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Feb 21, 2011

Fletch's Film Review: The 2010 Oscar Nominated Live-Action Short Films

Note: this post was meant to be included as part of the LAMB's fourth annual LAMB Devours the Oscars series, in which dozens of bloggers each are assigned a nominated category to write about. However, I'm an idiot that can't read, and made a point to see the Live Action shorts before seeing the Animated ones, which was the category I was assigned. Not a big deal, as I planned on seeing both programs anyhow. You just get this one early.

It's become somewhat of a tradition in the Fletch household to see the Academy Award-nominated short films each year - at least all but the docs, which aren't typically screened. This is the third year in a row my wife and I have gone to see them, and it's an event that I look forward to more and more with each passing year. They play away from our "home" theater (that's just a few miles away), but that's no deterrent - the longer drive is made up for by the picture house in which they are screened: the wonderful Harkins Valley Art theater in Tempe, Arizona. It's somewhat of a relic of days gone by, having stood for decades (a rarity in the Phoenix metro area) and being one of, if not the only, theaters in town that has but one screen. The lobby is no bigger than a large master bedroom, but that only adds to the charm, as does the retro art above the concession stand.


The setting puts us in a great frame of mind to catch some of that movie magic - short films are anything but commercial, so you know that they are made with loads of passion and heart. Every year leaves us with at least one short that has you rooting for the filmmakers' future, giving us a chance to one day possibly say "Hey, I knew about them from way back when." Who will it be this year?

Films listed in the order they were screened. No "Expectation" score for these as I had none at all.

The Confession
Films that leave their messages open to interpretation can be a good thing. Unlike, say, the works of Michael Moore, a little subtlety can go along way. Unfortunately, The Confession leaves its message so open that you may not know exactly what it's about by the time it's over.


It starts off cute, centering on a British Catholic school boy around the age of nine who is fret with anxiety over his upcoming inaugural trip to the confessional. He doesn't know what to expect, but even worse, he's not sure what to confess. Confiding in his mischievous best friend, the two set out to earn him some good ol' sins so he's got something to say to the priest when the time comes. And then...

If writer/director Tanel Toom has set about to make a film that demonstrates the pointlessness and inanity of spiritual rituals, then he's made a wonderfully-shot short with an imprecise-yet-strong message. However, if he's merely made a film about little boys who ought to be careful what they wish for lest they get it, the power of the film diminishes greatly in my eyes. What's worse, I can't tell.

Fletch's Film Rating:

"Darn tootin."
LAMBScore:
Large Association of Movie Blogs


Wish 143
At once hilarious and heartbreaking, Wish 143 tells the tale of David, a 16-year old terminal patient who, via a Make A Wish-like foundation, has been offered the chance for something - anything - that he would like before the tumor in his head kills him. His answer rings true - he wants not for a trip to DisneyWorld or a ride in a Ferrari - the boy wants to lose his virginity.


With such a premise, it would be easy for "sentimental zaniness" to ensue. In a way, it does, as the tone changes rapidly back-and-forth between serious and comic, but director Ian Barnes balances the clashing tones so well that you never feel as though you're being manipulated, and star Samuel Peter Holland has a Gyllenhaal-ic charm to him that brings reality to the situation. There's a bit of a standard Hollywood cliche (that I won't spoil for you) towards the end, but nothing that permanently mars the experience. A winner.

Fletch's Film Rating:

"It's in the hole!"
LAMBScore:
Large Association of Movie Blogs


Na Wewe
If you've ever seen and/or are a fan of Eddie Izzard's Dress to Kill stand up special, there's a decent chance that this film may be ruined for you. It's not all that often that I hear about Burundi, so when it was listed as the setting for this short, all that kept entering my mind were Izzard's words about a cat, a monkey, a table, a chair, and the King of Burundi.

But I digress.

Na Wewe takes on an important topic for us denizens of the 21st century. Ever since the advent of the wheel, we've discovered new, faster, and better ways to move ourselves around the world. Where once upon a time, you might have lived a lifetime and never had the desire nor need to travel beyond a 50-mile radius from your birthplace, now it is not uncommon for people to travel twice that distance (one way) for their daily commute. Where once, the vast majority of the residents of a country were born in said country, now we all are global citizens, refugees (or the children of refugees) from countries half a world away from where we might end up.


The film is set in Burundi in the midst of a genocidal civil war. We catch up with a group of travellers, innocently (?) making their way through the countryside when they happen upon a roadblock, heavily guarded by several armed soldiers. The soldiers' mission is to separate the Hutus from the Tutsis, a task that's not as easy as they might have thought.

Empathy, forgiveness, compassion - all of these things come in to play, and I was going along nicely with Na Wewe until the climax, which I'd love to spoil for you but won't. Let's just say that the film left a bad taste in my mouth, as though I'd not just seen a touching story of globalism gone right but a commercial gone wrong.

Fletch's Film Rating:

"You seem a decent fellow. I hate to kill you."
LAMBScore:
Large Association of Movie Blogs


The Crush
After the seriousness of Na Wewe, the Academy saw fit to honor this slim (at 15 minutes, the shortest of the live action shorts) Irish comedy about a young schoolboy (again!) in love with his teacher. Elation, heartbreak, and cleverness ensue, as Ardan must battle to win her affections.


The most appealing thing about The Crush was Ardan, played by writer/director Michael Creagh's son, Oran. He's obviously a first-time actor (or thereabouts), but the style of his delivery is so deadpan and unpolished that he easily steals the show, despite being the star of it.

Fletch's Film Rating:

"Darn tootin."
LAMBScore:
Large Association of Movie Blogs


God of Love
As Vanessa Williams once put it, Shorts International "went and saved the best for last." Comedy is oft-ignored by the Oscars in general, but I'll be greatly disappointed if Luke Matheny's student film about a dart-throwing singer in love with an unrespondent band mate doesn't win the award.


Shot in black-and-white, God of Love is an absurdist fairy tale in which Matheny's Ray must come to grips with the fact that Kelly does not love him, but rather his best friend Fozzie. Or must he? Equipped with a gift from the gods, Ray undergoes a crisis of conscience (briefly) before learning what his true destiny is meant to be.

So as I said above, each year, it seems as though I walk away from the Shorts program with the name of one filmmaker to keep an eye out for in the future. Last year, it was Tomasz Baginski (his beautiful animated short The Kinematograph wasn't even nominated but was shown as being "commended"). This year, it's Luke Matheny. God of Love is by far the most charming and funny movie I've seen in the past year, and all done in the span of 18 minutes. Matheny infuses the proceedings with great wit and considerable charisma, and I can't wait to see what he does next.

Fletch's Film Rating:

"You're the best...around!"
LAMBScore:
Large Association of Movie Blogs


Predicting the winners of the short film categories seems about as pointless as seeing films starring Justin Bieber, but for the sake of those in Oscar pools who won't get the chance to see these films, I'd say that The Confession or Na Wewe have the best chance at winning. Then again, I don't think I'd have predicted The New Tenants to have won last year, so take that with a grain of salt.


7 people have chosen wisely: on "Fletch's Film Review: The 2010 Oscar Nominated Live-Action Short Films"

Jason Soto said...

The Confession sounds really good. Whenever it comes out on DVD I'll check it out.
-Jason

Jess said...

They all look good. If I'm lucky they'll hit an art house theater near me (okay within 2 hours drive) sometime soon - they did last year, but I was away.

Thanks for writing up both categories!

Jason Soto said...

Seriously what? Written words don't really reflect a person's tone so I don't know if you're like "SERIOUSLY?!?!?" or "Oh, seriously? Cool!" or "PFFT SERIOUSLY?? YOU!!!! With the Basket Cases and Death Beds! Go back to Oversexed Rugsuckers From Mars, you B-Movie lovin' fucktard!"

Considering it's you, any one of those three wouldn't surprise me. :D
-Jason

Fletch said...

Jason - It was actually kind of a combination of the three. :D I was wondering if you had read elsewhere about The Confession, because it's not exactly as though I pimped the shit out of it. That and yes, the subject matter didn't seem all that up your alley.

Jess - I highly recommend checking them out if you get the chance. They're so choice [/Ferris]. But really, I do enjoy seeing all of the shorts, and you're pretty much guaranteed to like at least a couple of them.

Jason Soto said...

Well it seems intreging and I wonder what the kids did. I'm sure it's something lame like kick a dog or look up a nun's skirt but maybe it's a darker turn? I dunno. And I'm just gonna rent/Netflix it, not buy it or join a Facebook group dedicated to it.
-Jason

Fletch said...

Haha - I "liked" the page for God of Love on Facebook the other day. :)

You're right - it is intriguing. I'm say no more.