(*homocinematically inclined)

Monday, February 22, 2010

Reverend's Reviews: Short & Dark Oscar Nominees

No, I'm not referring to Precious star Gabourey Sidibe or the title characters in Disney's The Princess and the Frog. I'm talking about the ten films nominated this year for Best Live Action and Animated Short Film Academy Awards. I was surprised to discover that the majority of them traffic in borderline-horrific subject matter including child slavery, the deadly effects of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, a gunman on a rampage, and murder and mayhem in general. Even the beloved, G-rated Wallace and Gromit face off against a serial killer!

Still, all of them are worth seeing despite — and some because of — their dark topics. One even features a gay couple as its main characters. The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2010 are currently enjoying a theatrical release in select cities courtesy of Shorts International and Magnolia Pictures, and they can be downloaded for viewing at iTunes for a limited time.

Here's the rundown on all ten nominees, as well as my predictions regarding the Oscar winners to-be:

Animated Short Film:

French Roast (France, 8 minutes): Former DreamWorks Animation artist Fabrice O. Joubert crafted this amusing, computer-generated study of a man in a coffee shop whose wallet goes missing, leaving him unable to pay his bill. Helps comes from an unlikely source in the film's poignant finale. Great character design.

Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty (Ireland, 6 minutes): A very funny, Tim Burton-esque take on bedtime stories. A little girl is terrorized by her grandmother's decidedly unorthodox version of the classic fairy tale. Designed and directed by the talented Nicky Phelan.

Logorama (France, 16 minutes): I'm not sure permission was secured from the many corporations featured in this audacious spoof, so lawsuits may follow its likely Academy Award win. Michelin Men police are hot on the trail of the maniacal, red-haired namesake of a famous fast-food chain. Featuring the voices of director David Fincher and screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker, best known for their successful, behind-the-scenes pairing on 1995's Seven.

The Lady and the Reaper (La Dama y la Muerte) (Spain, 8 minutes): Antonio Banderas produced this treat, written and directed by Javier Recio Gracia. The Grim Reaper and an excessively aggressive doctor battle over a little old lady who just wants to die already. A hilarious critique of end-of-life ethics and a potential Oscar-winner.

A Matter of Loaf and Death (United Kingdom, 30 minutes): Four-time Oscar winner Nick Park returns with his popular Claymation creations, Wallace and Gromit. While there is a more-of-the-same quality to this still-enjoyable outing, Park's history as an Academy favorite could result in this film beating Logorama to the gold.

Live Action Short Film:

The Door (Ireland, 17 minutes): Lovely but very sad glimpse into a family reeling from the after-effects of the 1986 nuclear meltdown of their previous home, Chernobyl. Based on a true story from the tragedy, the short benefits from Juanita Wilson's sensitive writing and direction as well as the beautiful photography in Ukraine locations by Tim Fleming. While the next nominee will give it a good fight leading up to the Oscars, I expect The Door to win.

The New Tenants (Denmark/USA, 20 minutes): Several familiar faces are featured in this black comedy, including Vincent D'Onofrio, David Rakoff (Capote) and Jamie Harrold (To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar). The latter two play gay partners who have just moved into a new apartment, which they discover has a very violent history that isn't over yet. The bigger names in this entry may end up giving it an edge over The Door.

Instead of Abracadabra (Sweden, 22 minutes): Offbeat story of a jobless, accident-prone young man who yearns to make it as a magician. He gets the chance to prove himself at his father's birthday party, but can he avoid injuring the guests in the process? I was reminded at times of the goofy Napoleon Dynamite while watching this short by Patrik Eklund.

Kavi (USA/India, 19 minutes): Writer-director Gregg Helvey won the 2009 Student Academy Award for this, and he hopes to duplicate his success next month among the professionals. Similar in plot and tone to last year's big Oscar winner Slumdog Millionaire, Helvey focuses on a young boy who yearns for his family to escape their harsh, slave-labor existence.

Miracle Fish (Australia, 17 minutes): This creepy film by Luke Doolan starts out innocently enough, as a boy celebrates his 8th birthday. By the climax, however, his teachers and fellow students have disappeared and he has a disturbing encounter. The ending is haunting, and this short is neck-and-neck with The Door in the running for my personal favorite in the Live Action division.

For more information on where and how to see the nominees, visit the official website of Shorts International.

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.

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