It’s that special time of year when movie theaters all over America start playing short films. Some places are hosting a total of 15 of them. Most of those participating, though, will be screening only 10. The shorts receiving this privileged exhibition are the Oscar nominees in the three categories devoted to the best in cinema of a length of 40 minutes or less. Thanks to Shorts HD, each category — live-action, animated and documentary — are showing separately (docs in fewer theaters), and all five contenders for each are included. You can find them in a theater near you (find one ) beginning this Friday.
In addition to reviewing all of the 2016 Oscar-nominated shorts programs, each contender individually critiqued, we’re also ranking them this year in order from worst to the best in each category. Below is my personal take on the five nominees for Best Animated Short. You can easily guess which is ranked number one, because it’s FSR’s movie of the year. It’s also the only one with dialogue spoken by its characters (another has a TV program with dialogue on), which is funny because I’m otherwise super excited about so many of them being “silent” shorts. Overall it’s a good program, though I mostly recommend it to see my top choice on a big screen.
5. Bear Story
Gabriel Osorio Vargas’s beautiful but (appropriately) clunky is like a stop-motion short inside a computer-animated short. The 11-minute film is about an old, lonely bear who makes and then shares an autobiographically inspired miniature mechanical theater. Inside a box, his life story plays out with tin figures in clockwork fashion, showing how he was beaten in his own home and stolen away to a circus, separating him from his family. The machine is not actually done with stop-motion but it’s made to look like we’re seeing a physical process play out.
Only it doesn’t really pull that effect off completely if you watch closely. The “camera” work is mostly stiff and formulaic, as far as modern motion-graphics style is concerned. That’s not necessarily a problem for the film, which would be less consistent in its aesthetic if it had used real physical pieces for its centerpiece. But in the context of the story, it is supposed to be something being watched by another character. It doesn’t feel cemented in reality, even for a story set in a world run by bears. It’s definitely a cool short, but it’s also a cold one and neither the most innovative nor most interesting of these five.