February 03, 2013

MOVIES: 2012 Oscar-nominated shorts (live-action/animated)

This year, the short film categories give us a very strong animated field and a rather weak live-action field.

The live-action group is dominated by films about Adorable Children. "Bushkazi Boys," the longest of the group at 28 minutes, is about two boys in Kabul, a beggar and a blacksmith's son, who dream of being bushkazi players. (It's a sport. Think polo, but with a dead goat instead of a ball.) "Asad" is about a Somali boy who is informally apprenticed to the local fisherman, but longs to join the older boys on their pirate raids. Neither of these has a very interesting story, and both are of interest primarily as ethnographic looks as life in places we don't often see.

Also in the Adorable Children Department, we have "Curfew," in which Richie gets a panicked phone call from his estranged sister, who needs a sitter for her 9-year-old so desperately that she's willing to reach out to her addict brother. The timing is bad for Richie, what with being right in the middle of a suicide attempt and all, but he agrees to help out. Your enjoyment of this one will depend on your tolerate for bratty children and recklessly irresponsible adults.

"Henry" is a Canadian film about a man who is caught in the most horrific stage of Alzheimer's, that period when you're losing all of your memories, but have just enough awareness left to know what you're losing. It has the bad fortune to show up in the same year as Amour, and plays as the audience-friendly, more comforting, lite version of that movie. The lead actor gives a fine performance, though, and I would put my money on this to be the winner.

Best of this field is the Belgian/French "Death of a Shadow," in which a soldier killed during World War I prepares to return to the living after making the final payment on his deal with the devil. The storytelling is a bit murkier than necessary, but the look of the movie is striking, and the story itself is the most interesting and original of the group.

The animated field is a much better group of shorts, and it's interesting that they are all dialogue-free. The biggest response from my audience was for "Fresh Guacamole," which at less than 2 minutes, is the shortest film ever to get an Oscar nomination. It's only got one joke, but its variations on that joke are clever and well-executed, and it's over before it's worn out its welcome.

Least interesting to me was "Adam and Dog," about the developing friendship between the first man and the first dog. It's pretty animation, but there's not much to it other than pretty.

"Maggie Simpson in The Longest Daycare" follows the TV character through a day at The Ayn Rand School for Tots, and a confrontation with her nemesis, Gerald; it's like a missing chunk of a really good Simpsons episode.

"Head Over Heels" tells the story of a couple trying to make their marriage work despite being pulled in very different directions. The movie doesn't amount to much beyond its central visual conceit, but the final moments, in which a solution to their problem is found, are quite clever.

Best of the field, and I think the likely winner, is "Paperman," a Disney short that played in theaters with Wreck-It Ralph. It's a charming romantic story about a man's attempts to contact a woman after a brief meeting at the train station, and the powerful forces that step in to be sure that true love will run smooth.

As always, the animated program includes a few extra films to pad it out to a full-length show. "Abiogenesis" is a skillfully made look at galaxy-traveling Transformer-esque robots; "Dripped" is a Jackson Pollack homage with lots of visual style. "The Gruffalo's Child" is a sequel to "The Gruffalo," which was a nominee in this category two years ago; like the earlier film, it's far too long and repetitious.

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