February 26, 2011

MOVIES: 2010 Oscar-nominated live-action shorts

This struck me as a rather lackluster field compared to previous years, with only one real standout. Most of the shorts had serious problems either establishing or maintaning a consistent tone.

The show opened with "The Confession," in which we meet Sam, who is so nice a boy that he's worried he won't have anything to tell the priest at his upcoming first confession. Sam's friend comes up with a plan for Sam to do something confession-worthy, and things inevitably spiral out of control. The movie is walking the boundaries of dark comedy all the way, but I think the series of tragic errors goes one step too far, tipping it from dark comedy to tragedy.

"Wish 143" is about a 16-year-old with terminal cancer who is visited by one of those foundations that makes dying kids' last wishes come true. They aren't quite sure how to cope, though, when his last wish is to lose his virginity. Like "The Confession," the tone is a bit wobbly, but the final scene, in which the boy does wind up in bed with a woman, is very nicely played.

"The Crush" gives us a 10-year-old suffering from intense jealousy when he learns that his teacher is engaged to be married. Here, the problem is that the movie doesn't go far enough at the end; it gets right to the edge of a fabulous dark comic ending, and goes all mushy instead.

"Na Wewe" means "you too" in Kirundi, one of the languages spoken in Burundi, where a pair of Belgian diplomats find themselves caught up in the war between the Tutsis and the Hutus in the '90s. This one is a total mess, trying to milk comedy out of guerrilla warfare and child soldiers, and its punchline is a weak bilingual pun.

"God of Love" is the clear class of the field. It's a black-and-white film with something of a mid-period Woody Allen vibe, and tells the story of Raymond, a nebbishy dart-throwing jazz singer. Raymond is in love with his drummer, but she only has eyes for their guitarist (who happens to be Raymond's best friend). It's very funny and charming, and Raymond's awkward attempts at courtship are delightful. ("Would you like to hear a poem I wrote for you? It's nine pages long, and it's in Portuguese...")

This is always a hard category in which to pick a winner, and none of the five would surprise me. Force me to bet, and I'd probably go with "The Crush," but "God of Love" deserves it.

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