Saturday, February 11, 2012

Oscar Nominated Live Action Shorts - 2011/2012

The live-action nominees this year were a weaker bunch than last year's, relying for the most part on pure emotion to try to guide half-baked plots and decent technical facets into a successful product. They also confirmed an unsettling trend in the nomination process. The lack of thematic diversity over the last couple of years has been frankly stunning. The new template seems to be: 1) heavy-handed film (either about Irish-Catholicism or the Holocaust), 2) film about imminent death, 3) quirky New York set film, 4) film set in 3rd world (preferably with 1st world/3rd world conflict), and 5) a(nother) Irish film. This isn't worth getting upset over, just as the best picture race isn't, I know. I should try to see more short films, which are readily available outside of this package. But many will only see 5-10 short films this year (including the Animated ones, which I'm hoping to see soon as well).

Anyways, on to the actual meat of the review:

The best of this lot, the "quirky New York set film," "Time Freak" by Andrew Bowler, isn't even all that original. "Primer" and countless Youtube videos have gone here before. But the charm of the actors, the intense specificity of the idea, and the devotion to hard sci-fi logic, works some form of magic that I appreciated. Stillman (Michael Nathanson) and Evan (John Conor Brooke) are roommates. Stillman's been gone for 3 days, so Evan takes a trip over to the storage room where he's has been working tirelessly, to see what's been going on. Evan comes to find some disturbing truths about the nature of his pal's work (which hasn't been used in the way he originally thought it would be) and the seductive nature of getting things right via time travel. The ending, a silly punch-line, and the overall brevity of the short, detract from a solid short, one more challenging than your usual Internet comedy bit but still relatively harmless. B

One of the two Irish films is Terry George's "The Shore", which explores the time/space-fractured love triangle of Jim (Ciaran Hinds), Paddy (Conleth Hill), and Mary (Maggie Cronin). Jim, in the midst of the Troubles, left Ireland for San Francisco, leaving his fiancee Mary with his debilitated best friend Paddy. Now, 25 years later, he's making a return to Ireland, not intending to revisit the wounds of the past. But his daughter Patricia (Kerry Condon), learning of his long-buried friendship, urges to make a gesture to the people he thinks he "betrayed." The result is at times powerful and touching, but drastically diminished due to a lack of shading, a cheap and stupid undertone of comedy, and a wispy ending. Bolstered instead of padded, this could have been much better. B-

Drawing from the likes of Roy Andersson and Aki Kaurismaki, Hallvar Witzø's singularly titled imminent death dramedy "Tuba Atlantic" is ultimately touching but often very unassured and forcedly quirky. When Oskar (Edvard Haegstad) learns he's gonna pass in just under a week, he doesn't do a whole lot. He just wants to talk, or a least make a gesture, once more to a brother he hasn't spoken to in a few decades. That, and to continue killing seagulls. He has someone to keep him company, Inger (Ingrid Viken), part of some program called "Death Angels," designed to help people through their last days. They have a typical indie sort of bond that at times works better than the norm, but feels too banal to really succeed. Same goes for Witzø's short as a whole. This is not a voice that I'd really care about hearing a whole lot more from, but for the time being, this is decent. B-

The last respectable film in the group I had intensely mixed feelings about. Max Zahle's "Raju" is an interesting rumination on human conscience as well as parenthood, but it also peddles some troubling 3rd-world stereotypes. It follows the adoption of the titular character (Krish Gupta) by two upper-class Germans, Jan (Wotan Wilke Mohring) and Sarah (Julia Richter). Just before they get around to leaving, Jan loses Raju in a market. The two are devastated, and, while Sarah lies bereft in their hotel room, Jan goes on a search that leads to some horrifying ends. The moral aspects of the short fascinated me, and will possibly do the same for other viewers, but I was left with a bad taste in my mouth throughout, especially at the ending, which championed the German father as some sort of 1st-world saint. Add to that the fact that the filmmaking is at times pretty lazy, and you have yourself a problematic little film. At feature-length it would probably be intolerable, but here, it's distilled fairly enough. B-

And then we have the only real dud of the group, "Pentecost" by Peter McDonald, which actually is the first film in the compilation. The style is close to Tanel Toom's similarly themed "The Confession" from last year, but while that film was sensitive and well-acted, this is a broad, cliché doodle that comes to mean absolutely nothing at the end. An altar boy named Damien (Scott Graham) makes a gaffe and is punished (he doesn't get to watch soccer games). But he gets another chance at the behest of his father, and... that's basically all there is to say about the plot, which is as depthless as the Catholic types that populate the film. Curios like this can work, but not when they're this sloppy and idiotic. C-

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