And just like that, the first qualification deadlines for next year’s Oscars are already looming. Animated shorts hoping for a statuette must clear the first hurdle by September 30 — that is, they must win a qualifying festival prize or Student Academy Award, or be publicly exhibited under certain conditions.
We won’t know which shorts will have qualified until later in the fall, but we can bet the list will contain the usual mix of studio titles (which tend to qualify through public exhibition, not festivals) and independent films. As always, the relatively small number of studio entries will receive plenty of publicity, while the vast majority of qualified indie shorts will struggle to generate buzz.
To redress the balance somewhat, we’re starting our coverage of indie contenders early this year, with this list of six hopefuls. All have won an award that makes them eligible for the Oscar, which means they are all but certain to be submitted and qualify (we’ve listed their major awards below). And in our estimation, they are all fantastic. Whether the Academy agrees remains to be seen …
(A side note: the shortlist, which precedes the list of nominees, has historically been limited to ten films. As of the next Oscars, that number will increase to 15.)
Director: Nicolas Keppens
Awards: Annecy (Jury Award), Anima (Best Belgian Short Film)
A suicide prompts two teenage boys to hunt for escaped birds, in the hope of exchanging them for cigarettes or a mountain bike. From this curious premise, Keppens spins a highly original story of adolescent drift and anxiety, boldly presenting it in a claustrophobic square frame. The young Belgian filmmaker previously co-directed festival favorite Wildebeest. Easter Eggs shares that film’s offbeat humor — we’re almost on Adult Swim terrain — but mixes it with a dose of melancholy.
Affairs of the Art
Director: Joanna Quinn
Awards: Clermont-Ferrand (Best Animation Award, international competition), Annecy (Jury Distinction — Special Distinction for Direction), Aspen Shortsfest (Best Comedy)
Beryl, the working-class heroine of several shorts by Quinn and partner Les Mills, returns in what may be the pair’s most enjoyable film yet. We catch her here in late middle age, as she reflects on her frustrated artistic ambitions. Few working today can animate with the humor and flair of Quinn, and her virtuosity alone would have kept us engrossed throughout the film. But Affairs of the Art also stands up as a stirring meditation on obsessions — whether with art, taxidermy, or the Dutch language — and the meaning they give our lives.
Read our interview with Quinn here.
Directors: Samuel Patthey, Silvain Monney
Award: Annecy (Cristal for a Short Film)
Patthey has followed his delicately observed Travelogue Tel Aviv with another fly-on-the-wall animated documentary, this one co-directed with illustrator Monney. The pair spent a year sketching in a retirement home in their native Switzerland. In vignettes ranging from semi-abstract line drawings to collages, Peel shows the residents drinking wine, playing bingo, walking, sitting, and sleeping. The film is sensitive but never too sentimental, and the suffering of these homes in the pandemic only increases its pathos.
Director: Bastien Dubois
Awards: Annie Awards (Best Short Subject), Sundance (Short Film Jury Award: Animation), Clermont-Ferrand (Best Animation Award, national competition)
Like Patthey, Dubois made his name in animated documentary, landing an Oscar nomination for his travelogue Madagascar, a Journey Diary. For his latest film, he turned to a subject that is often hushed up in France and little discussed elsewhere: the Algerian War. By structuring the narrative around his grandfather, a veteran of the conflict who all but refused to talk about it, Dubois turns Souvenir Souvenir into a study of denial itself. The film’s ingenious mix of techniques captures something of the difference between war as it appears to the uninitiated and the reality for those who have lived it.
Read our interview with Dubois here.
Director: Joe Hsieh
Award: Animafest Zagreb (Short Film Grand Prix)
It’s rare for shorts as grisly as this to win major festival awards. Unfolding gradually across a late-night bus ride, Night Bus begins as an Agatha Christie-style whodunnit and ends as a kind of slasher horror, mixing in a dash of Buñuelesque absurdist satire along the way. Hsieh made a splash with his 2014 short The Present, a disquieting study of fidelity and faith, and more recently served as animation director on Yonfan’s Oscar-qualified No.7 Cherry Lane. He says working with Yonfan taught him the value of subtle acting, and you see that in Night Bus.
Director: Kristian Mercado
Countries: Colombia/Mexico/Puerto Rico/U.S./Vietnam
Award: SXSW (Best Animated Short)
A sister and brother strike a Faustian pact to become reggaeton superstars in this disquieting slice of Latinx-futurism. There are big twists and big tunes, but the pace is measured, the ambience woozy like a dream. Mercado is Puerto Rican, and he has set his film in a future incarnation of his island that looks as much like the Tokyo of Akira as the Puerto Rico of today. The project was led by a consortium of Latinx and other artists of color based in Colombia, Mexico, the U.S., and Vietnam.