Oscar Guide 2013: Best Short Film – Animated

(Welcome to the Oscar Guide, your chaperone through the Academy”s 24 categories awarding excellence in film.  A new installment will hit every weekday in the run-up to the Oscars on February 24, with the Best Picture finale on Friday, February 22.)

There is a key change in the way the Best Animated and Live Action Shorts, as well as the Best Documentary Feature categories will be decided. Members will receive screeners of all nominees and the voting will be opened up to the entire membership, and the honor system will be used, as it is with every other category, as to members actually seeing the films in play and voting accordingly. No more showing up at special screenings and proving you saw them by signing in, at least with these categories.

This could be huge in a category like Best Animated Short, where big studio productions often lose out to smaller, more artful fare because those voting are usually animators very interested in the product. This is why it’s been a while since Pixar has won here, for instance, and this year, it’ll be all the more crucial, because three of the nominees are involved with big companies.

The nominees are…

“Adam and Dog” (Minkyu Lee)
“Fresh Guacamole” (PES)
“Head Over Heels” (Timothy Rckart and Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly)
“Maggie Simpson in ‘The Longest Daycare” (David Silverman)
“Paperman” (John Kahrs)

This is a pretty solid group of nominees, as it tends to be, really. The animators know how to whittle this down to a nice assortment of media and it’s always a diverse bunch. If it were a typical system of voting, I might be tempted to predict otherwise, but this year, it could boil down to a studio effort that played before this year’s Best Animated Feature Film frontrunner.

The best of the lot (in my opinion) is the first on our list: Minkyu Lee’s “Adam and Dog.” The film won Best Animated Short at the Annie Awards last year and tells the story of man’s first relationship with, well, Man’s Best Friend. Set in the Garden of Eden with Eve eventually coming along to complicate things for the little mutt protagonist, every frame of the film could be a painting on a wall. Lee also self-funded the enterprise while working as a Disney character design animator on films like “Winnie the Pooh” and “Wreck-It Ralph,” which will surely be seen as commendable by fellow animators. In another year, I’d be tempted to predict it. The film is a longer breath than the other films and is really absorbing. It could still win, frankly.

To be perfectly honest, the 2-minute “Fresh Guacamole” is one of my favorites of the bunch. It’s slight, short, not at all thematically potent, but it has an energy and an excitement for the form that is contagious. Animator PES (Adam Pesapane) first started building on his aesthetic — using everyday odds and ends to varying animation effect — in his short film “KaBoom!,” and it’s come to a peak with this brief romp that depicts a guacamole recipe cobbled together from unlikely sources. Nevertheless, I doubt he has much of a chance to win as the other contenders simply have more meat on their bones. I hope the “Garbage Pail Kids” film he’s developing comes to fruition, though, because I love his voice.

Like “Adam and Dog,” Timothy Reckart’s “Head Over Heels” might be very formidable in any other year. It’s a student film that has won prizes all year long, most recently taking the Best Student Film prize at last weekend’s Annie Awards. It tells a meaningful story of a marriage grown apart, the theme laid blatant with the husband living on the floor and the wife living on the ceiling. It’s wrought with claymation, always nice to see, and it’s ultimately touching and maybe even a little profound. That would tend to go a long way, but will opening the voting up to a broader group mean something more intimate like this fails to gain the proper traction? Or will it transcend that altogether?

I like “The Simpsons” as much as the next guy, and “Maggie Simpson in ‘The Longest Daycare'” is a fun little film with a delicate twist. Director David Silverman is also a great guy who has been with the show for ages (and indeed, used to work with “Wreck-It Ralph” director Rich Moore on the series). But the film wasn’t aiming at awards or anything grand, it was merely conceived as a nice gift to fans of the show and played before screenings of “Ice Age: Continental Drift.” So I don’t know that an Oscar is in its future, but who knows? It would be cool to see a Simpsons movie win an Academy Awards, no? And when opening up the ballot to the entire membership, the Fox voting bloc could come out in force behind it. So keep that in mind.

In any other year, I would say beware predicting Annie Award-winner John Kahr’s “Paperman,” because it has all the elements of a film that gets shut down by the animation branch. Films like “One Man Band,” “Lifted” and “Presto” from Pixar, as well as “The Little Matchgirl” from Disney, and even “A Matter of Loaf and Death” from Aardman, have been passed over for indie productions from promising artists. This Disney film is indeed one of the best shorts, technically and conceptually, that the studio has ever done (it played before “Wreck-It Ralph”), but still, this kind of thing has a tendency to be upset. I say again, however, with the voting change, a big studio effort could get a rallying cry behind it, so it might be a safe pick after all this year.

Will win: “Paperman”
Could win: “Adam and Dog”
Should win: “Adam and Dog”
Should have been here: (abstain)