‘Oscar Shorts 2011’ Features a Few Memorable Highlights

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HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 4.0/5.0
Rating: 4.0/5.0

CHICAGO – Has there ever been a consistent shorts program that delivered 5-star quality from start to finish? By their very nature, programs of short films seem destined to offer something more of a mixed bag and the unusual nominees selections of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences typically makes up a series of average shorts with a few highlights. This year is no different.

Overall, there are surprisingly few truly amazing shorts in either the animated or live-action offerings this year. There’s nothing as instantly impressive as “Manon on the Street” or “Le Maison en Petits Cubes” from two years ago, two of the best shorts I’ve ever seen, but there’s also nothing truly awful. Every one of the shorts this year has a few positives and negatives and each program ends with the best installment, a fact that should leave ticket buyers smiling on their way out the door. It’s hard to believe that these are the ten best shorts of the year (or a sad statement on the fact that there aren’t ten 5-star shorts produced in a year) but it’s a case of a good program that is only disappointing if one hopes that the Oscar nominees would be great instead of just good.

In order of presentation:

LIVE-ACTION

“The Confession”

The Confession
The Confession
Photo credit: Shorts International

This Irish offering features two boys on the verge of becoming men learning about the concept of confession in Catholic school. The way it’s presented they believe that to be a good Catholic, they need to have something to confess. And so they go about committing a sin. Of course, their child-like attempt to scare someone turns into something deadly and “The Confession” becomes something much darker. This ominous piece looks beautiful but the kids are a bit ineffective on a performance level and the final twist seems a bit forced. Strong visuals, a great concept, and an impressively foreboding tone make it interesting but it’s held back from brilliance by the experience level of everyone involved. Rating: 3.5/5.0.

“The Crush”

The Crush
The Crush
Photo credit: Shorts International

Another offering from the U.K. succeeds more completely than its predecessor due to a more-compelling child performance. A young man named Ardal falls for his beautiful teacher. He stares at her after class and even uses his money to get her a ring. She plays along with his affection, believing it to be the innocent feelings of a child but her student is crushed when she announces that she is actually engaged to her boyfriend. When the kid meets her boyfriend and discovers that he totally doesn’t deserve her, he challenges him to a duel. The fiancee plays along in a way not unlike the teacher in that they both fail to realize the seriousness of the situation until the kid pulls a gun. This one is unnerving, tense, and honestly effective. The actors are great and the twist of the final act surprisingly works. In many ways, it’s the most memorable short of either program, only barely beat by one of the other live-action offerings. If “The Crush” wins the Oscar, I won’t be upset. Rating: 4.5/5.0.

“God of Love”

God of Love
God of Love
Photo credit: Shorts International

Every year there’s a short or two that feels a bit too self-consciously clever and the one who commits that sin most egregiously this year is Luke Matheny’s “God of Love,” a funny piece that’s still a bit too quirky for its own good. It’s one of those shorts that serves as a great calling card as it displays the several talents of its creator, but it’s more promising than effective. Matheny stars as a crooner who throws darts while he performs in his three-piece band. The other two pieces happen to be his best friend and his unrequited crush. The reason she’s not requited is that she’s in love with his best friend, who clearly loves her back but won’t move on it out of deference to the lead. After months of prayer, the crooner is given a dart that will make someone fall in love with the thrower for six hours. Can he get the girl of his dreams? Or realize that she’s not for him? This modern spin on Cupid has moments but could have been something more. Rating: 3.0/5.0.

“Na Wewe”

Na Wewe
Na Wewe
Photo credit: Shorts International

The most serious of the shorts by a long stretch seems a likely winner for the Oscar given its social and cultural relevance over its competition. Academy voters like their “important subject matter.” I don’t mean that in a derogatory way because “Na Wewe” is definitely a strong piece of drama but it also feels a bit incomplete, like part of a bigger film. It’s interesting without being engaging enough to be my vote to win but I won’t be too upset when it does win. Near Burundi, during the beginning of the Rwandan genocide, a group of civilians on a bus are attacked by a group of rebels. They usher them off the bus and ask them to separate into Hutus and Tutsis and react strongly when the group refuses to divide. Who is Hutu? Who is Tutsi? The piece exposes the ridiculousness of a genocide when it can’t even be determined who the rebels are trying to kill but it feels a little forced at times. Good, not great. Rating: 3.5/5.0.

“Wish 143”

Wish 143
Wish 143
Photo credit: Shorts International

On paper, this extended short probably sounds the most susceptible to melodrama — a teenager with cancer asks Make-a-Wish to help him lose his virginity before he dies. Of course, they refuse, but the idea doesn’t just stop with them, eventually finding someone willing to help. This is strong writing that feels surprisingly genuine. It doesn’t have that “short movie vibe” that usually telegraphs a third act twist or pretentious metaphor. It’s just excellent performances with impressive screenwriting. And it’s surprisingly moving. A woman asks the lead, “Does anybody ever touch you?” He responds with “Just to get my vitals.” It’s hard not to be moved by such a sentiment when it’s delivered this genuinely. The end is a bit rushed but this is the best of the lot. Rating: 4.5/5.0.

ANIMATED

“Day & Night”

Day and Night
Day and Night
Photo credit: Shorts International

Do you think they just reserve a spot for Pixar every year? “So, we know Pixar gets a spot, let’s vote on the other four nominees.” In all seriousness, it’s completely unsurprising to see “Day & Night” make the cut and it has to be the frontrunner to win even though the powerful company has missed out on the big prize the last couple years. It still doesn’t make too much sense to bet against the heavyweight, especially with the exposure granted it by being attached to the biggest animated film ever. You’ve probably seen “Day & Night.” If you’re like me, you thought it was fun, fun, fun. If you’re not like me, oh well. Just like “The Crush” is to “Wish 143,” this is my #2 choice by the slimmest of margins. I won’t upset when it wins. Rating: 4.5/5.0.

“Let’s Pollute”

Let's Pollute
Let’s Pollute
Photo credit: Shorts International

I will be upset if this one wins, but not surprised. Just as the sledgehammer approach of “Logorama” won last year, “Let’s Pollute” is this year’s socially-conscious nominee that bludgeons more than entertains. The short is set up like an old-fashioned commercial from the ’50s (complete with a cheesy narrator) like the ones that told us smoking was good for the lungs. This time it’s a crude history of the pollution of the planet that telegraphs in every frame how clever its creators think they are. It’s basically one joke with little insight. If you don’t know by now that we’ve been polluting the planet and exploiting its resources since the day we walked upright then I’m surprised you have internet access. It will probably win since the Academy loves anti-corporation material, but it’s the least deserving. Rating: 2.5/5.0.

“Madagascar, Carnet De Voyage”

Madagascar, Carnet De Voyage
Madagascar, Carnet De Voyage
Photo credit: Shorts International

This is the most unique, unusual entry in either program — an attempt to bring a travel diary to life. I love the idea of trying to capture an unusual place in an unusual way. A traditional approach to a travelogue of Madagascar would probably just be dull but the style becomes part of the substance here, illustrating (literally) a journey to a rarely-documented corner of the world. It is more compelling conceptually than in its execution as the animation is sometimes a bit too crude for its own good, but this is a pleasantly original surprise in an animated program in which every other entry feels like something we’ve seen before. Ratiing: 4.0/5.0.

“The Gruffalo”

The Gruffalo
The Gruffalo
Photo credit: Shorts International

Even more so than the Pixar entry, this one feels like bringing a gun to a knife fight. This is a TV special that was produced for BBC One with an amazing amount of star power including Rob Brydon, Robbie Coltrane, John Hurt, Tom Wilkinson, and Helena Bonham Carter. It doesn’t exactly seem fair for a half-hour TV show with talented stars to compete against independently-produced, low-budget fare like “Madagascar,” but who said the Academy is fair? Based on a book that sold millions of copies and won awards in the U.K., “The Gruffalo” is a clever tale about a mouse who makes up the title character to avoid being eaten by a fox, owl, and snake, only to stumble upon his imagination brought to life. It’s a fun piece that feels a bit stretched in its pacing, probably to meet a TV running time, but it’s still entertaining and damn-impressive in the star power department. Rating: 4.0/5.0.

“The Lost Thing”

The Lost Thing
The Lost Thing
Photo credit: Shorts International

Once again, the program ends with my favorite, a melancholy piece about what we discard along the way to our busy lives. Someone is taking time out from the hustle and bustle of theirs to do something as old-fashioned as look for bottle caps on the beach when he comes across the title — “The Lost Thing” — something that’s wonderfully hard to even define in print. I wouldn’t even try. I couldn’t do it justice. This is the most visually engaging of all the shorts from the very beginning and it has a surprising emotional power that sneaks up on you in the final scenes. As much as I love the Pixar piece, it would be my pick to win and my favorite of all ten shorts in the program. Rating: 4.5/5.0.

“The Oscar Shorts Program” opens on February 18th, 2011 at Landmark Century.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

By BRIAN TALLERICO
Content Director
HollywoodChicago.com
brian@hollywoodchicago.com

Anonymous's picture

Oscar Shorts 2011

I don’t usually reply to posts but I will in this case, great info…I will bookmark your site. Keep up the good work!

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