Short Rounds is a biweekly column dedicated to spreading the love of short film. Every other Wednesday we'll curate a number of flicks around a theme, from current film festivals to whatever is in the air. You know you've got the time.
Awards season should be a time of discovery, of finding new and delightful films you hadn’t heard of or hadn’t gotten around to in the prior year. Unfortunately, this often gets lost in the shuffle. It can feel like we spend months of every year watching the same three to five films winning mounds of golden statues. Boredom and resentment over constantly hearing about unremarkable Oscar bait can make it hard to see the little things, the short films and small independent feature productions that manage to make it into the conversation against all odds.
Christopher Campbell discussed this earlier in the week, asking whether or not we are more likely to watch a film if it wins awards. A lot of the responses were negative, insisting that this kind of glitzy praise shouldn’t matter to us. Yet in the case of many short films, awards are the only way we get to hear about them. Rather than spending the season following the often silly race between a small handful of star-studded movies, spend it on the lookout for things you wouldn’t otherwise notice. When the Academy Award nominees are announced, or the Annie Awards, or the BAFTAs, don’t just skip over the list of shorts because you haven’t heard of them. Look them up, see if they’re available and give them a shot.
The Annie Award nominees were announced on Monday. The list of films picked for Best Animated Feature was a mostly studio affair, led by Disney and Pixar. Below the line, however, things get a lot more interesting. The Best Animated Short Subject category, while still led by Disney, Sony and Fox, also includes work from the National Film Board of Canada and StoryCorps. Most of them aren’t available online, but there is one pick that bridges the gap between studio and independent animation quite nicely. I’m delightfully surprised it picked up a nomination.
Bill Plympton Couch Gag, by Bill Plympton
One of two The Simpsons-related nominees in the category, this strange project is one of the year’s cleverest oddities. Bill Plympton’s anthropomorphic tendencies have always walked the line between charming and creepy, as in last year’s The Cow Who Wanted to Be a Hamburger. This clip is no different, as the animator brings new life and a tumultuous past to the piece of furniture that features in every The Simpsons opening gag. Only Plympton could animate Homer in a loving (and sexual) relationship with a sofa, and still come out ahead.
The Annies don’t leave it at that. There is also a Best Student Film category, an excellent opportunity to encourage new animators and feature their work as they break into the industry. About half of them are available to watch online, all of them made with heart and skill.
Defective Detective, by Avner Geller and Steve Lewis
In the tradition of many a Pixar short, this clever urban story relies on visual cues to build a wordless comedy. The detective is sitting bored at home when something drips from his ceiling, resembling blood. Terrified for the fate of the little old woman who lives above, he sprints upstairs. The short is predominantly CG, but the detective’s wild and paranoid imagination is hand drawn. The transitions between the two forms are seamless, and add some extra character to this already rambunctious film.
Can We Be Happy Now, by Tahnee Gehm
There’s a love of color in this film that comes through here with more clarity and joy than in most major feature productions. An old man lives in a gray world, blandly walking to work every day without concern for anyone or anything around him. Yet the spirits of nature have their own agenda, gleefully bullying him into abandoning his drab life and surrounding himself with the greens and blues of a crisp morning walk. The texture is lovely, dynamic and open.
Beyond the Annies, there isn’t all that much. The Independent Spirit Awards has no short film category, nor do the Golden Globes. Most critics’ groups don’t give short awards either. That leaves the Academy itself to feature the best of short cinema, and they consistently do a mixed job. This year’s short lists have been announced, and there is some truly excellent work sprinkled throughout. Live action shorts like Asad and Curfew bring new ideas to the table, along with some excellent execution. Unfortunately, none of the most exciting films selected in that category are online. However, animation comes through for us yet again.
Fresh Guacamole, by PES
Frankly, I’m ecstatically shocked that this made it onto the short list this year. Not that it’s anything but marvelous, but it’s just too small and hip for the Academy, too YouTube oriented. It’s wonderful to see PES getting some recognition after putting so many neat videos online. The stop-motion in this short clip is some of the most creative out there today, everyday objects standing in for vegetables and spices. When done right, this kind of animation is completely enthralling, both in execution and imagination. Fresh Guacamole is right on point.
The Eagleman Stag, by Mikey Please
Another film, another animator with an assumed name. Mikey Please’s extraordinary short film won the BAFTA last year, and is now a potential nominee for Best Animated Short at the Oscars. As far as I’m concerned it’s one of the best films of the year, period. Its scope is breathtaking for just under nine minutes, and its audacity on every level of production is stunning. It dives right into the complexities of time and how we understand it, building from a simple and astute script, a musical score perfectly attuned to the goals of the film, and a design sensibility that leaps off of the screen into metaphysical space. Yet not for a second is it alienating, over-complicated or obtuse. This is a personal and relatable work of philosophy, more effective in just a few minutes than the many-hours-long works of similarly ambitious filmmakers.