If you are a movie lover, Oscar aficionado or have A.D.D. you should make a point to go see this year’s nominees for best short films and best animated shorts. You’ll get a lot of entertainment dollar in a very short time. And most of this year’s nominees stand tall as truly wondrous works of art. In fact, the five short films up for the Academy Award are all so good, I could see any of them taking home the gold.
The frontrunner might just be NA WEWE and it’s easy to see why. This taut and tense 20-minute story set in 1994 Burundi starts when a vanload of passengers is pulled over by an African militia. These itchy trigger-fingered rebels set out to sort the Tutsis from the Hutus, but as that task becomes more and more daunting, the film becomes a darkly comic commentary on the absurdities of racial profiling and ethnic cleansing.
Three of this year’s honored shorts concern lost youth in the United Kingdom. THE CONFESSION is a harrowing tale examining two rural England schoolboys wrestling with their first confessions in the Catholic Church. They start off as naïf’s but when they unwittingly cause a fatal car crash, their innocence dies along with the passengers. THE CRUSH tells of an Irish youth fixated on his comely grade school teacher. But his innocence is crushed by jealousy and it isn’t long before the boy is threatening the woman’s fiancé with a duel to the death via pistols. And then there is WISH 143, about a dying teen’s obsession with losing his virginity before his time is up. Its message about love, values and intimacy will make you guffaw as well as reach for your hankie. It is the sleeper in the bunch and the favorite of most of the audience I saw it with.
Finally, there is GOD OF LOVE, a retro lark filmed in glorious black and white. The god of love here turns out to be a jazz singer who becomes a dart wielding Cupid, steering others along the path of love, while pursuing his oblivious band mate in kind. It’s not only my favorite of the shorts but it is the best romantic comedy I’ve seen all year.
|GOD OF LOVE|
The animated shorts unfortunately aren’t all sterling. MADAGASCAR, CARNET DE VOYAGE for example, is a decent enough travelogue blending mixed media for 10 minutes, but its narrative stalls. LET’S POLLUTE is a tongue-in-cheek parody of all those 50’s scholastic films about modern inventions improving our lives. It’s funny as hell but feels like something REN & STIMPY did decades ago.
Some love THE GRUFFALO and think it’s a sure thing to win the Oscar, but I found it to drag quite a bit during its half hour length. And it covers a lot of the same material that the ICE AGE movies exhausted. Still, it’s got lovable woodland critters and lush computer animation that is almost the equal of Pixar.
Pixar does have its own entry this year, DAY & NIGHT, and it’s an inventive piece blending 2-D and 3-D animation. It explores the friendship between, that’s right, day and night, in the anthropomorphic form of two big-nosed shmoes. I think it’s probably the one to beat due to its technical virtuosity, humor and heart. And it’s by Pixar, truly the best in the business of animation these days.
|DAY & NIGHT|
However, if I had a vote, my choice would be THE LOST THING, a melancholic tale about the friendship between a depressed teen and a monster/machine hybrid. It’s take on the future is one fraught with depression, alienation, but ultimately, hope and humanity. Don't be surprised if this one sneaks the Oscar away from Pixar. THE LOST THING doesn’t have as many laughs, but it does have the hugest heart of any of this year’s animated entries.
|THE LOST THING|
For those of my intrepid followers who reside in Chicago, you’re in luck. The shorts and cartoons are being shown up at the Landmark Theaters in the Century shopping mall. I was encouraged to see packed houses for the showings I saw this weekend. And with the Oscars being given out this Sunday, you owe it to yourself to see these before their short time is up.