The Academy Award-Nominated Short Films (2010)
While it is somewhat of a pity that short films do not get theatrical play throughout the year, preceding various features, I am still very glad that The Academy has chosen to release the Academy Award-Nominated shorts in a convenient theatrical package. This allows for the largely unheralded medium to get the exposure it deserves. What’s more, the short films seem to be growing in popularity. If trends continue, perhaps they will be released more frequently. Perhaps we’ll have a large sampling of shorts to choose from some day.
The live-action films last year were all about death and children in peril. This year, they’re far more upbeat, and even the films that deal with death, genocide, and otherwise “heavy” material seems to play more cheerful. The animated shorts are a diverse lot, but are all notable in their own way.
The Live Action Shorts:
Taniel Toom’s “The Confession” is a film so bleak and depressing that it’s nearly comic. It follows the trials of an English Catholic schoolboy who, distressed upon not having anything to confess for his first confession, decides to commit some sort of prankish sin. The prank, predictably, goes quite horribly awry, and, from there, the tragedies just begin to mount. I’d be tempted to compare this melodramatic bleakness to a silent film like “Greed,” were it not for “The Confession’s” stirring photography and fantastic pacing. This is the best looking of the five live-action short films, and the best made. I just can’t attest for its subject matter which is hilariously over the top.
Michael Creagh’s “The Crush,” another film about a British schoolboy in trouble, is decidedly lighter in tone, despite the presence of a gun, and the threat of murder. A young boy has a crush on his teach, and even proposes marriage, only to learn that she has also agreed to marry a man her age; a man who’s is actually something of a dickhead. This leads our hero to challenge the man to a proper duel to the death. I liked the boy in this short, as he was deadpan and honest, and it seemed to look at childhood crushes in a proper light. And it doesn’t end as badly as you think, which is so very refreshing.
Luke Matheny’s “God of Love,” the American entry is, for my money, the best of the lot, and the potential winner. The film is about a dorky lounge-singer-slash-dart-expert with a burning crush on a bandmate, who, in turn, has a burning crush on our hero’s best friend. He receives some mysterious darts in the mail one afternoon, addressed from Eros, allowing him to jab people and make them fall in love. Despite the twee cutesiness of that description, the film is actually well-paced, charming, rather funny, and wisely deadpan. It’s like if Wes Anderson was slightly less affected. That the film’s two heroes are average looking guys also helps a great deal.
Ivan Goldschmidt’s “Na Wewe” starts out with some eye-rolling, as it is about the Rwandan genocide. What promises to be a cheap, heart-rending “message” picture quickly changes tone into something more comic, as a tough-talking Hutu general learns that a busful of hostages actually belong to neither the Hutus nor the Tutsis. By the film’s end, you’ll begin giggling at the silliness of it all. The message is, of course, a rather glib parable about the changing nature of national identity, but it’s short and light enough to work. I also appreciated the conceit that U2 music can cure racial conflict.
Very enjoyable, and perhaps in the running for the winner is Ian Barnes’ and Samantha Waite’s “Wish 143,” which, like “Na Wewe,” appears to be a depressing, melodramatic “message” picture, but approaches its subject with a light touch, real humanity, and no small amount of humor. The film is about a 16-year-old boy dying of lung cancer, whose one dying wish is to lose his virginity in the back of a car. The boy is frank and funny, and will not flag in his desires. His priest friend is a bit disgusted by the kid’s venality, but ultimately helps him out. Hardly a weepy, “Wish 143” is a chipper film about cancer that avoids the dramatically hamfisted approaches to the disease.
The Animated Shorts:
Pixar always seems to have a film in the running, and many may have already seen Teddy Newton’s “Day & Night,” as it ran before their blockbuster, “Toy Story 3.” Pixar is so ubiquitous, and so relentlessly qualified for these awards, that it’s almost dull to discuss. Luckily “Day & Night” is very clever, and resembles less a cute Pixar action short, and more a Chuck Jones film from the late 1960s (when he had stopped making Bug Bunny cartoons, and was working on stuff like “The Dot and the Line”). The film is about two silent human-shaped inverted silhouettes against a black background, each embodying the night or the day. They compare, contrast, bicker, and fight about which is better, and then, finding equal marvels, get along. It’s cute, clever, and very well animated, if not a bit simplified. I’m convinced it will win the award this year, although it was not quite my favorite.
The most conventional of the shorts is also the most engaging. Jacob Shuh and Max Lang made “The Gruffalo,” based on the children’s novel, and it follows the adventures of a mouse, working his way through a land of dangerous predators on his way to a food source. The film is spoken in verse, and feels a lot like an old fable, even though the story is recent. What’s more, this film is the only one with a recognizable pedigree, featuring the voices of Helena Bonham Carter, John Hurt, Robbie Coltrane, and Tom Wilkinson. The pedigree may actually hurt its chances at winning (it’s certainly no underdog), which is a pity, as it’s not just a clever story, but a stellar and moody piece of filmmaking, involving subtle themes of predatory relationships, natural fear, and using one’s wits.
Geefwee Boedoe’s “Let’s Pollute” feels like an artifact of the mid 1980s. It’s a mock 1950s educational reel about the social and economic advantages of overconsumption and polluting the environment. While it was a somewhat subversive, anarchic delight in watching the machinery of capitalism very literally being oiled by the blood of the workers, the film was far too glib and flip to leave any sort of serious impact; essentially, it would have been more effective it had a more subtle approach. And, at 6 minutes, it runs a bit long.
Shaun Tan’s and Andrew Ruhemann’s “The Lost Thing” was one of my favorites of the bunch, as it dealt with a kind of gentle peculiarity rarely seen in movies. A young man finds a… thing… on the beach. The thing is a 20-foot tall bright red wood burning stove (?) with enormous crab claws, bells and tentacles. The thing is gentle, friendly, odd, misplaced. Eventually, the thing finds a home, but the man looking after it begins to realize that he often misses the simple, pure strangeness of memory. It’s a dream-like film with a design out of the Codex Seraphinanus. I liked it.
Bastein Dubois’ “Madagascar: A Journey Diary” is probably the best-looking animated film I’ve seen in a long time, as it combines several styles of CGI, cel animation, stop motion, and even needlepoint to great effect. The film is a travelogue, so it must, inevitably, be without a real conclusion. It’s just sort of a journey through Madagascar, and a local funerary rite that involves exhuming the dead. As a mood piece, the film is first rate, although the swirling, context-free images may be dizzying to some viewers.