This week I had the privilege of being able to attend the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ screening of Oscar-nominated shorts. If you’re ever able to make it there, you should. Held at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills with a posh reception beforehand, it’s an opportunity to see some of the Oscar-nominated work that gets overlooked by the general public. These are great films, coming from all over the world, and most people don’t ever get to see them. At the AMPAS Shorts presentation, you get the chance to see each one of the animated and live action shorts, followed by a Q & A with the filmmakers. Here’s a rundown on this years animated shorts, in case you don’t get the chance to see them yourself.
French Roast is about a wealthy man in a Parisian café who comes to a frightening realization – he’s lost his wallet. To avoid embarrassment or trouble with the law, the man goes to extreme lengths to hide his lack of money – he stays in the café as long as possible, keeps ordering more and more cups of coffee, and even tries stealing from an old lady. An amazing lot transpires in the film’s eight minutes, ending with a financial savior in the form of an “untouchable” old tramp. The animation is CGI, as are all this year’s shorts save one. The characters are visual storybook archetypes, with extreme features making them both silly and charming. It’s also a very interesting concept for the entire short to take place in one location, and it plays out well; it never feels stagnant. It’s clever, heart-warming, and visually entertaining.
Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty
A twist on classic fairy tales, Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty is more about the telling of a story than the story itself. A terrified child unwillingly gets a bedtime story from the cantankerous Granny O’Grimm. But the hero in this version isn’t Sleeping Beauty or Prince Charming – it’s the mean old witch, who bears a striking similarity to Granny herself. The witch casts a deadly spell on all the beautiful people “who still have their muscle tone,” and with that, the story’s over. The grandchild is left to go to sleep far from soothed. This short gets the most laughs of the bunch. Granny’s a hilarious character, voiced by actor Kathleen O’Rourke, who also wrote the script. The contrast between Granny’s excitement over the story and her grandchild’s helpless fear allows for great humorous moments. Another interesting feature is the way the short is animated in two different styles. Granny and the child are in CGI animation, while the Granny’s story is animated in a two-dimensional, more traditional style. The film is able to seamlessly move between the two styles. Coming from Ireland, and the debut of director Nicky Phelan, this is a very funny, very enjoyable film.
The Lady and the Reaper
The Spanish short The Lady and the Reaper (La Dama y La Muerte) follows an offbeat storyline. An elderly woman dies in the night. When Death comes to take her, she follows him gladly, looking forward to reuniting with her late husband. But she is suddenly and jarringly dragged back into life by a crusading surgeon. Death has a job to do, and comes back after her, and a raucous tug-of-war ensues as Death and the surgeon fight over the old woman. As dark as the story seems, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The tone is extremely light, considering the reality of the subject matter. It’s hard to say whether this detracts from the film or not. It’s comedic, but the filmmaker is still making a statement about medical science “bringing people back from the dead.” If this one doesn’t make you laugh, it might make you think.
This short follows a wild storyline that involves kids at a zoo, a waitress at a diner, a high-speed police chase and a devastating earthquake. But the story takes a back seat – the hook to Logorama is that everything in its world is a corporate logo. Butterflies are the MSN logo, birds are Bentley and Aston Martin logos, one restaurant is a Pizza Hut logo, the police are Michelin men, and the criminal they’re after is none other than Ronald McDonald. It’s amazing, but the filmmakers are able to make every single thing in their world out of some logo or trademark. Some might see the film as an indictment of capitalism, but the filmmakers suggest it’s more of a fascination with the way that logos inundate society, particularly American society. The story, which echoes blockbuster movie styles (action, adventure and disaster types), is a little messy, which may be forgivable since it isn’t really the point. The real question is whether or not there will be serious legal repercussions, as the film uses over 2,500 registered trademarks. It’s a notable achievement, which may shed new light on copyright battles. Listen closely to hear the voice of David Fincher as the Pringles man.
A Matter of Loaf and Death
The presentation at the Academy Tuesday night closed with Nick Park’s A Matter of Loaf and Death, starring the beloved Wallace and Gromit. In this installment, the duo are bakers threatened by a string of murders by a serial killer targeting – you guessed it, bakers. When Wallace meets and falls for the “Bake-O-Lite” girl, former spokeswoman for Bake-O-Lite Bread, Gromit begins to suspect that she is the serial killer. It’ll take help from her dog Fluffles to keep Wallace from becoming the next victim. This short is, good or bad, just what you’d expect from a Wallace and Gromit movie. Nick Park’s familiar claymation presents an engaging story with clever, very British dialogue. I’ve always been impressed with the way Park can construct an exciting, full story that takes place in just under half an hour. A lot happens, but it doesn’t feel rushed or hurried. The picturesque, homespun visuals are consistent with earlier Wallace and Gromit fare; it always feels cozy and inviting. These films have always been favorites with fans of stop-motion animation, and A Matter of Loaf and Death reminds us why.
As always, it’s tricky to predict who’s going to home with Oscar gold. Nick Park has been an Academy favorite before, winning with The Wrong Trousers, A Close Shave, and The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, but it may be just that reason that the Oscar goes to someone new this year. Logorama is fascinating, a huge undertaking, and rather bold in its execution, but it’s so offbeat that it could be off-putting to Academy members. I think I’m going to bet on Granny O’Grimm. It’s very funny, with a memorable main character, and uses its story as a way to allow two different animation styles. It’s nice, but not too nice, and it feels like a lot happens in only six minutes. I’m no expert on animation, so there may be something in the others that I’m missing, but that’s where I’m going to put my prediction.
It’s hard to catch them in theaters, but many of these films are available on Youtube or elsewhere online, and I’d highly recommend that you check them out, even if you can’t online. And we’ll all see what happens come Oscar night.