Oscar Shorts – Animation and Live Action – 2010

Laura's Review: B+

Animation: The most surprising thing about the animated shorts nominated for the Oscar this year is that Pixar's entry is one of the weakest of the bunch. I'm wearing my heart on my sleeve for: “The Lost Thing” (picture above) In this Australian entry, a singular boy wanders around an odd beach collecting bottle caps when he comes across a strange creature. The playful and friendly thing looks somewhat like a hermit crab stuffed inside a red teapot and, when, at the end of the day, no one's claimed it, the boy is concerned that it is lost. He brings it home, but mom is disturbed its feet will dirty the carpet and dad is afraid it might carry disease, so he needs to find another solution. He's directed to a cold and clinical government agency where the janitor, another 'lost thing,' advises him that if he cares he should bring his lost thing to another address. A door down an alley opens to reveal a wonderful world, an imaginative cross between the Land of Misfit Toys and Dr. Seuss. As the boy grows older, he realizes he sees fewer and fewer of the 'lost things,' perhaps because he's too preoccupied with other things. A delightful yet melancholy life lesson. A “Day and Night” “Toy Story 3" was preceded by the Pixar short, "Day and Night," in which the outline of a blobby cartoon man is filled in by the natural background we only see within his lines. It's a humorous idea, handled wittily as storm clouds indicate the passing of gas and a waterfall the morning's passing of liquids. Then the man's opposite, showing in nighttime what he shows in light, arrives and the two begin to squabble. It's supposed to be a message on tolerance, but it loses itself a bit and the good idea grows repetitious. (Director Teddy Newton voices "Toy Story 3's" Sunnyside insider, Chatter Telephone.) B . “Madagascar: A Journey Diary” This French entry from Bastien Dubois is the most artful of the lot, a very close second to "The Lost Thing." A European traveler in Madagascar runs into a friendly local who invites him to his aunt's home far off the beaten path to observe the Famadihana custom known as 'the turning of the bones,' where people rewrap the bodies of their ancestors for fresh burial during a day of celebration with music and food. Dubois uses multiple techniques such as line drawings, watercolor, what appears to be rotoscoping and a style that almost looks like moving embroidery. Sometimes his pictures are embedded within a diary and travel documents. This is a stunning and very individual approach honoring the beauty and traditions of a foreign land. A “Let's Pollute” This US film takes the form of a 1960's Public Service Announcement film for its satiric promotion of pollution as not only one of our inalienable rights but a duty to our economy. The retro animation will bring a smile to those who remember, but it's the sharp and clever writing that make this one notable. B “The Gruffalo” Is the longest of the animated entries at just under a 1/2 hour. This adaptation of a children's book was originally made for the BBC and features voice work from Oscar nominees Helena Bonham Carter and Tom Wilkinson as well as Robbie Coltrane as the titular beast. This one's told as a fairy tale by a mother squirrel (Bonham Carter) to her two children and is a rhyming fable about brain over brawn. A mouse walks through the woods and outwits a fox, an owl and a snake who are attempting to make him their next meal by inventing the Gruffalo, a beast whose favorite food changes to fit the mouse's predator. But when the squirrel children get used to the story's rhythms, mom mixes things up by presenting the Gruffalo, who also wants to eat the mouse. This one's rendered in CGI that is rather unsophisticated for audiences used to Pixar - the animals' fur and feathers are flat - and the Gruffalo itself seems borrowed from "Where the Wild Things Are." The story is more suitable for children than adults, who may find it takes an awfully long time to make its simple points. Still it has its simple charms. B Live Action: With the exception of the comical standout, "God of Love," the live action shorts, three of them from the UK, all feature children and death as themes. “The Confession” Sam is taking his first confession seriously, but his friend Jacob is a bit of a trouble maker. First Jacob tempts Sam into Collins' field on the way home, a forbidden route. Then he schemes up a prank on the farmer who owns it. Things go horribly wrong, startlingly so. Sam is convinced everyone knows what happened, but Jacob keeps telling him it was an accident. Jacob's assurances are ironic. This starkly beautiful looking film doesn't go where you expect. It's a bleak chiller with a strong moral center. A- “The Crush” Ardel is in love with his second grade teacher Miss Purdy. After class he presents her with a costume ring which she accepts with great sincerity. But when Ardel and his mother run into Miss Purdy downtown, he discovers his ring has been replaced with a real engagement ring from Pierce, a man Ardel instantly sizes up as beneath her. When Ardel proposes a duel, with pistols, Pierce is amused. It's no surprise Pierce is taking the situation much too lightly. This Irish entry is somewhat offbeat and Charlie Bonner imbues Ardel with single minded confidence, but in the end it's a bit far fetched. B- “God of Love” (picture above) Luke Matheny has already won a student Oscar for this delightfully wacky 18 minute U.S. entry which plays like a New York based Napoleon Dynamite in black and white. Raymond Goodfellow sings with a jazz combo that's got an unusual gimmick - Ray throws darts with incredible accuracy during his numbers. Raymond is head over heels for the group's drummer, Kelly, but Kelly only has eyes for Raymond's best friend Fozzie. Ray prays for Kelly's love and is answered by a package from Olympus Foundation containing the Love Dart 3000. Raymond discovers that while he may be able to kickstart a romance, the short term effects only provide the object of the darted ones' affections a type of tryout window. This whimsical paean to love marks the debut of a very talented filmmaker. A- “Wish 143” This UK short from Ian Barnes takes an unorthodox look at a Make-a-Wish situation. Teenaged David is a cancer patient who surprises the agent of his 'Wish' form with a request to lose his virginity. He's told to figure out something else, but sticks to his dream. His buddies try to help, but he's not allowed to board a public bus with his drip. A friendly priest (Dean Barnes of "Downton Abbey") tries to intervene, but after he witnesses the boy's disappointment upon discovering the girl he's been writing to is in a relationship, becomes an unlikely accomplice. "Wish 143" isn't as technically accomplished as the other entries, but features some nice writing and a sure footed balance between comedy and drama. B “Na Wewe” A truck breaks down in Burundi and its passengers join those of a passing van. Shortly, they are stopped by Hutu rebels determined to exterminate any Tutsi people among them. This Belgian nominee creates unbearable tension as Hutu leaders argue among themselves as they target each passenger and we hear varying stories. Then, the smallest among the Hutus, a child far too young to be armed, demands the Walkman from an older boy among the captured and the mood breaks. The filmmakers use a three-way pun (the film's title translation being one of them) for their climax that, while clever, also plays a bit gimmicky given the seriousness of what has come before. Still, the film is very well done and its subject is an important one.

Robin's Review: B+

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” 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? They 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.