It’s about that time again — at least, I know so because Lydia Tár has started the clock. The 95th Academy Awards are scheduled to run on March 12, which is just not enough time to place all the Andrea Riseborough discourse and memes in this format. But there is enough time to get cracking on this year’s nominations for the short film categories — animated, live action, and documentary. Starting Friday, February 17, the Coolidge Corner Theatre will be playing the short films in their designated categories (animated and live action on 2/17 and the documentary on 2/24). Watching movies is fun, but betting during awards season is another kind of fun in which know-it-alls can get immersed and wrecked. Let’s get on it and argue!
There is watching out for the nominations, and then there is watching the nominations. We, the residents of Boston, have EST privilege while Hollywood gets their hearts broken at the crack of dawn (no comment for the international time zones, whose sleep schedules are variously impacted). If you did catch the nomination announcements with Allison Williams and Riz Ahmed (supposedly presented with flawless pronunciation), you may have seen Ahmed’s pause after announcing My Year of Dicks to chuckle with the audience. Is there a need for professional protocol if we can say the word “dicks” live?
Here’s the thing: a short film called My Year of Dicks has been nominated! And yes, for the second time in a row, Disney has been shut out of this category by Dicks (though they are nominated in another shorts category), which is an adaptation of Pamela Ribon’s memoir Notes to Boys (a title that I’m sure was considered, but they knew magic when they heard it), and An Ostrich Told Me the World is Fake and I Think I Believe It, a video created by a current doctorate student in Australia. There was no need for the somewhat treacherously-trademarked one-word titles like Piper or Kitbull or Paperman; we deserve clunky earnestness that manually tells us all. The category is again rated R due to the sexual content featured in Dicks and not to The Flying Sailor, which has actually more dicks featured than Dicks (by an exact count of one). As I reuse the word over and over again, I’m realizing now that there should be professional protocol on the show’s actual broadcast. I don’t think I need to hear Kimmel make it sound funny.
For all intents and purposes, The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse shares so many of the same monstrous creative and marketing teams that Disney productions would shell that it feels like it can be labeled as a product line of the Mouse. Produced by JJ Abrams and Woody Harrelson? Voiced by Idris Elba and Gabriel Byrne? Composed by a Waller-Bridge? A 700-word count on its development and design on its Wikipedia page? I feel like I know too much about this short film that hasn’t even won yet, but we can discuss more on that later. Let’s take a look at this year’s nominations for Best Animated Short Films.
1. The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse (dir. Charlie Mackesy and Matthew Freud | UK, 33 mins | trailer) – A boy, a mole, a fox, and a horse walk into the woods. They tread lightly since the U.K. copyright to the Hundred Acres Wood has not yet expired.
2. The Flying Sailor (dir. Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby | Canada, 8 mins | full video) – Written after the 1917 Halifax Explosion, The Flying Sailor focuses on a poor, unfortunate sailor who is affected by the accidental TNT incident on a physical and existential level.
3. Ice Merchants (dir. João Gonzalez and Bruno Caetano | Portugal/France/UK, 15 mins | full video) – A father and his son, who are situated on the side of a snow-capped mountain, continue selling ice for a living after the mother passes away.
4. My Year of Dicks (dir. Sara Gunnarsdóttir and Pamela Ribon | USA, 26 min | full video) – A 15-year-old Pam shares her story about how she almost loses her virginity to five different men in the bustling year of 1991.
5. An Ostrich Told Me the World is Fake and I Think I Believe It (dir. Lachlan Pendragon | Australia, 12 min | trailer) – Subjected to the daily grind of menial sales, an office worker suddenly finds that the world that he lives in is not as real as he believes
It gives me great pleasure to say that My Year of Dicks is fantastic. Complete with imaginative dialogue and playful animation, this short film runs with the fun. It especially is enriched by the feeling that the narrator comes from the deep trenches of the ’90s — a nostalgia that’s never not welcome. A lot of the animation is rotoscoped, but morphs into inspired styles reminiscent of Sailor Moon and Junji Ito depending on the story. The various guys that Pam encounters — a skater miming a vampire-type aesthetic but wouldn’t have sex with her on her period, a cinema employee that loses decency in the pursuit of passion — is pretty spot-on in terms of not knowing what we’re really after, even if it feels like we knew in the moment. The scene that should be rated NC-17? When Pam’s dad gives her “the talk” and describes what her mom is like during sex. I didn’t know these people and now I know too much.
If there was a technical award, it should most likely go to Ice Merchants, Portugal’s first Oscar nomination (at a stunning 39, the country held the record for most submissions for Best International Film without actually scoring a nom). At the surface, it’s about a father and son who base-jumps from their house on the side of a mountain to sell ice that they’ve collected. At the end of the day, they bring themselves back up again, relax for the night, and repeat in the morning. It’s a laborious routine, but we see that there is implied tradition behind all of this. The mother is no longer present in the physical sense, but is represented by the presence of yellow among the scratchy red and blue-greens. It’s presumed that the tradition of buying these cute little hats that they lose in midair is important enough for the father and son to continue doing, even if it eats up the mere coins they earn. Ice Merchants checks off the emotional and visual requirements of a classically well-crafted short film. It could not offend a single person.
The same might be said about Charlie Mackesy’s animated adaptation of his 2009 children’s book, The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse. The thing about this one is that it’s adorably ridiculous. Not to compare this to Winnie the Pooh for the obvious reasons, but 2014’s Christopher Robin is inappropriately hilarious because watching Pooh navigate the real world is stressful. He also perhaps displays signs of mental deterioration. I can’t demand Christopher Robin as a movie deserving of cult status, but I recommend watching it if you are looking to see a pantsless teddy bear stumble around like a drunk and speak in old-man accent. The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse is not quite to that caliber, but it does have moments where the PG-sincerity is snapped up for a quick second. For example, there is a scene where the boy (and I suppose the mole as well) is riding on the horse. The horse is full-speed galloping and, in slow motion, the boy slips off the horse and falls into a shallow river. The horse notices, trots back, and calmly states to the boy, “You fell.” Oh, bother — the disrespect!
An Ostrich Told Me and The Flying Sailor are also fun deviations from the normative plot. While it’d be fun to watch Dicks win in a way similar to “Killing in the Name Of” reaching #1 on the UK charts in Christmas 2009 to beat out the usual X Factor winners, having An Ostrich Told Me or The Flying Sailor win would be fun in the kooky underdog kind of way (like if Marcel the Shell won Best Picture). My gripe with Ostrich is that I’m not a fan of breaking the fourth wall, especially for a debut nomination for Pendragon. However, there is a different viewpoint where watching Pendragon assemble his claymation characters behind the camera is sorta a cool, subtle ode to the practical effects of art. I don’t think it’ll be Pendragon’s best work, but having already won the Student Academy Awards last September, I’m sure we’ll see more of him in the future (I should mention that goliath Pixar creative Pete Docter was also a winner of this award back in 1992). The Flying Sailor, which depicts a naked sailor seeing his life flash before his eyes for eight minutes, is vibes only. After getting through the initial explosion (and not that I have ever been in one, but the animation puts you in the rough and tumble), you watch this poor soul catapulted in the air for a while. You’re either in on this journey or you’re not.
WHAT SHOULD WIN: My Year of Dicks
WHAT WILL WIN: The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse
If you ask me on a different day, I might also have placed Ice Merchants in both. Similarly to the Best Supporting Actresses this year, I’m rooting for 4 out of 5 with the same enthusiasm.
Stay tuned for Anna’s roundups of the nominees for Live Action and Documentary Short!