Anyone who tries to predict the winners of the Academy Awards inevitably runs into certain categories, like sound mixing, that seem like guesswork. Two such categories are animated short film and live action short film. This year, the ten nominated shorts, distributed by Shorts International, will be shown in theaters, beginning February 6. Here are the play dates.
Animated Short Films
Last year, only one of the five nominated animated shorts was funny. This year, I am pleased to note, four of them are humorous. One of the nominees, Presto, is actually well-known, because it was produced by Pixar and was released in theaters along with WALL-E. For those who may have missed it, the hero is a magician's rabbit who seeks revenge against his master for not giving him a carrot before they go onstage. Presto is the only one of the ten nominated shorts that was made in the United States.
Oktapodi (France) is about two octopi lovers who are separated when one is chosen to be cooked and eaten. For three frantic minutes, they fight heroically to save themselves. In Lavatory - Lovestory (Russia), a lonely public toilet attendant tries to discover which of her clients is secretly leaving her flowers. This Way Up (UK) follows the adventures of two undertakers who encounter a considerable number of unexpected obstacles while trying to transport a woman's corpse to the cemetery.
The only animated nominee that is not comic is La Maison en Petits Cubes, which, despite its title, is Japanese. An elderly widower, who lives on the water, dons a diving suit to retrieve a dropped pipe and finds himself going deeper and deeper into his memories of his wife and child.
Even having seen the nominees, this is a difficult category to predict. Presto's familiarity could end up working for it or against it. Lavatory - Lovestory is a pleasant and amusing charmer, but the animation is simple. If a plurality of voters go for evocative technique, or are just sympathetic with the nostalgic widower, the winner could be La Maison en Petits Cubes.
Live Action Short Films
One never knows with Academy voters, but this year one of the live action shorts stands out big-time. Toyland (Germany) takes place in 1942 as the Nazis are asserting their power. A German mother, afraid to tell her little boy the real reason his Jewish best friend is going away, convinces him that the Jewish family is travelling to Toyland. When the Nazis come for the Jews, the little boy decides to go with them.
New Boy (Ireland), based on a short story by Roddy Doyle, shows an African immigrant child's first day in an Irish school, as he struggles with bullies and with memories of his schoolteacher father in Africa. In The Pig (Denmark), an elderly man enters a hospital for a rectal operation and adopts, as his guardian angel, a whimsical pig in a painting on the wall. When he returns to his room after the operation, he is outraged to discover that the painting has been removed because it is offensive to the Muslim patient in the next bed.
The protagonist of On the Line (Switzerland) is a department store security guard who develops a crush on one of the clerks. When he sees her boyfriend attacked by ruffians on a train, he makes an unfortunate decision. Manon on the Asphalt is told from the point-of-view of a young woman as she lies dying in the street after being hit by a car.
Academy voters are notoriously sympathetic to films about the Holocaust, but in this case, Toyland really does deserve to be the winner.