Oscar Shorts - Animation and Live Action - 2010 


Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
  Wallace and Gromit - A Matter of Loaf and Death

The New Tenants
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews

Laura Clifford 

Robin:

Animation:
I love animation filmmaking above all the genres so it is a pleasure to give you a glimpse of some of the entries for this year’s Oscar nominees for best-animated short film. You saw some of the wonderful “Wallace and Gromit; A Matter of loaf and death” in the opening and here are some of the other entrants for golden statue.

“French Roast”

“French Roast” is a clever rumination about a snooty businessman who finds himself in the embarrassing position of having forgotten his wallet at a restaurant. Stalling for time, he orders more and more coffee until he runs up a huge tab. It says a lot about human nature and the punch line is a big, satisfying guffaw. I give it a B-

“The Lady and the Reaper”

“The Lady and the Reaper” is a battle between life, in the guise of doctors and scientific know how, and Death (you know, the guy with the tooth grin and carrying a scythe) over the titular Lady. She is simply looking forward to being, once again, with her late husband and Death is on the way to help her along. He succeeds and the Lady is drawn to “the light.” The next thing she knows, she is still of this mortal coil and surrounded by well-meaning doctors. It deals with life and death in an amusing, sometimes laugh aloud, way. I give it a B.

“Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty”

“Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty” tells the tale of grandma reading the classic children’s bedtime story to her little granddaughter.  However, this is more of a nightmare for the young child as Granny throws in her own horrific interpretation to the fairy tale, siding with the evil witch for reasons of her own. It is a nice use of combined animation styles with Granny and granddaughter in CGI and the Sleeping Beauty story in traditional animation. I give it a B-.

“Logorama”

“Logorama” is a superior spoof of corporate America and clever way of making a statement about capitalism in the form of product placement. The French production makes fun of the American obsession with corporate logos from the Michelin Man, Bob’s Big Boy, the Green Giant and Mr. Clean to Pringles (Original and Hot & Spicy to Ronald McDonald (a particularly unsavory character. This is a clever and original animation and I give it a B+.

“Wallace and Gromit in A Matter of Loaf and Death”

I love all of the Wallace and Gromit works by Aardman Entertainment but I have to admit that I am spoiled by the feature length “The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.” That said “A Matter of Loaf and Death” is a great deal of fun - just too short.

Our heroes Wallace and Gromit have begun a new enterprise with the opening of their bakery. Business is booming but danger lurks. Twelve local bakers have gone missing in the last year and know one knows where they are. However, Wallace, who has a thing for the beautiful bread aficionado Piella Bakewell, has love, not disappearance in mind and it is up to loyal Gromit to solve the mystery of the disappearing bakers.

I want my Wallace & Gromit in copious amounts but I’ll take what I can get and "A Matter of Loaf and Death" ain’t shabby. I give it a B+.

Live Action:
“Instead of Abracadabra”

Instead of Abracadabra This is a goofy, funny story about a father and his twenty-something wannabe magician son, still living with his parents, at odds over the young man’s choice of profession. He plans to be a famous prestidigitator, inventing his own magic word, “Chimay!” Dad, though, wants him to “get a real job” and start paying his share. To prove his magical ability, the lad prepares an elaborate sleight of hand using his mother, a large box and a very real sword. His debut does not go well and mom ends up in the hospital.

When a pretty single mother moves in next door, our magician becomes smitten and volunteers to perform a magic show for her son’s birthday party. He buckles down and it is practice, practice, practice until, on the day of his debut, he is a big hit. But, he still has to convince his father that he has real talent and begs his mother to let him perform on dad’s birthday. The result is heart warming and funny.

Writer-director Patrik Eklund casts a Jon Heder-type as the hero of the film and this makes for comparison to “Napoleon Dynamite.” However, this comic short finds its own, original way, giving us laughs, romance and the story of a man who follows his dream. I give it a B.

“Kavi”

If you like grim stories that end on a hopeful note, then “Kavi” is the short film for you. It deals with modern day slavery in India where the owner of a brick kiln enslaves the title character and his parents. Nearby is a boys’ school where free time is filled playing cricket. Poor Kavi longs to just be a boy and play games instead of toiling in the hot sun. There is hope, though, when two men show with the intent to free the illegally held slaves. The kiln owner has other ideas and ships out all of his workers before the abolitionists can return with the police. All, that is, except for Kavi, who is left chained in a cell for trying to escape his overseer. Left behind, the young boy soon sees that he may find salvation, yet.

This 19-minute short by first-time fiction film writer-director Gregg Helvey is a disturbing modern day parable of a boy trapped in slavery with no hope of freedom, until help arrives and Kavi is set free. This happily ever after ending smoothes over, somewhat, the relentlessly grim story. I give it a C+.

“Miracle Fish”

It is the young boy’s birthday and his mother, poor as a church mouse, gives the boy a miracle fish. Remember those? TheyMiracle Fish were plastic fish-shaped novelty items that, when placed in the palm of your hand, would tell your fortune by how it reacts to your skin. The boy is very proud of his meager gift and shows it to his well-off classmates. They taunt him for his poverty and he hides out in the school infirmary to get away from the heckling and promptly falls asleep. Waking some time later, he finds the school eerily empty. He wanders the halls until he hears a phone ring and answers it. On the other end is an adult voice telling the boy to find somewhere to hide. It is going to turn out to be a very different day than the birthday boy expected.

Writer-director Luke Doolan quietly paces this 17-minute short but the abrupt conclusion is a doozy. This is a good calling card kind of movie that is simple and effective. I give it a B-.

“The Door”

“The Door” is the Russian entry for short films that is a Chernobyl-influenced cautionary tale with a good dose of melancholy thrown in. It revolves around a man, his sick daughter and a stolen door. It is a somber, melancholy story that evokes real sympathy but is, as I said, somber and melancholy. I give it a B-.

“The New Tenants”

The wild and wacky “The New Tenants” is my favorite of the five live action Oscar short films. Two roommates arrive at their new apartment, amidst unopened boxes, only to find their home was the crime scene for a triple homicide. The “welcome wagon” that greet the odd couple consist of a nosey neighbor, a strung out drug dealer, a sweet little old lady who drops by to borrow some flour to make her goddaughter her favorite cinnamon buns and an armed and crazy husband looking for his wayward wife. Toss in a kilo of smack, witty, funny dialog and a good cast including Kevin Corrigan and Vincent D’Onofrio and director Joachim Back comes up with a superior first outing. I give it a B+.

Laura:

Animation:
Right off the bat, it is interesting to note that not a single nominated short animation is from the U.S.  Pixar's "Up" may have dominated the Annies and been dual nominated as animation and Picture for the Oscar, but their short-listed short, "Partly Cloudy," was not selected as on of the five Oscar nominees.  Maybe that's because it didn't feature a strange woman of middle-age or later, a component four of the five nominees do share.  Only "Logorama," the Tarantinoesque screed against corporate America and its dependence on oil, the ultimate product placement film (it's entirely made up of logos and corporate mascots), stands apart and I bet with additional viewings, one could find an older woman or two (Grandma's Molasses or Aunt Jemima, perhaps?) in addition to the heroic Esso girl.

In France's CG "French Roast," a homeless man begs in a cafe where he is shooed away by a businessman but pointedly helped by a little old lady.  Someone learns an important lesson as the payoff of this one joke film that is made enjoyable by theFrench Roast exaggerated design of its characters, which reminded me of "The Triplets of Belleville."  B

Ireland's "Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty" is a macabre twist on a child's bedtime story (and intended or otherwise homage to Pixar's "Monsters, Inc.").  Clearly having learned from experience, a small child is terrified even before Granny O'Grimm begins the tale of Sleeping Beauty (the film uses a flat, hand-drawn style to visualize Granny's story and more dimensional CG look for Granny and her captive audience).  Granny, it appears, is a bit crazy and segues throughout her tale to rage against personal slights real or imagined.  An amusing look at adult behavior through the eyes of a child.  B+

Spain's "The Lady and the Reaper" is another comedy steeped in pitch as an old woman prepares for death and reunion with her departed husband only to be foiled by a Dudley Do-Right type doctor and his bevy of beautiful nurses.  The Grim Reaper hasn't had this much trouble since he last appeared in a Terry Pratchett novel and he is almost literally shocked when help arrives.  Classic comic animation hijinx combined with subject matter distinctly not geared for early Saturday mornings make this one a laugh out loud slapstick delight.  B+

Logorama France's "Logorama," a prize winner at this year's Cannes Film Festival, is hands down the most inventive of the nominees.  Using a mind-boggling number of corporate logos, symbols and mascots, a group of foul-mouthed cops (Michelin men) engage in a high-speed chase in order to bring down the bullet-spraying mad man that is Ronald McDonald!  Talk about your Royale with cheese...  This one demands multiple viewings to take in all the witty subversion on display (a mountain road is Sony's VAIO logo, Cisco Systems' wave is part of a helicopter dash), but even the in-your-face aspects are amusing - a gay Mr. Clean gives a zoo tour and first stop is the MGM lion, the Green Giant's privates are covered with a 'Parental Guidance Advisory' sticker.  See Mr. Peanut's head blown off!  Who knew the Stop and Shop logo could double as a traffic light?  In this pseudo-L.A., oil wells emerge to drown out the landscape and its violent, branded denizens.  A 

"Logorama" should be the winner, but can it beat the beloved...

England's Wallace and Gromit in "A Matter of Loaf and Death," another outing from multi-Oscar winner Nick Park.  In this new episode, Wallace and Gromit run a bakery at a time when twelve bakers have been murdered in various ways.  When the former Miss Bake-O-Lite, Piella Bakewell, catches Wallace's eye, it is up to Gromit once again to save the day.  There is nothing as welcome as Wallace and Gromit, but one can see the formula rigging on their fifth outing together.  Still, this one is distinguished by sly movie references ("Psycho," "Theater of Blood," "Foreign Correspondent") AND a love interest for Gromit.  A-

Live Action:
The live action short films nominated include everything from an Irish film about Chernobyl to a Swedish film about an inept magician but every single one of them features a male protagonist who is endangered in some way. Overall, the group is not as strong as the animations, but while the films seem to share a common theme, they couldn't be more different.

Sweden's "Instead of Abracadabra" finds twenty-five year-old Tomas still living at home, imagining himself a budding famous magician who offers 'Gothic danger and mystery' and distinguishes himself by saying "Chimay!" instead of the usual magical mutterings.  Tomas's father Bengt wants him to get a job at the supermarket deli counter but mom is more encouraging and the interest of a new next-door neighbor, single mother Monica, stokes Tomas's delusions of grandeur.  He has one additional drawback though - Tomas is a klutz.  This is a funny little film about a loser who eventually succeeds by learning how to work with his deficiencies, at least, sort of.  B

A USA/India coproduction, "Kavi" could be viewed cynically as an attempt to follow in "Slumdog Millionaire's" footsteps.  Gregg Helvey's student Academy Award gold medal winner is one of those films whose subject matter shield it from too much criticism, but this Dickensian tale of a young modern day slave laborer who wants to go to school and play cricket isn'tKavi particularly original or cinematic.  It is, however, a wake up call to many who will be shocked to discover that this type of thing (Kavi and his parents are enslaved at a brick making kiln where their lives are utterly consumed by back breaking labor) still goes on.  C+

I had mixed feelings about Australia's "Miracle Fish," the tale of a young boy whose mother lets him off at school, telling him three things - that she will be late picking him up so he should hang tight, that his lunch contains sandwiches made with 'fairy bread' and that his father has put something special in there for his birthday.  The last turns out to be the titular fish - a piece of colored cellophane which reacts to moisture that is supposed to tell one's fortune when held in one's palm, but poor Joe is picked on by bullies who disparage him as a welfare child and mock his gift as rubbish.  The eight year-old goes off and finds a bed at the nurse's office, but when he awakens his school is eerily deserted - or is it?  Writer/director Luke Doolan builds suspense on two levels (a shot of Joe walking down an empty hallway recalls "The Shining"), and while his shocking climax has the aftertaste of exploitation it also holds a message regarding the value of the smaller things in life.  B+

Ireland's "The Door," in a similar fashion to "Miracle Fish," places us within an event which is does not overtly explain, but The Door unlike "Miracle fish," the protagonist here understands what is happening to him. In a cramped Russian apartment a father urges his wife and daughter to quickly pack their things (the family cat does not cooperate), but before they have left on the journey we hear bullhorned announcements that people should leave their things behind, things, which the father informs us will become like ticking time bombs.  The daughter is brought to a doctor to look at a strange mark on her arm and the doctor's reaction sends the father on a journey back to his home, where he must 'steal' a door from his own apartment to use in a rite of passage.  A sad reflection on a tragedy.  B-

The most outright enjoyable and twisted of the entries is a Danish/U.S. coproduction, written by Anders Thomas Jensen ("Brothers," "After the Wedding") and adapted by David Rakoff ("Strangers with Candy") who also stars as Frank, the chain-smoking pessimist to roommate/partner Peter's (Jamie Harrold, "The Last Winter") smoke free junk food enthusiast.  The two have not yet even unpacked when a grandmother from upstairs comes by to borrow flour and fill them in on the shooting deaths of their apartment's prior tenant as well as a couple downstairs.  Peter finds a bag of white stuff in a cupboard right next to the 'dead man's' chips and presents it to her, setting off a hilarious, escalating chain of events which include visitations from a jealous, half-crazed husband (Vincent D'Onofrio), a maniacal drug dealer (Kevin Corrigan) and a cinnamon bun favoring femme fatale (Liane Balaban).  Working with one simple set, director Joachim Back and his cast make much from little, although the ending, which follows the dancing, smoking couple out onto the street, trails off into the ether.

B+
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