Monday, March 1, 2010

2010 Live Action Short Oscar Nominees

Last week, I saw the animated shorts that are nominated for the Oscars this year, and had a highly enjoyable time at the movies. This weekend, I went to see the Live Action shorts, and hoped to have a similar experience – and ended up quite disappointed. Out of the five films in the program, I really only enjoyed two, was lukewarm on another, and didn’t like two at all. Last year’s group of nominees contained at least two films better than anything this year.

The Door **
Directed By: Juanita Wilson.

This year’s odds on favorite to win the Oscar, was for me the most frustrating film in the lot. It opens with a sequence of a man running through an abandoned city to break into an apartment and steal a door, with a police officer on his trail. This opening sequence is effective, as we are not sure why the man is doing this. However, once we flash back in time and see the beginning of the story, it becomes immediately clear what is happening in this short, although the filmmakers try mightily to keep it a secret until the closing scenes of the film – which struck me as a rather lame attempt to milk tears from the audience. The film is well made and well acted – that much cannot be denied – but I was disappointed that after such a promising beginning, the film did the most obvious thing imaginable for its closing scenes. Yes, I think it will win the Oscar. No, I don’t think it should.

Instead of Abracadabra ** ½
Directed By: Patrik Eklund.

The Swedish film, Instead of Abracadabra owes a large debt to Napoleon Dynamite, and your patience and enjoyment of this film will certainly hinge on how much you liked that one. I hated Napoleon Dynamite with a passion, but even I have to admit that there were some highly enjoyable moments in this comedy about an inept magician, 25 and still living at home with his parents. The movie is not quite as mean to its characters as Napoleon was – there is even a sort of affection for its main character (who is played very well by the actor) – but overall this type of comedy is really just not my thing. There are a few moments that are quite funny, but overall, I found this movie – even at only 22 minutes long – dragged a little bit too much.

Kavi **
Directed By: Gregg Helvey

This film set in India really does try to tug on your heartstrings – and for me they tried too hard, and the result was me resisting the film. The film is about a young boy in India who wishes he could go to school and play cricket, but is instead stuck working at a kiln alongside his mother and father. His father owes the evil owner of the kiln money, so the family is essentially slaves – not ever allowed to leave the kiln, and working doggedly day in and day out. Two social workers watch the kiln, and want to get it shut down, but no one much seems to care. The problem with the film – for me anyway – is that it seemed rather disjointed, first starting with Kavi raising a plant that he calls the farm, then essentially abandoning that, then showing him make a deal with his boss to play cricket, then abandoning that to move onto the social workers. In a short, it is more important than ever to maintain the focus of the movie throughout – and Kavi does not do that. What should have been a powerful little film instead becomes disjointed, and doesn’t have the impact it should as a result.

Miracle Fish *** ½
Directed By: Luke Doolan.

Luke Doolan’s Australian film was far and away my favorite of the five nominees. The film is about a poor boy dropped off at school by his mother on his birthday. He is picked on by his classmates – and the gift his father, who is in the hospital, got him is mocked. It is one of those cheap rubbery fishes, than are supposed to move around in your hand and tell your mood. Upset, he goes to the nurses’ station to lie down, and when he wakes up, the school is deserted. He does the things that he always wanted to do, but there is something obviously wrong with the situation – highlighted by a bloody handprint on the back of one of the doors. Miracle Fish is all about tone and mood, and it does a wonderful job establishing its uneasy feel early in the film, and sustains it throughout. The ending may not quite work – I feel the film needed a more shocking climax – but this was easily the best made of the films. Unlike The Door, which holds back information from the audience, this one does not feel like a cheat.

The New Tenants ***
Directed By: Joachim Back.

The second best film in the program was Joachim Back’s The New Tenants, a surrealistic, black comedy about two gay men who have recently moved into an apartment. The movie starts with a long rant by one of them about the evils of the world (too long, if you ask me), before the first of several visitors knock on their door. This is an old lady who lives in the building who wants to borrow some flour. They find a bag, of what looks like flour (but we guess it isn’t), and give it to the old lady. Soon, more and more people keep knocking on that door, and bodies start to pile up. This is the one film with recognizable actors in it – Vincent D’Onofrio and Kevin Corrigan are among the visitors – and it is far and away the best acted film of the bunch, and also contains the most memorable dialogue. However, as much as I enjoyed the film, it does tend to repeat itself a little, and the strange ending – complete with a recipe of sticky buns – doesn’t quite work. Still, this is a very enjoyable short.

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