As you prepare your picks for your favorite Academy Award pool, remember that these contests are won in the little categories. Almost everyone can guess who will win the big awards, but who will win Best Live Action Short and Best Animated Short? Here are some brief thoughts on the year's brief animated movies chosen for recognition by the Academy -- in my order of preference. You can see them yourself, starting today, at Landmark's E Street Cinema. (Also see my thoughts on the nominees for live action short.)
Fresh Guacamole, PES (2 minutes)
Written and directed by PES, the nom de plume of one-man film cartoonist Adam Pesapane, this short was easily my favorite of the five nominees. In stop-motion, like his previous shorts Western Spaghetti and the charming video-game tribute Game Over, but with a surer hand on the technique, this little gem plays on visual expectations. As you watch the director's hands make a batch of guacamole, nothing is what it seems: knives cut into unexpected objects and turn them into other unexpected objects. So much is done with so little.
Head over Heels, Timothy Reckart (10 minutes)
Marriage is difficult, and couples sometimes have to carve out different spaces to stay together. This conundrum is worked out visually in this rather developed short written and directed by Timothy Reckart. A husband and wife have remained in the same house but only because one agrees to live on the floor and the other on the ceiling. This is not only possible in stop-motion clay animation but rather enchanting, as the elderly man and woman pass by each other in the same room but with different centers of gravity. The way it is worked out is as mellow and unassuming as the score by Jered Sorkin. (Also see my thoughts on the nominees for live action short.)
Adam and Dog, Minkyu Lee (16 minutes)
Minkyu Lee, who did some animation work for Disney, directed this short film which imagines what Eden was like for Adam and his best friend -- his dog. A short has to tell the story it wants to tell in a short time, so it is not a good sign when a short has longueurs. The story here is cute -- how did the dog become man's best friend? -- but it is told in a way that could be a lot pithier.
The Longest Daycare, David Silverman (5 minutes)
This is the first animated short to be spun off from The Simpsons, and while it obviously has visual similarities with the show episodes, the fact that it has no dialogue (only rather saccharine music by Hans Zimmer) sets it apart. There is no dialogue because it involves a morning spent by Maggie Simpson at the Ayn Rand School for Tots (story written by James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Al Jean, David Mirkin, Joel H. Cohen, and Michael Price). It is a cute story, showing Maggie defending an innocent creature from heartless Rand-style elimination. Aside from a few jokes at academic tracking, however, it has little of the sharp humor we expect from The Simpsons.
Paperman, John Kahrs (7 minutes)
Mostly black-and-white animation with a film noir finish, this is the directorial debut of John Kahrs, who has worked in animation for Disney/Pixar for over a decade. The simple story, by Clio Chiang and Kendelle Hoyer, follows an office drone and his chance for love in the big city. After a chance meeting with the woman of his dreams on the morning train, he spies her in the window of another skyscraper across the street. He has to get her attention with the only thing at his disposal, a pile of paper placed on his desk by his demanding boss, with uplifting music by Christophe Beck. In its distortion of the human body and fantasist wish fulfillment, it is a very Disney film.