Saturday, February 21, 2009

Oscar Nominated Live Action Shorts - Capsule Reviews

I just finished a marathon viewing of all five Live Action Short Nominees, so below I have written capsule reviews for each of them. While none of them can compare with the energy Martin McDonagh's Six Shooter (for those who loved In Bruges, you really should check out the director's short) or the sense of sheer dread of Andrea Arnold Wasp, two recent winners, three of the films do border on greatness, and only one was in my mind subpar. Sadly, it was my least favorite that I still think is going to end up winning and I have strange feeling that if something else is going to win, it will be my second least favorite. Oh well, there's no accounting for taste.

Manon on the Asphalt *** 1/2

A simple, subtle, beautiful film, this is almost more of a tone poem than a narrative. A young woman gets hit by a car, and while she lies on the road, thinking she's dying (whether she is or not, we never find out, but it's really not the point) she thinks about how all the people in her life will react to her death, and through a series of her last moments - the last time she spoke to her mother, the last time she watched a movie, the last time she had sex, etc. What's remarkable about the film is how completely it creates this character, and her world, in such a short period of time. Movies like this, stretched into feature length, often grate on my nerves, but shorts are the perfect venue for this sort of filmmaking.

New Boy ***

A simple story about a young African boy's first day at his new Catholic school. The movie flashes back and forth to his life at his new school, where he is picked on, and at his old school in Africa where he popular, but ends with the simple message that we are all really the same inside. No, the film doesn't do anything new, but what it does it does well. It's entertaining, funny and thoughtful, and at 11 minutes, the shortest of the nominees, it doesn't wear out its welcome. A fine little film.

On The Line *** 1/2
The longest of the nominees, On the Line is a quiet study of love and guilt. Rolf is a mall security guard (nothing like Paul Blart) who is in love with Sarah, who works at the bookstore, although she barely acknowledges his existance - but they do wave to each other when they see each other on the subway each night. One night, she gets on the train with a man Rolf assumes to be her boyfriend. She gets angry and storms off the train, which makes a bunch of teenagers start harassing the supposed boyfriend. Rolf witnesses it all, but when things turn violent, he doesn't step in - he just gets off the train, only later does he discover that the teenagers killed the man. Now, he feels guilty, but at the same time the tragedy in Sarah's life somehow brings them closer together. The movie packs an emotional wallop, all the more so because it never devolves into theatrics or melodrama. The final shot in the film is haunting, and one I cannot get out of my mind.

The Pig *** 1/2

A Danish man checks into the hospital for surgery, and becomes obsessed with a painting of a pig on the wall in his room. He starts to think of the pig as his guardian angel. When het gets out of surgery, and discovers there have been some complications, he discovers the painting of the pig is gone - out of consideration for his new roommate who is Muslim. And he's none too happy about it. Being a Danish film, I couldn't help but remember the trouble about the cartoon a few years ago. The film is about tolerance and acceptance, and for most of its running time it is quite absorbing, and even at times, quite funny. But the final scene rings false to me. Otherwise, this would have been an easy choice as my favorite.

Toyland ** 1/2

In 1942 a young German boy is best friends with a Jew. His mother tells him that his best friend, and his family, will soon be going a trip to Toyland, making the boy want to go with them. On the morning that the Jews are rounded up, the mother discovers her son missing, and sets out to try and find him. The film boasts some impressive production design, and an interesting cross cutting narrative, and yet the whole movie rings false to me. We have seen this movie done before, and better, in the past. There is nothing really wrong with the film, but I wonder if there is a reason why it had to be made.

So there you have it, my take on the five nominated live action films. I still think Toyland will end up winning the Oscar, as it has the "weight" and "importance"of a winner, but it's my least favorite. So what was my favorite? I'd have to go with On the Line, although both Manon and The Pig come very close for me. As I mentioned, if The Pig had ended better it would have easily been my choice, but it didn't, and On the Line has a genuinely great ending, so there you have it.

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