Posts Tagged ‘Oscar-nominated animation shorts’

My rating: A- (Opens Feb. 18 at the Glenwood Arts)

Once upon a time an animated short needed to do nothing more than make you laugh.

This year’s batch of Oscar-nominated shorts may make you chuckle now and then, but for the most part they’ll leave you gasping in admiration at their intellectual/emotional breadth.


This world-class mind molester from writer/director Lachlan Pendragon is like a “Twilight Zone” version of “The Matrix,” only animated in the stop-motion style made familiar by the folk at Aardman.

In a colorless office telemarketer Neil suffers through his soul-killing job as a toaster salesman. Actually we’re watching Neil on a video monitor that fills much but not all of the frame. You see, around the monitor’s edge we can see things moving. They’re out of focus but, yes, it appears to be an animation studio…we can see the animator moving his toy figures a fraction of an inch between shots to create the illusion of life.

Whoa…Neil thinks he’s living in reality (just like Neo in “The Matrix”) but he’s actually occupying a fictional space created by a filmmaker.

Mind blown yet?

About halfway through Neil falls asleep at his desk and awakens in the darkened office to find himself dealing with a chatty ostrich who informs him that he is living a lie: “Question everything, young man. The world is not quite what it seems.”

Now when Neil looks closely at his existence he sees evidence of the animator’s previously unseen hand. It’s freaking him out.

The meta-rich “An Ostrich Told Me…” is about as clever as a short film can be.

“ICE MERCHANTS” (Portugal; 14 minutes)

From a chalet perched high on the side of a mountain glacier, a man and his young son take advantage of the frigid air to make ice. Every day they load up a back pack with the frosty stuff and base jump to the valley floor below. Down there folks are happy to pay for crystal clear ice.

Just one problem. Things are starting to melt.

Joao Gonzalez delivers this wordless global warming parable in a spectacular graphic style. His images are simultaneously simple and sophisticated. Dominated by the colors orange and blue, the film looks like a silkscreen come to life. Ultimately “Ice Merchants” becomes a touching story of parental love and loss.

MY YEAR OF DICKS” (USA; 25 minutes)

Pamela Ribon’s memoir about the year she tried desperately to lose her virginity has been fashioned by director Sara Gunnardsdottir into a mini-epic of teen angst and social discomfort. Over a half hour we meet the various boys to whom our heroine is drawn…and, yeah, most of them are dicks.

Like the skateboarding lout David; the moody skinhead she meets at a party, and the movie theater employee who in her fevered imagination comes off as a Gallic lover out of a foreign film. Fact is, none of them are worthy of her…except maybe her best bud Sam, who serves as Pam’s emotional wingman and yearns to be something more.

Pam also has a sex talk with her father that is bleakly hilarious, not to mention so embarrassing as to put a girl permanently off carnality.

“My Year…” is both deliciously literary (much of the narration is a parody of flowery/bad romance novel prose) and astonishingly visual (at certain romantic moments our heroine turns into a manga version of herself, all big eyes and rounded features). Director Gunnardsdottir employs a plethora of visual styles, with each segment getting its own special look.

“THE FLYING SAILOR” (Canada; 8 minutes)

A sailor witnesses the explosion of a ship carrying a load of dynamite. The blast tears off his clothes and sends him flying through the sky head over heels, all the while reliving moments from his life. It’s both dreamlike and deeply disturbing.

A final credit informs us that the film was based on the actual experience in 1917 of a seaman who was blown more than a mile by an explosion and lived to tell about it.

“THE BOY THE MOLE THE FOX AND THE HORSE” (Great Britain: 32 minutes)

Peter Baynton and Charlie Mackesy’s animated adaptation of Mackesy’s 2019 children’s book is the sort of thing that can turn hobnailed tough guys into blubbering messes. It’s a simple story — heck, there’s hardly any story at all — with the emotional kick of a Clydesdale.

A tow-headed boy wanders a gorgeous winter landscape. He encounters a chatty mole (voiced by Tom Hollander), who senses the boy is lost and wants to provide assistance. The boy says he doesn’t know who he is or how he got there — only that he wants to go home.

His cross-country quest will bring him into contact with a sly fox (Idris Elba) who wants to chow down on the mole…at least until the mole does him a major favor. Later on a beautiful white horse (Gabriel Byrne) allows the other three to ride his broad back as they make for the distant lights that suggest a human settlement.

The simple yarn is crammed with moral uplift and emotional wisdom; it’s presented with such poetic polish that the viewer’s cynicism evaporates before it can do any damage.

Visually “The Boy The Mole…” is so gorgeous you want to hang every frame on the wall. The backgrounds are like exquisite water colors, while the characters have been rendered in a pencil-like style that recalls E.H. Shepard’s illustrations for the original Winnie-the-Pooh books.

The film is a marvel that returns the viewer to a childlike state of charity and openness…not bad for a short film.

| Robert W. Butler

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