At last year’s underwhelming Oscars ceremony, there were awkward moments aplenty: Melissa Leo pretending that she swore by accident, the wildly uneven energy of co-hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway, and Franco in a dress for no discernible reason. The evening’s most exciting and genuine moment came from Luke Matheny, the writer/director of that night’s winner for Best Live Action Short Film, God of Love. Matheny’s genuine surprise, off-the-cuff remarks, and enthusiasm made for one of the award show’s most memorable moments.
If you don’t remember this moment, click here to see it.
That’s all to say that these films, while short in length, can produce some of the best and most unexpected film moments of the year. Here’s a rundown of this year’s nominees for Best Animated and Best Live Action Short Film.
A Morning Stroll (UK)
A clever and edgy little film based on a story from “The New Yorker.” It involves a little chicken who catches the eye of three different people in different time periods in New York City while out for a morning stroll. The punchline, like many of the animated shorts, is clever. The animation is exceptional, using a different style to reflect each time period in a way that feels natural.
To be honest, this one had me scratching my head. The animation is simple, so I expected the story to be superb. I didn’t think it was. It’s a sweet, fun little movie about a child who is bored with the rituals of Sunday. However, I didn’t find anything that merited an Academy Award nomination.
Wild Life (Canada)
A non-traditional western that takes place in turn of the century Canada, this fascinating entry follows the life of wealthy young Englishmen who set out for adventure in North America. It uses a unique storytelling style, mixing letters home from the men, as well as intermittent title cards which compare their lives to the trajectory of comets. The animation is lovely, appearing like a moving Impressionist painting. In its short run time, this film manages to be funny, exciting, and poignant. Well done.
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (USA)
This film is by far my favorite of the five. It features a Buster Keaton-like protagonist in New Orleans who finds himself swept away by a storm, only to find himself made the caretaker of a grand building full of books. As moving as it is adorable, Morris Lessmore holds its own next to the other celebrations of silent cinema this year. This film has already picked up multiple awards at several film festivals.
La Luna (USA)
This Pixar short is gorgeous to look at, amusing, clever, and cute. It might be just a bit too cute, though. I know that these shorts are made to play before movies (this one will show before Brave), and I have nothing against aiming squarely for the kid audience. However, this one seemed to be all about making the three characters as twee and precious as possible. It’s visually stunning, but otherwise pretty empty.
I should mention that in the “Highly Commended” section of program, there was an Australian film called Nullarbor that was inventive and visually delightful. It’s a mystery to me why it wasn’t nominated.
A well-made film about a young Indian orphan and the German couple who have come to adopt him. It’s good story that is performed and directed quite well. It does feel a bit rushed in the short format, and would probably make an excellent feature.
A funny and clever entry from Ireland about a boy who is forced to be an altar boy at mass in order to earn the privilege of watching his favorite football team’s next match. The humor is typical of Irish short films; wry, inventive, perfectly timed. It’s a quick and enjoyable little number.
The Shore (Northern Ireland)
The longest of five nominees, this one is also the most high-caliber. It’s directed by Terry George (a nominee for his feature writing credits on In the Name of the Father and Hotel Rwanda) and stars Ciaran Hinds (trust me, you know his face if you don’t know his name). It’s superbly acted and directed, telling a story that’s funny and sad in the way only Irish films are.
Time Freak (USA)
A tight, sharp film that takes a comedic look at time travel. The creators of this film seem to have more in common with Woody Allen than H.G. Wells. This is a short that completely earns its punchline ending.
Tuba Atlantic (Norway)
The winner of this year’s Student Academy Award, Tuba Atlantic is a hilarious, unpredictable wonder that’s filled to the brim with Nordic charm. It’s my favorite of the five entries, though I like them all quite a bit. This is the kind of movie that gets me excited to see a director make a feature. The plot sounds ridiculous when summarized, so I’ll just say that there are multiple tubas, an adorable angel of death, a delightfully crazy old man, and a lot of creative weaponry used against seagulls. I suppose all of those things make it sound just as ridiculous. Oh well. I could watch this one over and over again.