In a fascinating and uber-competitive year for the Oscars, the Best Animated Short Film category may offer one of the most interesting races of them all. It’s a real David vs Goliath matchup in an area that often doesn’t get much attention. But because two of the five nominees are major studio products, and one is the only student film to nab a nomination this year, it has become a pitched battle for attention. For the first time, the entire Academy has been sent DVD screeners of the short film nominees, so instead of just having a small number of voters show up at appointed screenings, the competition is taking on added importance — and intrigue.
Walt Disney Animation Studio’s Paperman may be the odds-on favorite to win. It’s a superb 7-minute romantic ‘toon shot in black and white. Originally it played widely in theatres in front of Disney‘s Animated Feature nominee Wreck-It Ralph. In the last two weeks, though, it became the first animated short in Disney history to be made available to online audiences, at least at no cost. Since debuting on the web January 30th, has been viewed more than 12 million times. This includes viewings on Deadline, where it was widely seen. The romantic short even reportedly inspired its own director John Kahrs to get married after he finished postproduction.
Another major, 20th Century Fox, also has a dog in this hunt, and its name of course is Simpson. The incredibly successful TV series has gone back to its original roots — it started as a series of shorts in 1987. The hilariously inventive Maggie Simpson In ‘The Longest Daycare’ is a nominee from director David Silverman, and it has also generated much buzz and support from the studio, which would love to see the multi-Emmy-winning series finally bag an Oscar too. As voting began last week, Fox gave the short another high-profile push as only a major studio can, adding ‘Longest Daycare’ to theatres showing its Best Picture contender Life Of Pi. It is also appearing in newspaper ads touting that high-profile film, which certainly helps bring it added attention during this critical period.
Other nominees such as the two-minute Pez film Fresh Guacamole and the 16-minute Adam And Dog (also recently played in its entirety on Deadline) are more low key in their campaigns and don’t have this kind of big-time backing.
And then there is the one and only student film to make Oscar’s cut, the lilting and sophisticated stop-motion entry Head Over Heels. The graduate film from 26-year-old Tuscon native Timothy Reckart (see it in its entirely below) examines a marriage from a very unique perspective. The wife lives on the ceiling and the husband on the floor, creating a communications nightmare and a union gone haywire. Harvard grad Reckart originally wanted to make live-action films but found everyone at the university was too busy to help, so he stumbled into creating stop-motion ‘toons as a way to make a film by himself. After graduation, he entered the prestigious National Film And Television School where Oscar winner Nick Park (Aardman Animation) first created his Wallace & Gromit characters 30 years earlier as a student. Reckart spent 15 months writing and directing Head Over Heels with a team of more than 40, including his co-nominated producer Fodhia Cronin O’Reilly.
His inspiration was a Rembrandt painting titled “The Philosopher In Meditation”. According to Reckart, “it just has this architectural quirk that makes you think that someone in this painting could also be living on the ceiling. It’s hard to describe in words”. He says it just seemed like a very potent image to express the feelings he was experiencing, even though he has never been married himself. “It seemed that the most poignant place to put that would be in the context of a marriage that has gotten kind of stale”, he said. “What I drew on more than this separation from life was just observing what it takes to keep a marriage healthy”.
The 11-minute short already has 100,000 hits since going online last week — small by comparison to what Disney’s flick has generated — but the disparity doesn’t bother Reckart, who says he welcomes his name-brand competition. “It’s thrilling. I have only positive feelings about it because it is a win-win. Being in competition against them is an achievement already for us. Of course you still want to win. We’re trying to generate the buzz you need, but I really admire the other nominees and the amount of talent that just went into the creation of them,” he said, noting that of the five nominees for Animated Short and the five nominees for Animated Feature, half of them are stop-motion works, a huge boost for a great art form that had largely been forgotten.
Whether you are rooting for David or Goliath, all of the nominees are well worth seeing. And this year for the first time, it has been made a lot easier for the entire Academy to do that and have a say in the ultimate winner. Additionally, as in recent years, all the live-action and animated shorts can also be seen in theatres as part of Shorts HD and Magnolia’s annual program.
Here is Head Over Heels: