Sunday, February 12, 2012

THIS YEAR'S OSCAR SHORTS COME UP A LITTLE SHORT

This year's Oscar shorts have come up a little, well, short.  They're still worth a look for any avid film fan or Academy Awards buff, if you can find them in your city. (They're in limited release, hitting the art house circuit this week in places like Chicago’s Landmark Century.) But be warned, while good, greatness seems evasive this year. Even Pixar’s entry left me a little more “meh” than “mesmerized.”
"The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore"
The best of the animated entries this year is THE FANTASTIC FLYING BOOKS OF MR. MORRIS LESSMORE. It’s a whimsical piece about the transformative power of words and story. The directors are William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg, and they mix a number of animation techniques in their short including 2-D, CGI, and miniatures, all to great effect. The whole concept floats on air and will have you up in the clouds as well.

DIMANCHE/SUNDAY is pretty funny with its sly put-down of Sunday rituals from church to dinner at grandma’s, but the Canadian entry drifts away at the end without much of an ending. Maybe it’s trying to say that’s how Sundays are too.
"Dimanche/Sunday"
The other three animated shorts had their charms, though I wasn’t grinning during any of them. Pixar’s aforementioned LA LUNA looks as fantastic as any of their features or shorts, but its story about harvesting stars from the moon felt a little trite and ran out of steam once the conceit was demonstrated. WILD LIFE, another Canadian entry, was a droll story about the exaggerated letters home from an Englishman discovering the American frontier. Its painterly landscapes were fluid and masterful, but the storytelling was a bit sluggish. And I’m not sure what to make of A MORNING STROLL with three wildly different animation styles to convey its simple story adapted to three different time periods: 1959, 2009 and 2059. Of course, its future portrays America as yet another zombie dominated wasteland. Doesn't anyone see a STAR TREK horizon for us anymore, with a better tomorrow for our planet?

As for the live-action shorts, I liked TIME FREAK by Andrew Bowler and Gigi Causey the best, mostly because it made me laugh out loud. In its story, a friend visits his scientist roommate’s lab and discovers that his bud has invented a time machine. Unfortunately, the scientist is a neurotic who obsesses too much over the everyday, so rather than use his new creation to travel back to ancient Rome or the beginning of time, he uses it to endlessly recycle a conversation from two days ago when he was tongue-tied after running into a woman he has a crush on. It reminded me of GROUNDHOG DAY and how we too often let the little things in life ruin our existence.
"Time Freak"

RAJU is a subtly harrowing story about a German couple adopting an Indian boy who turns out to have been kidnapped from his natural parents. It’s a taut dissertation on the lengths one will go to establish family and saving third world children from a less-than-stellar existence. 
"Raju"
The other three didn’t deliver as well. PENTECOST treats altar boys like European footballers, but it’s a little hard to laugh at haranguing priests/coaches in this day and age. THE SHORE is a subtle story about an Irishman seeking redemption from a friend he left behind 30 years ago, but its mix of slapstick and pathos never let either really take hold effectively. And TUBE ATLANTIC was just an ugly exercise in killing birds in the name of salvation for an old man with only days to live. In fact, a number of the shorts this year used animal’s death or threat of death as fodder for laughs, including DIMANCHE/SUNDAY and some of the animated honorable mentions also on the docket. Funny, but I seldom find any animal’s death to be a cause for laughter in any movie, long or short form. In fact, I find it too often to be merely bad form. And with the limited amount of time allotted for shorts, it seems like precious time wasted.

2 comments:

  1. I have to agree that many of the live-action and animated shorts left me wanting a bit more, particularly those that, as you said, “drifted away at the end”. I much favored the animation entries this year:

    Head and shoulders above all the rest, I agree, was THE FANTASTIC FLYING BOOKS... not only for the impressive, exquisite quality of infinite details; the whimsical nature of flying, flapping books; the subtle humor and tear-jerking ending; and the homage to THE WIZARD OF OZ; but also the lesson it has to teach us. That of appreciating the written word in physical books in this increasingly digital age. Paper has a touch, a sound, a feel to one’s fingers, even a smell if old enough, that a computer screen or digital reader will never have. To lose real books someday would be to lose a precious part of ourselves and the past.

    In LA LUNA I’m not sure I interpret the narrative correctly, but I would love to believe that these three generations of charming Frenchmen ascend to the moon nightly to sweep aside the piles of freshly fallen stars from its surface. And in doing so, they restore the moon to its proper phase every evening before it rises for the rest of us.

    A MORNING STROLL, with its three versions of a chicken strolling in the city over a century’s time, probably is one that must leave us all to our own interpretations. I see it as this. Most kids today think the world in 1959 existed in boring black and white (remember most TV footage and films of the time?). Today (2009) everybody – and I mean almost everybody – is plugged into a cell phone, an iPod, a computer – often to the oblivion of everything else. In 2059, zombies? I hope not. But to zombies, humans probably taste just like chicken!

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  2. Excellent thoughts, Fan. Though you may give A MORNING STROLL too much credit! (What the heck was the deal with that chicken anyway?) But you're right, the highlight of this year's entries was definitely THE FANTASTIC FLYING BOOKS...If that doesn't win the Oscar, I'll be very surprised.

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