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The Academy Awards may be three and a half weeks away, but we’re starting our coverage early. In addition to the whiskey-soaked Oscar live-blog you know and love, BYT is reviewing all the short film nominees. I’m handling the animated shorts, Alan Pyke is handling live action, and Toni Tileva is handling documentary. And starting this Friday, animated and live action shorts will be screening at Landmark’s E Street Cinema, while the documentary shorts will be at West End Cinema.

This years crop of animated shorts are an odd bunch, but not in a way I expected. They are all short – back to back, all five are maybe forty minutes long – and no short has more than two important characters. Major themes are love, reconciliation, and delicious food. Let’s get to it!

Adam and Dog, directed by Minkyu Lee

The relationship between man and dog has not always been what it is now. At some point, there was a moment where someone domesticated a dog for the first time, and played fetch with him/her. Adam and Dog imagines this discovery in a literal way: director Minkyu Lee imagines a minor episode from the Book of Genesis, where Adam wanders through paradise before his exile. The dog who happens upon Adam is cute but not too cute, and they form an easy friendship. Adam does not know what to do with the dog, exactly, and later he does not treat the dog cruelly. He just has know of understanding their bond since he’s never experienced it before. The longest of the shorts, Adam and Dog is hand drawn and impressionistic. The lines are never exactly clean, which somehow works for this vision of the creation myth since the world is still so new. Lee touches on a primal relationship between man and beast, and he ends it with just enough melancholy so it’s not too cloying.

Fresh Gucamole, directed by PES

I’ve been reviewing shorts for a while now, and this is easily the shortest one I’ve seen. Fresh Guacamole is less than two minutes long. It is about a man who makes some guac, and that’s it (we see his hands and not his body). The animation is innovative: every time he manipulates an ingredient, it instantly changes from one non-food object into another (e.g. the “tomatoes” are dice and the “avocado” is a grenade). A clever technique is not enough for a memorabe short, so this one has the same worth a well-made video on YouTube or Vimeo.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FQMO6vjmkyI

Head over Heels, directed by Timothy Reckart and Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly

An old man and an old woman live together in a house as it hurtles through the sky. The strange thing about the house is that has no ceiling, and the couple has an opposite sense of gravity. In other words, the man goes through his day on his floor, and his ceiling is the floor of his wife/partner. The couple has lived together for a long time, and they’ve grown tired of each other, so the man tries to rekindle their spark with a simple act of kindness. The remarkably thing about Head over Heels is that’s claymation. I have no idea how directed Reckart and O’Reilly accomplished the illusion since the short’s sense of gravity shifts depenending on the camera’s perspective. Maybe they filmed the man and woman seperately, then used CGI to combine? Either way, it still does not explain the complex shots where the man and woman interact in unintuitive ways. This is the most innovative short, and its gentle, warm ending is perfect in an “aw shucks” way.

The Longest Daycare, directed by David Silverman

Set in the universe of The Simpsons, this short was paired with Ice Age: Continental Drift last summer. It’s all about Maggie Simpson – we see glimpses of when she picks up Maggie and drops her off – and her day is fraught with peril. After being paired with all the average kids, Maggie discovers that a caterpillar eventually turns into a butterfly. She discovers a caterpillar of her own, and she must protect by a baby with a unibrow, who is a sadist and wants nothing more than to nail it to the wall. The action is fast-moving action is clever, and Silverman introduces a little adult-themed satire (the preschool is named after Ayn Rand). At just under five minutes, The Longest Daycare is mostly aimed for children, and it feels likes an afterthought to the beloved TV show.

Paperman, directed by John Kahrs

This one is just lovely and terrific. There is no shot that’s out of place, it elegantly blends hand-drawn animation with CGI, its retro black and white palette has echos of Mad Men, and best of all, it tells a heartwarming love story. A man meets a woman on a train platform when a passing train causes one of his papers to fly into her face (they are Disney creatures, through and through, and her gorgeous eyes are gigantic). He’s sheepish and apologetic about the paper, at least until she laughs because her lipstick is on it, like a kiss. Before the man can say anything, she leaves on the train, and the rest of Paperman is the journey of how they get back to the platform. I don’t spoil how it happens, except to say it combines a chase sequence with magic realism in a moving, romantic way. Paperman debuted on YouTube three days ago and it already has 5 million view, so people everywhere are already hooked by its ample charm.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aTLySbGoMX0

AND THE WINNER IS…

Who am I even kidding? It’s Paperman. I was hoping to compare Paperman vs. Head over Heels to the contest of Silver Linings Playbook vs. Amour because the shorts and feature films are both, at their core, love stories about people at different stages of their life. I planned on using that comparison to justify my choice of Head over Heels, but there is so simply no way to improve Paperman. It’s perfect. In fact, I plan to watch it again right now.

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