Mistakes Were Made: The 2012 Academy Award Nominated Live-Action Shorts
Short films are a mixed-bag of art, as they tend to be the poetry readings of the cinematic landscape. While there are some people who are able to take fifteen minutes and capture lightning in a bottle, there are others who are working out their inner emo wristcutting across your mindgrapes. It's a level battlefield, however - virtual nobodies dicking around with community theatre actors and friends can stand next to Academy Award winning directors doing a vanity project with a million dollar budget and name stars. This year's crop nicely balances the Best Picture slate, in that there isn't a stand out and most of the films are mehworthy at best. There's no stand out great, though I'm pushing for the lone American flick, Time Freak, if only because it's the one that had both an actual character crisis and a legitimate ending. The overarching theme this year seemed to be about petty squabbles and the consequences of mistakes. And so none of the films feel too dire, the stakes at best are low-grade, and the one film where they do actually raise dire consequences feels like the dehydrated remnants of a longer more clichéd film. The hardest part about judging the shorts, is that unlike the Best Picture race, you haven't probably seen any other shorts to compare them to. There's no outrageous sense of "how could you idiots not select ________!" So we have to take for granted that these were the best of the best. Though based on their selections for documentary shortlist, the AMPAS had their head up their own AMPAS.
dir. Peter McDonald, Ireland, 12 min.
It's 1977, and a young altar boy accidentally swings the incense thurible back and causes the priest to take a tumble. It's an unforgivable offense, and he's soundly punished, grounded by his angry da and refused permission to watch the big football match. But, lo, the Archibishop is come to town to say mass, and the usual incense boy is on suspension, so he's brought as the substitute. From this point, the film becomes a charming version of the big game sports movie, with a priest psyching up the players before the big mass. It's funny, but then the flick just ends abruptly and strangely. I may have lapsed my Catholicism for too long, because much of it seems lost in translation, but it felt like an extended commercial for a product that never gets revealed - a new energy drink or running shoe. And while I liked the ending I would have loved to know why I was supposed to like it.
dir. Max Zahle, Germany, 25 min.
Set in Calcutta, this is the film that feels like the beef jerky version of every other missing child movie ever made. A young couple, Jan and Sarah, come to adopt a beautiful big eyed Indian boy named Raju. They have to stay in town for three or four days for paperwork to clear or for their return flight, and in the ensuing wait, Raju goes missing. The police tell them to wait, the blame game is played between them, and nobody can help them. But then the film takes a very dark and compelling turn, in which it become a bit of a slightly racial morality play. If it were a feature film, it would be unforgivable, and probably star Clive Owen and Kate Winslet. As it stands, it's an interesting twist, but still feels so contrived that it's hard to be completely satisfied. You feel like this same plot and argument have been presented before, maybe not with Germans in Calcutta, but other white people saving other countries full of little brown urchins *coughAngelinaJoliecough*
dir. Terry George, Ireland, 30 min.
Terry George has been around - the director of Hotel Rwanda, The Boxer, and the second episode of HBO's "Luck" which features a performance by the talented yet handsome me. It's one of the few to have a recognizable (to American audiences at least) cast - Cieran Hinds, Kerry Condon, and a virtually unrecognizable Conleth Hill, who we know better as Lord Varys from "Game of Thrones." George wrote and directed The Shore, which suffers from simply lacking any sort of high stakes. When Jim (Cieran Hinds) and Paddy (Conleth Hill) were but wee lads, they were blood brothers. Jim fell in love with Mary (Maggie Cronin). Well, the Troubles started, and Paddy lost a hand, Jim was shipped off to America before he could marry Mary, and there he left her. Paddy and Mary are married, and Jim has returned with his daughter Patricia (Kerry Condon) after 25 years. All the tension in the film comes from will Paddy forgive Jim, but it's an unnecessary concern. What results is a bit of comic mischief, some laughs, and some drinks. It's as if George was gearing up to make some sort of bitter fighting drama, but then decided, ah, fuck it, let's drink some whiskey. It's not bad, it's just dramaless, and my only hope is that this is somewhat semi-autobiographical, and it's George's way of writing an apology in celluloid to his former best friend and his first love.
dir. Andrew Bowler, USA, 12 min.
The cast looks familiar, but isn't, and seems comprised of a bunch of friends who sit around firing off short films in their spare time. So what we end up with here is a very well polished narrative, which easily could have fallen into the short film trap of being an extended joke and punchline, or a SNL sketch that belongs on Funny or Die. Instead, you get a somewhat cute slacker version of Groundhog Day. A neurotic amateur scientist has been missing from his apartment for three days, and his roommate finds out he's been using a time machine. But for what? Well, that's the funny part. His reasons are so trivial and his obsession so complete, that it's kinda funny. But only kinda. I mean, I could see this destroying at a festival, simply because it's a very lighthearted comedy. Does that make it Oscarworthy? Compared to what else they've chosen....maybe? I wouldn't be surprised to see this take the prize in February.
dir. Hallvar Witzo, Norway, 27 min.
And now we come to our whatthefuckerous entry, a film that's completely lutefisk, er ludicrous. The plot itself is pretty simple - a crotchety old hermit living in a coastal farmhouse finds out he has six days to live, and is trying to reconnect with the brother who he stopped talking to 30 years ago after a petty squabble. But that's where simple leaves us behind and the film takes a turn for fucking Looney Tunes. The old man spends his days killing seagulls - and I mean, Wily E. Coyote style. He uses an old timey WWII machinegun to blast them out of the sky, rigs traps where washing machines drop on them, stuffs a stick of dynamite in the mouth of a giant carp and hurls it out to the surf. At one point, he stomps around nests, crushing gull eggs in what he calls preemptive abortions. All this is to the mild chagrin of the young bracefaced teen girl from the Jesus Club sent to be his Angel of Death. Following me so far? All of this culminates in his attempts to wait for the winds to blow westerly so that he can activate the massive sonic tuba that he and his brother invented in the hopes that it'll cross the Atlantic and his brother will hear it on the Jersey shore where he now lives. It's fucking absurdist, which helps to cull much of the near sentimentality of the film. It refuses to be a Hallmark moment - which is not difficult when you've got a crazy Norwegian blasting a machine gun into the wind.