Saturday, February 12, 2011

Oscar Nominated Live Action Shorts 2010/2011

Here are capsule reviews of the nominated live action shorts, in order of preference:

Always a step ahead of you in the way that "The Social Network" was, but much more purely enjoyable and wacky, Luke Matheny's "God of Love" stands above the others in its category. With a trite voiceover, B&W, and an appeal to god for help w/r/t unrequited love, it seemed to be heading for mannered eccentricity, but with verve, esprit, and great timing it bounds out of its shackles. Matheny is probably the only one who could have realized his vision to the fullest extent, and so he stars as Ray, who sings and throws darts simultaneously. He's in love with the drummer in his band, Kelly (Marian Brock), who's in love with Ray's buddy Fozzie (a great Christopher Hirsh, who keeps up with Matheny). Ray out of nowhere gets a bunch of darts that, when thrown at someone, strike the victim with an uncontrollable urge to be with the person they immediately look at. That is, for 6 hours. After that, they either snap out of it or continue onwards entranced. It's an intriguing idea (like something out of "A Midsummer Night's Dream"), and, with a countdown and all, Matheny examines it to its fullest, funniest extent. The film's quasi-coda, which completes the film's circular structure, falls a bit into sappiness and doesn't resist the temptation to have things fit perfectly together, but what Matheny does shouldn't go unnoticed and should hopefully win him the Oscar. A-

Ivan Goldschmidt's "Na Wewe" is the short of this year's crop that I would call the most audacious. 19 minutes long, it takes place in real time and plays out in only one scene. It takes place in '94 Burundi, where a Belgian newsperson or something and his assistant are picked up after his car breaks down. The guy talks on and on to the annoyance of the other people in the car before the vehicle is forced to stop by a group of Hutus who want to kill all of the Tutsis onboard. They try to separate their targets from the rest, but everyone stays as a group. They go on to question every person in the crowd, with each person giving reasons why they should be spared. Once it gets going, you can see how it will end, but it throws curveballs in along the way, as kids are not automatically allowed to live. Of course, due to its subject, it gets a bit heavy-handed, and some of the details (especially the whole bit about U2) are a little dubious. But the acting (which I would single out, but can't do to the fact that I can't find the players' names on the Internet) is quite solid, and (as my friend noted) the editing is splendid. This film has a good chance at winning the award. B+

The way that the somewhat stilted "The Crush" by Michael Creagh portrays its story, in a condescending manner, is spot on, even though I thought otherwise when I began watching. It's about how a second grader named Ardal (again, I cannot find the actors' names) wants to marry his teacher Ms. Purdy (strangely named, since that's the moniker of Creagh's production company) and how he tries to obstruct her jerk of a fiancee from beating him to the punch (right down to a duel at a handball court, which yields those banal observations which show how Ms. Purdy much of an a-hole the dude really is). One could have developed this to be something creepy, but instead Creagh makes it sweet and coy, though perhaps a little too syrupy at the close. One weird thing: the lighting makes some of the actors look like they're made out of clay, which in my opinion doesn't do the film too many favors. B

Tanel Toom's visual style in "The Confession" is seriously good, especially in how he juxtaposes two still shots of a road and a cornfield and how he shoots inside of a church. However, no tonal sensitivity is evident, and the film's eventual spiral from control seems both deliberate and unintentional. We follow a youngster named Sam (Lewis Howlett, whom we will hopefully see again), who is coming to his first confession with nothing to confess. He spends his days innocuously with his friend Jacob (Joe Eales), making fun of the whole process (mimicking the eucharist with potato chips) and biking around. Jacob feels that Sam should have something to say when he goes his first time, and so the two for some reason decide to take a scarecrow down from the cross on which it is hung and place it in the middle of a road. Why they do this I guess can be seen as an instance of the logic of children, but it goes underexposed, as do most things as the film progresses from this moment, the turning point in the film. Toom does have something interesting to say about how confession can be rendered meaningless, and Howlett is strong portraying a kid who now has way too much to confess, but it's hardly an impeccable work. B

"Wish 143" promises something subversive (a la "Cashback") with its premise of a cancer patient who wants to use a Make-a-Wish style program to lose his virginity rather than rub elbows with a famous person. Instead it takes the path of least resistance, ending up depressingly cloying. To the film's credit, it does set up a good comedic duo in Samuel Peter Holland and Jim Carter, who play the patient in question and his priest friend, setting up some pretty humorous scenes. But it goes all chickenshit and turns from comedy to sentimental drama at the drop of a hat, replete with that cheesy generic narration that connects some sort of obscure knowledge with life. The film is mildly touching, yet the ways it could have developed are potentially much more interesting. All directors should remember: you only get to direct a film once, so make the most of it. C+

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