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2017 Oscar Nominated Short Animation Films


I got a chance to see the short animated films nominated for an Oscar this year. Lucky for us TIFF Bell Lightbox plays these for us along with the short live action films. I have still to see the latter. At any rate because some the animated films are so short they enhance the showing with some honourable mentions. The five nominated films are: Blind Vaysha, Borrowed Time, Pear Cider and Cigarettes, Pearl, and Piper. Two are done by Pixar and one, Blind Vaysha, by Canada’s National Film Board. The image above comes from the longest and most adult of the five, Pear Cider and Cigarettes. This one is a very dark story of a man in total decline due to addiction, injury and depression. I suspect the latter will be the winning choice but I much preferred Borrowed Time which is also very serious but better animated and a more tightly told story. The animated films are definitely worth seeing if you get the chance. In fact, the short films are often more interesting than the feature length films. Even if you don’t get a chance to see these movies before the awards ceremony make an effort to track them down. They are often available on iTunes after the awards are done. I will not go into a description of each of the films other than to say that they are not necessarily for children and especially not Pear Cider. Brief descriptions of each film are below with my rankings.  I think animation is going to be an increasingly important film medium and it will not be long before they show up in the Best Picture category rather than relegated to their own animated film group. Do not assume that cartoons are only for kids.

Borrowed Time – dirs. Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj, USA, 7 minutes, English

A weathered sheriff returns to the remains of an accident he has spent a lifetime trying to forget. With each step forward, the memories come flooding back. Faced with his mistake once again, he must find the strength to carry on. My favourite.

Pearl – dir. Patrick Osborne, USA, 6 minutes, English

Pearl follows a girl and her dad as they crisscross the country chasing their dreams. It’s a story about the gifts we hand down and their power to carry love, and finding grace in the unlikeliest of places. Boring

Piper – dir. Alan Barillaro, USA, 6 minutes, No Dialogue

Directed by Alan Barillaro and produced by Marc Sondheimer, Piper tells the story of a hungry sandpiper hatchling who ventures from her nest for the first time to dig for food by the shoreline. The only problem is the food is buried beneath the sand where scary waves roll up onto the shore. Very cute and very funny. Kids would love it.

Blind Vaysha – dir. Theodore Ushev, Canada, 8 minutes, English

With one eye that can only see the past and one that can only see the future, a girl is tormented by two irreconcilable realities. Blind Vaysha is a vivid and gorgeously crafted 3D fable about living in the present. Interesting philosophical look at the nature of life.

Pear Brandy and Cigarettes – dir. Robert Valley, Canada and UK, 35 minutes, English

Drink and smoke – that’s what Techno Stypes liked to do. Drink, smoke… and fight. Except he was in no condition to fight. He was sick. Really sick. His disease had whittled him down to a shadow of his former self. Yeah, he was broken alright, what the hell was he fighting for anyway, and what was he still doing in China? His father had given me two clear instructions: get Techno to stop drinking long enough to receive his liver transplant, and get him back home to Vancouver. This was not going to be easy. This is maybe the favourite for an award but it is in my opinion too impressed with itself as a tough look at a tragic figure. I was not impressed and felt it was really pretty empty. The animation is interesting however.

Lion – Director, Garth Davis


Lion is an interesting movie and actually quite enjoyable. Briefly it tells the story of a very young Indian child (Saroo) from a poor family in a poorer village who gets lost in the chaos of life in that country. He is rescued from a several potentially horrible fates but no one can find his family and he is too young to help them. He is adopted by a family in Australia where he is raised to adulthood. Haunted by his childhood memories of his mother and brother he finally decides to track them down. The movie is a great ad for Google Earth which is the tool he uses to search for the village he was born in. He is finally reunited with his mother and the film ends happily. This is no spoiler as the film is richer than the outcome of the search and there is much about the finding that I have not shared. The film is in two parts. The first hour follows the young boy as he is lost, escapes several potentially awful fates and ends up in Australia. We then jump ahead 20 years to him as a young adult and follow his efforts to seek out his roots. Dev Patel plays the older Saroo and has won a BAFTA for his performance but I actually liked Sunny Pawar who played Saroo as a child. I am unable to find out his age but did learn that he is very young, beat out 2000 other children to win the part and was unable to attend the US premiere of the film because he was denied a visa. Really??? The US is pretty messed up even before Trump. I am guessing the movie will not win Best Picture but it might very well win Best screenplay. It is adapted from an autobiographical story and is based on a true story. The latter fact is interesting because the story is an amazing adventure and helps prove the adage that truth is stranger than fiction or at least as strange.

Moonlight – Director, Barry Jenkins


This movie is nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars and has had some over the top positive reviews including absolute raves from Cameron Bailey. The movie is running non-stop at the TIFF Bell Lightbox instead a number of other excellent films that audiences might like to see. I think I was influenced by all the buzz and was expecting to be blown away but…. Not so much. It’s a good movie but really not in a class with some of the other films that have been nominated. So far I the major awards ceremonies it has won only one for best actor. It was completely shut out at the BAFTA awards. So while I see the attraction I just don’t think Cameron got it right on this one. The movie is interesting in the attempt to trace the coming of age and maturing of a gay black man. Three actors portray the young man from childhood to teenager to young adult. It is a challenging theme and the film does an admirable job but in this year of very high quality nominees it just doesn’t cut it.

Hidden Figures – Director, Ted Melfi

Great movie! I really enjoyed this film. You can just sit back and enjoy a remarkable story about three black women who, in the early 1960’s, did the mathematics that let John Glenn orbit the earth. Math? I hear your cry. A movie about math? Well yes and a true story too. The film is set in Virginia at the NASA space center in the middle of the racist US south. It tells the story of a team of black women mathematicians who solved the problems of launching a manned space vehicle into orbit and brought it back to earth safely. John Glenn’s historic flight was totally dependent on the work of these women who were locked away in a segregated work room and posed the mathematical problems that needed solving before there were computers to do the work. They were called the computers and checked the work of the all male scientists working in another area of the centre. The breaking points came when the mission planning team needed someone who knew analytic geometry, that elevated one of the women to work with the male team (humiliating the men) and then the installation of a new IBM computer (which would take the jobs of the team of female computers) stalled. Again, it was the women who stepped up, learned the programming language and saved the installation and their jobs at the same time. One of the remarkable aspects of the film was the accepted segregation policies at the work place including washrooms, drinking fountains and coffee urns. It is an aspect of life at the time that we now find unbelievable but was common place at the time and is confronted during telling the story. The cast is great: Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monáe, and Octavia Spencer play the lead roles and are supported by the likes of Jim Parsons (Sheldon Cooper) and Kevin Costner and Kirsten Dunst among many others. The cast won the Screen Actor’s Guild Award for Best Ensemble Cast. Interestingly the film to win the SAG Ensemble Cast award has also won the Oscar’s Best Picture nearly 50 percent of the time. So….if you were looking for a dark horse candidate to beat out Manchester by the Sea or Moonlight this might be it.

Hacksaw Ridge – Director, Mel Gibson

I have to admit I was sceptical about this movie when I went to see it. Mel Gibson has been, let us say, controversial in recent years although I have always been fan from the days of Gallipoli, Mad Max, and Lethal Weapon to name but a few. My philosophy has always been to like the actor’s roles if not the actor’s real persona (i.e. Tom Cruise, Matthew McConaughey etc). But Directors are something else. Gibson however dazzles in this film. A warning to those who do not like graphic violence or depictions of battle, you may not enjoy some of the scenes. The film tells the true story of Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector in the Second World War who enlisted and served as a medic. He refused to carry a weapon which cost him much respect from his fellow soldiers and commanders during his training and initial deployments. At the battle of Hacksaw Ridge on Okinawa, he redeems himself in the eyes of his comrades. As the marines were beaten back by Japanese troops he remained at the top of the ridge and single handedly rescued 75 wounded soldiers one by one including his commanding officer. He is the only medic to receive the Congressional Medal of Honour for bravery under fire. The story of his struggle and the respect he won for his bravery and his refusal to carry a weapon and kill others is exciting and moving. At the end of the film some of the characters who are alive are interviewed and lend reality to what is a remarkable film. It has five nominations including Best Picture, Best Director and three technical awards for Sound and Editing all deserved. The fact that it has not received any acting nominations is somewhat disappointing. I thought the performance of Andrew Garfield as Desmond Doss and Hugo Weaving as his father were superb. The editing nomination is also well deserved as you sit on the edge of your seat during the rescue of the 75. Clearly Mel has learned something after all these years of film making.

Hell or High Water – Director, David Mackenzie

I was a bit surprised that this film made it to the list of Best Pictures, not because it doesn’t deserve recognition but because it is a low budget film ($12 Million) It also grossed less than $30 million so while it made money it was not exactly a box office hit. Still to be fair the Academy nominated a number or small budget films this year of excellent quality. Hell or High Water is a superb film, beautifully filmed and acted with star turns by Chris Pine and Jeff Bridges who managed a Best Supporting Actor nomination. It also managed a nomination for Best Screenplay as well. The film is set in rural Texas. Chris Pine owns a farm on which oil has been found but on which the bank holds a mortgage and who are keen to foreclose. To avoid this and take some revenge Pine recruits his ex-con brother to rob a series of the bank’s branches to pull together the money needed to pay off the mortgage with the bank’s own money. Jeff Bridges is the cop who is out to track them down. Of course you are rooting for the brothers but Bridge’s character is also worthy of sympathy for reasons that will be revealed to those of you who see this film. No spoilers here. I really enjoyed this movie and highly recommend it. It will not win Best Picture but is definitely worth the nominations it received.

Arrival – Director, Denis Villeneuve


This movie has been very well received and is nominated for eight Oscars, five of which are technical for design, sound, editing etc. The three big ones are Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. Okay… all that said I am very nervous to write this review. I did not like this movie. It I like Close Encounters of the Third Kind in terms of the message but is not nearly close to being as good. I think some critics like it because it is not Alien or other thriller type Sci-Fi. It has pretensions of being cerebral but it was boring, contrived, and the ending was just stupid and really disappointing. Amy Adams is the lead and her performance has been praised but thank God the Academy had enough sense not to nominate her for Best Actress because while good, she is not amazing and the role is dumb like the movie. Villeneuve is Canadian and I have liked and disliked his films. Sicario is very good but Prisoners was really disappointing. Incendies which made his career was okay. He is working on a sequel of Blade Runner, not a remake but a story set 30 or 40 years in the future from the original. It will star Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford. I am worried because Blade Runner was awesome but this?… I am not sure this is wise.