2006 Oscar Shorts
Indie distributor Magnolia Pictures has packaged together the live action and animated short films for a pre-Oscar theatrical run which Brookline, MA's independent Coolidge Corner Theater traditionally presents. Like this year's feature nominees, the shorts have an international heritage and 2006 doesn't have a weak offering in the bunch. (Note that only three of the five animated short nominees were available for preview. The theatrical package includes a fourth, 20th Century Fox's Scrat outing, "No Time for Nuts," as well as four other shortlisted candidates which did not make the final cut. The fifth nominee is Pixar's "Lift.")
Laura's Review: B+
Live Action Australia's "The Saviour" finds humor in making us find our bearings when what appears to be the cliched door-to-door salesman having an affair with a housewife client instead turns out to be a Mormon missionary gone astray. Writer/director Peter Templeton's blackly humorous story turns out to have a tender miracle at its heart, a 'surprise twist' utilized by four of the five entries. It's an unsual work with an inventive score by Jessica Wells. B The most sheerly entertaining nominee is the only American short. "West Bank Story" and its star-crossed love story set between warring fast food restaurants, the Palestinian Hummus Hut and Israeli Kosher King, may seem like an obvious parody, but cowriter (with Kim Ray)/director Ari Sandel never lets the humor flag in this boisterous musical comedy featuring outrageously silly lyrics and a witty homage to Steve Martin's arrow-through-the-head gag. B+ "Binta and the Great Idea" is from Spanish writer/director Javier Fesser ("Mortadelo & Filemon: The Grand Adventure") and is the most ambitious and serious-minded nominee. Binta is a young Senegalese girl relating how her fisherman father endeavored to present his great idea to a government official. This charming short, produced in collaboration with Unicef, champions education, a luxury Binta wishes were available to her older cousin Soda, a young woman denied by her ignorant father. Fesser teases us with 'the great idea,' unexplained until the end, and its revelation is a laugh out loud delight. "Binta and the Great Idea" boasts top notch production values with beautiful camerawork and an addictive musical score. A- Another Spanish nominee, "Erasmos Pocos (One Too Many)" is a droll look at a father and son left to their own devices when mom flies the coop. It is immediately clear that the two are clueless taking care of themselves, so Joaquín pays a self-serving visit to his mother-in-law, housed in a nursing home. Soon the woman's ensconced in their apartment and the boys have never had it better, but there is something quite wrong. "Erasmos Pocos" is an amusing ditty, but it is essentially a one joke film, albeit one made with style by director Borja Cobeaga. B The shortest entry, Denmark's "Helmer and Son," is the dark horse candidate. Another black comedy featuring an elderly parent in a nursing home, this one consists of a son called by hospital administrators to talk his dad out of a locked cupboard. Is Helmer crazy as a loon? Far from it. What sets Soren Pilmark's short above "Saviour" and "Erasmos" is the wave of surprises that precede the film's final punchline, a startling lesson passed from father to son. The short's title is witty simplicity, giving hint to the dual nature of the two men's relationship. B+ Animations "The Danish Poet" features an animation style as stark as the modern design the Denmark is known for, yet Torill Kove’s delightful retelling of how her parents met is anything but. Narrated by Liv Ullmann, this short presents universal truths with a unique cultural identity. Kove is quite talented evoking a full palette of emotions with her simple line drawings. Having only seen three of the nominees, I'd lay my bet on this one to take the prize. B+ "The Little Matchgirl" is instantly identifiable as classic Disney. The Hans Christian Anderson tale about the overlooked waif who burns her own wares as she dreams of a better life is absolutely stunning to look at, but the well known story, while melancholy, offers no new insights. B+ "Maestro," like "Erasmos Pocos" is a stylish build up to one good punchline. This time it's visual. Hungarian filmmaker Géza M. Tóth utilizes a gothic, angular architecture in rich brown hues to showcase his performer warming up for his big entrance. It's a five minute build to a quick, jolting joke that will take you for surprise. Another laugh out loud moment.