Tuesday, 2 March 2010

The BAH!scars #8: Salute the Shorts

In a supreme act of nerdiness and/or unemployedness, today I watched all the shorts that were nominated for Oscars, both live and animated. A local Clearview was playing both and since I get two free tickets to Clearviews thanks to my Optimum account, I decided I might as well watch.

Watching shorts in a theater is a bit odd. You are both less cogniscent of time (since you’re following smaller story arcs) and more aware of time (since after each short you know that X amount of minutes have passed, as they tell you the length of each short beforehand). Overall though, it was an interesting, different experience and something I’d like to do next year as possible. Now, for my thoughts on the nominees (in order they showed them):

Short Film (Live Action)

“Kavi” — Gregg Helvey

This felt a bit like Slumdog Millionaire (abridged), though I probably preferred it to its chai-walling predecessor. Granted, there’s no gameshow and the kid doesn’t grow up, but there’s still the adorable young boy amidst that distinctly horrid poverty that only India can supply.
Thankfully, this time there’s no great tale of half-assed romance and a lack of fetishization on how exotic such Indian destitution looks. The movie hits a bit hard with its message, but at least it’s so blatant and honest about it, that I can’t fault it too much. Overall, this movie feels, well, exactly like a movie I would expect to be nominated for best short film (Live Action). This was also the first one they played and I was almost certain I was in for another ninety minutes of this. This film stands a great chance of winning though because of A) the coattails of Slumdog and B) it has such a nice, relevant Academic message and the whole Academy can feel like they made a difference.

Where I’d rank it: 3 of 5
Where it stands in chance of winning: 2 of 5.

“The New Tenants” — Joachim Back and Tivi Magnusson

I loved this short film/one-act play. I loved loved loved it. It occupies the same territory as In the Loop: it’s so rude, vulgar, well-written, odd, and untidy in its ending that I am still in shock that the Academy nominated it. I’d go again (though 15 minutes late to skip Kavi) just to see this film again. It’s funny, tense, surprising, and engrossing. I can’t remember the last time I found something that dark that funny (and because it got so dark). Furthermore, lo and behold: well-written gay characters! They exist!

Of course, this same adoration also comes with the price tag that this does not stand all that great of a chance of winning. It doesn’t stand a horrible chance (I’d be it just behind Miracle Fish…to the point where I almost had it in 3), but the two front-runners are indeed quite the front-runners.

Where I’d rank it: 1 of 5.
Where it stands in chance of winning: 4 of 5.

“Miracle Fish” — Luke Doolan and Drew Bailey

I just was not feeling this film. It was horribly slow (of course, where I say “drawn-out,” others say “Kurosawa”) and did not seem to have much of a point or pay-off. The child protagonist did not attract as much empathy as he required and I really did not see all that much of a reason to the final confrontation. But, it seems dark and brooding and contemplative and "hurray for child actors!", so I’m placing it at three for odds.

Where I’d rank it: 5 of 5.
Where it stands in chance of winning: 3 of 5.

“The Door” — Juanita Wilson and James Flynn

This film was beautifully done. The first minute or so, nearly every shot wowed me. The job remained strong throughout the rest of it. I would love to see the director and cinematographer work on a full-length film.

The script, however, was not the best. So, I’m tempted to say “SPOILER ALERT,” but I think this film would actually be better if you knew the twist at the onset of the it. But, if you want to see it as the filmmakers intended it, please skip down to the next entry.

I'm in the midst of post-apocalyptic exhaustion. Or at least, with very run of the mill stories of what happens after the end of the world as we know it. Yes, the apocalypse sucks. Yes, it shows a dissolution of society and your bonds are stripped down to a few people who truly matter/you can trust and something about materialism. I blame The Road. It felt so abysmally standard that I think it obliterated my ability to enjoy an entire genre. Or maybe, on a more positive level, Jasper Fforde’s own post-apocalyptic setting in his novel Shades of Grey was so odd, unique, and refreshing (his theory is that the end of the world will be very British and vanish in a poof of politeness) that I now find it difficult to buy into catastrophic works that take themselves so seriously.

So, this short film leads us down a, er, road where we first believe it’s a totalitarian, post-apocaltypic futuristic society. Then we flash back to an incident that seems increasingly Chernobylish. At the end, we discover it was about Chernobyl. I really don’t think the movie gained all that much from hiding such information. If anything, it got itself lost in an increasingly hackneyed genre before finding its way out.

But this film is both beautifully shot and has a nice important message. One is a good reason to choose it, another is an Academic one.

Where I’d rank it: 2 of 5.
Where it stands in chance of winning: 1 of 5.

“Instead of Abracadabra” — Patrik Eklund and Mathias Fjellström

This was mildly funny, mildly clever, but overall felt like a forgettable mini-indie film. This by all means is the winner of the “Littler Little Miss Juno Award.” Also, the “failing magician” joke is so much harder to make after Arrested Development. I’m not saying you can’t make that joke…but if you do, you have to realize it’s like writing a novel about a man in love with a 12-year-old girl…you have gargantuan clodhoppers to fill.

Where I’d rank it: 4 of 5.
Where it stands in chance of winning: 5 of 5.

Short Film (Animated)

Before I go into the nominees, I’m going to describe a few thoughts on the overall experience. Firstly, unlike the live action ones, these nominees also came with three “highly commended” short animated films. I’m guessing this was because of the fact that three of the nominees were six to eight minutes long and one of the longer two was for Mature Audiences only, so if you were a parent who came with children, you would’ve shelled out about 10 bucks for under an hour of viewing time. One of the shorts was the Pixar one that came before up ("Partly Cloudy"), the other two ("Runaway" and "The Kinematograph") were clear cases of “interesting but not great.” While I would have put "Partly Cloudy" in the running, the Academy actually chose wisely with the other two.

I noticed that all of the films were either wordless or in English. “French Roast,” “The Lady and the Reaper,” “Runaway,” and “Partly Cloudy” were all silent, which I appreciated. Such a choice really allowed for the emphasis of animation as a truly visual medium and also hearkened back to Chuck Jones's toons such as “One Froggy Evening” or the majority of “Rabbit of Seville.” I’m wondering if the other ones (as in, “The Kinematograph” and “Logorama”) were simply dubbed (since there would be more children in the audience) or if they were made for an English-speaking audience despite being made around the globe. I assume the former.

“French Roast” Fabrice O. Joubert

This film
was cute. I literally have nothing else to say about it that deserves mention.

Wait, I was wrong. I did like how the “camera” was placed in pretty much one location/dealt with the window/reflection. That was interesting and nifty.

Okay, that’s it.

Where I’d rank it:
5 of 5.
Where it stands in chance of winning: 3 of 5.

“The Lady and the Reaper (La Dama y la Muerte)” Javier Recio Gracia

This cartoon truly felt like the lovechild of Tex Avery and Chuck Jones. It had the craziness you can only get in a cartoon but tempered a bit by the higher concepts of animation to which Jones was partial. I mean, I can’t give this film higher praise than to say that it felt like it would belong in the good ol’ days when animated shorts preceded any movie.

However, the morbid nature of this film will probably be its undoing in voting time.

Where I’d rank it: 1 of 5.
Where it stands in chance of winning: 4 of 5.

“A Matter of Loaf and Death” Nick Park

This felt like standard “Wallace and Gromit” fare. Which is still very good. Okay, I’m going to attract some hate now. I like Wallace and Gromit. I really respect what it is and what it does…but I don’t love it. This case is not even one of “I don’t get the love/adoration.” I get it. I can’t even say I disagree with the logic behind it. But something in "Wallace and Gromit" doesn’t click as much with me as it does with others. I enjoyed this film, I found parts very clever and enjoyable, but overall it did not make too great of a lasting impression on me.

The namebrand nature of this short is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it is definitely the safe pick for those who do not know anything about animation. They at least know it’ll make a lot of people happy and no one will really denounce them for it (of course, no one really cares all much about this category anyway). On the other hand, it may have the Meryl-Streep curse. Wallace and Gromit are always in the public mind that voting for them does not seem all that special.

Where I’d rank it: 3 of 5.
Where it stands in chance of winning: 2 of 5.

“Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty” Nicky Phelan and Darragh O’Connell

This movie was delightfully odd. Even in the frantic category of animation, it stood out like a cellphone playing Monty Python's "Sperm Song" going off in the middle of a eulogy. I was guessing this film would go one way, and it sort of did, but in the way that one orders a cheese burger and gets a halfpounder triple stacked burger with four types of cheeses, bacon, and barbeque sauce. It took “fairy tale retelling” to a whole new level. Six minutes of insanity.

As for odds, this is one of those cases where I’m surprised it was even nominated.

Where I’d rank it:
2 of 5.
Where it stands in chance of winning:5 of 5.

“Logorama” Nicolas Schmerkin

There’s a part in Romeo and Juliet where one character keeps asking questions to a group of musicians. After each witty response, he exclaims “Pretty!” and “Pretty too!” Everything is very clever, an enjoyable little trinket that is nothing of real substance by the point in the play when corpses are beginning to pile up and the stars are really starting to cross.

I fear that my reaction to much of this short was “Pretty!...Pretty too!” Every use of a logo was clever and cute and enjoyable…but I felt an overall lack of substance. Now, were I to suspect that the overall message of this film was that, in the face of all this need for meaning, there is none and all you need is a bunch of “Pretty!”s, I’d be much impressed. However, I could not help but think that this was trying to make a point. And I worry that the majority of its point was a tired one about corporate America or globalization or the evils of the prevalence of marketing. It huffs and puffs with much gusto, but does not blow me over.

This movie has the pretentions and the buzz. Game, set, and match.

Where I’d rank it:
4 of 5.
Where it stands in chance of winning: 1 of 5.

I'm sorry. I know I promised a lighter entry for the BAH!scars. That'll come on Thursday.

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