As was the case last year, I found 2018’s animated short-film nominees more engaging than their live-action counterparts. That’s certainly not to say that they’re qualitatively better, rather that they’re not nearly as weighed down with sociological self-importance — a virtue I’m increasingly finding of value these days. While most of the films are certainly appropriate for children, at least two are most likely not — so probably best to leave the exceptionally young or particularly sensitive kids home for this one.
Dear Basketball. Directors: Glen Keane and Kobe Bryant. Country: USA. 5 minutes. As a former college athlete, I understand the tendency for nostalgia for a sport one inevitably abandons. What I do not understand is how something that feels like an overlong sneaker commercial gets nominated for an Oscar. Effectively Kobe Bryant’s brave tribute to himself with an overblown John Williams score, this one fails to hit any real emotional notes other than “Basketball is great, and Kobe was great at basketball.” Probably only of interest to die-hard Lakers fans, of which there are many in the Academy. Coincidence?
Garden Party. Directors: Victor Caire and Gabriel Grapperon. Country: France. 7 minutes. Far and away my favorite of this year’s animated entries and the one least appropriate for young audiences. Not only is Garden Party the most technically sophisticated entry, it also boasts arguably the best writing. Any significant plot summary would spoil the fun, but the film follows a group of beautifully rendered CG frogs as they overrun an opulent abandoned mansion. The reveal as to why the mansion is abandoned is subversive, dark and utterly hilarious. Five-star film.
Lou. Directors: Dave Mullins and Dana Murray. Country: USA. 7 minutes. This year’s requisite Pixar film is far from the most impressive thing the studio has put out in recent memory, but it’s every inch a Pixar piece — meaning it’s slick, clever to an extent and manages to wedge a saccharine message into its predictable plot. That’s not to say this story of children’s lost toys teaching the playground bully a much-needed lesson isn’t good — it’s probably the front-runner for the award — but that it seems like a step backward after last year’s entry from the studio, Piper.
Negative Space. Directors: Max Porter and Ru Kuwahata. Country: France. 5 minutes. Since the Academy almost certainly lacks the guts to give the statue to Garden Party, Negative Space would be my next pick — meaning it’s not going to win either. It’s a slight, understated story told with stop-motion animation that visually resembles last year’s Animated Feature Oscar nominee Ma Vie de Courgette, and its themes are just as mature. What looks like an inventive film about an uninteresting subject — a boy learning how to pack from his father — takes an abrupt turn in the final moments that hits home hard.
Revolting Rhymes. Directors: Jakob Schuh and Jan Lachauer. Country: UK. 29 minutes. This loose Roald Dahl adaptation may not be the most technically proficient in terms of animation quality, but what it lacks in production value, it more than compensates for in unexpected fun. Reimagining a series of three traditional fairy tales as a much darker series of interconnected events from the Big Bad Wolf’s perspective, Rhymes sports a message of feminist empowerment that touches on relevant social issues ranging from sexual harassment (at least metaphorically) to corruption in the financial sector with a grim sense of gallows humor. Who would have thought Little Red Riding Hood would become a wolf-murdering badass, the avenging angel of the #MeToo Movement? Well, anyone familiar with Dahl’s background as an international spy and lothario, but I digress … Not Rated.
Three additional noncompetitive films will be screened with the theatrical presentation, now Playing at Grail Moviehouse.