Even though Paperman will most likely win (not that I'm saying it shouldn't, it IS great), you should DEFINITELY check out the other three below.
'Adam and Dog,' beautifully directed and animated by Minkyu Lee, who says: “This is a short film that me and a group of my close friends made. It was put together by artists who work at various studios, including Disney Feature, Dreamworks and Pixar; The animation is done by myself, Jennifer Hager, James Baxter, Mario Furmanczyk, Austin Madison, and Matt Williames. Glen Keane also helped by being a consultant on the film, and also doing some visual development. It is a completely independent film without any major studio involvement. We are really excited for people to see it, and wanted to share.” You can also find a collection of some of the absolutely gorgeous backgrounds over at Living Lines Library.
'Head Over Heels,' by Tim Reckart, who apparently was friends with my friend Eric in middle school. Don't let the 'offbeat' look of the film fool you - this is a film full of heart (reminds me of Pixar's 'Up').
'Fresh Guacamole,' by PES - the precursor to this, Western Spaghetti, is also worth a watch (and both films make me hungry every time I watch them). Besides the absolutely brilliant execution as far as visuals go, I think what makes these films so winning is their excellent sound design!
It goes without saying that short films have less pressure on them than features during their production as far as studios and budgets are concerned, so you're always going to find smaller, off-the-beaten-path stories and animation styles in the shorts. But I think it's interesting to note that, of the 5 nominated films, two are stop-motion animation, and the other three have the look of traditional 2-D animation (even though they all implement CG animation in some way). EDIT: I also meant to mention how all of them are wordless! (With the possible exception of the Simpsons short, which I haven't seen yet.) Sometimes the best way to tell a story is without words.
Last year the winner for animated short was 'The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore,' which is also definitely worth watching if you have the time.
It was a surprise that this won because everyone expected Pixar's short 'La Luna' to win. But totally deserved I think.
The nominees for Animated Feature are: Brave, Frankenweenie, ParaNorman, The Pirates!: Band of Misfits, and Wreck-It Ralph. I've been a bad animation enthusiast this year in that I've only seen two out of the five - Brave and Wreck-It Ralph. Wreck-It Ralph was probably my favorite movie of 2012 in terms of pure enjoyment. Brave was aesthetically beautiful (I couldn't stop staring at Merida's hair) but disappointing story- and character-wise. I REALLY wanted to see Pirates because I've been a fan of Aardman ever since being introduced to their winning Wallace and Gromit shorts when I was little, but missed it while it was in theaters... same with ParaNorman, heard great things but missed it (although I have it on Amazon Prime rental right now so hopefully I'll watch it soon). I've heard Frankenweenie is missable though so I'll probably pass over that one.
They say it was a bad year for movies - but it was a great year for animation!