Categories One-By-One: Best Live Action Shorts

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Postby Damien » Sun Feb 21, 2010 3:03 am

(Also posted in the Animated Shorts thread)

A.O. Scott in the NY Times on the nominated shorts:

February 20, 2010
Short in Time, Long on Wit and Daring

“In small proportions we just beauties see,” wrote Ben Jonson, the Elizabethan poet. “And in short measures life may perfect be.” Short films may lack the scale and sweep of their feature-length siblings, but the best of them offer a Jonsonesque promise of perfection in miniature, and a reminder that cinema is often an art of patience, precision and detail.

This year’s 10 nondocumentary Oscar-nominated shorts — five are live action, five animated — are of course not flawless. But the best of them combine imaginative daring with meticulous attention to craft. And they have been assembled for easy viewing in a program that opened in Manhattan on Friday, at the IFC Center.

Few movies of any length combine such daring and craft with the dazzling wit of “A Matter of Loaf and Death,” Nick Park’s half-hour tour de force. It marks the welcome return of Wallace and Gromit, the hand-molded English bloke and his skeptical dog who have brought glory to the Aardman animation studios. It is delightful to see Wallace and Gromit again, and to be reminded that animation is a robust and diverse creative field, hardly limited to 3-D, computer-generated kids’ stuff.

There is some of that here, of course, though two of the noisier, jauntier nominees — “Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty,” a revisionist bedtime story from the Irish animator Nicky Phelan, and “The Lady and the Reaper,” by the Spanish director Javier Recio Gracia — feature combative older citizens. It may be that the success of Pixar’s “Up” (a best-picture as well as a best-animated-feature Oscar nominee) has ushered in a new era of elderly cartoon heroes.

In the live-action shorts, in contrast, children predominate. And also suffer, since a child in peril is the quickest route to an audience’s emotions.

In the Russian-language film “The Door,” directed by Juanita Wilson, who’s from Ireland, a young girl falls ill in the wake of a Soviet-era nuclear accident (not identified as Chernobyl, but clearly meant to evoke that disaster). In Luke Doolan’s “Miracle Fish,” from Australia, a boy endures bullying and teasing at school and then finds himself plunged into a scene of horrific violence. The young protagonist of Gregg Helvey’s “Kavi” is an Indian boy at the mercy of a cruel system of modern-day indentured servitude.

The other two live-action nominees — “The New Tenants” by Joachim Back and Patrik Eklund’s “Instead of Abracadabra,” both directed by Scandinavian filmmakers (though one is in English) — aim for a blend of comedy and grotesquerie, and misfire somewhat. “The New Tenants” leavens a scenario of brutal absurdity with self-conscious talk, while “Instead of Abracadabra” stakes out “Napoleon Dynamite” territory with its tale of a misunderstood goofball looking for love and practicing magic in Swedish suburbia.

Mr. Eklund’s film may strike American viewers as both exotic and familiar, something that might also be said of Nicolas Schmerkin’s “Logorama,” the most striking of the animated nominees. An astonishing piece of anticorporate provocation — unless it is a triumphant sell-out to corporate power — this film from the French studio H5 is a profane, ultraviolent action romp set in what looks like Los Angeles. (The cafe setting of Fabrice O. Joubert’s charming “French Roast,” meanwhile, could only be Paris.) The story is a riot of R-rated action clichés: SWAT teams, exploding heads and helicopters, hostage situations and even an earthquake thrown in for good measure.

But what is most striking about the film is that every single thing in it is a recognizable corporate logo. The crazed killer is Ronald McDonald, his police department pursuers are Michelin men, and the universe they live in is thoroughly and seamlessly branded.

Which may make “Logorama” a work of realism, as well as an intriguing puzzle. Is it satire or product placement — or both? Certainly this little film’s exuberant parade of consumerist imagery will not be out of place at the Academy Awards. It may even be a little redundant.
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Postby FilmFan720 » Sun Feb 21, 2010 12:39 am

I saw all five of these today, so thought I would contribute a couple of thoughts.

***Spoilers a plenty***

The Door: The darkest of the five films. It starts out as an intriguing mystery about a man running from something and breaking into an apartment, which then turns into a moody piece after you realize he is at Chernobyl (or a similar Russian accident) and stealing a door to bury his daughter with. It is heavy-handed, but may play into the Academy's hand

Instead of Abracadabra: The Swedish answer to Napoleon Dynamite. The main character is a 25 year old dorkish magician who is trying to break into any sort of success while under the pressure of his father, who wants him to get a real job. The laughs are there, and coming last in the program it was a welcome relief, but it goes on too long and there isn't much to it.

Kavi: The most manipulative of the films, and also the most traditionally made. It is about a young boy in India who is a slave, along with his family, who by the ends escapes captivity thanks to some cops he meets in the woods. It is a paint-by-numbers film, complete with a title card at the end about the realities of slavery across the globe. Still, it feels like the "most important" of the nominees, which could help it here.

Miracle Fish: My favorite of the films here was also the most divergent one among the crowd today. What starts off as a tired childhood drama (boy dropped off by his single, poor mother at school, it is his birthday, kids make fun of him, he hides in nurse's office) turns into a mysterious Twilight Zone episode (he wakes up in an empty school, with everything left where it was) with hints of science fiction (a book seems to hint the people were abducted by aliens?). It makes a powerful turn at the end, when we discover the truth and all the pieces come together.

The New Tenants: This film reminded me a lot of Martin McDonough's winning film "Six Shooter" in its edgy sense of humor and disregard for violence. A gay couple move into a new apartment, discover the former tenant was shot in there, and open up a complete can of worms that involve many dead bodies, a pound of heroin, cinnamon buns, shot guns, tire irons, dragging bodies, a screaming Vincent D'Onofrio and an ending waltz. If it is up your alley, it is wonderfully constructed, but it is not for everyone's taste.

I see the award between Kavi and The Door. Kavi is the most accessible, and the most feel-good liberal of the five, and would give it the edge here.
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