Eat My Shorts is a bi-weekly column devoted to the showcase and discussion of short films.
Nobody likes to fill out an Oscar ballot and have to struggle with the short film categories. In the past, this section of the Academy Awards ceremony left viewers either feeling indifferent or, if they participated in a betting pool and had to force-guess their picks for the short winners, annoyed. Maybe a cartoon shown before an animated feature would be nominated and you'd at least have one recognizable title (like this year's 'Toy Story 3' forerunner 'Day and Night'), but for the most part you likely felt in the dark.
Fortunately, these days nominees for the live-action, animated and documentary shorts are available to you all, whether on the big screen at places like NYC's IFC Center or on the computer screen via iTunes. A few are even available for free on the web (we'll embed these where available down below). So you no longer have excuses for, umm, coming up short.
I recommend watching these relatively undervalued works (you've got time -- they're short!) and also checking out my rankings and predictions for each category. For the doc shorts, check out last week's Doc Talk column, For the live action and animated nominees, keep reading...
Short Film (Live Action)
5. 'The Crush' (15 min.) - A favorite for some, I think Michael Creagh's Irish film about a little boy who's hot for teacher starts out well but concludes with a completely unbelievable and somewhat unclear twist. As the kid, Creagh's son Oran is nonetheless a charming presence and worth watching for him alone. He kind of reminds me of the lead in Danny Boyle's 'Millions.' This short, by the way, seems to have been a major family affair. Creagh's brother (and Oran's uncle) did the cinematography.
4. 'Wish 143' (24 min.) - Low-voiced Jim Carter (also seen recently in Burton's 'Alice in Wonderland') is the main reason to watch Ian Barnes' film about a teen (Oliver Arundale) with a terminal disease whose dying wish is to lose his virginity. Carter plays a chummy priest who attempts to argue for the sake of love-based sex. The ending is unfortunately too predictable for me to side with the Palm Springs Shortfest and the British Independent Film Festival, both of which have already given this film major kudos. Fun fact: nominated producer Samantha Waite also worked on the Oscar-winning documentary 'Man on Wire.'
3. 'God of Love' (18 min.) - There is something that frustrated me about Luke Matheny's jazzy black and white short, which already won a Student Academy Award last year, and it's not the hipstery aspect that others seem to criticize it for. I just don't find the whole Cupid's arrow thing to be very romantic, though that seems to be part of the point of this Valentine's Day-appropriate film up until the climax. I am very curious to see where the likable Matheny, who also stars in the short (many are probably already calling him the Williamsburg Woody Allen), goes with his apparent love for love stories -- his previous short was a 'Cyrano' update and he made the rounds during last week's holiday sharing odd favorites like 'Joe vs. the Volcano' and 'The Bodyguard.' He's either really the next Woody or the next Todd Solondz, whose debut feature, 'Fear, Anxiety & Depression' came back to me while watching Matheny in 'God of Love.'
2. 'Na Wewe' (19 min.) - The only foreign-language film in the bunch, Ivan Goldschmidt's Burundi-set short takes a look at the Rwandan Genocide with a light, tongue-in-cheek commentary on the absurdity of isolating people based on ethnicity and ancestry. The punny gag involving U2 sounding like Hutu is both awful and brilliant, and I do hope the idea of U2 indirectly saving a kid through their music is intentionally a jab at the band's reputation.
1. 'The Confession' (26 min.) - Tanel Toom's dark, ironic tale of religion gone wrong has a pretty simplistic premise -- a pair of Catholic schoolkids have nothing to confess so they go off in search of sin, with very tragic results. But it's by far the best-directed of the nominees, and Davide Cinzi's cinematography definitely deserves mention. As do the little British boys, who come from some place between 'Son of Rambow' and recent Shane Meadows (seriously, Joe Eales could be another Thomas Turgoose). I do fear that one day Toom will be helming bad horror flicks for Hollywood (a la short film Oscar nominee Christian E. Christiansen, director of 'The Roommate'), but at least those movies will look really great. Like 'God of Love,' this short also already won a prize at last year's Student Academy Awards.
Should Win: 'The Confession'
Will Win: 'Na Wewe'
Short Film (Animation)
5. 'Let's Pollute' (6 min.) - I suspect that this out-of-place piece of pandering satire was only nominated because Disney/Pixar vet Geefwee Boedoe (he co-wrote 'A Bug's Life') has a lot of friends in Hollywood. The idea of a throwback to instructional films is inspired yet the result is just a bad, and likely hypocritical, PSA -- an issue-based work of sarcasm that's more condemning of consumerism than 'Wall-E,' and unnecessarily and pretentiously assuming, as well. I hate it.
4. 'The Gruffalo' (27 min.) - Based on the children's book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, Max Lang and Jakob Schuh's adaptation for BBC and Nick Jr. is as cute as it is repetitive. It also features the voice of good luck charm Helena Bonham Carter, who worked on Oscar-nominated animated features like 'The Corpse Bride' and (winner) 'Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit' (which also shares a producer with this short). If only kids and parents voted for the Oscars, I might expect this one to win.
3. 'The Lost Thing' (15 min.) - Shaun Tan's adaptation of his own children's book (co-directed by documentary producer Andrew Ruheman) is somewhat redundant as far as its translation to motion pictures. Heavily dependent on narration, as if the book is being read to us, and drawing literally upon specific designs from the page, it's nevertheless a wonderfully whimsical work that ultimately should fascinate fans of Spielberg, Gilliam, Jeunet and maybe Dr. Seuss. Fantastical and bittersweet, I actually wouldn't mind seeing Tan's world opened up for a feature film.
2. 'Madagascar, carnet de voyage' ('Magagascar, a Journey Diary') (11 min.) - First of all, this isn't a spin-off of the 'Madagascar' movies, as I initially expected. Second of all, damn those Charles Schwab ads for making rotoscope animation always give me the impression I'm watching a commercial. Well, even if this collage-heavy travelogue were primarily an ad for Madagascar tourism, I'd still be enthralled by its layered, diversely rendered drawing and watercolor-based craft, enough to want it to beat Pixar's frontrunner on principle alone. Besides, if you go to filmmaker Bastien Dubois' website, you can see just how versatile he is as an artist.
1. 'Day & Night' (6 min.) - Yes, I went with the obvious choice of the Pixar short as my favorite. But it's really the best by a long shot. And I typically haven't been a fan of the Pixar shorts nominated in the recent past. This one, which is unfortunately not being screened in 3D during theatrical runs of the nominees, is the most interesting achievement technically. It's one of the best uses of 3D yet seen and it gets points for being both nostalgic and fresh, as progressive as it is a throwback to classic Disney cartoons. Director Teddy Newsom, who also worked on 'Let's Pollute,' ironically enough, is primarily a Brad Bird protege, and I can't wait to see where he goes next at the studio.
Should Win: 'Day & Night'
Will Win: 'Day & Night'
By the way, the theatrical showcase of animated shorts also includes shortlisted non-nominees 'Urs' and Bill Plympton's 'The Cow Who Wanted to Be a Hamburger.' I wish my second favorite shortlisted animated short (after 'Day & Night'), 'The Silence Beneath the Bark' was also being shown. But you can watch that in full for free here.