This weekend the Hastings Museum is screening the 2019 Oscar-nominated short films in both the animation and live action categories. I wasn’t able to see the live action offerings ahead of time, though I hear the series of shorts is an incredibly emotional journey but not appropriate for children. Hastings Museum’s website lists that series of films rating as “R-rated.” That said, I was able to see the animated shorts, and that experience was gratifying and mostly appropriate for the whole family.
The bundle of animated films runs for 1 hour 16 minutes, and they are rated PG for some adult themes that may not appeal to kids under 8. The runtime would be shorter if the screening only featured the five nominated films, but this show also has two extra short films, not nominated for an Academy Award. While they may not have been nominated for Oscars, they are certainly worth staying for, and you may even think that one of the honorable mentions deserved a spot amongst the nominees. That is indeed how I felt after the screening.
I don’t usually watch any of the shorts before the Oscars, so this experience was a rare treat, and I was pleased to see it wasn’t dominated by films from American corporations. There was a great variety amongst the nominees. However, I did notice a thread that existed through most of them: a relationship between parent and child. I think this thread will make this series of films even more appealing for families if they were on the fence about seeing these shorts.
The series begins with “Bao,” a film many have likely seen already if they saw “Incredibles 2.” In “Bao” a Chinese-Canadian woman, who desperately misses her estranged son, makes a dumpling that comes to life and gives her a much desired second chance at motherhood. I thoroughly enjoyed this film because director Domee Shi of Pixar unsurprisingly balances humor, sincerity and sadness. She also did a lovely job capturing the joys and frustrations of motherhood creatively. At first, “Bao” is a bit shocking because Shi’s concept is so unusual, but Shi is definitely a talented filmmaker, and I look forward to seeing more from her.
The next film in the series and my personal favorite was “Late Afternoon,” which is about an older woman named Emily, who is struggling with her fragmented memory and trying to recall her joyful experiences. Director Louise Bagnall’s film is heartwrenching especially if you recently lost a loved one or you know someone who is suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s. This was an especially difficult film for my wife and me because her Grandma Lydia just passed in August of last year, and my Grandma Fran passed in March 2018 after a long fight with Alzheimer's. If you’re like us, you’ll need the tissues for this one. Nevertheless, Bagnall’s film is beautiful, touching, gorgeously crafted and well worth seeing.
Unfortunately, I did have an easy least favorite film out of the five presented, and that dishonor goes to Alison Snowden and David Fine’s “Animal Behavior.” I liked the concept Snowden and Fine were working from: Five animals meet to discuss their mental turmoils in a group therapy session led by a know-it-all yet animalistic canine psychotherapist. While I liked the concept, I didn’t necessarily think the adult humor worked well. In my screening, there were scattered chuckles but no uproarious laughter. Also, the animation was nothing exceptional. I’m sure it took a lot of work, but it simply wasn’t as captivating as the other films.
The next film titled “Weekends” and directed by Trevor Jimenez was a fascinating and surreal journey through divorce from the perspective of a child. This film also featured the most interesting animation because the animators embraced imperfection and made elements of the drawings feel like mad scribblings by a complicated artist. This was especially used to great effect in the young boy’s nightmare sequences.
Be warned, parents, “Weekends” imagery is frightening, so whenever you see a tall male figure (the mother’s new boyfriend), consider covering your children’s eyes if they are easily scared. With that in mind, Jimenez’s film should be appreciated because he clearly is creative and his meticulous work brought to life a story that is nightmarish and dreamlike at the same time. This is not an easy feat.
Finally, of the five nominated films, “One Small Step” concludes the collection. In this film produced by both the United States and China and directed by Andrew Chesworth and Bobby Pontillas, a young Chinese-American woman named Luna longs to be an astronaut and luckily has a supportive single father, who does everything to help his daughter achieve her dreams. Unfortunately, not every aspect of Luna’s life is as favorable as her father, and her path to space is littered with hurdles to overcome. This was one of my favorite films of the nominees because the directors constructed a film that is poignant and sentimental without being schmaltzy. The animation is not exceptional, but the film is still compelling and joyous.
The series also features the films “Wishing Box,” a comical and cartoonish moral tale, and “Tweet Tweet,” a compelling and emotionally arresting story of a woman and her feathered companion.
Seeing these films is well worth the cost of admission, so please consider visiting the Hastings Museum and purchasing a ticket to the animated or live action shorts because it is a unique experience that only comes once a year.