This year’s batch of animated shorts are either stronger than in years past, or my memory isn’t what it used to be (honestly, both could be true). One is great, two are very nearly as good, and the likely winner comes second-to-last in my qualitative estimation — but will probably take the prize on the basis of its technical virtuosity and mass appeal.
Borrowed Time. Directors: Andrew Coats, Lou Hamou-Lhadj. Country: USA. 7 min. Despite its Western setting and seemingly juvenile aesthetic, Borrowed Time is a deceptively moving piece of filmmaking, and possibly the closest on this list to functioning as pure cinema. Sporting only five spoken words of dialogue, it tells the story of a world-weary sheriff reflecting on a formative trauma from his youth, harboring a decades-old regret that threatens to consume him until a fortuitously placed memento literally draws him back from the brink of the abyss. My only complaint with this one is the tonal dissonance between its style and content, but beyond that, it’s remarkably affective.
Pearl. Director: Patrick Osborne. Country: USA. 6 min. A schmaltzy and disorganized heartstring-tugging melodrama told from the point of view of a car, as it houses a single-dad slacker who makes his living busking from town to town until he decides to settle down for his daughter’s sake. Predictable teen-rebellion and subsequent reconciliation ensue. By a wide margin my least favorite of the bunch, this one feels like it could easily have been a car insurance ad aimed at listless Millennials.
Blind Vaysha. Director: Theo Ushev. Country: Canada. 8 min. By far my favorite of this year’s nominees, which probably indicates that it hasn’t got a chance of winning. Vaysha is a young girl born with one eye that only sees the past, while the other only sees the future, leaving her blind to the present. Told with a mythic, fairytale structure through a beautifully rendered animation style that evokes German Expressionist woodblock prints, the parable relayed through Vaysha’s story is both timely and well executed. Probably the only one of this year’s animated shorts that I’d like to rewatch for my own benefit.
Pear Cider and Cigarettes. Director: Robert Valley. Countries: Canada and UK. 35 min. Up there in terms of enjoyability with Borrowed Time but not on the level of significance or subtlety with Vaysha, Pear Cider and Cigarettes recounts the autobiographical tale of writer-director-animator Valley’s mission to a retrieve a self-destructive childhood friend who is drinking himself to death while awaiting a liver transplant in China. An intensely personal freewheeling narrative with a consistently distinctive and engaging animation style, my chief complaint with this is that it goes on ten or fifteen minutes too long. Your mileage may vary on that count.
Piper. Director: Alan Barillaro. Country: USA. 6 min. Those of you who saw Finding Dory probably caught Piper before the feature. It’s a technical masterpiece, and may well end Pixar’s fifteen-year losing streak in the animated short category. Originally conceived as a test animation in new techniques for modeling difficult textures such as sand and feathers, it absolutely succeeds in that regard. As a marginally fleshed-out narrative, its highly derivative and uninspired. It worked well as an intro to a kids’ movie like Dory, and it absolutely cements Pixar’s preeminent position as the leading animation studio in the world, but its saccharinity and lack of purpose left me cold. If I had to guess, I’d say this is your presumptive Oscar winner.
Opens Friday at Grail Moviehouse.