Animated Oscar-nominated shorts

John and Yoko

My wife and I saw the animated Oscar-nominated shorts at the Spectrum Theatre. The parking lot was packed on Presidents Day at 4 pm, with moviegoers trying to squeeze in another visit before the cinema’s – we hope – temporary closing.

Just because the stories are animated doesn’t mean the subject matter is light. As the LA Times noted, “Even when they focus on the experiences of children, the five films nominated … are decidedly intended for adults. In these emotionally complex and visually distinctive shorts, the trauma of war, the wages of political repression, and the fear of death are all given their due. The Hollywood Theatre notes: Not for children under 13, verging on an R-rating.

The nominees

Our Uniform: Yegane Moghaddam, 7 min., Iran (in Farsi). The film flashes a message at the top that it was not mocking the wearing of the hijab. Indeed,  the director was recalling her recollections of school days in Iran. Does the dress code enable or disable self-expression? Maybe both? An exciting technique was used,  with the images created on fabric with the help of a computer.

Letter to a Pig: Tal Kantor and Amit R. Gicelter, 17 min., France/Israel (in Hebrew). An elderly Holocaust survivor visits a class of teenagers and tells how a pig saved his life. The story segues to a dream sequence experienced by one of the students. Kantor’s childhood memories informed the film’s mixture of history and the surreal.

South of France

Pachyderm: Stéphanie Clément and Marc Rius, 11 min., USA (in English). A young girl recounts her summers visiting her grandparents in the  Provençal countryside. On the surface, enhanced by the painted scenes and quiet narration, it would seem all is well. But it is not, as the girl blends in with her background. This may be the most fully realized of the five and the one I’d pick to win the Oscar.

Ninety-Five Senses: Jerusha Hess and Jared Hess, 13 min., USA (in English). The folksy narrator is Tim Blake Nelson, who offers an ode to the human body.  The New York Times review stated, “Each sense is illustrated by different artists, in a different style, creating a kind of 13-minute anthology of a life — but that makes this understated film also feel a bit incoherent, with the vignettes lacking the build to bring the film to a satisfying emotional conclusion.” I liked the variation of styles, and I disagree with the conclusion drawn. It was my favorite piece.

War is Over! Inspired by the Music of John & Yoko: Dave Mullins and Brad Booker, 11 min., USA. The story is based on an idea from John and Yoko’s son, Sean. In an alternate-reality World War I, war should only be experienced as a game. It is the most obvious of the five films. 

Additional films

ShortsTV often offers other “highly recommended” films to fill up the running time.

Wild Summons: Karni Arieli and Saul Freed, 14 min., UK (in English, narrated by Marianne Faithfull). This is mostly humanoid creaturesa s salmon. It is quite on the nose. 

I’m Hip: John Musker, 4 min., USA. You can see a tiny bit of the cartoon in the first minute of this interview with Musker. 

Cartoonist Matt Groening is 70

In Hell

Before I ever saw The Simpsons segments on The Tracy Ullman Show, I was following the work of Matt Groening. I don’t know how I came across the Life In Hell strips, but I do know that I bought Love is Hell, “a series of relationship-themed Life in Hell strips, in book form,” early in 1985, probably from FantaCo, the comic book store where I worked.

This description from Amazon will suffice: “Love Is Hell is the answer to all your Quandaries de l’Amour, or, as we say in American, Love Quandaries. Inside, you’ll find handy tips on everything from Getting the Love You Deserve to Getting Your Heart Broken into Millions of Tiny Pieces.” I related heavily to this book because love is complicated.  

The description of the author from Love Is Hell suggests the Portland, OR-born artist spent his childhood… “swimming in the grizzly bear pool at the abandoned zoo.” He kept drawing “despite the rapping of his knuckles and the confiscation of his cartoons at school.”

I also bought other In Hell books like School Is Hell, Work Is Hell, Childhood Is Hell, and Akbar and Jeff’s Guide to Life. Doesn’t the cover of School Is Hell look… familiar?


Wikipedia notes: “Life in Hell caught the attention of Hollywood writer-director-producer and Gracie Films founder James L. Brooks… In 1985, Brooks contacted Groening with the proposition of working in animation… which would turn out to be developing a series of short animated skits… for the Fox variety show The Tracey Ullman Show.

The Simpsons!

“Originally, Brooks wanted Groening to adapt his Life in Hell characters for the show. Groening feared that he would have to give up his ownership rights and that the show would fail and take down his comic strip… Groening conceived of the idea for the Simpsons in the lobby of… Brooks’s office and hurriedly sketched out his version of a dysfunctional family.”

In case you wondered, as I did, why the Ullman version of The Simpsons was so crudely drawn, “Groening had submitted basic sketches to the animators, assuming they would clean them up; instead, they just traced over his drawings.” While the characters were named after his family members, except Bart, who was an anagram of Brat, the cartoon does not reflect his relationship with them.

I watched The Simpsons religiously from 1989 to 1999. The DVD of the first glorious season is in my collection. The Simpsons CD called Songs In The Key of Springfield is terrific, including hits such as In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, Jazzman, Baby On Board, and several variations on the ending theme. Somehow, the show fell off my radar in the 21st century, although I did see the 2007 Simpsons movie, which was… okay. Even without my viewership, The Simpsons has become the longest-running U.S. primetime animated series and sitcom. 

I’ve not embraced Futurama in the same way. But because of In Hell and The Simpsons, I want to thank Matt Groening as he hits three scores and ten.

Films on a plane


Flying from JFK to CDG took seven hours, and the return trip took eight. I guess we’re going to be watching some films on a plane. These are in the order I watched them, which also involved viewing a few television programs.

A Man Called Otto (2022). I saw this trailer in the movie theater more than once but was wary of seeing it. Otto was a remake of a 2015 Swedish film, A Man Called Ove, which my wife had seen in the cinema, but I had not.

The trailer made it appear that Otto was a grumpy old man won over by the spunky Latina and her cute kids. Meh.

The actual film was much more substantial, with a backstory that reminded some of the emotion tied to the first ten minutes of the animated movie Up. Tom Hanks plays Otto, and his son Truman as Otto in flashbacks with Sonya (Rachel Keller).

Marisol (Mariana Treviño) is a stronger character than I believed she’d be. This article compares the film with some major spoilers. The last line: “The unique traits in Otto’s interpretation of this story make it clear that this is no shameless carbon copy of what’s worked in the past.”

A Man Called Otto is recommended.


I managed to miss Crazy Rich Asians when it came out in 2018. In many ways, it is a basic rom-com with Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) going with her boyfriend  Nick Young (Henry Golding) to his best friend’s wedding back in Singapore.

When they went out, Nick avoided telling Rachel that 1) his family was insanely wealthy and 2) he was expected to take over the family business. Rachel meets Nick’s disapproving mother, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), and others in Nick’s sometimes vicious circle of family, friends, and acquaintances.

Mostly, I liked it, even when the jokes were broad. But I was unconvinced by the tidy ending.  I was excited that a film with a different geography and demographic existed.


I had heard about Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy, the 2021–2022 Emmy-winning series about the actor traveling across the country “to discover the secrets and delights of the country’s regional cuisines.”

The episode I saw was about Venice. It was interesting because it showed how eclectic and wide-ranging the foods of the region were, in large part because of the wide-ranging immigration in the port city, both ancient and recent. Very interesting.

On the return flight, I decided to watch First Cow (2019), which I had seen teased in the cinema. But it was too dark. I don’t mean the story was too dark, though a skeleton was found early on. The visual contrast on my screen made it difficult to see, so I abandoned it.

French animation

I watched an hour-long television program in French with English subtitles. The title translates to The great history of animation cinema in France. It was fascinating.

The French were early in the animated pictured movie. Émile Reynaud and Émile Cohl were pioneers in the field. But the work of Walt Disney and others left France behind.

The industry started to turn around somewhat with the success Kirikou et la sorcière (Kirikou and the Sorceress), 1998; Les Triplettes de Belleville (The Triplets of Belleville), 2003; and Persepolis,2007. Still, the French felt they were playing on an uneven playing field when they spent $8 million on a movie, but Disney et al. could spend $80 million.

I had always wanted to see The Triplets of Belleville, which did play in the cinema in Albany in 2003 or 2004, but I had missed it.


I needed to see Persepolis, Oscar-nominated as the best-animated film. The graphic novel I’ve owned for years.

“In 1970s Iran, Marjane ‘Marji’ Satrapi watches events through her young eyes and her idealistic family of a long dream being fulfilled of the hated Shah’s defeat in the Iranian Revolution of 1979. However, as Marji grows up, she witnesses firsthand how the new Iran, now ruled by Islamic fundamentalists, has become a repressive tyranny.”

It is a compelling autobiography. The animation is somewhat rudimentary but effective.

With less than an hour before landing, I watched an episode of Friends in French, the one with Elle Macpherson; the dubbed voices made it enjoyable.

2023 Oscar-nominated shorts

An Ostrich Told Me the World Is Fake

On two days in mid-February, my wife and I saw some of the 2023 Oscar-nominated shorts at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany, NY.  I found some of the films online, which I have linked to.
Live action
Ivalu – DENMARK/16 MINS/2022

Director: Anders Walter, Pipaluk K. Jørgensen

“Ivalu is gone. Her little sister,” Pipaluk, “is desperate to find her. Her father does not care. The vast Greenlandic nature holds secrets. Where is Ivalu?”

While it was a touching bit when Pipaluk would retrace the locales they used to hang out, it was an unsatisfactory conclusion.

Night Ride (Nattrikken)  – NORWAY/15 MINS/2020

Director: Eirik Tveiten

“It is a cold night in December. As Ebba waits for the tram, an unexpected turn of events transforms the ride home into something she was not expecting.”

I liked this piece a lot, possibly my favorite in the category. It was pretty funny, held a degree of danger, and showed real humanity.

More Live Action
Le Pupille ITALY, USA/37 MINS/2022

Director: Alice Rohrwacher

“From… Academy Award® winning producer, Alfonso Cuarón is a tale of innocence, greed, and fantasy. [It] is about desires, pure and selfish, about freedom and devotion, and about the anarchy that is capable of flowering in the minds of girls within the confines of a strict religious boarding school at Christmas.”

As the longest of the pieces, the story is the most complex, taking place in World War II Italy.  It is or was on Disney+. I enjoyed it.

The Red Suitcase -LUXEMBOURG/18 MINS/2022

Director: Cyrus Neshvad

“A young Iranian woman at a Luxembourg airport is in a life-changing situation.”

While totally believable, it was most frustrating because we wanted to know what happened next.

An Irish Goodbye – IRELAND/23 MINS/2022

Director: Tom Berkeley, Ross White

“On a farm in rural Northern Ireland, estranged brothers Turlough and Lorcan are forced to reunite following the untimely death of their mother.”

My wife’s favorite, and for a good reason, even though we couldn’t suss out bits of the dialogue. The family tension rang true. It won the BAFTA in this category.


An Ostrich Told Me the World Is Fake and I Think I Believe It -AUSTRALIA/11 MINS/2022

Director: Lachlan Pendragon

“When a young telemarketer is confronted by a mysterious talking ostrich, he learns that the universe is stop-motion animation. He must put aside his dwindling toaster sales and focus on convincing his colleagues of his terrifying discovery.”

This had a Truman Show/end of a Lego Movie vibe. BTW, the ostrich may be correct. I liked it a lot.

The Flying Sailor – CANADA/7 MINS/2022

Director: Amanda Forbis, Wendy Tilby

“In 1917, two ships collided in the Halifax Harbour, causing the largest accidental explosion in history. Among the tragic stories of the disaster is the remarkable account of a sailor who, blown skyward from the docks, flew a distance of two kilometres before landing uphill, naked and unharmed. The Flying Sailor is a contemplation of his journey.”

I wish I had known the above before I watched it for the first time. NOW it makes more sense.

More animation

Director:  João Gonzalez

“Every day, a father and his son jump with a parachute from their vertiginous cold house, attached to a cliff, to go to the village on the ground, far away where they sell the ice they produce daily.”

The comments helped me understand this better than I did on first watching.

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse -UK/34 MINS/2022

Director: Peter Baynton, Charlie Mackesy

It “is a story of kindness, courage, and hope in traditional hand-drawn animation, following the unlikely friendship of the title characters as they journey in search of the boy’s home. Based on the book of the same name.”

I liked the traditional artwork. It’s strange, though; I can believe the talking animals, yet we both had trouble figuring out where the boy came from. How did he not freeze to death? I think this is streaming on Apple+.

Animation with a warning

My Year of Dicks -USA/25 MINS/2022

Director: Sara Gunnarsdóttir // Writer: Pamela Ribon

“An imaginative fifteen-year-old is stubbornly determined to lose her virginity despite the pathetic pickings in the outskirts of Houston in the early 90s. Created by Pamela Ribon from her critically-acclaimed memoir.”

Before it aired in the theater, there was a warning that the content may not be suitable for some. The last time I saw that message, it was some grossly bloody and inartful six minutes.

This was fun in five chapters, the first of which is here. My favorite part, though, was Chapter 5, when the protagonist asks her mom a personal question, and the mom makes the dad explain sex to the daughter. I found it extremely funny.


I didn’t see the docs in the theater, but I did view two on YouTube.

THE ELEPHANT WHISPERERS – Kartiki Gonsalves and Guneet Monga

HAULOUT– Evgenia Arbugaeva and Maxim Arbugaev
Ninety thousand walruses outside your door is a sure sign that the planet’s ecosystem is out of whack.
THE MARTHA MITCHELL EFFECT – Anne Alvergue and Beth Levison
STRANGER AT THE GATEJoshua Seftel and Conall Jones
I saw a brief piece about a “Veteran’s Return from the Brink of Terrorism” on CBS Sunday Morning. I found this to be a powerful telling of how hate can be turned around. A review of all of the short documentaries states this film “reads a little too optimistic for the current moment.” I have no idea what that means.

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish


Puss In Boots.The Last WishTrying to support the local cinema, my wife and I went to the Madison Theatre to watch Puss In Boots: The Last Wish. Once again, the film was NOT on the marquee but was listed online.

I had seen the first two Shrek movies, the second (2004) of which introduced our feline hero. But I had not watched the third Shrek film (2007) nor the first Puss In Boots (2011).

First, the new movie often looks marvelous. There’s an IMBd review that addresses this.  It “goes full Into the Spiderverse once a fight breaks out. Glorious 12 frames per second, hyper stylized with all the filters and gimmicks necessary to elevate the big set-pieces to something truly special and memorable.” This is different from what was used in previous films.

Second, the storyline works at one level for kids – and there were about a dozen of them during that week after Christmas – and quite another for the adults.

If you saw the trailer, you know the cat has only one of his nine lives left. But if he can find the Wishing Star…

First, Puss In Boots (voiced once again by the wonderful  Antonio Banderas) has to regain his mojo, helped by an unlikely cat, er, dog Perrito (Harvey Guillen). He also has to deal with rivals for the prize, including his old companion Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek).

More rivals

Others seeking the Wishing Star are Goldie (Florence Pugh) and the Three Bears (Olivia Colman, Ray Winstone, Samson Kayo), and the amoral Jack Horner (John Mulaney). But the greatest threat to Puss is the Wolf (Wagner Moura) and what he represents.

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is visually impressive but, more surprising, quite touching in dealing with mistakes and misunderstandings made in relationships. It’s no surprise that it was nominated for various awards and 96% of the  Rotten Tomatoes critics liked it.

It is my favorite 2022 movie so far.

Social media & sharing icons powered by UltimatelySocial