western was actually nominated for an Oscar this year. Granted, it is more existential
and revisionist than an old school shoot-up, but oater fans should take what
they can get. It also happens to be animated—and quite good. In fact, the
animated fields, feature and short, are both pretty strong this year. Without
question, the animated short film nominees are the strongest of the Academy
Award nominated short film programs, which open today in Los Angeles.
its nomination, Andrew Coats & Lou Hamou-Lhadj’s Borrowed Time maintained the Brooklyn Film Festival’s record as an
Oscar bellwether for shorts. It is moody, but the Old West could get that way. Coats
& Hamou-Lhadj tell a relatively simple story, but the emotions are complex.
Borrowed unfolds like a memory play
as the wiry old sheriff revisits the scene of his predecessor father’s death
years ago. The CGI figures are quite expressive and perfectly evoke the
archetypes of the Old West. Indeed, the animation looks terrific, in
genre-appropriate kind of way.
terms of genre, Alan Barillaro’s Pixar-produced Piper is like a short animated Disney nature movie. It is pleasant
enough, but instantly forgotten.
contrast, Patrick Osborne’s Pearl really
goes for the emotional crescendo. Somewhat high-concepty, it documents a
musical father-daughter relationship from the backseat of the family car that
was once their family home. Although it is guaranteed to be a crowd-pleaser,
Osborne rapidly-edited mastercut conception can feel a bit forced, but he still
wraps on a genuine grace note.
Theodore Ushev’s National Film Board of Canada-supported Blind Vaysha is probably the most ambitious nominee, in both
aesthetic and thematic terms. The Bulgarian-born Ushev adapts a short story by
Bulgarian poet Georgi Gospodinov in a bold animation style that evokes the look
and feel of wood-cuts. The title character is not exactly blind, but it is
almost impossible for her to function in our world. Through one eye, she only sees
the past, while through the other she only sees the future. It is a parable
with real bite, yet it does not lend itself to simplistic, reductive readings
based on the twenty-four-hour news cycle.
the longest nominee, is also the best, by a country mile. Robert Valley’s Pear Cider and Cigarettes (trailer here) is sort of a funky exploitation organ transplant
drama, but it pays off emotionally in a big way. Valley’s best friend Techno
Stypes was always cool and dangerous in high school, but a series of health crises
has withered his body and yellowed his skin. In need of a liver transplant,
Stypes has decamped to China, where he is waiting for a matching political
prisoner to be executed. This rather troubles Valley, but not Stypes.
Cider is wickedly cool, featuring a
film noir sensibility and suggesting the influence of pin-up art, at least with
respect to the female characters. It also sounds massively groovy, almost like
a mix-tape of the funkiest Sound Library cuts, with credit going to associate
producer Robert Trujillo & Armand Sabal-Lecco (Mass Mental) and Dave Nuñez
(Anitek). As sweet as the soundtrack is, the film will really speak to you if
you ever had a friend who opened a lot of social doors for you, but eventually
revealed their own human weaknesses.
round out the program, three shorts that garnered a lot of festival acclaim
have also been added to the bill, including Franck Dion’s The Head Vanishes. Essentially, it is an Oliver Sacks-esque fable
about an elderly woman suffering from dementia.
Frankly, it is pretty obvious what is up right from the start, but Dion’s
animation and visuals are quite striking. He also makes powerful use of a free
jazz-ish interlude performed by Akosh S on sax, Edward Perraud on drums,
Ludovic Balla on violin, and Pierre Caillet on saw. It is a nice film, executed
with sensitivity that is probably more worthy than Piper.
At thirty-five minutes, the energetic and ultra-cinematic
Cider alone justifies checking out
the animated short nominees, but Borrowed
Time, Blind Vaysha, and Head Vanishes
also bring a lot to the party. Thanks to their assembled merits, the
animated Academy Nominated Shorts program is recommended quite enthusiastically
for animation fans and Oscar obsessives. It opens today (2/10) in LA at the
Landmark Nuart and is currently playing in New York, at the IFC Center.
Labels: Animated films, Canadian Cinema, Oscar Nominated Shorts, Short Films