Oscar Short: A film worthy of nomination this year

In the last decade, the Oscar for best animated short has, more often than not, gone to films from major studios or famous talent.

In a more meritocratic world, smaller films would have more of a look-in. There are dozens of good ones out there - 84 shorts qualified this year - but most fall swiftly by the wayside in the race for a nomination. This is a competition in which marketing muscle and name recognition count for a lot, after all.

We've already profiled the shorts we think are most likely to be nominated this year, based on the Academy's voting history. Below are the films I think most deserve voters' attention, whether because of their technical verve or narrative ambition or sheer visual beauty. We'll publish shortly another take on the contending shorts from our correspondent Chris Robinson.

Voting begins on December 10, and the shortlist will be announced on Tuesday, December 21; for the first time, 15 films will be included, rather than the usual ten. Nominations will follow on February 8, with the ceremony taking place on March 27.

One of the year's most visually striking shorts is A Bite of Bone, in which a child recounts the last summer she spent with her father before he died. Using a pointillist technique unusual in animation, the Ottawa-winning film vividly depicts Japan's Inland Sea, the roving camera endowing everything with a rich sense of volume. It's virtuosic filmmaking from Honami Yano, who makes her professional debut here (the short is produced by Japanese indie luminary Koji Yamamura). But it is also a sweet, touching tale, suffused with pathos.

In Mary Apick's The Cat, a young girl is chased by an amorphous dark force through a landscape populated by sinister masked figures. With no dialogue and only the odd splash of color, the film spins a somber allegory of social repression in Iran, as an opening caption makes clear. Apick was raised in Iran, where she was a child star; the actor and filmmaker is now based in the U.S. This atmospheric short is the first animated film she has directed. It is one of a growing number of shorts directed by Iranians to qualify for the Oscars, alongside this year's The Musician and last year's Am I a Wolf-.

The recollections of a Victorian ex-chimney sweep, read in voiceover, form the basis of animated documentary The Chimney Swift. Narration, sound design, and images combine to convey the horrors of the job, which boys as young as four performed; the film's power is only slightly undermined by the narrator's oddly peppy delivery. If the subject seems archaic, confined to the bad old days of 19th-century England, one need only remember that child labor continues in many parts of the world. The film comes from Frédéric Schuld and his German studio Fabian & Fred, which also produced the absorbing short documentary Carlotta's Face.

Few students would try to incorporate both opera and general-relativity physics into their graduate films; fewer would pull it off the flair of O Black Hole! But I'd have expected no less from Renee Zhan, whose Sundance-winning Reneepoptosis brimmed with character. A woman turns her head into a black hole, inside which another woman embarks on a metaphysical journey staged as a musical. As with many films from the U.K.'s NFTS school, it is technically ambitious, marrying 2d (to depict the initial woman) with stop motion (to show her inner life). It's also hugely enjoyable.

In Easter Eggs, a suicide prompts two teenage boys to hunt for escaped birds, in the hope of exchanging them for cigarettes or a mountain bike. The latest film from Nicolas Keppens (Wildebeest) is strange and darkly funny, with a slow-building melancholy. Easter Eggs has had a good award run, winning at Annecy then becoming the sole animated nominee in the short film category of the European Film Awards. I wonder whether its scabrous humor can charm the Academy.

Images at top, left to right: “O Black Hole!,” “A Bite of Bone,” “The Cat”