For decades, the Oscar for short film was the ignored stepchild of the Academy Awards. In times of limited distribution, the question was never which short film deserved the award most, but rather which nominee had been viewed by the most judges. The award was a critical crapshoot; during the ceremony most viewers saw nothing but a great opportunity to take a bathroom break.
But the times, they are a-changing. Thanks to the Internet and DVDs, seeing the Oscar shorts has never been easier, and more people are starting to pay attention to them. In 2005, Magnolia Pictures started showing the nominated short films at art house theaters across the country, and the event has grown. Last year, gross sales topped $1 million for the first time. The International Film Festival will be showing the films on the CU campus this Thursday, Friday and Saturday, just in time for the awards ceremony on Feb. 27.
The first-ever award for Best Animated Short Film went to Walt Disney’s “Flowers and Trees,” and out of this year’s five nominees, the favorite to win the award just might be today’s heavyweight animation studio, Pixar. The studio’s whimsical and dialogue-less “Day and Night” follows two goofy creatures as they discover each other’s similarities and differences and learn to get along. The two little guys interact on a black, 2-D plane, yet their bodies are rich 3-D windows into our world during day or night. The message is corny but brilliantly delivered, and since it was shown at the beginning of Toy Story 3, it certainly passes the antiquated-yet-still-relevant “which one has been viewed the most” test that often predicts success.
Two German directors, Max Lang and Jacob Schuh, relocated to the UK to direct “The Gruffalo,” an adaptation of the British children’s book by Julia Donaldson. It’s the longest short of the bunch, clocking in at 27 minutes, and it faithfully tells the story of a mouse who outwits predators in a forest with tall tales of his friend the Gruffalo, a monstrous beast who — surprise! — turns out to be real. The animation and pacing are beautifully executed, yet the piece lacks the whispered innuendos aimed at keeping parents entertained as they watch with their children, something the Shrek and Toy Story movies do so well. This simplicity will work against the film, as Oscars tend to go to movies adults as well as children can enjoy, and this entry probably won’t win.
“Let’s Pollute,” a seven-minute short
by American director Geefwee Boedoe, suffers from a similar problem,
only in reverse. A satirical bit in the style of ’50s and ’60s
educational films, the film proclaims, “Let’s pollute! After all,
pollution is our heritage and keeps our economy growing strong.” The
animation has some very clever moments, and the film conveys its
anti-consumerism, pro-environmental messages very clearly and with
maximum irony, just maybe for a few too many minutes. Nuance is not the
name of the game here, but luckily, Boedoe stops while the film is still
entertaining and not yet overtly preachy.
The Australian film “The Lost Thing,” directed
by the author of the children’s book of the same name, Shaun Tan, is a
melancholy tale about the loss of innocence and wonder in a world that
looks down upon such traits as childish. “I used to know a whole lot of
pretty interesting [stories],” the narrator tells us at the beginning.
“But now I can’t remember any of those.” The short tells the story of a
boy in a steam-punk world who finds a fantastic, alien, part-machine,
part-tentacled friend no one else seems to think is remarkable. It’s
“just plain lost.” He eventually returns the Lost Thing to a world
filled with similarly weird beings, and the film seeminglyends morosely
as the child grows older and loses his imagination to the machinations
of adulthood. The film is nuanced yet simple, and though it’s a
longshot, it deserves the win.
Another worthy film unlikely to win is the travel scrapbook-turned-animated-short “Madagascar, A Journey Diary.” It’s
the most abstract entry of the bunch, and its vivid watercolors bring a
foreign land and culture to life with tender joy and respect. The film
uses sound in an artful way no other nominee manages, and there is a
moment when the protagonist steps out of a music-saturated fixedroute
taxi into the silent open space of Madagascar that is absolutely
breathtaking. “Madagascar” and “The Lost Thing” are the two best films
of the bunch, and if one doesn’t win it will be a deep yet unsurprising
The nominees for Best Live Action Short Film are less interesting but still noteworthy. “The Confession,” by UK filmmaker Tanel Toom, tells the story of how one naughty British Catholic schoolboy and one nice one preparesins to
admit during their first confession, and it gets confused by its moral
premise rather quickly. It pushes the story a little too far, and it
“The Crush,” directed
by UK filmmaker Michael Creagh, is a fun tale about a young schoolboy’s
attempts to woo his teacher away from her lout of a fiancée, but the
script stretches the characters’ credibility past the point of breaking.
Both films, it is worth noting, employ Hollywoodlevel production.
“God of Love” is
sappy but entertaining, shot with a retro black-and-white feel. The
film is the offspring of American Luke Matheny, who stars as a dweeby
jazz singer with a talent for darts that finds himself on the wrong end
of a love triangle involving his beautiful female drummer and his best
friend guitar player. He prays to a god whose name he does not know and
receives a gift from one he didn’t expect. The film borders on cheesy at
times, yet the laughs outnumber the groans by quite a bit.
The BBC-funded “Wish 143,” directed
by Ian Barnes, tells the story of a terminal 15-year-old whose dying
request is to lose his virginity. The movie deftly handles the
protagonist’s frailty and desperation, finding light humor in the
situation and shifting focus from the raging hormones of a teenager to
the universal human need to find companionship.
The Belgian film “Na Wewe” also
handles deadly serious issues with a light humor. Director Ivan
Goldschmidt tells the story of two Belgian government employees working
in Burundi in 1994 who get caught between a genocidal showdown between
the Hutus and the Tutsis. A group of Hutu guerrillas hijack a collective
taxi passing through a village and force the dark-skinned passengers
into the road as the lone white passenger looks on in horror. The Hutus
want to kill all the Tutsis, and they draw a line in the road, telling
one ethnic group to get to one side and one to get to another. Of
course, all passengers go to one side.
film stresses that we are defined by our humanity and not our
ethnicity, and it is probably the most deserving nominee out of all the
live action shorts.
On the Bill:
The 2011 nominees for Best Animated Short will screen on Thursday, Feb. 24, to Saturday, Feb. 26, at 7 p.m. and the nominees for Best Live Action Short will screen on Thursday, Feb. 24, to Saturday, Feb. 26, at 9:30 p.m. Both screenings will be held in CU’s Muenzinger Auditorium.