The 2012 Oscar Nominated Animated, Live Action, and Documentary Short Films are currently playing at the IFC Center.
This year’s Oscar nominees in the Animated Short Films category are illuminated by their desolate settings and underlying sense of melancholy. Depicting relationships between lonely, isolated characters and their epic landscapes, they capture men, boys, mutants, and chickens struggling to find meaning in their limited time upon the vast empty spaces of the silver screen and a fading planet. Amid expansive vistas of western prairies, English gardens, desert plains, urban wastelands, boundless oceans, and moons saturated with starlight, unlikely heroes animated in conspicuously disparate styles grapple with solitude, loneliness, and despair, their own and the world’s.
Alternately whimsical and sinister, the five nominated films veer between moments of heartache and fancy, gentle humor and emotional devastation. The best of the group by a wide margin is “Wild Life,” a Canadian film that explores the hopes and disappointments of youth with depth and understatement. Set in 1909, this accomplished piece of animated literature follows a young Englishman seeking thrills and adventure on the Canadian frontier, comparing the creation and erosion of his dreams to the “eccentric” trajectory of a comet. Reminiscent of revisionist westerns like John Williams’ “Butcher’s Crossing” and Jim Jarmusch’s “Dead Man,” it has an intelligence and sense of purpose distinctly lacking in mainstream American animation.
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“The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore,” a silent work with shades of Buster Keaton that plays like an American response to the recent Jacques Tati-inspired “L'Illusionniste,” tells the story of an avid reader who rediscovers happiness when he finds a library of magical books after a tornado destroys his former world. Along with “La Luna,” it features the kind of work that Pixar and Dreamworks should strive for on a more consistent basis in their feature films. Playing alongside the nominated films are four ecologically-themed “Highly Commended” titles, the most entertaining of which is “Skylight,” a public service announcement about the dangers of global warming that features a variety of exploding aviary and terrestrial lifeforms, especially demented penguins. It’s like an animated propaganda film directed by Werner Herzog.