Magnolia Pictures and Shorts International continue their wonderful annual tradition of taking the ten films nominated for the Oscar for Short Film: Live Action & Animation and presenting them in a pair of theatrical releases (visit the program’s website here: http://www.shortshd.com/theoscarshorts/). The lineup is about to open at the Landmark Century in Chicago along with theaters in New York and Los Angeles and will be expanding throughout the country in coming weeks. The shorts are also currently available on iTunes in the U.S., U.K., and Canada. Find a way to see them. Most are better than The Blind Side. And, even if you can't get out to see them, perhaps we can help you win your Oscar pool again.
Overall, this year's crop is noticeably weaker than last year's. Auf Der Streck (On the Line), Manon on the Asphalt, and Le Maison en Petits Cubes – three nominees from last year – were spectacular pieces of art that stand above anything nominated this year. Most of this year's nominees are fun and some are very well-made but the animated work in particular is surprisingly light on memorable entries. Let's start there. In alphabetical order...
Like a lovely day in a cafe, French Roast is pleasant and enjoyable without being overly memorable. Shot at one angle facing a man sitting at a cafe with a mirror to the street behind him, French Roast starts very promisingly as a comedy of an embarrassing
situation. An uptight businessman pushes away the homeless man asking
for change before realizing he could use some himself as he has
forgotten his wallet. Instead of just admitting that he doesn't have the
cash, he keeps asking for more coffee and delaying the inevitable.
Joubert's short gets sillier and sillier and eventually involves a nun, a
policeman, and the return of the homeless man. Incredibly enjoyable but
also a little too lightly flavored, French Roast is good but not quite great. Rating: Three Bones
This Irish tale is the most twisted of the five nominees, an example of some really awful bedtime storytelling. The title character tells her granddaughter a very funny variation on Sleeping Beauty from the perspective of an elderly fairy not invited to the christening of a gorgeous new child and the revenge she takes. Granny O'Grimm is a rarity in animated shorts in that its script is actually stronger than its visuals. Granny's rising anger at the "stupid young fairies" is very funny and should provide the heartiest laughs of either program, but the short leaves a bit to be desired on a visual level. Once again, it’s an entertaining piece without being something to dream about. Rating: Three Bones
I love Nick Park and Wallace and Gromit. So I won't be too disappointed when Aardman Animation wins another likely Oscar but the fact is that A Matter of Loaf and Death does not stand up when compared to the other great Wallace and Gromit – A Grand Day Out, The Wrong Trousers, A Close Shave – all films that I would give "four bones." This adventure is fun and clever but not quite as much of either as the previous outings of the smartest dog in animation and his cheese-loving owner. It also seems a tad bit unfair to compare something this long and complex to something as short and bittersweet as the 6-minute Granny O'Grimm's. If any of the other four choices had stepped forward like recent runner-ups for the grand prize, I think they could have stolen it from this tale of a black widow who sets her sights on Wallace. The fact is that Matter of Loaf and Death is helped out by a relatively weak field. Rating: Three Bones
The one purely comedic short of the live action section is a delightfully edited and paced film about a young man trying to make magic in a number of different ways. With a great lead performance by Simon J. Berger, Eklund's comedy is about a wannabe magician who meets the potential girl of his dreams after he accidentally stabs his mother while trying a complicated trick. Saying "Chimay" instead of "Abracadabra," the awkward wizard wannabe first tries to impress the gorgeous nurse at a kid's birthday party and then convinces his parents to let him perform at a celebration for his dad's sixtieth. Very well-edited and performed throughout and with a few great comic twists in the last five minutes, Instead of Abracadabra is the crowd pleaser of the live action slate and a dark horse to take the prize. Just by providing most of the laughs, it could stand out enough to get the vote. Rating: Three and a Half Bones
A well-meaning short film about a life lived in bondage, Kavi is nonetheless a bit too formulaic and dry, although it does offer an interesting slice of realism when compared to last year's runaway Oscar winning Slumdog Millionaire. The title character is a child forced into constant labor in a kiln. He dreams of a life with the other kids playing cricket but he's forced to work himself to exhaustion by a tyrant of a man. Kavi isn't bad and the final shot has a lasting power that I wasn't expecting but it's ultimately a little too predictable to stand out against its superior peers. Rating: Two and a Half Bones