Awards Season

The Oscar-Nominated Short Films: A Few Thoughts

As promised, I headed out yesterday and saw all five nominees for Best Animated Short Film as well as Best Live-Action Short Film. The animation presentation also includes a few that weren't nominated, but just received commendations.

The Animated Films

French Roast (France): This one left me cold. (Insert "undesirable coffee" joke, I know.) Basically, it's a close relative of all those Sesame Street sketches about people sitting in restaurants trying to enjoy their meals (or coffee, or whatever). There are a couple of decent jokes, but a lot of it seems underpowered. The animation is pretty, but nothing special.

Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty (Ireland): It's funny, in the sense that there's a good joke in a Grandma telling a bedtime story that gets a little ... angry. But other than that joke, there's really nothing to it, and it's not a joke that expands or gets any funnier. It's not like six minutes really drags or anything, but it could have been two, to be honest.

The Lady And The Reaper (Spain): This one, I liked very much. It's very dark and very funny, and the visuals of the Grim Reaper are delightful and inventive. This is one where there's a central joke, but it's expanded upon with many, many other, smaller jokes — elevator music, bloop-blooping an unexpected security device, and The Lady's final act, which really got a belly laugh from the small audience I was with.

Note: I apologize for apparently accidentally appropriating the verb "bloop-blooping" from my friend Sarah's glorious discussion of the animated shorts at Tomato Nation, which I had read and which had apparently wormed its way into my head more than I thought. Sarah is way too classy to point out that I did this, but I did, even though I swear, it really was the biggest belly laugh I got from the film at the time it happened.

Logorama (France): Logorama is, by far, the most visually interesting of the nominees. Essentially, it's a high-contrast world in which absolutely everything is a logo, including all the people. (Well, "people.") I'm not sure that the central idea is as strong as it should be or quite as clever and cutting as it would like to be, but the visual impact is jaw-dropping. It's an amazing feat, and — like a lot of other people who have talked about this film — I don't really understand how they made it without being sued out of everything but their socks and underwear, but I'm glad I got to see it.

A Matter Of Loaf And Death: This is the Wallace and Gromit piece, and it's good. Not great, but good. Cute, funny, and good jokes. It's the safest and most conventional piece of animation in a few ways — note that not one of these nominees is traditional drawn animation, but this one is stop-motion, where all the others either look very Pixar-ish or, in the case of Logorama, are in styles all their own.

Partly Cloudy (a non-nominee): You saw this if you saw Up in theaters. With the storks? And the clouds? I think it's adorable. I'm sad it's not nominated.

Runaway (a non-nominee): Ah, yes. Drawn animation! I remember that. This is a cute economics parable about rich and poor that's significantly livened up by some good jokes. But mostly, they're not going for "laugh riot" here; they're going for "ahem." And I think they achieve that.

The Kinematograph: Boy, does this not pack the wallop it wants to. There is apparently an entire subgenre of animated shorts about sad old people — some wonderful, like last year's winner that we embedded here yesterday, and some like this, kind of glum and sappy. There are, like, five movie-of-the-week cliches stuck in this very short film (example: a single, unexplained cough = terminally ill). The lack of a nomination seems entirely appropriate.

Live action, after the jump.

The Live-Action Films

The Door (Ireland): Look, I don't want to be a jerk about The Door, which is about the very important topic of Chernobyl survivors. But ... there's depressing, and then there's relentlessly dour in a way that feels manipulative. I just feel like everything here — the color palette, the acting, the way it's directed — is just beating you over the head with its sadness and seriousness, and in the end, I'm not sure it says anything other than that dying of radiation poisoning is very, very sad.

Instead Of Abracadabra (Sweden): This has an approximately zero percent chance of winning, in my opinion, because this is an award that, like many others, has a tendency to favor darkness over light. There's nothing serious about Instead Of Abracadabra — it's just really funny, and notably, Tomas the magician is established as a more interesting character in the first two minutes of this 22-minute film than many movies will find in a two-hour running time. I really enjoyed it, and it's not going to win, and I'm going to be irritated.

Kavi (U.S., India): Well-meaning, one-note. Like The Door, this is a film that seems to be designed to tell you that a sad thing is sad — in this case, people enslaved in India making bricks — but not to shed any particular light on it. This is a sad story, but a really, really uncomplicated one, and I'm not sure the aesthetics of the film add very much.

Miracle Fish (Australia): This is one where I wound up feeling like the story, which is about a boy's day at school, shouldn't have worked, but there were things about the piece that were effective. It has a very nice feel for shifts in tone, from an early section where you seem to be doing childhood day-in-the-life, to a middle section where there's almost a fantasy element, to an ending that's surprisingly earthbound. I liked the uncertainty of the story and the way it kept undermining itself, but when it was over, I had a sense that it didn't all amount to much.

The New Tenants trailer from Det Danske Filminstitut on Vimeo.

The New Tenants (U.S., Denmark): Now, here's where I like it that short films are made. This film, about two guys who have just moved into an apartment when bizarre things start to happen, could so easily have been an absolutely insufferable two-hour indie talkfest, totally impressed with its own transgressive, violent blah blah blah. It would be massively polarizing, overpraised on one side and underappreciated on the other, and everybody would go back and forth about who gets it and who doesn't. Fortunately, instead, it's a 20-minute short without time to become self-indulgent. Or perhaps it's that you can indulge a film for that long, given an adequate payoff, without getting feeling like you're getting ripped off.

In any event, it's got Vincent D'Onofrio in it, and Kevin Corrigan, not to mention David Rakoff — who's marvelous, and who I previously knew as a writer and a voice on This American Life. It's so very close to being the kind of thing that drives me crazy, but as a short, it totally works. Because of some of the associated star power, this one actually has a shot, I think, at taking the prize from the downers The Door and Kavi. I'll be rooting for Instead Of Abracadabra, but this would be okay, too.

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