The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2017: Animation (2017)
February 22, 2017 4:57 AM - Subscribe

Shorts HD presents a theatrical release of the five Oscar nominees for Best Short Film, Animated, plus three "Highly Commended" animated shorts.

Where to see it; or, available streaming or on demand.

Oscar Nominee Borrowed Time [USA, 7 min.]
A sheriff returns to the site of an accident from his youth.
websitetrailer • Reviews: 1, 2IMDb
Note: the film was released on Vimeo for a limited time; many online reviews embedded the video, leading to a "Because of its privacy settings, this video cannot be played here" message.

Oscar Nominee Pearl [USA, 6 min.]
A father shares his love of music with his daughter as she grows up, as seen from their car.
full film as 360 Google Spotlight Story • Reviews: 1, 2Interview with director Patrick Osborne • IMDb

Oscar Nominee Piper [USA, 6 min.]
A small, young sandpiper looks for food near the shore.
websitetrailer • Reviews: 1, 2, 3Article on Piper's productionIMDb

Oscar Nominee Blind Vaysha [Canada, 8 min.]
A woman sees only the past with one eye, and only the future with the other.
website (full film may be available in some regions) • trailerclip • Reviews: 1, 2, 3, 4IMDb

"Highly Commended" Asteria [France, 5 min.]
Two human astronauts arrive to claim a new planet, only to find an alien race there with the same idea.
Facebook pagetrailerInterview with filmmakersIMDb

"Highly Commended" The Head Vanishes (Une tête disparaît) [France/Canada, 10 min.]
Jacqueline takes a train to the seaside.

"Highly Commended" Once Upon a Line [USA, 8 min.]
Man meets woman, has his humdrum life upended.

Oscar Nominee Pear Cider and Cigarettes [USA, 35 min.]
The narrator's estranged and self-destructive friend, Techno, reaches out in need from China.
Vimeo On Demand site (includes trailer and option to rent or purchase full film) • trailer #2 • Interviews with filmmaker Robert Valley: 1, 2, 3 • Reviews: 1, 2, 3IMDb
This nominee is shown at the end of the program preceded by a parental guidance warning noting violence, language, sex, and drug use.

Reviews of all Oscar-nominated films: 1, 2, 3, 4
posted by DevilsAdvocate (4 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Overall, I didn't think this year's batch were as good as previous years, at least when considering the best of the bunch. I didn't find any of these as good as last year's World of Tomorrow or Historia de un oso.

Borrowed Time: The one out of this bunch I had seen before. The product of a program where Pixar animators can produce their own independent films using Pixar equipment. The animation is what one would expect given that, but I thought the story a bit thin — I would have liked a bit more on the gap the movie leaves the viewer to fill in on their own.

Pearl: Although this was made to show off Google's 360 spotlight/VR technology, I saw this first in the theater in a conventional 2D presentation, and only later watched it online (although I don't have the gear for the full VR experience). I actually don't think it detracted much from the film to see it in a conventional presentation. (Or, less charitably, the 360 view didn't add much to the experience.) The film shows a father and his daughter through the years as she grows up (ultimately focusing more on the daughter), with minimal dialogue, and tied together by a song. Even though I found the plot fairly conventional I thought the movie was charming nonetheless, probably helped a lot by the fact that I liked that song quite a bit.

Piper: The perennial Pixar nominee, in this case one which aired in front of Finding Dory. Reviewers tend to note that this is the best Pixar short they've seen in a while, and I agree. The animation is good, as always, but I felt this hit the emotional notes better than many of the previous Pixar shorts.

Blind Vaysha: Based on a story written in 2001, although it seems like it could be a much older Russian folktale, a feeling enhanced by the block printing which animator Theodore Ushev used in making the film. I thought the film suffered from making explicit a metaphor which I found pretty obvious anyway, and then by not providing a proper ending to Vaysha's tale. Not that an ambiguous, open-ended end to a story is always bad, but it's particularly hard to pull off in a fairy tale-like story.

Asteria: Eh. Mild chuckle at the twist ending. Didn't find the film particularly special.

The Head Vanishes: A poignant and well-done piece on dementia in the elderly, with an interesting metaphor — and unlike Blind Vaysha, the film doesn't feel the need to explicitly explain the metaphor to the viewer.

Once Upon a Line: A fairly conventional story told in an unconventional way. Competently done, but other than the style I didn't find anything particularly novel here.

Pear Cider and Cigarettes: An autobiographical story by animator Robert Valley, this film is considerably long than the other nominees, and thus can tell a more fleshed-out tale, which worked in its favor. The style is reminiscent of a graphic novel (Valley did the story as a graphic novel before producing the animated film), which suits the story well. The film held my interest and told its story well, I thought.

My pick: I go back and forth between Pear Cider and Cigarettes, Piper, and (though not a nominee) The Head Vanishes. It's hard to compare PC&C especially, since it's so different from the others. At the moment I find myself favoring PC&C, but that can change with my mood.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 4:58 AM on February 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

Overall, I didn't think this year's batch were as good as previous years, at least when considering the best of the bunch.

Agreed, although on the other hand there weren't any serious clunkers or eye-rollers, either, so I guess I'd call this one a fairly moderate collection - still definitely worth a watch.

Borrowed Time: I also would have liked a little more flesh to the story, and I found the sort of "standard" animation - exaggerated features and body shapes and movements - kinda jarring given the somber tone of the film.

Pearl: I had no idea this was a VR piece - I also saw it in the regular theater - and I do wonder if my take on it will be different if I ever see it in that format. While I certainly didn't hate it, I thought the story was a bit pedestrian, stereotypically heartwarming. I did like the animation style.

Piper: This was Pixar pushing the state of the art, which is a thing I think they tend to do in some of their shorts. The story was well done, albeit fairly standard adorable-funny, but the detail and realism of the beach and the water and the feathers and the feathers in the turbulent water was pretty astounding. We're that much closer to the day when a movie can be entirely CG and no-one will know.

Blind Vaysha: I liked the ambiguity of the story, and I thought the woodblock animation was just fantastic.

Asteria: Agreed, nothing special, but funny and well-made and not a waste of 5 minutes of my life.

The Head Vanishes: This one definitely should have been in the running for the Oscar - addressing a serious social and highly personal issue with grace and art and without being sappy. The best film of the lot, IMO.

Once Upon A Line: The concept and animation style were almost enough to overcome the conventional story. Still, not horrible.

Pear Cider and Cigarettes: I think this kind of slice-of-life film needs a bit more of a definite ending and thematic subtext than PC&C had, or it needs to be more of a vignette (i.e. shorter.) At ten minutes this would have been an interesting glimpse of one of the narrator's periodic encounters with his unconventional friend. At 35 minutes I'm looking for something to change from the beginning to the end - autobiographical or not, I want these characters that I've spent time with to leave the film different in some fashion than they were when they started; a story still needs to be told. Despite the flashbacks, I didn't feel the film made a strong case for why Techno still has such a hold on the narrator that he'll zip off to China to sit by a hospital bed, nor does the narrator seem to do much (if any) self-examination to figure that out for himself. The characters exit as they entered. It's certainly valid to make a film where your themes are "childhood friends have a mysterious hold on you throughout your life" and "people rarely change" - but I think it would have been more powerful as a shorter film. "Eschew surplusage", in the words of Mark Twain.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:12 AM on February 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

I missed out on PCC because I went with my kid (I appreciated the setup), and I agree that there wasn't as much wow as in other years I've had a chance to watch the nominees.

Borrowed Time and Pearl didn't make much of an impression. I liked them fine. But The Head Vanishes was so beautiful and strange that it absolutely should have replaced one of them: it was my favorite by a long shot.

The realism of the visuals in Piper dropped my jaw when I saw it before Finding Dory, and dropped it again here. It was the kid's vote, of course, but I just wanted to watch all the different ways that they could make code look like damp crumbling sand.

Blind Vaysha was very cool to watch but I kept feeling like I needed to watch it twice, once to pay attention to each half. Probably intentional. The kid understood and liked it more than I expected.

Once Upon A Line made me kind of grumpy. I already saw Paperman, and Inner Workings (the short before Moana), and Feast (the short before Big Hero Six). "Middle class man gets turned upside down by a woman and here's a cool animation to show it" should get a couple-year rest at this point. The animation itself was clever, I just wish the story was too.
posted by tchemgrrl at 8:56 PM on February 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Piper was quite good. But I think part of it was because I still remember how bad Lava was.

I liked Pear Cider & Cigarettes a lot, partly because it captured how most foreign expats navigate and live in Mainland China. I do agree it needed to be thematically tighter. The only thing I can see is maybe Techno is a cautionary tale about youthful recklessness and burning the candle at both ends.
posted by FJT at 10:01 AM on February 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

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