We’re barely out of the gate and already we’re scrambling to figure out if success this year in Oscar’s three shorts categories will be determined by just how well—cannily, slyly, opportunistically, or otherwise—a film co-opts some aspect of our culture wars. Case in point: Victor Caire and Gabriel Grapperon’s Garden Party, which Slant’s gurus of gold agree has set a new bar for photorealism in animation—a bar so high that it makes Pixar’s Oscar-winning Piper from last year seem like it crawled out of the primordial muck.
Indeed, we were slack-jawed with awe for the better part of the short’s seven-minute running time, during which a series of frogs delightfully, mischievously turn a curiously deserted mansion into their gluttonous playground. And then the reason for why the manse is in ruins literally rises to the surface and none of us could agree on just how much the Trumpian overtones of the short were intended by the filmmakers as a wish-fulfillment fantasy.
If you believe that the Oscars this year will play out as an epic-sized feint toward wokeness, then Glen Keane’s Dear Basketball, a totem by writer-producer-actor Kobe Bryant to retired basketball player Kobe Bryant that, at its most successful, eclipses the narcissism of Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi moment, faces nothing short of a herculean uphill battle. At press time, over 13,000 people have signed a petition to rescind Bryant’s Oscar nomination for the film. In short, this controversy, which was already at a fever pitch hours after the Academy Award nominations were announced and IndieWire was placing the film in the context of the #MeToo/Time’s Up movement, feels like a challenge that even Bryant’s team of lawyers can’t help him to surmount.
Elsewhere, Dave Mullins and Dana Murray’s Lou, the Pixar short that ran in theaters last year before Cars 3, suggests that the bullies of the world are made at the precise moment that their toys are taken away from them. Your interpretive mileage will vary with how that message is in conversation with our cultural moment, but we’re of the opinion that Lou is too glib by half to even remotely register in the minds of most AMPAS voters as a cautionary tale about how Oscar-winning producer stalwarts are born.
Conversely, Ru Kuwahata and Max Porter’s Negative Space grapples, and in five short minutes, with the existential question of cause and effect in a way that’s nothing short of sublime. We were smitten with the film, about how the persnickety packing habits of a young man are informed by his relationship to his ever-traveling father, even before its deceptively sentimental finale threw us for a bracing wallop. But we’ve made the mistake in the past of rallying behind the most overly DIY candidate, and when there was another nominee in the category that was checking off more Oscar-friendly boxes.
And this year that film would appear to be part one of Jakob Schuh and Jan Lachauer’s Revolting Rhymes, a very long, very trendy, and very British adaptation of five of the six poems from the Roald Dahl book of the same time. The project is conspicuously geared toward granting its female characters the sort of agency they’ve rarely enjoyed in any fairy-tale retelling, and the stories are all braided together with a wryness and precision that recalls the work of, um, Martin McDonagh. And the icing on the cake is that the only one who gets thrown under the bus to give Little Red Riding Hood her Time’s Up moment is a greedy little piggy who always had it coming.
Will Win: Revolting Rhymes
Could Win: Garden Party
Should Win: Negative Space