With the Academy Award nominations releasing earlier today, it is ample time for me to play some catch-up. As always, there are 15 short films nominated across three categories, and it is inevitable that people will look at these titles and squint a little. These films hardly receive any buzz, particularly compared to the heavy hitter feature contenders, and they usually end up getting short shrift as a result.
Often enough, though, there are more than a few short films that make the grade and which are well worth the minimal investment required to watch (there are also always a few where it is baffling why the Academy would decide to honor the films, but that’s a story for a different day).
These three animated short nominees are not only worth taking the time; they are available to watch for free online. My Year of Dicks is currently on Vimeo, and both Ice Merchants and The Flying Sailor are viewable on YouTube and on The New Yorker‘s website.
My Year of Dicks
Early on in My Year of Dicks, a teenage skateboarder who wants to be seen as a vampire wipes out. As he hits the pavement, his body dissolves into a sea of bats. Then, Pam (Brie Tilton), the girl looking on who has a crush on the vampire, jumps onto a skateboard herself and is briefly whisked away into a fantasy world of gothic architecture.
These imaginative flights of fancy are the film’s greatest strength, as the lovely blend of different animation styles ebbs and flows between different lively locations, both real and imagined.
The story of My Year of Dicks is Pam’s – thankfully it is not the blowhard wannabe vampire, whose brief tale of romance ends with a bloody irony. Pam is on a one-year mission to lose her virginity – her “year of dicks.” As one might imagine, it is a year filled with awkward and uncomfortable experiences, but also poetic (in the very teenage sense of poetic) coming of age musings that work to put such experiences into perspective. And these musings have enough charm to them to propel the story from chapter to chapter.
Sara Gunnarsdottir directs this visually evocative film, which is adapted from the memoir by Pamela Ribon.
Ice Merchants opens with a kid swinging on a swing that is affixed to a wooden platform and hangs underneath his home. His home, meanwhile, is affixed to a mountain-side, miles and miles above the ground. With each kick, the swing shoots forward toward the cavernous open space, nothing but two strands of rope keeping the child from plummeting into the depths.
The boy’s father cracks open an ice block that he has made in a wooden box on the porch. The boy and father collect the ice cubes and parachute down to the town below; then, they collect a new bucket of water to create ice from and start again.
It’s an odd little short. It is silent save for the piano and string score (composed by the short’s director, João Gonzalez) and the occasional sound effect like the creaking of old wood. The story is slight, ultimately using the father-son tale to disguise a (sorta-kinda) climate change narrative. But the animation is strong, with its hand-drawn lines and striking use of warm colors. The short culminates in a climactic scene which goes for gripping but lands somewhere closer to mildly whimsical.
The Flying Sailor
In The Flying Sailor, a sailor walking along the dock of a harbor witnesses two ships collide (the film is based on the real story of the Halifax Explosion in 1917). The ships light on fire, then erupt into a massive explosion which sends the sailor hurtling through the air. His clothes torn straight off his body, the man somersaults around the air tucked into the fetal position, black smoke cascading behind him. And in this moment, he flashes back.
The short sees the man’s life flash before his eyes as he is thrown into uncertainty and, ultimately, a cosmic unknown. Visually, the short accomplishes quite a bit in its short runtime. It rattles through tones as it changes visual styles, beginning as something of a comic Looney Tunes-esque escapade. A jaunty score plays as the ships head towards collision, and a comic edit reveals the boxes of TNT that one ship holds as cargo.
Then, the short snaps to a rapid succession of chaotic shots as the adrenaline starts rushing through the sailor’s body. He is thrown into the air, and the film takes another turn. The score settles into a sentimental passage, and we see fragments of the man’s life, which only last moments before the film makes yet another transition. The man hovers through space-time like a cosmic egg, his existence simultaneously past, present, and future. He then hurtles to the ground alongside a gasping fish, who I can only imagine just went through a similar existential experience.
The short reads more grandiose on paper than it is in execution, but the animation style is dynamic and eye-catching. Substantively, though, the weighty existentialism does not exactly translate into a profound statement. Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby direct.
As always, thanks for reading!
—Alex Brannan (Twitter, Letterboxd, Facebook)