It's Oscar week, people! It's time to take a closer look at all the major categories and throw in some all new reviews for the animated and live action shorts. The week will finish with predictions for the big night, as well as the announcement of the 2011 Mouton d'Or Awards.
First up, the key to winning your Oscar poll is to master the supposed smaller categories. The showier categories, like acting or picture, are pretty much sewn up weeks before the actual announcement so everyone has the same answers. This leaves you categories like Live Action Short and Animated Short to shine in. I'd say that you're in luck as I've seen all the nominees but unfortunately, I don't really know what the Academy looks for in these categories. All I can do is tell you what I saw and thought and hopefully that will be enough.
I was reasonably impressed with the live action short nominees. PENTECOST, from Ireland, is 11 tight minutes about a young boy who embarrasses his father by being a disastrous alter boy. The boy can't focus on God because he has soccer on the brain. The boy then gets one last chance to do right by his father but he begins to question if he would be better off just doing right by himself. It is funny and effective and it would not surprise me to see it take the prize.
A short film can be a great way to tell a joke but it gets tricky to tackle important, dramatic subjects in such a small amount of time. At 24 minutes, the Germany/India co-production, RAJU attempts to tell a very real story about a German couple who adopt a young toddler in Calcutta, only to lose him in a crowded market the next day. The build to his disappearance is rather obvious, with a mounting sense of doom looming in the musical score. Naturally, the child's disappearance pits the couple against each other. It was a bit trite and predictable for my tastes.
I was also not bowled over by THE SHORE. Hailing from Northern Ireland, this short has the longest running time of any of the nominees, clocking in at 31 minutes, and stars the only recognizable actor of any entry as well. Ciarin Hinds stars as a man returned to his home country after 25 years of absence. He has not come to make amends with past mistakes but realizes he should when he arrives. The difficulty is that I never felt like he had actually owned up to his past so I was left unsatisfied. (Note: THE SHORE was directed by HOTEL RWANDA director, Terry George. This may tip the win.)
TIME FREAK is the lightest of the five nominees. Heed this message, control freaks. Time travel is not for you. Often funny and clever, this 10 minute short follows one inventor as he attempts to perfect every single moment of the day. It becomes pretty clear pretty quickly that this isn't all that healthy but it provides plenty of laughter for us so it all evens out. It is cute but likely a little too slight for the Academy.
My favourite of the bunch would be the nominee from Norway, TUBA ATLANTIC. This 25 minute story finds an elderly gentleman with six days left to live. A young girl scout type shows up at his door the next day to help him deal with the stages of death. Their unlikely bond forms as the twosome find creative ways to kill seagulls and come to understand that they both have fears about death. The action culminates into a cross-Atlantic tuba jam session of sorts, making for a quirky yet endearing work.
The animated short nominees were just lovely. I'm a sucker for this sort of thing but I found them all to be reasonably enchanting in their own rights and all stylistically deserving of their nomination. The first entry is DIMANCHE (SUNDAY), a 10-minute short from the NFB here in Canada. The animation is hand drawn, sketchy in style with a good deal of shading, and it follows a young boy trying to pass the time on a Sunday afternoon. It is adorable to watch but there might not be enough weight to win.
A MORNING STROLL, from the UK, is my pick to win this category. It is only 7 minutes long and it makes a poignant point while keeping its tone light and amusing. A young man is seen taking a walk in 1959, 2009 and 2059 and each time, he crosses paths with a chicken. The style of the animation mirrors the period it is depicting and I believe voters will find the deterioration of society and courtesy to be a deserving topic to reward. Plus the chicken is just the cutest thing ever so they won't be able to resist.
|A Morning Stroll|
Canada's second entry in the category, also produced by the NFB, is a short film I've actually seen in two separate screenings. This is a definite rarity. WILD LIFE tells the story of a young Canadian lad who travels out west when the west was still in fact wild. Told in a series of painted images in 13 minutes, the film depicts life for one particular young man, who writes home of tall tales while finding himself living a pretty minimal existence. All the while, insert cards about comet facts break up the action and, while it is a very striking work of art, it didn't make much sense to me.
THE FANTASTIC FLYING BOOKS OF MR. MORRIS LESSMORE (15 minutes) was directed by a former Pixar designer by the name of William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg. The story itself is this random string of events that involves a hurricane and nods to THE WIZARD OF OZ and Buster Keaton, which all culminates in some musing about how books are important and disappearing. This American entry is very pretty (read, looks like a Pixar film) but its a pretty plain statement after all. I mean, look at the title character's name; Even that is obvious - More is less more? C'mon now. I know this is animated film but give your audience a little more credit than that. Oh, by the way, this is the film that industry insiders have tipped to win.
This just leaves the actual Pixar nominated short, LA LUNA (also from the USA). Of the five, this is by far the most gorgeous and enchanting of the bunch. Pixar has not had the best of luck in this category in recent years so it might not be a safe bet to vote for it, but it is so easy to fall in love with. In 7 minutes, an adorable little boy helps his father and grandfather clean up the shooting stars that have gathered on a cluttered moon. It glows with warmth and heart and, despite my admiration for A MORNING STROLL, I would be tickled to see this take the top prize.
Next up: Best Original and Adapted Screenplay