quickly falling in love. The man recognizes overtime that he doesn’t enjoy too much change in his life and accepts that there are other ways of living life. Despite being animated, Once Upon a Line is the realest short, based on its heartfelt theme and message that it is trying to promote. It teaches people not to conform with society may deem as “normal,” and to be free to choose how they live life.

The Head Vanishes puts viewers in mind of Jacqueline, an old woman suffering from dementia. She carries her head around with her instead of putting it on, with the intention of going on her annual beach trip which she does every year for her birthday. She is guided about her daughter, despite not being able to recognize her and instead of calling her a “stranger”. While on the train, the old woman misplaces her head, unable to find it and putting her in a panic. The Head Vanishes is a nice short that provides an insightful commentary on mental health and masking it with a sweet and innocent plot.

Pear Cider and Cigarettes is the longest short from the bunch, with a total time of 35 minutes. One of the things that set this apart from the other shorts is that this is crude with obscene language, imagery, and themes of alcohol and drugs. It is centered around Techno and his slow descent into self-destruction, as told by his friend and narrator, Robert. He was athletic, charismatic and could do anything growing up, but it all comes crashing down suddenly after getting into a car accident, leaving him physically incapacitated. Techno begins to drinks heavily, smoke frequently and find himself in trouble with the law often, slowly descending into a life of depression. One night, Robert is contacted by Techno’s father, tasked with bringing his son home from China, and helping him quit drinking, a mission that is harder than it sounds. Pear Cider and Cigarettes’ animation is unique, adapting to a more comic-like art style which helps drive the plot. It’s a depressing piece, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is an excellent and heavy-hitting short.

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