‘The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2010’ Are a Mixed Bag at Best

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CHICAGO – In a year where commercial products and prefabricated award bids are being celebrated, it’s refreshing to see two Oscar categories uncorrupted by popular taste. While the short film nominees of 2010 are a mixed bag at best, they offer a splendid variety of fresh artistic visions from around the world. There isn’t a Pixar film in the bunch, though a certain beloved British comedy duo make a welcome return to the category they’ve won twice before.

“The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2010” will have a one-week run at Chicago’s Landmark Century Centre Cinema, beginning Friday, February 19th. They are all well worth checking out, though the animated shorts are considerably more polished and rewarding than the live-action shorts, which often play like teasers for a feature-length work. Each group of five competing shorts will be shown in separate programs, with the animated nominees accompanied by three additional shorts: Poland’s “Kinematograph,” Canada’s “Runaway,” and (of course) Pixar’s “Partly Cloudy.” Cinema lovers are well advised to attend both programs, yet for those with a limited time frame and budget, I’d recommend the animated compilation. Here are the Academy Award nominees, in order of best to worst, starting with those in the Best Animated Short category…

ACADEMY AWARD NOMINEES: BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM

HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 4.0/5.0
Animated Short Program Rating: 4.0/5.0

“A Matter of Loaf and Death” directed by Nick Park

A Matter of Loaf and Death
A Matter of Loaf and Death
Photo credit: Magnolia/Shorts International

When it comes to grand entertainment, Park’s “Wallace and Gromit” shorts are as good as it gets. No stop-motion filmmaker is more gifted at fusing dry humor and character nuance with brilliantly choreographed set-pieces in which every second counts than Park. This latest comic adventure may not be quite up to par with Park’s masterpieces “The Wrong Trousers” and “A Close Shave,” but it’s still great fun. Bumbling Wallace (voiced by the incomparable Peter Sallis) and his wordless yet wise pup Gromit are now in the bread-baking business. During one of their zany deliveries, they meet a deceptively sweet lady who’s been secretly bumping off cooks around town. Only Gromit can save his thick-headed master from certain doom. The plot machinery is a tad creaky; must every love interest for Wallace be harboring evil secrets, and must Wallace always disbelieve his trusty canine friend? Yet such questions evaporate in light of such a superlative execution. The subject matter may be too dark for little tykes, but the film is sure to delight the inner child in older viewers. Just try not laughing when Wallace exclaims, “Help! I’ve got a bomb in me pants!”

“Logorama” directed by Francois Alaux, Herve de Crecy and Ludovic Houplain

Logorama
Logorama
Photo credit: Magnolia/Shorts International

This jaw-dropping short from Argentina boasts the most ingenious concept of all five nominees. It takes place in a town consisting entirely of logos, where the Michelin Men are wisecracking cops in pursuit of a gun-wielding Ronald McDonald. The voices and sound design are straight out of a routine Hollywood action picture, but the visuals are pure genius. It’s rather amazing that the film can be publicly shown at all without the threat of a lawsuit, since the film utilizes thousands of instantly recognizable mascots and trademarked images to scathingly satirize corporate culture. There’s enough symbolism and multi-leveled detail to warrant multiple viewings, and the endless string of cameos are often hilarious, from the flamboyantly gay Mr. Clean, to the Pringles logo voiced by David Fincher.

“The Lady and the Reaper” directed by Javier Recio Garcia

The Lady and the Reaper
The Lady and the Reaper
Photo credit: Magnolia/Shorts International

The troubling, timely moral dilemma at the heart of this Spanish short is dealt with in a zippy, lightweight manner reminiscent of Pixar. Some may find this approach unsettling or off-putting, but I found it just brilliant. An ailing old lady, eagerly awaiting her reunion with her departed husband, is caught in a literal tug of war between the Grim Reaper and a hotshot doctor intent on keeping her alive. The short, produced by Antonio Banderas, builds much promise for first-time filmmaker Garcia, whose playful tone and inventive visuals offset the inherent grimness of his subject matter without diluting its provocative implications.

“French Roast” directed by Fabrice O. Joubert

French Roast
French Roast
Photo credit: Magnolia/Shorts International

The most elegant short of the bunch boasts extraordinarily creative character design and masterful comic timing, though its story may be a touch too slight for its own good. It centers on an uptight gentleman who orders coffee at a Parisian cafe, only to discover that he’s lost his wallet. The camera stays at the same fixed perspective, allowing the action to unfold as it might onstage. Joubert (animation director of the upcoming “Despicable Me”) paces the film at an almost melodic rhythm, while viewing each character through a surrealistic lens, from the birdlike nun to the bum outfitted with what looks like a gray lion’s mane. It’s a shame that the main character’s face remains so inexpressive.

“Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty” directed by Nicky Phelan

Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty
Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty
Photo credit: Magnolia/Shorts International

Marred by rather pedestrian animation, this snarky Irish picture is the sole weak nominee of the category. It has a cute premise, but the story is all set-up with no satisfactory punch-line. The titular bitter granny reads a bedtime story to her petrified grandchild, using the opportunity to vent about her scornful family. While the image of Granny O’Grimm taking the role of Malficent in “Sleeping Beauty” is good for a chuckle, it wears out its welcome after only six minutes. What nearly saves the film is the spirited vocal performance of Kathleen O’Rourke, who originally created O’Grimm as a character in her comedy show.

Move on to page two for the live-action program:

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