By Sean Boelman
For the fifteenth year, ShortsTV is releasing the Oscar-nominated short films in all three categories in theaters, allowing audiences across the country and world the unique experience of getting to see these short films in a setting unlike that in which they are usually shown. This also gives the filmmakers of these shorts the opportunity to see their work playing on the big screen, which is often a dream come true.
This year’s batch of animated shorts nominated for the award is about as one would expect, as the Academy has become relatively predictable in the films they nominate in this category. As always, the category will likely be won by the contender from the mainstream studio, but some of the indie shorts are very wonderful as well. The animated shorts program shown in theaters also contains three other films that were not nominated for the award, but those are not ranked in this article.
As is always the case with this category, there is one film in the mix that is a depressing tear-jerker, and this year, that is Daughter. Although there is a lot of merit in this film, and it is understandable why it earned a nomination, it doesn’t quite seem to hit all of its intended beats. Yes, it does have some absolutely stunning sequences, but the visuals aren’t able to compensate for a narrative that feels overly safe. Unlike some of the other contenders nominated for this award, this film doesn’t earn the emotional reaction it elicits.
Inarguably the most unusual contender on this list, the highly personal (and surprisingly political) short Sister packs quite a bit of material into its brief runtime but also packs quite the punch. Ultimately, the film’s third act twist feels a bit manipulative, but it does a good job of driving the film’s message home. Still, one can’t help but feel like there is more to be told from this story, and that an animated short like this may not have been the method to do so. Thankfully, there are more resources available on the issue, including a well-made documentary that was also released in 2019.
Released by Disney/Pixar under their SparkShorts label, Kitbull likely would have been the favorite to win this award if only it had been released theatrically alongside one of their features. Alas, the Disney+ release for this cute, if somewhat insubstantial short will likely cement its position as one of the long shots, even despite the brand name. Certainly adorable, with admirable character design and a sweet story, Kitbull is an admirable film, but it arguably isn’t the best to have been released under the label. With the era of Pixar shorts accompanying their features in theaters coming to an end, so too it seems that the company’s usual reign in this category is over.
2. Hair Love
From Sony Pictures Animation (the film received a theatrical release along with The Angry Birds Movie 2), Hair Love is the obvious favorite to win the title as this year’s best animated short film. With a touching story and some extremely creative animation, the talent in the visual storytelling that is present here is undeniably very impressive. Though the film’s narrative is a bit safe, it is packed with emotion, and it is unlikely to leave any viewer unmoved. Additionally, there is a ton of personality in the visual style, with some excellent character designs and some unique effects. This is the type of all-around well-made and crowd-pleasing short that usually triumphs in this category, so don’t expect the Academy to bring any surprises.
Although it is unlikely to receive the award (as mentioned before, the Academy tends to recognize the higher-profile contenders in this category), Memorable is arguably the most deserving nominee of the bunch. Featuring a beautiful story that deals with an absolutely heartbreaking topic, this film is heartbreaking in all the right ways. Furthermore, the film features a truly gorgeous and thoroughly creative visual style. The amount of detail present in this short is extremely impressive, from the texture of the characters to the design of the sets. In terms of both style and content, this is reminiscent of the recent animated masterpiece Anomalisa, and as such, it will have plenty of fans of its own.
The 2020 Oscar Nominated Short Films open in theaters on January 29.
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