Ah, the Oscar-nominated shorts! How I look forward each year to seeing them — and be assured that, for once, my scribblings contain not a single iota of irony.
The Oscar shorts program annually showcases the best of both animated and live action films, typically of no more than 30 minutes in length, with the animated films generally trending closer to five or ten minutes in length.
This year’s crop of shorts can be seen at Dallas’ Landmark Magnolia, and kudos to them for providing one of the few opportunities to see them on the big screen before Academy Awards time.
Here are capsule reviews (observations, if you will) about each of the shorts in the two categories. NOTE that there is also a set of Academy Award-nominated documentary shorts, which will be playing separately at the Texas Theatre, starting on February 19.
Raju (German with English subtitles)
A German couple travels to India to adopt an orphaned child and take him into their European household. All goes well until Dad takes the young boy for a stroll around the seedy looking Delhi neighborhood; then events take a nightmarish turn as the boy disappears. But all is not what it seems. The action is presented documentary style as the new adoptive father prowls the streets looking for Raju – and for answers. We are eventually forced to ask ourselves the question: where is the higher moral ground here? And what is the right thing to do — for Raju?
A comical tale about a failed Irish altar boy whose focus is more on football finals than his assigned duty wielding the censor in high mass. The priest’s pep talk before the big game — er, I mean the mass — is done with tongue firmly in cheek.
“Let’s see some grace, some vision – go out there and have the mass of your lives.”
Slacker dude and would-be quantum physicist Stillman has made a scientific breakthrough — from his cluttered garage workshop. But when he lets his best friend in on the details, a startling revelation about where he’s been traveling in time comes to light. This plays like Groundhog Day done short and sweet, and asks the question: How far would you go to do your friend a solid? (How far in time, I mean.) Obsessives will relate.
“So, you built a time machine, and you’ve been traveling around yesterday?”
Tuba Atlantic (Norwegian with English subtitles)
A crusty, curmudgeonly Norwegian bachelor farmer has six days to live, says his doctor. (Yes, exactly six.) In order to enjoy his final days in the comfort of his seaside home, he’ll need a companion to monitor over his progress (says the government). Enter a pert and extremely annoying blond angel of death named Inger, who learns that there are many ways to murder seagulls. (Machine guns, dynamite and washing machines, to name a few.)
An unassuming, almost inconsequential half-hour story filmed on the green, green tidal shores of Northern Ireland. Two old friends whose lives took radically different courses come together again after 25 years. Ciaran Hinds stars as a former IRA man who immigrated to America — when he returns to his homeland, he has his lovely daughter in tow, and quite a backstory to tell. A case of mistaken identity leads to hilarious results; then mistaken motivations result in an emotional reunion.
This magical Pixar-produced fantasy tale presents us with three generations of fishermen in one rowboat, on a sea of dreams. It’s not fish they’re going after, but star stuff. Complete with an engaging starry-eyed little boy and a ladder to the moon. Stylish design – artistic composition – a joy to behold. Don’t ask what language they’re speaking — think the Swedish Chef and you’ll get the idea.
A Morning Stroll
Presented in vintage line-drawn animation look and accompanied by a jazzy score, this odd story spans several decades to tell the story of a pet chicken who startles passersby as he (or she) ambles down a busy urban sidewalk and then pecks at the door of a flat to be let in. Look out for 2059, where zombies appear to hold sway on the populace.
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (pictured above)
A phantasmagorical celebration of the printed page, and a paean to those singular individuals who devote their lives to them. Literally. Features gorgeous traveling camera effects. Sure to elicit a sympathetic sniffle from librarians and bibliophiles everywhere. (Kindle users need not apply.)
Charming, naive, childlike animated art is employed to tell this whimsical slice of life story about a little boy forced to spend his Sunday going to church and then struggling through a visit to his grandparents’ house. Here, he discovers that bears mounted on the mantlepiece still have some life in them, and that life is permeated with glimpses of death. (In an interesting way.) Three squawking crows make for a fine Greek chorus.
Tells the tale of a dandified Englishman who decamps to early 20th century Canada — a land of rugged adventure — to try his hand at ranching. Glowing, shimmering impressionist animation highlights this surprisingly melancholy story. The significance of a cryptic comet backstory remains clouded ’til the bitter end. A very moving piece of work. “A’fore too long, I shall be as rough as a cowboy.”
The Oscar Nominated Short Films programs — separate admission for Live Action and Animated — is now playing exclusively at Landmark Magnolia for a limited engagement.