(*homocinematically inclined)

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Dearest Review: Short Cuts 2019, Part 1: Oscar's Animated Short Film Nominees

ShortsTV once again presents this year's Academy Award nominated animated, live action and documentary short films at a theater (starting tomorrow in New York City, this Friday everywhere else) or streaming service (starting February 19th) near you. These special programs are usually the only way for most movie fans to see all of these otherwise illusive short film nominees that can make or break your office Oscar pool. In the first of three parts, Movie Dearest takes a look at this year's five nominees for Best Animated Short Film.

Although it is highly likely that all three short film categories will be unceremoniously relegated to the commercial breaks during the Oscar telecast later this month, that doesn't diminish the quality of and the filmmaking talent displayed within all 15 of this year's nominees.

2018's slate of tiny toon contenders lean heavy toward personal stories, brought vividly to life through the power of animation; expect to get "the feels" with many of these. There is also a uniquely strong Asian influence in this year's nominees, with three of the five featuring Asian characters and themes.

In addition to my reviews and video links, I've suggested a similarly-themed Oscar nominated feature film to pair with each short film nominee to create your own Academy-sanctioned double feature. Bring on the popcorn!

And the nominees are...

Animal Behaviour, Alison Snowden and David Fine (Canada, 14 minutes).

A collection of neurotic anthropomorphized animals gather for a group therapy session that is disrupted by the arrival of an apish new member. The most "cartoony" of the nominees, this National Film Board of Canada entry is filled with bits both clever (a leech named Lorraine who suffers from separation anxiety) and trite (a pig with eating issues). Unfortunately, there's more of the latter than the former, which makes it feel dated. This is somewhat not surprising when you learn that this is the first short film from Snowden and Fine since their charming Bob's Birthday won this category 25 years ago.

Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 6/10
Pair it with: Another motley menagerie of chatty critters, the canine cast of Isle of Dogs.

Bao, Domee Shi and Becky Neiman (USA, 8 minutes).

A Chinese-Canadian woman gets a second chance at motherhood when one of her handmade dumplings comes to life. Not only is this Pixar's first short directed by a woman, it also contains the first really WTF moment in the studio's history. I won't spoil it here, but suffice to say it is weird, so much so that it took me a second viewing to warm up to Bao (which roughly translates as "precious", "baby" or "bun", so all bases are covered here). Even so, this allegorical tale of food and family and learning to let go suffers from a clumsy, muddled delivery that makes it all a little (ahem) hard to swallow.

Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 6/10
Pair it with: Since they both feature unusual offspring, stick with Incredibles 2, which it screened with in theaters.

Late Afternoon, Louise Bagnall and Nuria González Blanco (Ireland, 10 minutes).

An elderly woman (voiced by Fionnula Flanagan) finds herself lost in her fading memories, drifting between her vibrant past and mundane present. This Tribeca Film Festival Award winner is the first nomination for the Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon in this category following three straight Best Animated Feature nods (including last year's The Breadwinner). A beautifully realized reverie, Late Afternoon is an emotionally rich yet simply told meditation on the sometimes generous, oft cruel capriciousness of memory. One of the best films, feature or short, nominated in any category this year.

Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 9/10
Pair it with: The similarly time-bending animation Mirai.

One Small Step, Andrew Chesworth and Bobby Pontillas (China/USA, 8 minutes).

Meet Luna, a Chinese-American girl with a doting father and the dream of being an astronaut. The first project from Taiko Studios (founded by a group of former Disney artists in 2017) is an impressive, polished debut, boding well for their future as an independent (an Oscar nod right out of the gate doesn't hurt either). Granted, the story isn't anything groundbreaking, but it is lovingly told and it handles it weightier moments a lot smoother than Bao, its closest competitor thematically. Plus, it has an enthusiastic "girl power" spirit that will more than likely prove inspirational for any budding Sally Rides or Katherine Johnsons out there.

Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 8/10
Pair it with: Considering the title is a direct nod to the famous Neil Armstrong quote, how could it be anything but First Man?

Weekends, Trevor Jimenez (USA, 16 minutes).

The son of a divorced couple splits his time living at home with his mother during the week and spending the weekend in the big city with his father. An autobiographical rumination on the director's childhood, this short is the second one from the Pixar "co-op program" to make it to the Oscars (following Borrowed Time two years ago), and it won the Annie Award just this past weekend (it was actually the only Oscar finalist to even be nominated there). Like its young protagonist, Weekends drifts back and forth, between concrete remembrances and surrealistic memories, capturing effectively the unnaturally nomadic existence forced upon children of divorce.

Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 7/10
Pair it with: That other dysfunctional Asian "family" in Shoplifters.

Coming soon: Reviews of the Oscar nominees for Best Live Action Short Film and Best Documentary Short Subject.

Reviews by Kirby Holt, Movie Dearest creator, editor and head writer.

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