2021 Animation Oscar Predictions
It's been several years since I weighed in with my thoughts and predictions for the Academy Award animation picks, so I figured this year would be a good one to dust off the ol' intellect, and see what this year has to offer.
On the feature side, there is fairly little surprise, with Disney occupying 3 of the 5 nominations via Encanto, Raya..., and Pixar's Luca. Meanwhile, Sony's Mitchells... offers strong competition, and Flee rounds out the foreign / indie slot. Personally, I'd like to see Mitchells or Flee take home the award, as both films really pushed the visual and performance boundaries in terms of what constitutes an animated feature these days, with Flee particularly (and intentionally) blurring the line between animation and documentary, that was really unlike any animated film I'd seen before.
However, the other part of me knows there's simply no stopping Encanto, with its memorable characters, cultural impact, and catchy songs that took the world by storm, and will never go away (even more than usual by Disney standards..) Let's waste no more time, and just count down the hours until Encanto gets the award!
Onto the shorts which I always find way more diverse, compelling, and unpredictable!
Bill Plympton always said the 'magic three' dogmas for making a great animated film were: Short, Cheap, and Funny. If you can hit all of those, you're off to the races. Not that we can't have amazing animated shorts that are dramas, with large budgets, with longer run times (quite the contrary).. But after sitting through countless animation festivals and programs over the years (including this year's Oscar offerings), I learned long ago that he was really on to something. All five of these films are long. Individually, it's not a bad thing, but sitting through all five of these back to back (with a combined run time of over 90 min), I was desperate for a tiny 2 to 3 min film to sneak in to shake things up in the middle of the program. Oh well...
Robin Robin (UK) has a pretty good excuse as a Netflix holiday special, so despite being the longest of the five at 32 min, it actually fits quite nicely with the family-friendly subject matter. As one who enjoys a classic 'fish out of water' story, as well as animals in absurd situations, I particularly enjoyed the premise of a robin who was raised by mice struggling to find her place in the grand scheme of things. You also can't go wrong with the solid humor and stop-motion craftsmanship of Aardman, which has won four Oscars already (three shorts & one feature). When you also consider it's easily the most narratively accessible of the five, it should come as no surprise that I give this film the edge in taking home the award.
But it could be anyone's game, as the other four are certainly memorable in their own way.
Bestia (Chile) - which takes inspiration from secret police agent Ingrid Olderock during Chile's military dictatorship - has been a solid awards contender (including winning Best Animated Short Subject at the Annie's). A dialogue-free story, and dreamlike stop-motion with porcelain and cardboard materials juxtaposed against its harrowing premise make for a wonderfully contrasted presentation that has left me speculating about its more disturbing elements, even after watching it twice! Do see it if you can.
*(Though be warned it is certainly not a story for younger audiences)
The Windshield Wiper (Spain / US) veers into more abstract territory with a series of vignettes about the search for and meaning of love. I can appreciate the diverse use of CGI which wavers between photo-realism 3D and expressive cutout 2D - which works well for a piece that ponders the human condition. I do enjoy the 'slice of life' fare such as this, but it might be the 'longest feeling' of the five, despite not being the actual longest. Sometimes a little goes a long way, and maybe if this shaved off a good 5 - 7 min, it would be the ideal length.
On the lighter side, Affairs of Art (UK / Canada) shows the ongoing obsessions of one eccentric family that feels both specific and universal in its approach. One can easily relate to its themes of searching for an artistically fulfilling life, and I particularly enjoyed how the specific, frenetically hand-drawn 2D style was somewhat self referential, and a reflection of the very art and movement our heroine/narrator was trying to capture. Though certainly amusing, it was also quite dialogue heavy, and (probably intentionally) lacked any sort of real structure, giving me the sense that this meandering "visual diary" could have really started and ended at any point.
Finally, Boxballet (Russia) shows an unlikely connection formed between a boxer and a ballerina, and the exploration of their pairing through movement, music, dance, and a surprisingly complex narration that's on overdrive throughout most of the film. Probably the most well-paced of the five, and the one that best economizes its length as a short subject. While sometimes feeling like a feature-length story on fast forward, it's actually a conceit that works well from the beginning, and runs through a decent array of emotions from start to finish.
So all in all, quite a unique offering this year, While their combined presentation length might be a bit longer than I'm used to, I am particularly excited that all five came from somewhere other than a major US studio, and in fact, none of them is solely a US production. I'm always intrigued when more independent and foreign productions are given the exposure they deserve, and am interested to see what this might mean for the category in future years. Who knows, maybe next year, they'll actually include the Animated Short category (and maybe even ALL categories) in the live broadcast again!
To recap my (meaningless) predictions:
Short: Robin Robin
Let's check back after a few days and see how right or wrong I was!