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Ranking The 2016 Oscar Shorts: Animation

Whatever complaint you want to lobby against the Oscars, you’re no doubt right. The Oscars are indeed #SoWhite and #SoWrong. But there are categories that the Oscars get correct that nobody talks about, because they’re the smaller ones, the ones featuring works of art that most of the movie-going public won’t see, or frankly, care about.

This level of indifference about the Live Action, Animation and Documentary shorts perhaps gives the Academy the wrong idea about the rest of the ballot. America doesn’t care about independent film, or foreign film. America does care about documentaries, but only if they’re on HBO, iTunes or Netflix and involve murderers (or the making of one).

With VOD and more arthouse theaters showcasing the Oscar nominated shorts (featuring the Animated, Live Action and Documentary categories separately or packaged), the opportunity to see these great films is greater than ever, and should be taken advantage of, and help change the perception the Academy has of us.

In six to 40 minutes, these films tackle themes far more eloquently and beautifully than most feature length films. We all know blockbusters have a lot of fat on them, are super stuffed and over-long. Think of the Shorts as if it’s watching movies on a diet: an imaginative, eye-opening, delicious and multicultural diet.

See last year’s rankings.

sanjay's super team

5. Sanjay’s Super Team (United States, directed by Sanjay Patel and Nicole Grindle)

It’s little surprise this Pixar short wins the adorable award, with a young Indian boy imagining his Hindu culture’s religious idols as superheroes, and connecting with his father in the process. It’s heartwarming, cute and fun, and is a wonderful burst of color. It serves to bridge the generational gap, and has a nice message of religious acceptance, and a moving capstone of a father and his son.

prologue richard williams

4. Prologue (United Kingdom, directed by Richard Williams and Imogen Sutton)

A pencil-drawn sketch come to life, this incredibly violent short features two Spartan and two Athenian warriors fighting to death, a little girl witness to the carnage. In the span of a few minutes, we see the Olympic ideal of man turn ugly, and it’s hard to shake the fact that things haven’t changed much 2,400 years later. This is the unfortunate prologue to our lives, the folly and bloodlust of man, one we still haven’t been able to completely shake.

we can’t live without cosmos

3. We Can’t Live Without Cosmos (Russia, directed by Konstantin Bronzit)

A bromance turns tragic, as we see follow two best bud cosmonauts (with a whiff of more than just friendship between them) training to go to space. The wonder and love between them is sweet, and in just 16 minutes Bronzit shows us how insurmountable grief can be, that they really can’t live without one another. As Gabriel Garcia Marquez proved time and again and Bronzit shows profoundly here, magical realism is almost a more soul-wrenching depiction of sadness than reality.

bear story

2. Bear Story (Chile, directed by Gabriel Osorio and Pato Escala)

This is the winner for the most unique animation, or at least my favorite, with Bear Story showcasing a steampunk fairy tale 3D style, following an old bear and his wonderful, beautiful, fascinating wind-up diorama that reveals his horrifying past to anyone with a coin on the street. It’s soul crushing and heartbreaking, but it’s not all dark. This intricate Chilean treasure, with its wondrous wind-up toy music score, is as inspiring as it is sad.

world of tomorrow

1. World of Tomorrow (United States, directed by Don Hertzfeldt)

It’s impossible to prepare anyone for this pocket of sobering insanity from the previously Academy Award nominated animator Don Hertzfeldt, and I kind of don’t want to. It’s the kind of movie you want to see with no preconceived notions, but it’s easily the most thought provoking, engaging and trippy movie on this list, and it outstrips many of the best feature length films of 2015. If you’re not looking for any more evidence of how screwed humanity and the world is, look elsewhere: World of Tomorrow shows us we’re all doomed. But it also shows us what’s important and posits the best way to live our life. It does so in seventeen minutes (which is available on Netflix, FYI), as Hertzfeldt posits a dizzying, depressing and mind-expanding dystopia, with a little girl named Emily and time travel and clones, oh my. It’s a doozy.

While I could imagine any of these films winning the award (with Sanjay’s Super Team being the obvious pick and Bear Story as my dark horse), this is my pick for what should win.

The Oscar nominated shorts are all now available on VOD, and for a list of theaters and showtimes, check their website.