by Scott Rice -
SGN Contributing Writer
The Oscar-Nominated Short Films of 2011
Opening February 11
Short films always get short shrift at the Oscars. Many people think the main reason the Academy hands out Oscars for animated and live-action short films is so viewers can take a piss without the chance of missing a sophisticated movie star making an ass of themselves on live television. The truth is the Academy bestows these awards on brilliant filmmakers who play in a genre that works quite differently than feature length cinema - not better, not worse, just differently.
This year's crop of 10 flicks all under the requisite 40-minute limit are a delicious mix from around the world. Subject matter ranges from the deeply personal to political treatises to wonderful silliness seasoned with a dash of whimsy. You may cry, you may think, you may simply smile, and you'll probably do a little of each.
The Oscar-nominated short films of 2011, animated and live-action, begin an exclusive engagement February 11 at Landmark's Varsity Theatre in the heart of the U. District. Call 206-781-5755 for show times. Here's the skinny on all 10 nominees.
God of Love - Luke Matheny
God of Love is a New York flick through and through, and the weakest of a strong field. I imagine this is what would happen if Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen tried to collaborate but neither had eaten for a while. I figure they'd make a decent effort even while suffering from mild hypoglycemia. A dart-throwing lounge singer (director Luke Matheny) has it bad for his bandmate Kelly (Marion Brock), who in turn has a crush on his other band mate, and BBF, Fozzie (Christopher Hirsh). Yeah, it's a love triangle complete with obvious deus ex machina. Magic darts arrive, zany mishaps follow, and love conquers all, yada, yada, yada
The Crush - Michael Creagh
Charming and disturbing is a tough combination to pull off. Director Michael Creagh does it largely on the shoulders of his son Oran Creagh as the precocious would-be paramour to pretty grammar school teacher Miss Purdy (Olga Wehrly). The Creagh scion steals the entire movie playing Ardal, an 8-year-old lad who won't stand for not being taken seriously and who won't let a couple of decades of age difference or his prepubescent status keep him from actively pursuing and eventually defending (in a fight to the death, no less) the object of his affection. The story is familiar though taken to its extremes, the production is solid if a bit plebeian, and the final scenes are good clean fun but inexplicably lacking in tension. That said, you gotta see this kid act.
Wish 143 - Ian Barnes and Samantha Waite
The setup is interesting: a cancer-stricken boy and his priest struggle with Christian dogma and sexuality, as the teen's dying wish is to lose his virginity. Cock-blocked by his high school sweetheart, a band of nasty hookers, and a somewhat disconcerted rep from the Make-a-Wish Foundation, David (Samuel Peter Holland) slips further into frustration and despair as he waits for death. Will he get laid, or won't he? Will God really be mad if he does? Will the priest (Jim Carter) figure a dogmatic compromise, or will he send the kid to his grave never knowing the magic of sex? The situation and its implications are powerful stuff and complicated more by Holland's portrayal of cancer boy as stark, angry, and totally unsentimental. What could have slipped into predictable melodrama, instead, provocatively surprises at every turn.
Na Wewe - Ivan Goldschmidt
Americans take the law for granted. We travel cross-country on speedy interstates, stopping for gas in small towns and comforted by the fact that all our laws are written down in some big leather-bound book stowed away in the bowels of some big granite building and defended by dudes in uniforms that we like to disrespect when they're not around. It's not like that everywhere, and director Ivan Goldschmidt serves up a tense reminder of this with his short film Na Wewe. It's 1994 in the war-ravaged African nation of Burundi. Burundi suffers from the same ethnic strife between Hutu and Tutsi that resulted in the atrocities so well-known in neighboring Rwanda. A varied bus load of people get stopped by an unaffiliated troupe of armed locals who proceed to identify each passenger one by one (oddly, the only acting credit goes to the only white guy in the film). The narrative is fast-paced and the tension is grueling as each person is haphazardly interrogated by the head thugs while boy-soldiers point Kalashnikovs at them and rifle through their belongings. In a lawless land, speaking the wrong language can be a real problem.
The Confession - Tanel Toom
Although the photography is gorgeous, the editing seamless, and the acting sublime, the most salient reason to see The Confession is for the expertly crafted narrative by screenwriter Caroline Bruckner from an idea by director Tanel Toom; the writing is near perfection. Sam's (Lewis Howlett) first confession looms and he has a problem. His buddy Jacob (Joe Eales) decides to help him out and the results are disastrous and life-changing. The numerous surprises are poignant and thought provoking right up to the artistically fearless ending. This is my pick for the statue.
Let's Pollute - Geefwee Boedoe
It's supposed to be ironic satire, I think. It's actually obvious, derivative, and astoundingly obtuse. A parody of '50s era educational films, Let's Pollute reminds us we are a sickeningly wasteful consumer culture comprised of thoughtless mucks who let the unbridled multinational corporations sell them over-packaged, over-processed crap we don't need. I get it. Now, how do we change it? Even the animation seems familiar and uninspired.
The Gruffalo - Jakob Schuh and Max Lang
A mega-star cast and beautiful animation give legs to the cinematic version of the beloved 1999 book written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler. A mouse walks through the woods tricking a fox, an owl, and a snake who want to eat him. The book was written for 3- to 7-year-olds and the film seems to aim for the same audience. I wish there was more layered humor meant for grown-ups (see The Brave Little Toaster, 1987), but it's still a sweet film with a terrific cast and lovely artwork.
The Lost Thing - Shaun Tan and Andrew Ruhemann
The Lost Thing, also based on a children's book (by co-director Shaun Tan), is a bizarre tale with bizarre animation from a team of Aussies who themselves may, or may not, be bizarre. A boy finds a strange creature while searching for bottle caps on the beach. He decides to find a home for the creature but finds the world apathetic to his endeavor. The story is simple and sweet and a little weird. The animation is weirdly wonderful. Not perfect, but definitely worth a look.
Madagascar, a Journey Diary - Bastien Dubois
Watching Madagascar is like sitting in Bastien Dubois's living room looking at a picture album from his vacation, except there is awesome music and beautiful (if uneven) animation. There's also an uneasy feeling of native folks being seen as quaint through a European lens that finds itself way more sophisticated than the people who inspired the images. Though the whole deal feels a bit smug and the animation looks like it was drawn by a number of artists with vastly disparate artistic sensibilities, the music and the joy infused within the film save the day.
Day & Night - Teddy Newton
Pure ingenuity: Day & Night takes you back to the days of Chuck Jones and his ingenious animated short Duck Amuck starring Daffy Duck and featuring all kinds of smart, self-referential cinematic gags. Day & Night toys with the realities available to animators who dare to enter new cinematic spaces. The characters, Day and, uh, Night, become a screen containing landscapes that seem familiar and alien at the same time. We, the viewers, sort of know where we are, but we're not sure how Pixar magician Teddy Newton got us there. Doesn't matter, the ride is awesome. My pick for the Oscar nod based on originality and unorthodox storytelling.
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