Devouring the Oscars: Best Animated Short Film

Part of the “LAMB Devours the Oscars” series at the Large Association of Movie Blogs.

I’ll start with an admonition: You have no reason not to have a horse in the short-film categories for the Oscars.

These should be your favorite races, because they require relatively small investments of time. If you see and hate The Reader, you’ve lost 124 minutes of your life. If you see and hate Lavatory - Lovestory, you’re out 10 minutes. And the chances of you hating Lavatory - Lovestory are much smaller.

Alas, each has about the same chance of winning the top prize in its category.

My point is this: In 20 minutes, you can see all five nominees in the Animated Short Film category — three in full, one trailer, and one excerpt. On the plus side, it doesn’t appear that there are any stinkers here. On the down side, the movies that seem to be the most interesting are the ones that you can’t see in their entireties.

Here’s another reason to watch these movies: Given the high level of prognosticator consensus in major categories, your best chance of winning your Oscar pool is to make smart picks in the minor categories.

I present the Best Animated Short Film nominees from least likely to win to most likely.

Lavatory - Lovestory, Konstantin Bronzit

lavatory.jpgCute, clever, slight, and wordless, this concerns a miserable bathroom attendant who one day finds flowers at her station. In expressive line drawings, the movie tracks the rising and inevitable falling of her hope, renewed by a fresh bunch of flowers — the only bursts of color.

In its favor: Whimsical, patient, observant, and decidedly old-school, it gets a lot of emotional nuance right.

Against it: Although it’s only 10 minutes long, it drags. And with the meticulous animation of the other nominees — particularly its hand-drawn competition La Maison en Petits Cubes — voters will dismiss it as simple.

Oktapodi, Emud Mokhberi and Thierry Marchand

oktapodi.jpgCute, clever, slight, and wordless, it’s the story of octopi in love. When one is taken away to become somebody’s meal, its partner begins a heroic quest to save it.

In its favor: Energetic and quick, I think it’s more imaginative than presumptive winner Presto, and a better use of the medium. And as inevitable as the ... err ... money shot is, it comes as a surprise, and it seems to come as a surprise to the protagonists, as well.

Against it: It ain’t Pixar, either in distribution or the detail of its computer animation. And its brevity seems a function of budget rather than narrative economy; it’s rushed.

Better resolution: http://dekku.blogspot.com/2008/08/oktapodi.html.

This Way Up, Alan Smith and Adam Foulkes

thiswayup.jpgBased on the trailer, this is either delightfully morbid or morbidly delightful, as two men accompany a body to the afterlife. I haven’t seen it, but I suspect it would be my favorite among these five. You should take that as a strong recommendation to not choose it in your Oscar pool.

In its favor: It appears to be fiercely imaginative and odd.

Against it: It appears to be fiercely imaginative and odd.

Better resolution: http://www.thiswayupmovie.com.

La Maison en Petits Cubes, Kunio Kato

maisoncube.jpgBy some reports, the class of the bunch is the one that you get no sense of in its online form: “[T]he one film that just totally takes your breath away. ... [I]n its beauty, purity, and emotional delicacy, it makes an impression that resonates well past its 12-minute running time.”

In a world of rising seas, an old man revisits his life through a house that he’s had to abandon, submerged story by submerged story.

Clever and wordless hold true here, too, I’m guessing, but not cute or slight.

In its favor: It looks lovely, and it if it delivers on the promise of its premise, there’s a good chance it’s as affecting as any of the Best Picture nominees.

Against it: It ain’t Pixar.

If you’re looking for a place to differentiate yourself from your fellow pool-sters, choose this over Presto; it’s a smart risk.

Presto, Doug Sweetland

presto.jpgCute, clever, slight, and wordless, this was the short in front of WALL•E. A magician and his bunny prop do battle over the man’s failure to properly feed his charge.

In its favor: WALL•E has combined domestic-box-office and sales revenue of more than $357 million, and there’s absolutely no reason to dislike Presto — beautifully, richly animated, funny, and with a ladder to the groin to satisfy fans of America’s Funniest Home Videos.

Against it: The curse of Pixar’s consistent excellence is that merely-quite-good movies feel disappointing. Presto looks like Cars compared to WALL•E, and it’s probably merely quite good compared to its fellow nominees.

One thing I failed to account for is that voters in the shorts categories must attend special screenings, which would (of course) negate the natural advantage of Presto. Knowing that, I should have picked La Maison en Petits Cubes.

But then I would have looked smart, and we can’t have that.

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