This year’s group of Oscar-nominated Animated Shorts are not lighthearted. There’s death, illness and abuse packed into their brief runtimes. Yet the ability to convey a moving story in a short amount of time is an achievement that should not be understated. This year’s shorts are beautifully and artistically created by hard-working teams from around the globe, labors of love that packed an emotional punch into short runtimes. Here are the Animated Shorts nominated for the 2020 Oscars, ranked.
5. “Kitbull” — USA, Directed by Rosana Sullivan
Pixar has been consistently creating short films since 1984, many of which have received Oscars. “Kitbull” is the third film in Pixar’s latest “SparkShorts” series, a program where they give their employees six months and limited funding to create an animated short. For this film, the result is a heartwarming tale of a scrappy stray kitten and a pit bull who form an unlikely friendship. The pitbull, who is abused by his owners, is still kind and loving. Watching the kitten grow to trust the dog is uplifting. The story is told through a more traditional form of hand-drawn animation, which gives it a pleasing and comfortable feel.
4. “Dcera (Daughter)” — Czech Republic, Directed by Daria Kashcheeva
“Dcera,” Czech for “Daughter,” is emotional and visceral, telling the story of a daughter’s complicated relationship with her father, showing their estrangement before their eventual reconciliation. The stop-motion animation style is different and tangible, with the two character’s faces covered with streaks of black that add a sense of grime and imperfection. Despite being the longest of the nominated films at 15 minutes, “Dcera” is silent, conveying the father and daughter’s emotions through the movement of their eyes and their body language as they struggle to figure out who they are to each other.
3. “Sister (妹妹)” — China/USA, Directed by Siqi Song
“Sister” is narrated by a boy telling stories about his little sister in the 1990s — how they would fight over the remote or do silly things, like water a tooth to help it grow. Yet, partway through, it’s revealed that the sister is a figment of his imagination as he wonders what it would have been like to have a sister, since the one-child policy in China forced his mother to have an abortion when he was younger. The film’s team dedicated “Sister” to “the siblings we never had” from 1980 to 2015, while the policy was in place. Using carefully crafted stop-motion figures made of felt, “Sister” tells a story of what could have been.
2. “Hair Love” — USA, Directed by Matthew A. Cherry
“Hair Love” is an incredibly sweet story of a father-daughter relationship that made me tear up almost immediately. Zuri, a young African-American girl, is trying to style her hair by watching a YouTube tutorial and is failing impressively. When her dad walks in and tries to help her, he is way out of his comfort zone: There’s a hilarious sequence where her hair appears to take on a life of its own and the dad has to literally fight it. As a daughter of a dad who’d sometimes tried — and often failed — to do my pigtails when I was younger, it’s a sequence that dads and daughters can understand, even as the dad persists through his struggle and emerges triumphant. The short is the shortest of the nominees (seven minutes), but “Hair Love” has a whole lot of heart.
1. “Mémorable” — France, Directed by Bruno Collet
“Mémorable” is emotional and visually stunning, with an innovative use of animation. The figures are heavily textured and painted with thick, visible brushstrokes, giving it a sense that art has been embedded into the reality of this world. As Louis (a painter) begins to forget, his mental degeneration is expressed through the ways the animation changes: People appear misshapen and disfigured, objects appear to be melting around him, and soon he struggles to recognize his wife. It’s a heartbreaking depiction of a mind falling apart, told through a beautifully crafted medium as Louis’s artist’s brain morphs and shapes things into what they are not.
There are few moments in our fleeting lives that lead us to be struck with gratitude: the birth of a child, true love, near death miracles and for me, the concert of Cecile Mclorin Salvant and Aaron Diehl. There was a moment during a beautiful étude that Aaron Diehl played, right after an a capella vocal section by Salvant, where I could not stop smiling, even in the middle of February, in the thralls of seasonal depression.