2012 Nominated Live Action Short Films
A program of live action short films is almost always a mixed bag. You always get that one that’s a silent drama from Czechoslovakia (a place that no longer exists) and is just at the very limit of length to still be in the running. Unlike animated shorts, it’s rare to find a live action short that’s less than five minutes long, at least from my experience. Most of them are 10-30 minutes. Before watching this year’s Oscar nominated live action shorts, I fully expected to see two or three that I didn’t particularly like, one that was okay, and one that was really good. I knew nothing about any of the films, but judging by short programs I’ve seen in the past, I had a pretty good idea what I would be getting. Well, luckily I suppose, all five of the nominated films this year were fantastic and not really at all what I expected. The budgets on them must have been enormous. They all look as good as, if not better than, most features. I made a few short films in college that I thought were quite good, but my films look like a cat threw up on a kazoo compared to these. No wonder the Academy didn’t recognize any of them. Please continue to withhold my nominations. (All the nominated shorts will open in more than 200 theaters nationwide on February 10 (http://theoscarshorts.shorts.tv/locations.php) – ed.)
Pentecost – 11 Minutes, dir. Peter McDonald
This fun little Irish film is set in 1977 concerns a young football (soccer) obsessed altar boy who screws up during one service and embarrasses his father royally. He gets grounded from watching, listening to, or reading about football matches, even though the championships are around the corner. When his replacement becomes ill, the boy gets another chance on the biggest mass of the year: when the Bishop visits. This definitely elicited a few chuckles from me as you see the priests acting like coaches and the altar boys like players before a big match. If you’ve ever seen a sports movie, you’ll recognize all of the signs in this, even down to the father’s love being contingent on the boy doing well.
Raju – 24 Minutes, dir. Max Zähle
This is about a German couple who go to Calcutta, India, to adopt a child. The one the nice lady at the orphanage gives them is a little boy named Raju. The child takes to them immediately and when the new mother feels ill the next day, the father takes Raju out to the market, only to lose him in the crowd. The police and orphanage are no help so the father goes searching for their new son, only to find that the adoption might not be what they thought it was. This film is the only strictly serious one of the bunch, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The couple has to deal with a dilemma of conscience once the truth is discovered and the film and actors do a nice job exploring the different sides to the argument in very little screen time. Calcutta is also a very rich background for the film, not only in culture but in the very look of the city. The camerawork is almost all handheld but it never gets jumpy, but has a nice documentary quality befitting the location and the topic.
The Shore – 30 Minutes, dir. Terry George
A man and his adult daughter return from the U.S. to his native Belfast, Northern Ireland, after being away for 25 years. The daughter learns that he had been engaged before he left and that his former best friend is now married to his ex fiancé. The bulk of the film is about his attempt to reconnect with them. This film isn’t a joke, though there is some comedy in it, nor does it seem to have a message aside from letting bygones be bygones; it’s just a film about people, which is pretty rare for a short film. You think you’re watching a feature and then it’s over. This movie has a lot going for it in star power. It was written and directed by Terry George who wrote and directed Hotel Rwanda as well as writing a number of other high-profile movies. It stars Ciarán Hinds as the man and Kerry Condon as his daughter, both of whom are excellent Irish actors you’d surely seen in many things. Hinds makes even the clunkiest dialogue believable and while none of the dialogue here is bad, he does make an exposition-heavy monologue very listenable. While not my favorite of the bunch, it’s a very nice, enjoyable movie.
Time Freak – 10 minutes, dir. Andrew Bowler
Evan goes looking for his friend and roommate Stillman, whom he hasn’t seen in days, and discovers that he has spent a very long time inventing a time machine which is now operational. His dream is to go back to Ancient Rome, but he can’t stop going back and reliving yesterday’s awkward moments, trying to make them less awkward. This movie made me laugh out loud a couple of times. It’s like Groundhog Day except on purpose and the guy is the most neurotic, awkward person alive. We’d all like to think if we could go back in time, we’d see significant historical events, but really we’d probably do what this guy does. This is also the only non-European film in the running and as it’s American, I think that’s pretty cool.
Tuba Atlantic – 25 minutes, dir. Hallvar Witzø
Norwegian comedies are about as bleak as Norwegian dramas, but that doesn’t make them any less funny. In this film, a man of 70 learns that he has exactly six days left to live and decides to live them alone at his home by the sea. A teenage girl soon arrives and tells him she’s his Death Angel who was ordered by her “Jesus Group” to help the man live out his final days. At first, the man wants nothing to do with her and would rather kill his arch nemeses, the seagulls, using a machine gun, however he eventually asks for her help in getting his giant tuba to work so his brother in New Jersey can hear it. This is a very strange movie and it’s all played as straight faced as possible. It’s very, very funny. In a weird way it’s about accomplishing things you’d always wanted to do, and even though it’s about death, it’s a very triumphant story.
These movies all make excellent use of the setting in which they take place and they all have tones befitting them. My personal favorite is Tuba Atlantic followed by Time Freak but really any of them could win and I’d be okay with it. These filmmakers really gave these movies their all and whether they’re first timers or seasoned veterans, they’ve told stories in interesting and engaging ways. If you get a chance to see this shorts program, certainly do; you’ll be thoroughly entertained.