Review: 2020 Oscar Nominated Short Films – Animation

Aaron Neuwirth reviews the Oscar-nominated short films that tell stories full of ambition, uplift, tragedy, and more.

While it’s been a challenge for the shorts branch to keep their films as a part of the Oscar broadcast, I am happy to write about them, as they continue to be some of the most ambitious and fascinating films to arrive in a given year. Finding ways to successfully tell a story, develop characters, or delve into a socially relevant topic in a relatively small amount of time is just as challenging as having two hours to do so. This sort of work often leads to the discovery of new talent, and regardless of what they move onto next, the films will remain to exemplify what’s possible on a cinematic level, regardless of scale. This post will focus on my reactions to the animated short films nominated for Oscars at this year’s 92nd Academy Awards.

DCERA (DAUGHTER)

Synopsis: The bond between a father and a daughter is imperiled by matters that go unspoken and hurts that are slow to heal.

Two aspects stand out in Daughter. One is the paper-mâché figures that have a unique look, allowing for something borderline eerie, with the semblance of figures once cherished before being discarded. The other element is the handheld style providing the stop-motion animation approach with a distinct feel. Daughter places the viewer in the moment thanks to this jittery aesthetic ripped out of an action movie. The story, however, takes place on a different level, as we watch a woman deal with an estranged father on his hospital bed, letting flashbacks detail the relationship (or non-relationship) they had in the past. As the longest of the shorts, the abstract sensibilities manage to linger throughout, but it plays into the sort of power this film has.

Director: Daria Kashcheeva
Country of Origin: Czech Republic
Runtime: 15 minutes
Language: None

HAIR LOVE

Synopsis: Hair Love is an animated short film about an African American father trying to do his daughter’s hair for the first time.

The most upbeat nominee in the animation category, as well as the most widely seen thanks to its pairing with The Angry Birds Movie 2, and eventual release onto YouTube, Hair Love is a likable movie. Beginning as a Kickstarter that became a popular children’s book, only to be adapted into a cute animated short from there, writer/director/producer Matthew A. Cherry also has the benefit of industry support. The fact that it’s perhaps the weakest of the animated shorts speaks to just how strong the rest of the films are. That said, the crowd-pleasing quality and colorful animation overweigh some aspects that I can see dividing black women as far as the importance of their hair.

Directors: Matthew A. Cherry, Everett Downing Jr., and Bruce W. Smith
Country of Origin: USA
Runtime: 7 minutes
Language: English

KITBULL

Synopsis: An unlikely connection sparks between two creatures: a fiercely independent stray kitten and a pit bull. Together, they experience friendship for the first time.

Kitbull is one of the features from Pixar’s SparkShorts program, which can be found on Disney+. As opposed to the shorts featured as openers to theatrical Pixar releases, these are independents by young Pixar artists who put a heavy emphasis on diversity and mature themes. Kitbull places the focus on a Pitbull subjected to abuse. That level of heaviness allows for greater weight when the dog and the stray kitten living nearby finally team-up. A rare 2-D animated film from Pixar, there’s an adorable factor to go along with the emotional value of a short film like this, which allows the familiar story to ascend to greater heights.

Directors: Rosana Sullivan and Kathryn Hendrickson
Country of Origin: USA
Runtime: 9 minutes
Language: English

MEMORABLE

Synopsis: Recently, Louis, painter, and his wife Michelle are experiencing strange events. Their world seems to be mutating. Slowly, furniture, objects, and people lose their realism. 

Within 12 minutes, a viewer learns all they need to about the older painter stricken with Alzheimer’s, contending with his loss of memory and understanding of his surroundings. The surrealist inspiration allows Memorable to be one of the most striking of the nominees, with a blend of stop-motion, puppetry, and visual effects to deliver a painterly whirlwind of ideas depicting the complex framing of a mind that is fading. The added impact of knowing a husband is losing all contact with not only his own consciousness, but his wife as well, makes the film all the more depressing, but not at all undeserving of the praise it has received up to this point.

Directors: Bruno Collet and Jean-François Le Corre
Country of Origin: France
Runtime: 12 minutes
Language: French

SISTER

Synopsis: A man remembers his childhood memories of growing up with an annoying little sister in 1990s China. How would his life have been if things had gone differently?  

I’m really enjoying all the representation for stop-motion animation this year, and Sister is another terrific addition in that realm. Presented mostly in black and white, with splashes of color, the short plays like a mini-memoir with a twist. Watching the relationship grow between a boy and his younger sisters show all the signs of a melancholy home movie, as there is clearly a revelation on the way. Without detailing exactly what happens, it’s interesting to see a short delve into territory not too far off from the acclaimed documentary One Child Nation. That historical relevance adds an impact to this creatively animated feature that makes it another excellent entry in this solid lineup of films.

Director: Siqi Song
Country of Origin: CHINA/USA
Runtime: 8 minutes
Language: Chinese

***

If I Was Picking The Winner: This is honestly quite difficult, but Memorable would be my final choice. The creative blend of animations combined with the story being told has left me thinking about it days after watching this unique short feature.

ShortsTV will release the 2020 Oscar-nominated short films on more than 500 screens across the United States on January 31, 2020.
For more information, http://shorts.tv/theoscarshorts/.

Written by
Aaron Neuwirth is a movie fanatic and Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic from Orange County, California. He’s a member of the Hollywood Critics Association, the Online Film Critics Society, and the Black Film Critics Circle. As an outgoing person who is always thrilled to discuss movies, he’s also a podcaster who has put far too many hours into published audio content associated with film and television. His work has been published at We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu, The Young Folks, Screen Rant, and Hi-Def Ninja.

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