Monday, February 11, 2019

Best animation doesn't even make Oscar final cut

Funny how the best film in the crop of Oscar nominated short animations (at the Detroit Film Theatre) this year didn’t even make the final five. It is Russia’s Tweet Tweet and got only one of two Highly Recommended mentions. Directed by Zhanna Bekmambetova the film packs an emotional punch as it follows the life of a girl in pre-war Russia through World War II, the Cold War and beyond as she grows into a young and then elderly woman. She walks a tightrope which becomes a barbed wire, all the while helped or even saved by a little sparrow “Tweet Tweet.” The next best film (part of the officially nominated five) was Canada’s Animal Behaviour (Alison Snowden and David Fine), where a group of animals sit in a group therapy session. Their therapist glasses-earing dog is trying to keep the neurotics focused. “Don’t be afraid, we don’t bite,” he says (chuckle chuckle). His patients include a leech with separation anxiety, a praying mantis who’s a single mom with “thousands” of kids, and an ape with anger management issues. You can’t help but LOL at all this even if the theme is a little predictable. Bao, another Canadian flic (Domee Shi) is a charming sketch of a Chinese-Canadian empty nester who one day prepares dumplings, only to have one hatch (okay!) as a baby. She lovingly takes it in but, over the years, has to again deal with the sometimes awkward stages of a child’s growth. Ho hum. Late Afternoon (Ireland, Louise Bagnall), is another short that focusses on family and longing. The elderly Emily daydreams about her life as a young girl and bringing up her daughter, Kate, now her caregiver. Tea and biscuits, and old family portraits, trigger deeply felt memories. Yet another Canadian-related film is Weekends (an American entry though made by Filipino-Canadian Trevor Jimenez) with edgy sometimes surreal graphics about a boy shuffled between his divorced parents. Confusion and even some poignant pain is depicted but I couldn’t figure out why the boy’s martial arts-loving dad always played the Dire Straits’ Money for Nothing. Hmm, maybe a metaphor. One Small Step (USA, Andrew Chesworth and Bobby Pontillas) is another whimsical tale (not that there's anything wrong with whimsy, only there’s a lot of it in animation) about a young girl fascinated with becoming an astronaut. An initial slow learner she blooms and graduates from the astrophysics academy, realizing her dream and wearing astronaut boots almost identical to the ones her deceased shoemaker dad made for her when she was a child. Like Late Afternoon and Bao, the flic has a heartwarming glow but doesn’t rise much above that. Finally, the other Highly Recommended short, like Tweet Tweet, is Lizzie Zhan’s Wishing Box (USA). A pirate discovers a chest of treasure but can’t seem to extricate any jewels. Yet his monkey sidekick has a grand time finding fruit and other goodies the captain could care less about. When a jewel is finally extracted, it leads to an avalanche of the precious gems, which in turn pile up and, uh, sink the ship. Moral of this story? 

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