There was a time when the Academy
Award Nominated Shorts categories produced little more than the quiet rumble of
feet padding out to the kitchen and a serious strain on the nation’s plumbing;
practically no one, apart from each filmmaker’s immediate circle, had seen
these very real motion pictures. Beginning Friday the Oscar nominated live
action shorts and animated shorts will play as separate programs at Landmark’s
Lumiere and Opera Plaza theatres in San Francisco, the Shattuck Cinemas in
Berkeley, the Rafael Film Center in San Rafael and Camera Cinemas in San Jose.
Nominated Live Action Shorts: I have to confess to having a
secret yen for the overlooked live action short: filmmaking at its best when
the proper notes are struck. From this year’s batch I would guess the Oscar
will go to Britain’s The Confession for its nuanced look at two
adolescent lads’ different takes on sin and guilt. My personal favorite is the
emotionally naked God of Love.
The Confession (United Kingdom): “It was an
accident.” Two rural English boys, Sam (Lewis Howlett is pitch perfect as the pessimistic
guilty little sot) and Jacob (Joe Eales is scary good as the pragmatic “shit
happens” little guy), get a harrowing lesson in the psychology behind the
Catholic ritual of confession. Faced with the scary prospect of donning the
white robe – the long haired, insolent Jacob rebels against the idea of putting
on a dress – and telling a priest their at that moment non-existent sins, the
boys decide to dream up something important enough to ‘fess up to. Tanel Toom’s
philosophical fable (written by Caroline Bruckner) deliciously delineates the
boys’ opposing life philosophies and notes the crushing guilt inflicted on a
young guy concerning two misdeeds that were, in truth, only accidents.
The Crush (Ireland): Eight-year-old Ardal Travis
(pint sized charmer Oran Creagh) has come to a momentous decision: that his
feelings for his teacher, Ms. Purdy (Olga Wehrty), are worth a duel to the
death with her stupid adult boyfriend (Rory Keenan). Michael Creagh commands
the adult cartoon elements of a kid’s Dublin based fantasy well enough to
produce a dash of suspense and satisfying surprise ending.
God of Love (USA): Curly-haired cutie-pie,
writer/director Luke Matheny puts his fro, crooning
abilities and puckish sense of humor to good work in this lovely piece of
Gotham based whimsy about a love starved singer’s last ditch efforts to win the
affections of a female band member. Matheny scores some salient points on that
universal curse: unrequited love and is good hearted or savvy enough to include
one queer boy in the conga line that surrounds him once he uses his magic “love
Na Wewe (Belgium): Ivan Goldschmidt fashions an
affecting tale of a van load of strangers waylaid by rebels during the 1994
civil war in Burundi. The Hutu guerillas are looking for ethnic Tutsis to
murder. Only it’s not so simple to tell who is who in this world of Byzantine
tribal identities. There’s a lovely irony about how a Tutsi boy’s love of the
band U2 turns out to be a life saver.
Wish 143 (United Kingdom): David (Sam Holland) a
fifteen-year-old cancer patient – with a tumor the size of a peach set to crush
the life out of him -- wants to have sex in the worst way. Ian Barnes and
Samantha Waite put a sweet spin on David’s one night in paradise. I have to
confess I wish the kid had a raunchier, less political correct last wish, but
there you are.
Nominated Animated Shorts: This year’s collection is wildly
eclectic and imaginative. My prediction for “the Oscar goes to” falls between
the frisky Day & Night from the Pixar folks or the purest example of
story-telling from a child’s point of view, The Gruffalo. My own choice
would be the British/Australian co-production, The Lost Thing with its
outsider’s point of view and witty, if resigned, adolescent narrator.
Day & Night (USA): Teddy Newton’s spunky look at
how the oddest of odd couples overcome their natural antagonisms and contrary
natures to literally exchange roles is a sunny/moonlight delight.
The Gruffalo (United Kingdom & Germany)
Max Lang and Jacob Schuh find a very Dr. Seuss feel for this
very perceptive look at how kids are introduced to the idea that it’s a jungle
Let’s Pollute (USA): Brash and pushy like its faux
point of view Geefwee Boedoe’s cheeky short manages to be more than a bratty
six minute PSA.
The Lost Thing (Australia & United Kingdom)
Andrew Ruhemann and Shaun Tan find their voice in the person
of an inquisitive adolescent Aussie slacker boy with boundless curiosity and a
Madagascar, A Journey Diary (France): Bastien
Dubois’s good natured, party-down impressionistic work presents a slice of
Africa I’d love to see a lot more of.