Salute Your Shorts
I love Oscar pools. Just getting people to throw down a couple dollars to see if they can figure out who’s gonna win which category. And while most folks are relatively well-educated about the major categories: acting, writing, directing — and can take a running stab at the art direction, music, technicals — it’s those short films that always throw us for a loop. Rarely if ever are we able to actually sit down and watch short films outside of the film festival circuit, and even then, the short films aren’t often things that we’ve seen. Even the one that virtually everyone’s seen — Partly Cloudy (because it preceded Up ) — didn’t make the cut for Oscar nods this year. Usually it’s a list of names that you tend to pick based on which one sounds the most fun. I remember one year I got this locked because I had actually seen the Martin McDonagh’s Six Shooter and was hoping it would win. “Kavi” (Gregg Helvey) is one of what I like to refer to as the Sally Struthers type narrative dramas. It’s a stirring tale about a young boy growing up in modern day India as essentially a brick-making slave, but it serves as a PSA. If this were the year of Slumdog Millionaire, it’d be a lock. But this the year of laughing at mean things, so sorry, you’re the long shot.
“The Door” (Juanita Wilson and James Flynn) is out of Ireland, but set in Russia. It’s the other solid drama, set in a dystopian world where people are chased from their homes and hunted by soldiers. An illness takes many of the children, so it’s got the aw, cancer vote. It’s a bit of a twist ending, and it’s got that feel-bad Road vibe. I think this could be your dark horse.
“Miracle Fish” (Luke Doolan and Drew Bailey) is an Aussie import that starts out like a sweet little schoolyard parable and then drops into dark, grim fucking territory. It’s like an Encyclopedia Brown adventure that suddenly goes all “Law and Order: SVU.” A poor young boy, taunted by his classmates on his birthday, decides to sneak off for a nap in the nurse’s office, only to wake up to an empty school. I think this is even less likely than “Kavi” to win, because of the gruesome ending.
“Instead of Abracadabra” (Patrik Eklund and Mathias Fjellstrom), a Swedish dish, is a close chaser for the front spot. It’s part Napoleon Dynamite, part Rushmore, part “Arrested Development,” but then assembled like IKEA furniture. A young wannabe magician, living with his parents, tries to wow his new sexy neighbor with his magic trickery. The main guy’s a strange-looking bird, dorky but with this strange Jemaine Clement sexuality that works.
“The New Tenants” (Joachim Back and Tivi Magnusson), from Denmark, is easily the best goddamn film in the batch. So as not to give anything away from this fierce dark comedy, the easiest explanation is that a bitchy gay couple have a progressively worse day as they get to know their neighbors and the history of their apartment. Vincent D’Onofrio and Kevin Corrigan co-star, and the only flaw might be the bizarro ending, but part of me kind of loved the what the fuck nature. It’s sinister, snarky, mean — everything you’d want in a short film. I could see it splitting the comedy vote with “Instead of Abracadabra,” and losing to “The Door” based on the “Aw Cancer” win.
This year, I was able to attend a screening for two of the three categories — didn’t quite find the Documentary Shorts — and thought what the hell? I was particularly intrigued by the Animated category, since the Academy had allegedly found five films better than the incredi-fucking-dorable Partly Cloudy. It was a feast for the senses, a brilliant mix of pretty solid flicks that had me delighted. And let me say this for those who do the nominations: they like them dark and fucking twisted. It’s kind of like finding a Pink Floyd album in your parents record collection. I didn’t think the old bluehairs who dominate the Oscar committee had a sense of humor, but goddamn. These were some fucking brutal and sick fucking flicks. It’s difficult to encapsulate a review on films that run less than a half-hour, so rather I’m just giving you the bullet points so you can impress people come Oscar night with tidbits. Also, I’m ranking them based on how good I thought they were, and what their chances are coming that big golden night. I’m not just informative, I’m your fucking bookie.
They package the animated all on a single viewable DVD, so you get a chance to watch the pictures back to back. I think whoever assembled them and I were on the same wavelength, because the films get progressively better as they go along, popping off in a finale that’s absolutely amazing in every way.
“French Roast” (Fabrice Joubert) is sort of what you’d expect in the way of a foreign cartoon. It’s mostly a comedy of errors about a snooty businessman trying to find a way to pay for his coffee when he realizes his wallet’s gone missing. It’s cute, but gets outmatched by the sheer mania of the later films.
“La Dama y la Muerte” (The Lady and the Reaper) (Javier Recio Gracia) is a Spanish import produced by Antonio Banderas. Again, another cute and touching little black comedy about an old lady who dies and the tug of war between death and a doctor for her soul. Done without real dialogue, it’s very Looney Tunes, and felt more like what I expecting. Something you’d see on the CBC in between programmes. It was bittersweet and dark like the best kinds of chocolate.
“A Matter of Loaf and Death” (Nick Park) is the latest “Wallace and Gromit” adventure. And again, it’s a straightforward awesome bit of cheese caper, but pretty dark for even Park. The homicidal penguins are traded for a large lass who’s been knocking off the bakers in town. She’s set her heart on Wallace, and thus begins the usually delightful Rube Goldberg pants-machines and shenanigans we all love. As soon as it comes on the screen, I turned to my girlfriend, and said, “Here’s our winner. What can possibly compete with Aardman?”
“Along came Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty” (Nicky Phelan and Darragh O’Connell) an incredibly brief bit of cruelty as a fearsome Irish grandmother unleashes a rage-filled diatribe to her granddaughter in the form of a bedtime story. You think it’s gonna be Columbo telling Kevin The Princess Bride, and instead, it’s Christopher Walken doing Goodnight Moon. It’s so wicked, but the animation is what sells it as they blend between 2D and 3D modeling.
But none of them can even compete with the unbridled fucking facepunch of “Logorama” (Nicolas Schmerkin), a French cartoon that’s a shiv in the heart of Corporate America. It’s Quentin Tarantino by way of Max Berry and Neal Stephenson. The world of “Logorama” is entirely corporate logos — and I mean entirely. The cops are Michelin Men, pedestrians are the AOL guy. The buildings are all prints of brandnames. There are so many little Easter egg nuggets of genius, from the zoo containing the MGM Lion and the NBC Peacock, to trees dropping Apple apples. As if that weren’t enough, it’s the story itself, a violent swear-filled melange of Pulp Fiction with the messages of all the good nominated documentaries. The ending’s a bit prosaic, but the rest of the film is so ballsy and incredibly, that justifiably it should win. The only thing I could see it losing out to maybe sentimental favorite Wallace and Gromit.
I’m not sure if you’ll be able to find these online, but usually some end up on iTunes or maybe Amazon for viewing. Check your arthouses nearby, because on Oscars.com, they’re showing towns and cities where they should be screening right now. Either way, do yourself a favor and check them out because there’s a hell of a crop.