When you think about it, shorts were the first films in existence and animated shorts were soon to follow. Before there were any three-hour, multiverse, world-building blockbuster hits or even spaghetti westerns, there were shorts. It wasn’t until the 1910s that films began to get longer than ten minutes. As the film industry progressed and Hollywood became well, Hollywood, feature films took center stage. Audiences flocked to event films like Ben-Hur, Frankenstein, and The Wizard of Oz. But even with longer films, shorts never really went away.
The Academy added the Animated Short category in 1931, the fifth ceremony of the Oscars. What would come to be known as the Golden Age of American animation was already underway which began in 1928. Walt Disney won the first 10 awards in the category setting the standard for Disney becoming a powerhouse in the animation industry. For decades, animation was regarded as a medium for children, with many of the awards going to animations like Looney Toons or Hanna-Barbera properties.
Around the 1960s the paradigm began to shift with winners that focused on deeper, more serious subject matter. Foreign filmmakers submitted to the category and won sharing their stories with an American audience and the Academy voting body at large.
That leads us to today, where, I believe, the Animated Short category features some of the most interesting and emotional films each year. The award gives an opportunity for filmmakers who aren’t as established to compete. It also gives storytellers the chance to make their visions seen in a digestible and relatable way. Hair Love, the winner in 2019, told the story of an African American father and daughter bonding over hair. In 2017 Kobe Bryant won for Dear Basketball, a personal story of him saying goodbye to the game he gave his life to.
This year, the 95th annual Academy Awards gives us another group of interesting, thought-provoking, emotional animated shorts. They encapsulate the spectrum of humanity in their own, unique ways. Every single one of them is worth a watch. Here is my ranking of the five.
2023 Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts Ranked
- My Year of Dicks
- Ice Merchants
- An Ostrich Told Me the World Is Fake and I Think I Believe It
- The Boy, The Mole, The Fox, and The Horse
- The Flying Sailor
If you’re interested in more short films by directors and creators that aren’t in Hollywood you can always check out Vimeo where thousands of short films premiere each year. The 2023 Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts are playing in theaters now. To find a theater they’re showing near you can visit Shorts TV. Be sure to watch the Academy Awards Sunday, March 12 on ABC to see which animated short will win.
Where is The Flying Sailor streaming?
On Dec. 6, 1917, two ships collided in the port of Halifax, Nova Scotia. It became known as the Halifax Explosion. The Flying Sailor is based on and dedicated to the true account of Charlie Mayers “a Sailor who, in the Halifax Explosion of 1917, flew over 2 kilometers and lived to tell about it.”
It opens with Charlie smoking a cigarette moments before disaster strikes. When the explosion happens, Charlie is thrown into the air, tumbling, and losing all his clothes. Then he’s floating, his naked body twisting in the air almost like a ballerina as images of his life flash before his eyes.
He goes through the stages of his life from childhood with his mother to the portholes of a ship. Each stage is only a snippet as we go back to Charlie rotating through the clouds. Eventually, he falls back to Earth, splashing into the sea unharmed, his cigarette still lit. All that’s left is a naked man reflecting on his life, wondering how the hell he’s still alive.
You can watch The Flying Sailor on YouTube.
Where is The Boy, The Mole, The Fox, and The Horse streaming?
Based on the children’s bestseller and 2019 Barnes and Noble Book of the Year of the same name, this is the most traditional of all the Animated Short nominee offerings this year. It tells the story of a lost boy who is trying to make it home. Along the way, he befriends three animals who accompany him on his journey.
Produced by Apple TV+, it’s an elegant visual film featuring a picturesque landscape of snow-covered plains. The horse is pure white, blending in perfectly with the background. The film features the voices of Idris Elba, Gabriel Bryne, Tom Hollander, and Jude Coward Nicoll (I’ll give you one guess as to which of these had the largest production budget.)
The boy has to learn along the way the importance of friendship, acceptance, and the true meaning of what a home is. It’s a beautiful story geared towards children hitting on all the right themes of growing up.
You can watch The Boy, The Mole, The Fox, and The Horse on Apple TV+.
Where is An Ostrich Told Me the World Is Fake and I Think I Believe It streaming?
Created and directed by student filmmaker Lachlan Pendragon (incredible last name), for his doctorate program at Griffith Film School, this is another story of waking up from a monotonous life and opening your eyes to what’s really going on. It’s a “red-pilled” stop-motion tale of an underperforming, unengaged office employee named Neil, who spends his days cold-calling people to buy toasters.
Neil knows something is off as he briefly notices his boss’s mouth falling to the ground, but he just can’t put his clay finger on it. That is until a happy-go-lucky ostrich comes up the elevator one night and tells Neil he’s living in a simulation. The filmmaker cleverly utilizes a camera within camera-type storytelling to jump Neil out of his own story, engaging with the filmmaker himself in the real world. It’s a humorous film with arguably the best, funniest ending of the five.
You can watch An Ostrich Told Me the World Is Fake and I Think I Believe It on Vimeo.
Where is Ice Merchants streaming?
The most emotional of the crop this year is also the most visually interesting. Ice Merchants is a Portuguese film made by 27-year-old filmmaker Joao Gonzalez. It’s about a father and a son, who reside in a cabin on the side of an overwhelmingly tall cliff above a small town. They fill an ice box with water each day and then break it apart the next. With the broken ice, they skydive to the town, losing their beanie hats in the process. They sell the ice and buy new beanies, repeating the cycle each day.
No character speaks throughout its entirety, but you can’t shake the sense of loneliness and deep sadness that permeates through the cracks of the wooden house. Most impressive is Gonzalez’s line work and use of white space in each scene. There’s constant movement and the consistency of the colors pay off in a major way at the film’s conclusion. When the season changes and the snow finally begins to melt the family must make their final dive away from their beloved home.
You can watch Ice Merchants on YouTube.
Where is My Year of Dicks streaming?
I don’t think a film with this audacious of a name has ever won an Academy Award, but if there was ever going to be one to win, it should be My Year of Dicks. This diary-inspired short is the autobiographical account of Pamela Ribon and her quest to lose her virginity at 15 years old in 1991. The film is told through multiple styles and layered into five chapters, one for each boy. It’s uncomfortable, funny, and honest much like I’m sure how most people find themselves when entering the, oftentimes scary and uncertain, sex phase of their lives.
Each chapter sounds like a diary with a narration of Pam’s thoughts injected in between cringeworthy dialogue that oftentimes makes you want to scream (in a good way). The film is complete with a therapy-inducing dad sex talk, a nightmare almost hookup with a person of questionable beliefs, and more situations a person can find themselves in as they fumble through trying to lose their virginity. It’s a real swing and I hope the Academy has the courage to pick it as its winner.
You can watch My Year of Dicks on Vimeo.