Latest posts by makeitsnowondem (see all)
- Commentist Beer Barrel: Spoilers for Beer and Television – April 28, 2019
- Oscars 2019 Preview and Open Thread: We Got to Move These Acclaimed Motion Pictures. We Got to Move These Short Nominees. – February 24, 2019
- Oscars 2019 Preview: I Have Eaten The Polar Bears That Were In Your Ice Cap – February 23, 2019
The animated features and short films are, collectively, some of my favorite awards-season categories. There’s almost always something in there that’s as good as most of the Best Picture nominees, and because it’s not a Best Picture nominee, I get to feel smug about appreciating it. Also, a lot of these films are just fun, and that’s a quality that’s often in short supply on a list of movies selected by Very Serious Movie People. But before we get started to the best animated features and the best shorts of the year, I want to briefly mention the worst shorts: Every single pair of shorts worn by every character in Call Me by Your Name. Good God, people. Let’s never let the 1980s happen again.
The Boss Baby
You know, when I predicted the Oscar nominees, there was one thing I said flat-out would not happen, but here we are, talking about the Academy Award-nominated The Boss Baby. Without question the worst movie up for any award this year, The Boss Baby isn’t particularly funny and is certainly not making up for it by being thematically interesting in any way. The Boss Baby inexplicably made half a billion dollars this year, and friends with children have told me that kids love it, which makes sense because kids have terrible taste in everything. If you don’t have children, and you’re not trying to watch the entire list of nominees like some lunatic, there’s no reason to ever see this.
If you’re looking for a reason to hold onto your faith in humanity after reading that, yes, Boss Baby did make half a billion dollars, it was outearned by Coco, which is actually very good. It keeps its lively characters moving at full speed through a plot with a number of clever twists and turns. If there’s one thing Pixar has a knack for, it’s world-building, and Coco‘s afterlife is a fully realized world all its own, filled with life and spectacular scenery and based on rules that make sense and propel the story rather than acting as a brake on it.
Ferdinand doesn’t have the most spectacular animation or the most remarkable story, but I can tell you what it does have: Peyton Manning, voicing a bull named Guapo. Not bad by any means, Ferdinand is a fun and lighthearted bit of entertainment that you can enjoy with any kids you might happen to have and not have to think about much.
If you’re looking for the best animation in this category, I don’t think you can beat Loving Vincent, history’s first fully handpainted feature film. Loving Vincent is a sort of detective procedural based around the death of Vincent van Gogh. It’s necessarily dialogue-heavy due to its incredibly labor-intensive choice of animation method, and at times it resembles nothing so much as the interview portions of the video game L.A. Noire, but it also has its share of audaciously-rendered set pieces.
In competition with Loving Vincent for the weightiest material in the animated feature category is The Breadwinner, a story about a girl in Kabul on the eve of the American invasion who disguises herself as a boy to work for her family after the Taliban throws her father in prison. The film’s best moments are those that see Parvana realizing the newfound freedom that comes with her assumed identity; it’s not so much that she’s a different person when in disguise as that she’s living in a completely different world. The hand-drawn characters are wonderfully expressive, and the second art style the film adopts for its story-within-a-story about a young boy’s quest to defeat the evil Elephant King and recover his village’s seeds has its own distinct and particular beauty.
Will Win: While Coco, the biggest animated movie of the year, doesn’t have Frozen‘s killer soundtrack or an ingenious premise on the level of Inside Out, it is a smart and heartfelt story about memory and loss.
Should Win: The Breadwinner, but I’m not going to raise hell over it. The Breadwinner, Coco, and Loving Vincent are all so closely grouped for me that I’d be happy for any of them to win.
ANIMATED SHORT FILM
Revolting Rhymes Part One
Dear God, please don’t let Dear Basketball win this. All credit to animator Glen Keane’s fluid, kinetic hand-sketched work, but it’s wasted on a film that amounts to nothing more than a commercial for the Kobe Bryant Brand. Dear Basketball is the weakest nominee by a wide margin, but it’s already won the Annie Award, so heaven help us.
Revolting Rhymes is the first half of a two-part poetic fairy tale mashup based on Roald Dahl’s book of the same name, and easily the longest of these films. Roald Dahl reimagining folk tales alone is well worth the price of admission; add to that some terrific character design, tight direction, and a great voice cast featuring Dominic West in the dual role of narrator and Big Bad Wolf, and you’ve got an all-timer in the nursery rhyme genre.
The only stop-motion film in the group, Negative Space, is also an adapted poem, in this case Ron Koertge’s identically titled “Negative Space.” It’s a slow, tender warmup for one dark but clever joke, and the folksy, off-kilter character design, dreamlike visuals and gently musing narration all come together to make this a very satisfying watch.
Lou is Pixar’s mandatory entry, a brief but rollicking tale of a schoolyard bully learning the joy of giving back. The best part is seeing all the creative things the animators managed to do with the titular Lou, a shape-shifting blob of misplaced toys given life by… well, who knows? It’s not important.
Garden Party is funnier than any dialogue-free film ought to be. Its characters, all of which are frogs rendered in stunningly realistic CG, have lively and distinct personalities, and while little details throughout the film slowly build the sense that something bad happened here, any sense of dread that might develop is ultimately resolved more as (admittedly gruesome) comic relief than as real horror. It’s a dazzling, strange bit of filmmaking, and all the more impressive because as far as I know it’s the one of just two student films nominated.
Will Win/Should Win: Garden Party. I’m sticking to my guns, and if I’m wrong, I’m wrong: Dear Basketball is not good enough to win an Oscar, and it won’t. Garden Party has everything you’d want in an Oscar-winning short: Humor, surprise, and absolutely beautiful animation.
Second Choice: Revolting Rhymes Part One.
Snub of the Year: World of Tomorrow Episode Two: The Burden of Other People’s Thoughts. The first World of Tomorrow lost out to Chilean coup allegory Bear Story in 2016, but since then the consensus has only grown that it’s one of the greatest short films, and one of the greatest animated films of any length, ever made. The Burden of Other People’s Thoughts is lightning striking twice. It’s hilarious, insightful, and dizzyingly weird, and it could easily have replaced any of these year’s nominees.
LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM
The Eleven O’Clock
My Nephew Emmett
The Silent Child
Watu Wote: All of Us
There’s only one comedy in this year’s live action field, The Eleven O’Clock, a rapid-fire Abbott and Costello-style duet featuring a psychiatrist and a patient who thinks he’s a psychiatrist. It’s a joy to watch, even if it works maybe a bit too hard to land its final gag, and Jessica Donoghue is great in a supporting role as the doctor’s beleaguered temp receptionist, Linda (or is it Donna?).
School shooter drama DeKalb Elementary has understandably been getting a lot more attention since the mid-February shooting in Parkland, Florida. It’s based on a real-life 911, recording, and both of the principal actors play it out in such understated fashion that you don’t realize how nerve-wracking the whole thing is until it’s nearly over. Because it places the viewer so immediately into such an unfathomable situation, it takes on an almost surreal quality, more like the war room scenes of Dr. Strangelove than anything else I can think of.
The Silent Child slowly draw a deaf child out of her shell and teach her to communicate, and it’s quietly infuriating to see the all the little ways the child’s parents neglect her. The cinematography is terrific, Shenton and six-year-old Maisie Sly give the two best acting performances in any of these shorts, and the film ends in absolutely heartbreaking fashion.
Watu Wote: All of Us is the Oscars’ other student film, and I think the editing shows that in spots. It’s still a fairly compelling account of a 2015 bus attack in Kenya, in which Muslim passengers disguised their Christian busmates, shielding them from Al-Shabaab militants. There’s a bit of a long walk to get where Watu Wote is taking you, but the climactic standoff is tense and believable, and this is a story of real-life heroism that really does deserve to be told.
Most will be at least passingly familiar with the basis for My Nephew Emmett, the lynching of Emmett Till. Perhaps it was because I knew where things were going that the the short felt padded-out at 19 minutes, but I think there were honestly some odd pacing choices, with the film dwelling on certain moments without really adding anything to our understanding of the story.
Will Win/Should Win: The Silent Child. A lot of people are saying DeKalb Elementary on account of its supposed timeliness, but I think that’s too facile. DeKalb is about a school shooting, sure, but it’s not a film that has a lot to say about school shootings generally. The Silent Child‘s appeal for sensitivity to the needs of deaf children may not be the Hollywood cause du jour right now, or likely ever, but it’s powerful regardless.
Second Choice: The Eleven O’Clock. Predictable at times, admittedly, but it also does some legitimately unexpected things with its premise, and in any case it’ll keep you laughing.
make it snow is an alot of beer who’s seen alot of movies. By the time you read this, he may already be watching the last thing on the nomination list, Molly’s Game.