and the 2013 nominees are...

For the fifth year in a row, Ian and I watched the Oscar-nominated animated shorts (our third year watching at the Coolidge Corner Theatre).

the coolidge

This year, the official screening included the five nominees plus three highly commended shorts. The experience felt a bit strange without a Pixar short in the mix (no new short out in time), but we were impressed with all of nominees.

Maggie Simpson in "The Longest Daycare" — Dropped off at the Ayn Rand Daycare Center, Maggie Simpson is labeled average and carried past the Room for Gifted Babies to the "nothing special" corner, where she runs into butterfly-smashing Baby Gerald and befriends a caterpillar. In the prison-break caper that ensues, Maggie throws herself into protecting her new friend from Gerald's mallet. I'm not well versed in The Simpsons, but that didn't detract from my enjoyment. Maggie steals the show, and the writing and humor are excellent.

Adam and Dog — This short takes the well-known story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and retells it through the perspective of the first dog. The setting of this short is an expansive and breathtaking artistic interpretation of an unmarred world, and the characters' innocence and joy are infectious. The fall is unseen by the dog, but it's effects are felt in the gloom that permeates everything in the latter part of the short. This is a hauntingly beautiful work of art and I would not be surprised if it ends up winning. (This is the one Ian wants to win.)

Fresh Guacamole — A recipe for guacamole might seem an uninspired premise for a short, until you see the ingredients. This short takes a familiar process and makes it fresh (pun intended) using impressive stop-motion animation and brilliant sound editing. Everyday objects replace the usual ingredients for an imaginative and entertaining under-two-minute food spot.

Head over Heels — Walter and Madge have grown apart after years of marriage. They live in the same house but on different planes: he on the floor, she on the ceiling. When a tattered pair of ballet slippers inspires Walter to try to bridge the gap, it throws off the delicate balance keeping their house afloat, and they must find a way to weave their lives back together. The stop-motion animation is incredible in it's execution and attention to detail, and the story is a compelling take on a universal question: how do you keep love alive? The answer is poignant, and we're predicting this takes home the Oscar (I cried, which has proven a good indicator in past years).

Paperman — George has a chance encounter with a lovely lady, but misses his opportunity. He gets a second shot when, at work, he spots her in a window of the skyscraper across the street. In a light bulb moment, he folds the contents of his inbox, sheet by sheet, into paper airplanes and sends them towards the open window. In a surprising yet classically Disney twist, his crazy idea turns into an unexpected success. The pencil-drawn appearance of the characters is charming, as is the 1950s New York City setting. Most impressive is the pioneering combination of computer and hand-drawn animation. This may win over voters, but after watching Head over HeelsPaperman's ending felt a touch contrived, the music demanding, instead of encouraging, my emotional response.

Highly Commended Shorts

Abiogenesis — A giant robot lands on an empty planet and transforms it through a sequence of mechanical operations. While the animation is impressive, I was left wanting more. From where did the robot come? Why did it transform the planet? What happens next? What does it mean? It is a creation story, but it feels unfinished somehow. (This might be due in part to expectations from the teaser text which implies the robot has an agenda and the planet's transformation "has profound implications for an entire galaxy.")

Dripped — In the same vein as a tall tale, this is the story of Jack, who steals then eats priceless paintings in order to experience the works in a very literal way. But when his crimes begin to catch up to him, he is forced into hiding and his stockpile of paintings dwindles. Desperate and out of options, he pulls out a canvas and begins to paint. I loved Jack's various incarnations as interpretations of famous paintings brought to life, and Jack's identity, revealed in the end through his art, was a fun surprise.

The Gruffalo's Child — We saw The Gruffalo, nominated for best animated short in 2009, and were delighted by this sequel (again, based on the book series). One snowy night, the Gruffalo's child sneaks out in search of the Big Bad Mouse from her father's stories. She encounters the snake, the owl, and the fox before she finally runs into the not-so-big, not-so-bad mouse, who once again must use his wits to survive. The clay animation is beautiful, and I love that this is a story about a brave little girl (and that wit still beats might).

We enjoyed all of the shorts, and highly recommend catching them if you have the opportunity. Have fun watching the Oscars, and may the best films win!

*update: we predicted Head over Heels, but Paperman took home the Oscar.

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