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Movie Review: 2012 Oscar-Nominated Live-Action Shorts

February 15, 2012
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You may not have the chance to see the Oscar-Nominated Live Shorts (or the Animated ones, for that matter), and you probably will not even see who wins at the ceremony. Hell, you may not even know that there are Academy Awards for shorts. I forget from time to time myself. After all, who goes to see shorts anywhere outside of a film festival? Do they even exist outside of film festivals?

No matter. Honestly, as far as the Academy’s selections, you’re not missing too much this year. I have a bit of a beef with the Academy for overlooking the best short of last year (hell, one of the best movies of last year, Jon Goldman’s fantastic Diplomacy). There’s some charming films, and the best part is that all five directors look very promising. Only two of the selections (Pentecost and Raju) feel constrained by the running time; the former stretches on too long and the latter needed more. Time Freak and The Shore are comfortable and left me wanting more, and Tuba Atlantic is a pleasantly self-contained eccentricity that’s totally Norway. Totally.

Anywho, on to the films. I’m going to provide a quick, TV-Guide-style summary and then include my thoughts.

Pentecost

Details: Ireland, comedy. Directed and written by Peter McDonald. Starring Andrew Bennet, Scott Graham, Eamonn Hunt, Michael McElhatton, Des Nealon, Valerie Spelman, and Don Wycherly.

Synopsis: An Irish alter boy with a penchant for football tries to redeem himself following an incident involving some incense. Runtime: 11 minutes.

Thoughts: Even at 11 minutes, it’s all setup for a one-note joke that drags on and, in the end, isn’t really that funny. McDonald has an eye for the period (1977), but doesn’t seem particularly interested in making much of it. If anything, it seems more for convenience, since it limits his protagonist’s interests and access to media. The conflation of football and alter-boying feels more like a jest than any resonant point. That said, the look is great, and the pep talk to the alter boys runs to the precise limit of almost playing out but doesn’t. Can’t say quite the same for the pop cover of Ode to Joy.

Rating: 2.5/5

Raju

Details: Germany, India, thriller, drama. Directed by Max Zahle. Written by Florian Kuhn and Max Zahle. Starring Wotan Wilke Mohring, Julia Richter, Krish Gupta, Arindham Ghosh, Taranjit Kaur, Suroma Nag, and Arindam Sil. Runtime: 24 minutes.

Synopsis: A German couple adopts an Indian boy who soon goes missing. As his adoptive father investigates the disappearance, he uncovers a web of corruption and intrigue that threatens his own marriage.

Thoughts: Has the opposite problem as Pentecost, which did too little. Raju tries too much, shifting in tone from mystery to intrigue to family drama and never provides a sense of character that’s crucial for the last sequence to work. If it were given a longer running time, this could be a taut thriller, and the look of grainy, sheer degradation that glooms the Calcutta streets is spot on. For now, however, there’s too much ambition and too little detail.

Rating: 3/5

The Shore

Details: Ireland, drama. Directed and written by Terry George. Starring Ciaran Hinds, Conleth Hill, Kerry Condon, and Maggie Cronin. Runtime: 29 minutes.

Synopsis: A man returns to his Irish hometown 25 years after living in the US to reconnect with an old friend, a lost love, and reveals the truth of his sordid past to his daughter.

Thoughts: Probably my favorite. While Kerry Condon is pretty grating as the daughter (her “American” accent is way too forced and belongs in a bad BBC made-for-TV movie), I could listen to Ciaran Hinds talk about his past all day; it’s a notable example of having a character explain something instead of showing it. Hinds is one of the great unsung actors of his age and sells every frame, whether he’s crying, laughing, or transitioning from the one to the other. The major setback is skirting the emotional impact of  the two friends meeting for trite comedy, which washes away the tension, which builds so well up to that point and nearly ruins the film. That said, the payoff of good actors singing poorly is a nice touch in an uneven film.

Rating: 3.5/5

Time Freak

Details: USA, comedy, sci-fi. Directed and written by Andrew Bowler. Starring John Conor Brooke, Michael Nathanson, and Emilea Wilson. Runtime: 11 minutes.

Synopsis: A socially awkward man invents a time machine with the intention of exploring his favorite eras but gets caught up in correcting minor social faux pas.

Thoughts: The lead performer Michael Nathanson is delightful in his physical tics and subtle pauses, and I hope he gets a role in some Cable sitcom that’ll elevate him to stardom (or maybe already has; he looks familiar). Director Andrew Bowler uses his 11 minutes with extreme efficiency to get more than a few laughs but mainly to raise a point about time travel that’s both tongue-in-cheek and really damn profound. Light and breezy, Bowler’s film is the one that feels most like a short.

Rating: 3.5/5

Tuba Atlantic

Details: Norway, comedy drama. Directed by Hallvar Witzo. Written by Linn-Jeanethe Kyed. Starring Edvard Haegstad, Terje Ranes, and Ingrid Viken. Runtime: 25 minutes.

Synopsis: A dying man seeks out his long-lost brother, copes with a peppy “Angel of Death,” and spends his last hours killing seagulls.

Thoughts: I’m now convinced that Norwegians are insane. Or at least have been watching nothing but Monty Python reruns for the last 3,000 years and have yet to realize that it’s a comedy sketch show—to the point where I’m not sure whether a dropping a safe on a seagull is meant to be a joke or is just a common pastime. That said, the leads are perfect, the set design is perfect, the look is fine, but at this point, I’m tired of every Norwegian film’s overuse of washed-out blues. The only real drawback is that you can all but see director Witzo smirking at his own cleverness in every scene. I think he’s still patting himself on the back for finding a way to end the film with a teenage girl shooting off a machine gun.

Rating: 3/5

 

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