J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, January 30, 2015

2015 Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts

There are ways that parents burden their children, such as decorating their home with hipster Scandinavian furniture. It does not quite work as a unifying theme, but generational debts and inheritances play an important role in at least some of this year’s Oscar Nominated Animated Short Films, which open collectively today in New York.

The first simply will not fit into our artificial framework no matter how hard we try to force it, but it is also the shortest and the slightest of the four nominees provided to the media (again, Disney decided to do their own thing with Patrick Osbourne’s Feast). Marieke Blaauw, Joris Oprins & Job Roggeveen’s A Single Life is sort of a riff on the concept of Adam Sandler’s Click, with a 45 rpm record taking the place of the remote control. It is amusing, but it is hardly a major work.

Daisy Jacobs’ The Bigger Picture certainly deals with serious issues, depicting the struggles of a faithful grown son to care for his ailing mother, even while she persists in favoring his irresponsible brother. Jacobs’ life-size, paper animated figures are undeniably distinctive, but if this were a live action film, we would probably consider the drama manipulative.

Torill Kove’s Me and My Mouton is also a bit sentimental, but in a sweetly nostalgic kind of way. The middle daughter of tragically trendy but well-meaning architect parents must deal with their rather unorthodox aesthetics, which seem strange to her more conventional friends. In fact, Mouton is a rather sly satire of hipster sensibilities as well as an endearing coming of age story. Kevin Dean’s soul jazz trio soundtrack also makes it swing and groove.

Yet, without question, the class of the field is Robert Kondo & Dice Tsutsumi’s The Dam Keeper (trailer here). When his father passed away, young Pig assumed his position as the dam keeper, maintaining the windmill that prevents as mass of toxic clouds from overrunning the village. Yet, he is still just a boy, who continues to attend school, where he is often mocked and bullied. One day, a young Fox transfers to his class and the rest of the animal students are quite taken with her (she is a fox, after all). However, she has an artist’s sensitivity, so she soon befriends Pig. Nevertheless, she presumably remains subject to the same peer pressures of other students. When it appears Fox betrays Pig’s trust for the sake of acceptance, the heartbroken dam keeper might just give up entirely, which would have ominous implications for the ungrateful village.

Dam Keeper is a beautiful fable, perfectly served by the stunning painted and hand-drawn animation, but it also resonates on a very personal level. In both visual and narrative terms, it is an extraordinary film. It is worth seeing the entire program just for it, especially since it is the longest of the nominated films. Frankly, if it does not win, the Academy will have some explaining to do.

This year’s nominated short film animated package is augmented with several other films of notable merit, including one selection of the 2015 Slamdance Film Festival. While it is not as graceful and sophisticated as Plympton’s previous Slamdance selection, the feature length Cheatin’, Footprints is a rather clever, postmodern channeling of Peter and the Wolf, rendered in a suitably surreal style.

Without question, The Dam Keeper is the main event here—and hopefully the Oscar favorite. Between it and the addition of the next strongest nominee, Me and My Mouton and the Slamdance alumnus, Footsteps, this year’s presentation of the Academy Award nominated short films is definitely worth seeing. Recommended for animation fans, it opens today (1/30) in New York, at the IFC Center.

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