Oscar shorts 2022, Chris Robinson Oscar shorts 2022, Chris Robinson

Ah, it’s that time of the year again, when the Academy generally eschews the most innovative, multi-layered, provocative, and thought-provoking animated shorts in favor of easily digestible linear narratives that rarely do more than tickle the heartstrings with the ease, grace, and depth of a Hallmark Christmas movie.

Cynical? No, realistic. The days when the Oscar shortlist matched international animation festivals’ selections seems a thing of the past; nowadays it features sentimental shorts that most Academy members outside the animation branch don’t even watch. Let’s face it: animation, in large part, is just seen as some sort of annoying “special” cousin to “legitimate” cinema.

Let’s give this a whirl anyway. Here are some eligible animated shorts that Academy members should put aside a little time and mental space to digest, and maybe savor. Cartoon Brew’s deputy editor Alex Dudok de Wit has also come up with lists of the shorts he thinks are most likely to triumph (read here) and most deserving of a nomination (read here). Explore the full list of 84 qualified films here.

Angakusajaujuq: The Shaman’s Apprentice (Zacharias Kunuk, Canada)

In an Arctic landscape, a young shaman faces her first test: a trip underground to visit Kannaaluk, The One Below, in order to find out why someone in the community has become ill. A masterclass in storytelling and stop-motion animation, it tells a wonderful, imaginative tale while giving us a peek at aspects of Inuit culture.

Bad Seeds (Claude Cloutier, Canada)

Two competing carnivorous plants transform into rapidly interchanging historical and fictional figures. Canada’s veteran satirist Cloutier crafts a deliciously biting poke at our endless obsession with progress, growth, and competition.

Bestia (Hugo Covarrubias, Chile)

Using porcelain and felt figures, this stop-motion film takes us inside the domestic life and cracked mind of a secret police agent. Set during Chile’s military dictatorship, it follows the agent’s repetitive daily life as it shifts between her unusually intimate relationship with her dog, concerns about her body, dull bus rides to work, and, you know, the deplorable tortures she oversees. The storytelling and character design, along with the quiet, suspenseful atmosphere and patient pace, make this one of the unexpected surprises of the animation festival circuit.

A Bite of Bone (Honami Yano, Japan)

Yano’s poignant and visually arresting film — it uses hand-drawn ink and pencil dots — is a tale of death and loss seen through the eyes of an innocent young girl. During her father’s funeral, she recalls a summer adventure with her father and sister. The pathos can veer into overboard at times, but the striking and symbolic use of images composed of dots constantly reminds us of our relative insignificance and fragility. In the end, Yano’s film is less about death and loss than about celebrating each moment and breath.

Friend of a Friend (Zachary Zezima, France)

During a birthday party attended by a bunch of twenty-somethings, one partygoer imprisons another in what appears to be the basement of the same house. Over time, we learn that the hostage sexually assaulted his kidnapper before he ended up in the basement. What follows is a powerful and compassionate take on sexual assault and sexual identity. Zemina’s use of vibrant, almost tie-dye-like colors enhances the ambiguity of the characters as they struggle to find the seemingly shifting personal borders between love and desire, right and wrong.

Gravedad (Matisse Gonzalez Jordan, Germany)

In a small village, a young woman struggles with highs and lows. On good days, she can fly to the stars; on low days, she wants to crawl into a hole. The other inhabitants seem to float calmly just above the ground. The woman wonders what keeps them grounded and balanced. They speak of their various passions: water, music, dancing. Jordan’s gentle, playful designs evoke both her former teacher Andreas Hykade (Altötting) and the sensual work of Yoriko Mizushiri (Anxious Body), fashioning a gentle meditation on escaping sadness and depression.

The Hangman at Home (Michelle and Uri Kranot, Canada/Denmark/France)

Originally a vr project inspired by a poem by Carl Sandburg, The Hangman at Home invites (or maybe forces!) the viewer inside five apartments. Within each small space, we encounter an assortment of characters in various troubled and intimate states. We see illness, pregnancy, fatigue, old age, fecklessness, confusion, and fear. The people all seem to be in a holding pattern.

The dirty, rough paint design and rotoscoping give the film an ample grotesqueness that matches the psychological state of the inhabitants. And, contrary to the title, it’s not really about a hangman: it’s more about all of us, what it means to be human, whether we want to sit back and be passive voyeurs or take some responsibility and get involved in this shitshow together. A fine question for our internet-drenched souls.

Hide (Daniel Gray, Canada/Hungary/France)

From one of the directors of the glorious dental epic Teeth comes this imaginative, touching, and surreal tale of homesickness and separation. Two brothers play a game of hide and seek. One counts as the other hides. Seconds pass … then minutes … before you realize that something isn’t quite right. Every so often, the hiding boy peeks out to see that the space around him has changed.

The sparse soundtrack, along with a visual design that dances between bright, spacious minimalism and dense fragments, creates a ghostly atmosphere that flawlessly fits Gray’s exploration of isolation and disconnect. Though it was made before the pandemic, Hide takes on new layers of meaning after almost two years of quarantines, lockdowns, and curfews.

In the Shadow of the Pines (Anne Koizumi, Canada)

This animated documentary is a sort of letter from Koizumi to her late father. In this deeply personal work that combines clay animation, archival photos, and family interviews, the director talks of how much shame she felt when her father worked as a janitor at her public school. Along the way, this sensitive work touches upon class, status, generational conflict, and the struggles of a Japanese immigrant in Canada.

Los Huesos (Joaquín Cociña and Cristóbal León, Chile)

Combining dark, absurdist humor with Chilean political history, Los Huesos is a piece of creepy magnificence that beautifully captures the look, pace, and tone of early-20th-century animated films while slyly commenting on the sociopolitical state of contemporary Chile.

Night Bus (Joe Hsieh, Taiwan)

During a late-night bus ride, a stolen necklace triggers a series of events connected to betrayal, hatred, and murder. Using hand-drawn designs and cut-outs, Hsieh creates a surreal thriller that somehow fuses Agatha Christie, Quentin Tarantino, and David Lynch into a gloriously icky portrait of some messed-up people … and monkeys.

Peel (Samuel Patthey and Silvain Monney, Switzerland)

This animated sketchbook takes us through the sights and sounds of a care home for the elderly. Faces, voices, and noises pass by, before shifting into something new. Patthey and Monney do a wonderful job of breathing life and beauty into the tired space. There’s never a moment of boredom. The residents and caregivers are always moving or resting or eating or playing games. Made before the pandemic, the film will certainly resonate a little more in a time when so many elderly people have perished.

The Zolle Suite: Resign (Kristian Pedersen, Norway/U.S.)

Okay, an abstract, experimental work doesn’t have a hope in hell of getting nominated, but Pedersen has been riding under the animation radar for a while now, so I want to give him some love. One of the most visually and conceptually alluring animators around right now, Pedersen contributed this beautiful finale to the Zolle Suite opera project (Steven Woloshen and Benjamin Swiczinsky also contribute separate pieces). The story has something to do with a woman caught between life and death, but never mind all that: just sit back and let Pedersen’s splendid, hypnotic energy take you to the stars and back.

Images at top, left to right: “Bestia,” “Hide,” “In the Shadow of the Pines”

More Coverage: Academy Awards 2022 Animated Short Contenders