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Oscar Shorts 2011

Posted by NumberSix , 24 February 2012 · 746 views

Each year since 2006 my wife and I have made an annual date of visiting our local art-film theater to see the Oscar-Nominated Live-Action and Animated Shorts. My wife doesn't share my predilection for seeing all the full-length Best Picture nominees, so this is our form of frequently entertaining compromise. My past posts on this subject are buried in Oscar threads of years past, all in the Movies forum back-nine.

For value-added fun, my son tagged along with us for his first time. He's finally reached that point in his life where he no longer requires armed robots or Luxor the Hopping Lamp to pre-certify a movie for him. His teachers have expanded his horizons by skipping actual teaching in favor of showing more feature films to their classes than our stingy, uncultured teachers did in our day. Offhand I know over the past few years he's gotten to see Hotel Rwanda, Rabbit-Proof Fence, Super-Size Me, Food Inc., and the first half of Moneyball all thanks to our school system. I'm hard pressed to find a way to lambast them and thank them at the same time.

This year's Live-Action Short Film nominees, favorite to most not-favorite:

Tuba Atlantic -- A crusty old seaside Norwegian with mere days left in his lifespan is saddled with the company a young volunteer worker ostensibly to ease his transition through the Five Stages, but makes the most of their time by showing her how to exterminate pesky seagulls like the winged vermin they are. Never before have a man's last hours on Earth been made so warm and touching through the art of spiteful, creative slaughter.

Time Freak -- What if you could be like Bill Murray like Groundhog Day, except on purpose? A neurotic, lovelorn scientist makes time travel workable, but chooses to spend it on a single moment in his day, honing the perfect meet-cute to end all meet-cutes. Hundred of attempts later...this trifle flew quickly and amused quaintly.

Raju -- A German couple travels to India to pick up their new adopted son, only to lose him in a sea of countless orphans whose shared secret threatens to destroy their new family and ruin their shopping experience. An earnest, disturbing attempt to learn from the lessons of Slumdog Millionaire ends abruptly, leaving us to imagine the predictable ending for ourselves. I haven't decided if that's a bad thing.

Pentecost -- An Irish lad is torn between his unhappy conscription into altar-boy service and his unbridled passion for soccer. Taken as a whole it feels like an extended anecdote you tell your friends over drinks so they can guffaw at the punchline, but I liked the inspired scene in which the minister coaches his altar-boy squad with a pregame pep talk and strategy session, drawing interesting parallels between religious rituals and team sports.

The Shore -- Academy Award-nominated screenwriter Terry George (In the Name of the Father, Hotel Rwanda) writes and directs a half-hour Irish drama of secrets buried and forgiveness sought, starring ubiquitous character actor Ciaran Hinds, plus people I don't know from A Game of Thrones and Luck. With so many Real Professionals, I assumed this would be the greatest short of all time. I confess I struggled not to catnap through it. The first twenty minutes felt like the first half of The Deer Hunter. I waited patiently for the inevitable gunplay and death. They never came -- both totally evitable, as it turns out. It ends on a conciliatory, warm-hearted note, which seems atypical for the British Isles modern film experience, so there's that.

* * * * *

None of this year's five Animated Short Film nominees were terrible or dull to me. From best to just-not-baddest:

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore -- By the time you finish remembering the whole title, the short's over. The titular nebbish is whisked away Oz-style to a land where books come literally alive and everday life is a metaphor for the wonderful whimsical world of Reading Rainbow. I'm not complaining. I fully support this message. If the shorts had their own acting awards, the silent Humpty-Dumpty book would take Best Supporting Actor, no contest.

A Morning Stroll -- A man sees a chicken walking down the street. It looks odd. It enters a door. The end. This precis of an old New Yorker article is given a time-shifting Rashomon treatment via three versions of one man meeting the only version of the same chicken in three very different decades fifty years apart. Imagine Aronofsky's The Fountain with more blood, much more coherence, and 300% more zombie breakdancing iPhone app. If Mr. Morris Lessmore had been enchanted by stamp collecting instead of by reading, this would've been my #1 pick.

La Luna -- In lieu of "Toy Story: Hawaiian Vacation" Pixar maintains their mandatory Oscar presence by producing (but not actually generating) this sort-of Aesop's fable about a dad and granddad whose methods conflict as they train their shared young apprentice in the Sisyphean career of nightly moon-cleaning.

Dimanche/Sunday -- The most primitively animated of the bunch is a simple slice-of-life, probably autobiographical portrait of a young lad forced to do boring stuff with his family on Sundays. Meanwhile, there are animals acting oddly. It's an accurate portrayal of too many of my own nondescript childhood Sundays.

Wild Life -- A young British fop moves to frozen 1909 Alberta to become a genuine Canadian cowboy. The optimism of his letters home to Mum and Da belie the alternating dreariness and dangers of the surroundings for which all the tea-drinking and Kipling-reading in England fail to prepare a man. The low-key ironic narrative is amusing but muddled with a puzzling motif: why a comet analogy?

* * * * *

To pad out the running time, the official Oscar-Nominated Animated Short Films presentation in theaters also includes four bonus shorts that were "highly commended" but not nominated. Those also-rans were, most essential to most negligible:

Skylight -- A faux-vintage school film about the harm that global warming perpetrates upon cute widdle defenseless penguins and other lesser animals. A little predictable, but I laughed at every single explosion anyway.

The Hybrid Union -- If the Get-Along Gang were comprised of weird quasi-robotic constructs that each personify a different type of energy source and all exist on a plain mathematical plane, this would be them, and they'd be slightly less licensable as merchandise. All three of us found one of the metaphors undecipherable, and couldn't tell if the energy sources were competing against each other or just learning to coexist. Of all the silent shorts we saw, this one begged for words the most.

Amazonia -- A big happy frog and a little happy frog want food. They're so cuuuute. For the kiddies.

Nullarbor -- A two-car duel between an Australian redneck and a feeble old grandpa driver. Hilarity and auto damage ensue, but don't actually lead to a point, or even a punchline. Maybe it's profound to Australian guys.

As we exited the theater, my son had a question as predictable for him as it was thoughtful: where's the anime? Does Japan not believe in short films, or do they think our American award ceremonies are a farce? Or have they simply had an off-year every year since 2006?

It's my understanding all of these are available on iTunes if you want to pay to see them before Oscar Night, though that doesn't really lend itself to an outing with friends and family. Enjoy where you can, then.

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