Once again the world gathers to see what the pinnacle of human cinematography has to offer: The time of the Oscars are upon us. Whether or not the motion pictures presented at this year’s awards are representative of every race or ethnicity, a highly important matter in and of itself, all of the pictures offered up for the best animated short film (Sanjay’s Super Team, World of Tomorrow, Bear Story, We Can’t Live Without Cosmos, and Prologue) and for best live-action short film (Ave Maria, Day One, Shok, Stutterer, and Alles Wired Gut (Everything Will be Ok)) are nonetheless all excellent productions that each tell unique stories in their own respective ways. Which one, however, is worth a 34.3 cm tall golden statue?
Oscar Animated Shorts
Sanjay’s Super Team
A competition for best animation shorts almost wouldn’t be one without Disney and Pixar making an appearance, and they’re back again this year in all their aesthetically cute, yet verbally quiet, glory with Sanjay’s Super Team. The short, directed by Sanjay Patel and inspired by his own childhood, tells the tale of a Hindu father trying to reconnect his young son, who much prefers the cartoon action of his favorite show ‘Super Team,’ to the Hindu faith. In the spiritual search that ensues, Durga, Vishnu, and Hanuman combat the raging Ravana with the assistance of a much bewildered Sanjay. In the standard Pixar style, the film tells a short, sweet, and simple tale that resonates a positive message of familial and spiritual bonding particular to the modern era.
World Of Tomorrow
Departing the realm of traditionalism, World Of Tomorrow, directed by Don Hertzfeldt, somehow manages to touch on feelings of childish joy and existential depression at the same time. Animated in a style that crosses adorably crude fifth grade drawings with very minimalist modern representations, this short gives an overview of the future human condition through the lens of a Emily, a small child, and her future self, and through the course of their travels highlights the technological advancements, such as the ‘outernet,’ time travel, and cloning, that await humanity in the future. Due to the strong juxtaposition between young Emily’s innocent interjections and future Emily’s often emotionless statements, the future, according to this short, may not be so great.
We Can’t Live Without Cosmos
Picking up on the themes of human progress touched on in World Of Tomorrow, Konstantin Bronzit’s production, We Can’t Live Without Cosmos, tells the tale of two astronaut B.F.F.’s, dubbed 1203 and 1204, and the pursuit of their ultimate dream, the final frontier of space. Without any dialogue, the film manages to forge a strong bond between 1203 and 1204 who, under constant criticism by the observing scientists every time they show some form of human emotion, comically compete to enter the space program. Animated in a style reminiscent of recent Adult Swim cartoons, We Can’t Live Without Cosmos, delivers a powerful message about the human drive for scientific progress peppered with moments of unscientific hilarity.
Bear Story, directed by Gabriel Osorio, leaves aside comedy altogether and focuses on the rather dark story of the aftermath of a bear’s struggle against the oppressive, fascist-like, institution that is—from an animal’s perspective—the circus. The short utilizes a steampunk-ish animation style that’s loaded with mechanical gears, sewed-on buttons, and patchwork paintjobs that brilliantly conveys the notion of a once ‘working,’ pre-circus world that is now barely rattling on.
Finally, Prologue, animated by the iconic Richard Williams responsible for legendary works such as Who Framed Roger Rabbit, really pushes the boundary between reality and animation with his hyperreal style of animation. Consciously avoiding a clear plot line, the short focus on a combat situation between ancient four Greek warriors and the nature surrounding them, and proceeds to depict the ensuing scenes in an entirely hand drawn fashion that’s both aesthetically awesome and technically inspiring given the sheer amount of effort that must have accompanied each frame.
Predicted Winner: We Can’t Live Without Cosmos
Ultimately, We Can’t Live Without Cosmos, despite not breaking any boundaries on the animation side of things, takes the cake due to its clever interplay of gravity and levity narratively. Prologue and Bear Story seem to focus too much on animation at the expense of the story, while Sanjay’s Super Team follows the Pixar formula a bit too closely. World Of Tomorrow posits a close second, but that remains for the judges to decide when the Oscars happen on Feb. 28.
Oscar Live-Action Shorts
Directed by Palestinian-British Director Basil Khalil, Ave Maria looks at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the perspective of ordinary people. In the West Bank of Palestine, a Jewish couple and the man’s mother crash into a statue of the Virgin Mary outside a convent and must rely on the nuns for help. What follows is a kind of comedy of religious restrictions. Moshe (Shady Srour) can’t operate the phone because it’s past Shabbat but the nuns have taken a vow of silence making them reluctant to make the call. The various religious rules seem to be irksome formalities preventing the characters from doing what is practical. Despite the prejudices and culture clash, both groups are polite and civil to each other. While the vignette shows us that yes, Jews and Arabs can be polite and friendly with one another, the larger Israeli-Palestinian situation seems omnipresent. Both the Arab nuns and the Jewish family have accepted the precarious situation as an unchangeable reality.
If Ave Maria was a comedy of cultural restrictions, Day One is a tragedy of cultural restrictions. Day One is directed by American Director Henry Hughes and is based on a true story of his own combat experience in Afghanistan. Feda (Layla Alizada) is a female interpreter on her first assignment with the US military in Afghanistan. She must navigate the male-dominated culture of both the military and pastoral Afghanistan. Yet it’s her uniquely feminine presence that allows her to go above the call of duty where her male colleagues cannot. It allows her to step into a home to be the one source of comfort to a woman giving birth. Dr. Nasir (Navid Neghaban) an Afghani doctor refuses to deliver the woman’s baby, showing that even when a woman’s life is on the line the culture of gender segregation in rural Afghanistan is impenetrable. What’s truly remarkable about Day One is its ability to pack suspense, plot twists and emotion into only 15 minutes.
Shok takes place during the conflict in Kosovo during the 1990s. The film opens on two young Albanian boys, Petrit (Lum Veseli) and Oki (Andi Bajgora) going for a joyride on a bicycle. The playful, optimistic attitude of both boys distracts the audience from realizing that there is a war going on at all. The short is a coming of age tale, as Petrit must decide where his loyalties lie, both to his country and to his friend. Both boys must decide right from wrong in a time when the lines between right and wrong are blurred. The two young actors deliver strong performances, capturing the struggle the two boys face to retain their childhood during violent times.
Stutterer follows Greenwood (Mathew Needham) a typographer in London who struggles with a speech impediment but whose internal monologue is observant and witty. An online relationship brings joy to his lonely life, but it soon becomes a source of stress with the potential of a real-life meetup. Greenwood’s observations of people he passes on the street or in the tube give the film a playful sense of humour. And the cinematography is enchanting with delicate natural lighting and long musical shots. Yet ultimately the plot is predictable and the trope of a creative wordsmith struggling with a speech impediment feels cliché. If you’re unfamiliar with short films, Stutterer is exactly what you would imagine live action shorts to be, with few characters, sparse plot, long beautiful shots, and minimal dialogue.
Alles Wired Gut (Everything Will be Ok)
German Director Patrick Vollarth shows us what begins as a fun weekend between a divorced father and his 8-year-old daughter. Yet the action quickly takes a darker turn. Michael, played by Simon Schwarz invokes our sympathy, even pity, and yet as we watch his choices unfold, he becomes terrifying. A strong performance from Julia Pointner who plays the 8-year old Lea, the film shows that children can be more emotionally mature than the adults, and often sharper than adults assume. The title phrase, “everything will be ok” is repeated again and again, usually to Lea who knows everything will definitely not be ok.
Predicted Winner: Day One
Day One manages to pack as much emotion, drama and suspense of a feature length film into 15 short minutes. It almost redefines what a short film can be, as it seamlessly integrates not just a main-plot, but sub-plots. It tackles issues of feminism, culture, poverty, and military intervention in subtle yet striking ways. It will haunt you long after the last scene.