Who Views Short Shorts 2015 TMT Weighs in on This Year’s Oscar-Nominated Short Films


Me and My Moulton (Dir. Torill Kove)
Rating: 3.5/5

Norwegian-Canadian director Torill Kove already has won an Academy Award once, for her 2006 animated short The Danish Poet. Her new film, Me and My Moulton, maintains her previous short’s bright and childlike aesthetic, but pairs it with a significantly more complex and nuanced style of storytelling. In Moulton, Kove reflects on her childhood in Norway, growing up as the daughter of modernist architects and wishing for nothing more than to be a regular family like everyone else. The bright 60s colors and humble animations, recalling the work of artists like Rutu Modan and Hergé, help to playfully illuminate recalled details such as a carpet so soft you can leave footprints on it, and Kove’s horror and embarrassment at her father’s notably cavalier moustache. The film finely walks a balance between whimsy and stark childhood lessons, to great effect. The Moulton in question — a sort of 60s folding bike given by Kove’s parents to their embarrassed daughters — becomes the perfect metaphor for the compromises between the childhood you wanted and the one you actually had.

The Bigger Picture (Dir. Daisy Jacobs)
Rating: 5/5

Stan Lee has said that, in comics, writing and art play a part in the success of a book, but ultimately it’s the quality of the art that decides it; after all, as you flip through the pages, there’s something in the look of the thing that compels you to take it from the shelf to the cash register. It’s got to connect with you. But, ultimately, they both matter. The Bigger Picture has an incredible look about it; it is a series of animated paintings, mixed with real props that are manipulated by the paintings. Don’t let me mislead you; it is not a series of paintings, or painted frames. It is a series of individual paintings that have been painted over and over, painted on top of, to create animation. Streaks and smudges of paint are there, layered on top of and wrung out with color. Water comes out of faucets and tea kettles as plastic wrap. Everything is physical.

The writing is as clever as the look of everything. The Bigger Picture concerns two middle-aged men, one a successful businessman, the other, um, not working at the moment, hair frizzed out, more “sensitive,” you’d say, and “not a pleaser,” maybe. Their mother is aging. They’re aging. In the first scene, the businessman tells his brother, “I thought about sex every second until I turned 40. Now all I think about is death.” But their mother is dying, and they’re just, as they say, “shuffling along the line.” And she dies. And they shuffle. There are few ways of saying this: The Bigger Picture made me feel something as palpable as the lumps and bubbles of paint it’s made up of. There is a particular sequence when the mother yells for her son, the “sensitive” one, just as he’s gotten into the shower. He jumps out, runs to her. A doctor is called. They ask, “What’s wrong? Is her stomach twisted? Is it constipation?” The doctor says, “Not anymore. You’ll clean her up.” The sensitive son is left to clean up his mother, who’s covered in her own shit, laying in her bed, and she is crying, saying, “I’m sorry.”

“It’s OK, Mom. I would do anything for you. I love you. It’s OK,” he says.

“I know,” she says, “But I’m sorry.”

This is what truth looks like, and love. I had forgotten.

Feast (Dir. Patrick Osborne)
Rating: 4/5

It’s annoying how good Disney is at this. A world in which Disney and Pixar make or model every single animated project would be starved of variety. If everything looks like Cars 7: Despicable Toys to Train Your Dragon, that comes at the expense of every other idea about how animated movies can look, and that’s a problem.

But damnit, are they ever adept at applying clever storytelling mechanics and effectively blending visual, sonic, and narrative elements into a satisfying little animation-bundle. Feast reduces a dog’s life to a food montage, using the evolution of the little mutt’s mealtime adventures to illustrate a path from back alley rescue to relationship inconvenience to love-saving wingman to adored family pet in just a few minutes. It’s cloying, it’s sentimental, it’s emotionally exploitative, and it’s a lot of fun. If you want to be challenged or surprised, look elsewhere. But if you’re in the market to feel some feelings and you don’t have much time, Feast is your huckleberry. Resisting its charms almost takes an act of will, and what’s the point in fighting it?

A Single Life (Dir. Marieke Blaauw, Joris Oprins, and Job Roggeveen)
Rating: 3.5/5

What if that 45 rpm single you just brought home on vinyl could control the passage of time? Wait, don’t run away, this is a 3-minute animated treacle, not a four-hour Christopher Nolan slog through first-molly-trip ideas about how love might be the fifth dimension of reality. There’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s fun, it’s simple, and it ends just before it runs out of tricks to play with the core plot mechanic.

The Dam Keeper (Dir. Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi)
Rating: 3/5

The most visually distinctive of the 2015 animation nominees also is the most irritating. The animation is inked in smudgy pastel tones and drawn in the cartoony style of a children’s picture book about barnyard animals. The sooty, melancholy visual affect achieved is an accomplishment, and it’s good to have something that stands so far apart from the digital and clay-based modes that have come to dominate animation.

If only that attractive wrapping paper surrounded a worthwhile package. The Dam Keeper wants to be a grand parable about bullying and what society might lose from failing to protect its most vulnerable. A piglet is in charge of the sole windmill that keeps some kind of toxic fallout cloud from destroying a city of cute young animals. Despite this crucial duty, every other animal in school mocks the piglet’s appearance. As the new girl in school — a fox, naturally — a couple of bullies even give poor piglet a swirly. This shameful behavior ultimately breaks piglet’s spirit, to everyone’s great loss.

Let’s check the list: animals as stand-ins for people? Check; improbable simplicity of the surrounding world? Yes; unambiguous morality? Absolutely. This is a modernist sadsack Aesop’s Fable about the hazards of picking on the odd one out and the tragic consequences of the self-loathing myopia with which a long-time victim may start to see everything around him. It’d be lazy thinking to try to target The Dam Keeper as some environmentalist morality play or cast it as part of an imaginary effort to sissify society by pointing out that bullying is shitty. If anyone feels the need to hate it, it should be more than enough to say that it’s boring and hackneyed without regard to ideology.

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