A Morning Stroll (UK, 7 minutes)

Ahhh…nothing like a refreshing morning stroll to get the blood flowing! Except there’s a chicken. And…actual blood. Loosely based on a story recounted in Paul Auster’s True Tales of American Life, A Morning Stroll takes us on a century-long journey that offers a surprisingly insightful – and eerie – glimpse at the self-destructive nature of mankind and what might await us in the not-so distant future. Using three different styles of animation to suit each time period pictured (1959, 2009, and 2059), A Morning Stroll brings us three versions of the same story: a man, while walking down a New York City street, encounters a chicken that pecks at a door until it’s let in. Of course, the story is slightly different each time, but I don’t want to explain how, as it’s much more fun if you watch it unfold yourself.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (USA, 17 minutes)

Drawing inspiration from both The Wizard of Oz and Hurricane Katrina (a strange combination that, believe it or not, works), The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is a deeply moving exploration of humanity’s relationship with the written word as well as the meaning of life itself. It’s also the only short this year that make me cry. After his home is sucked up by a monstrous storm and transported to a land full of birdlike hardbacks, the titular character finds both a new calling and the inspiration to finish his own story. In addition to illustrating just how powerful books can be, Lessmore also emphasizes the all-too-real threat that the proliferation of e-readers poses to paper-and-cloth tomes. This stirring allegory is further enhanced by a stunning hybrid style of animation that incorporates 2D and computer animation as well as miniatures.

Dimanche/Sunday (Canada, 9 minutes)

Dimanche/Sunday is a playful little tale about a young boy who won’t let his family’s boring Sunday routine stop him from engaging in his favorite pastime: flattening coins on railway tracks. At first glance, Dimanche may seem somewhat mundane, but I find that it actually has a lot to say about the power of imagination and making ordinary moments extraordinary. It may not pack as powerful a punch as many of the other nominees, but it benefits from a quirky, monochromatic animation style that adds a sort of nostalgic warmth to each frame.

Wild Life (Canada, 14 minutes)

Wild Life follows the unusual path of an Englishman who, seemingly on a whim, decides to move to the Canadian frontier to become a rancher, golf clubs and tea cups in tow. Once settled into his new home, however, he finds that the reality of his situation is far less romantic than he had imagined it would be. I’m not sure Wild Life has what it takes to win, but it’s absolutely deserving of its nomination; the painterly animation is beautiful and fluid, and the comet parallels that pepper the film add an unexpectedly poetic tone to Englishman’s story.

La Luna (USA, 6:53 minutes)

La Luna – which will see its theatrical debut in front of Brave in June – is a coming-of-age fable about an Italian boy who travels out to sea with his father and grandfather and, for the very first time, learns about his family’s unconventional line of work (hint: no Mafia involvement here). Very different from anything Pixar has done before, La Luna is already being heralded as the studio’s “best entry yet” in this category, and it seems to be this year’s obvious front-runner.

My pick: I think it’s probably obvious that I think The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore should win, and I predict that it will. However, if you’re part of an Oscar pool this year and want to play it safe, go with La Luna. Just remember: Last year’s Pixar entry, Day & Night, received a tremendous amount of buzz and was predicted to come out on top (much like La Luna). It lost, however, to The Lost Thing, which was a much more emotional, sentimental picture (like Lessmore).

Road to the Oscars Series

January 27: Best Live Action Short – Kit Bowen

January 31: Best Animated Short – Savanna New

February 1: Best Documentary Short – Christa Youngpeter

February 2: Best Documentary – Dantzler Smith

February 3: Best Foreign Language Film – Steve Neumann

February 4: Best Visual Effects – Michael Benedict

February 5: Best Sound Editing – Michael Benedict

February 6: Best Sound Mixing – Joseph Doherty

February 7: Best Makeup – Katie Mae Peters

February 8: Best Costume Design – Jax Russo

February 9: Best Art Direction – Scott Youngbauer

February 10: Best Film Editing – Michael Benedict

February 11: Best Cinematography – Scott Youngbauer

February 12: Best Original Score – Adam Spunberg

February 13: Best Original Song – Adam Spunberg

February 14: Best Animated Feature Film – Steve Neumann

February 15: Best Adapted Screenplay – Jeremy Martin

February 16: Best Original Screenplay – Jeremy Martin

February 17: Best Supporting Actor – Joseph Doherty

February 18: Best Supporting Actress – Angela Stern

February 20: Best Actress – Andrew Payne

February 21: Best Actor – Kit Bowen

February 22: Best Director – Andrew Payne

February 23: Best Picture – Kit Bowen