Oscar Nominated Short Films
For the fifth year in a row, Shorts International has bundled the live-action and animated Oscar nominated shorts program and brings them into theaters for ordinary moviegoers to check out prior to the awards show March 7. Four of the five live-action entries explore the darker side of human emotions. The one that doesn't, Swedish entry "Instead of Abracadabra" by Patrik Eklund and Mathias Fjellstrom, does indulge in some gallows humor. The 25-year-old Thomas still lives with his parents and aspires to become a magician, and pesters his father to let him perform at his 50th birthday festivities so that Thomas can impress the attractive young woman who moved in next door. This ribald short offers a winning sense of oddball comedy--Thomas says "chimay" instead of "abracadabra" when doing his tricks, a slogan somebody mishears as "shemale"--and effectively turns to gallows humor at a few moments.
Less effective in its reach for black comedy is Denmark's "The New Tenants" by Joachim Back and Tivi Magnusson. In it, a gay couple--a chain-smoking, jabbering misanthrope and his put-upon mate--move into a flat with a checkered past. They find out about it the hard way, first when the neighboring old woman borrows flour from them and informs them of the triple homicide committed by the previous tenant, and then when an angry husband (Vincent D'Onofrio) shows up looking for his cheating wife, then when a shotgun-toting drug dealer (Kevin Corrigan) pops in looking for his stash. Its absurdities pile up like the corpses in the living room, but the filmmakers do nothing with it.
More moving is writer/director Gregg Helvey's "Kavi" from India, which follows a young boy who is enslaved, along with his parents, to a kiln owner: they make mud bricks every day, working off the father's 10,000 rupee debt, even as aid workers try to liberate them. "Kavi"--the boy's name--impressively puts you inside this young slave's shoes, and it's expectedly not a fun place to be.
Even more unsettling is Luke Doolan and Drew Bailey's "Miracle Fish" from Australia, in which a young boy gets dropped off at school on his birthday, gets teased that he got crap gifts because his mom's poor, and then takes a surreptitious nap in the nurse's office just to get away. When he wakes up he finds his school curiously void of people, a water tap left on, and Doolan and Bailey successfully create a taut anxiety in this riveting short.
But the most soul-crushing is "The Door" by Juanita Wilson and James Flynn from Ireland, which opens with a man breaking into an abandoned city and flashes back to him, his wife, and his daughter learning that they'd have to evacuate their home. You kind of know where the short is headed with knife-in-heart coverage shots of bald children in a hospital and the daughter sheepishly smiling at the father during an examination, but what really lowers the emotional boom here is how the title comes into play. "The Door" is a work of Chekhovian economy.
The animated features are expectedly a bit more upbeat. A gentilhomme realizes he can't cover his café tab in Fabrice O. Joubert's madcap "French Roast" from France. A perhaps overzealous grandmother revamps the tale of Sleeping Beauty in Nicky Phelan and Darragh O'Connell entertaining mix of 2-D and 3-D animation in "Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty" from Ireland. Death meets his match in the Loony Tunes anarchic "The Lady and the Reaper (La Dama y la Muerte)" by Javier Recio Gracia from Spain, in which a dying woman's life gets wrestled over by the grim reaper and a self-important doctor and his buxom nurses.
Expect stop-motion British animator Nick Park's "A Matter of Loaf and Death" to be the Oscar favorite here, as it revisits his indelible creations, the Mancunian cheese enthusiast Wallace and his trusty dog Gromit. This time out Wallace is a baker who falls for former advertising bread girl Piella, whom the resourceful and ingenious Gromit thinks might have something to do with the string of bakery murders in town.
The standout animated work, though, is Francois Alaux and Herve de Crecy's "Logorama" from France, which imagines a Los Angeles--and, eventually, the entire universe--made entirely out of corporate logos. Daft, irreverent, and wildly entertaining, it secured a permanent place in this moviegoer's heart by offering the indelible site of Ronald McDonald threatening to put a cap in Big Boy's ass. Priceless.
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