Oscar Checklist – Part 8: Salute Your Shorts

This is my last Oscar checklist for 2011, for the rest of the short films I’ve managed to see, mainly Live Action. I was hoping to see more documentary shorts, but the company releasing them did not offer them up on iTunes, like they advertised. Had I known this, I might have sojourned to the theater that was showcasing them for one week only, but I was waiting for iTunes.

I also have not seen the other three foreign nominees: In A Better World and Incendies aren’t out until April, while Outside the Law, which came and went last year, is not yet on DVD. I have failed to locate copies of Hereafter or The Tempest, both of which are apparently awful, so maybe that’s for the best. So, for those keeping track at home, I’ve seen every nominated film except: 3 foreign films, 2 one-nomination features, and 4 documentary shorts. Not bad for a guy with a full-time job, no money, two kids, a pregnant wife, and one crazy obsession.

Let’s Pollute – Nominated for Best Animated Short

This was the only animated short I hadn’t seen when I posted my earlier checklist. It’s a shame, cause it might just be my favorite. I don’t think it will win, as it might be seen as too slight, but this breezy gem tickled the right part of my brain. Basically, it’s just a spoof of a 1950s PSA you’d have to watch in science class. This time, though, the message is flipped and the buffoon narrator is teaching all about why you should pollute.

It’s only one joke, played out over 6 minutes, and the piece is obviously preaching. But, none of that bothered me because I was giggling the whole time. The animation has a crayon look, like a child drew it, but it’s wittier than you think. The film could have been half as long and still be just as strong, but the sharp humor kept it from feeling too repetitive.

Grade: B+

The Warriors of Qiugang – Nominated for Best Documentary Short

This is the only doc-short I saw, and that’s because you can find it online. Go ahead. I’ll wait… It’s a sequel of sorts to a previous winner, The Blood of Yingzhou District. In this film, the topic de jour isn’t AIDS, but pollution. Hey, weren’t we just talking about that? Nothing is taken lightly in this straightforward environmental David and Goliath story.

In a small town in China, a bunch of factories have been muddying the waters with their filth. People are sick, some dying, and a few brave and simple citizens decide to take a stand. While the story and its heroes are important, and their story should be told, this felt more like something that could be covered in a world news segment and not drawn out to 40 minutes. It’s fascinating to see up close what’s happening in China, but this movie is too narrowly focused and nothing is that unique about big business screwing the little guy.

Grade: C

The Crush – Nominated for Best Live Action Short

Get ready for some kid acting. Not just any kid acting, but low-budget, short film, kid acting… everybody’s favorite. In The Crush, the kid is Ardal and he has a major affinity for his elementary school teacher, Miss Purdy. She finds his attention to be innocent and harmless, and the movie begins on a sentimental note. Ardal later finds out that Miss Purdy is engaged and takes steps to get rid of the interloper.

Suddenly, the film shifts tone completely and begins feeling like leftovers from a Pearl Jam music video. For the rest of the movie the tone continues to waver. I can see what the director is going for, in his attempt to maintain suspense for his final reveal, but it doesn’t work. The reveal is laughable and the build up irritatingly weird. At times the kid playing Ardal is decent, but most of the time, not so much.

Grade: D

The Confession – Nominated for Best Live Action Short

Kid acting, take two. This is the story of two best friends, Sam and Jacob. Both are about to have their first confession at catholic school. Jacob thinks the whole think sucks, while Sam is concerned. Sam is such a good kid that he’s afraid he has nothing to confess. So, Jacob comes up with a prank for Sam to earn some sin, and since they’ll be absolved in a few days, why not?

The prank goes bad, like murder bad, and Sam deals with his guilt for the last half of the film, but not before things get even worse. The acting is better this time around. You can still see the kids struggling at times, but the director is better at cutting around it. The premise is intriguing, but the execution leaves much to be desired. The guilt section needed more suspense, more instances of almost getting caught, more… something… As is, this 20 minute film almost had me snoring with its transparent symbolism and predictable climax.

Grade: C

God of Love – Nominated for Best Live Action Short

Live Action, Animated, Documentary, this is easily my favorite short I’ve seen. Starring writer/director Luke Matheny, God of Love is a delightful romantic comedy that feels like a student film Woody Allen might have made. Shot in wonderful black and white, the movie is about Raymond Goodfellow, a lounge singer who “melts hearts while he throws darts.” Raymond is in love with his drummer, but she is in love with his guitar playing best friend. After a hilarious opening prayer, “Dear God, whose name I do not know,” Raymond is gifted with cupid-like love darts and the playful film continues from there.

I mentioned Woody Allen, and the comparison is obvious, but Matheny has his own voice and abundant talent. Scenes fly by with such wit, you forgive some of the minor student-film trappings. The film is such a joy. I don’t want to oversell it, but as you might have noticed, this is a short film that you can quote. A 20 minute film and it has some of my favorite dialogue of the year, go figure. Matheny should win something for this wonderful movie, if not an Oscar, then a chance to make something even bigger.

Grade: A+

Wish 143 – Nominated for Best Live Action Short

Wish is about David, a young man of 15, who is dying of cancer. One of those Make a Wish people visits David to see what they can do and David nonchalantly asks to be deflowered. David yearns for some kind of affection and he thinks sex is the easiest way he’ll get it. The first part of the short involves David’s hapless attempts at sneaking out of the hospital and failing, initially comically, but ultimately sadly. The second part is more like a Lifetime movie only British. (Do they have Lifetime in England?) David has a more liberal preacher friend who decides to take pity and help the boy out.

The whole thing has a strong whiff of Patch Adams. I know there’s not a lot of wiggle room in short films, but this was very one note. The acting is pretty good, but the material is so schmaltzy. Honestly, I just didn’t care about this kid and his cancer, and therefore didn’t care if his wish came true or not. Either take a different approach to the material or try something else entirely, as it is, I wish for a better short.

Grade: D

Na Wewe – Nominated for Best Live Action Short

UPDATE: Since the earlier posting, iTunes has at the very least released Na Wewe and so I have finally seen the final piece of the Live Action pie. Na Wewe (Translated – You Too) is the only foreign nominee in the bunch and the only one that takes place in the past. In Burundi 1994, a van travelling through the country is pulled over by a Hutu militia. The angry men with guns demand the passengers separate, Hutus to one side, Tutsi dogs to the other. Well, given the choice everyone flees to the Hutu side. What ensues is an ironic look at national identity as everyone begins raising their hands and explaining why they aren’t a Tutsi.

One man says he never knew his father, another is a pygmy, and others swear they were born elsewhere. It’s almost comical and it highlights the fact that even in Africa there exists a melting pot. The film does however exploit a tragedy to illustrate its point. The movie takes advantage of the suspense of death that hangs in the air, yet never really addresses the true horrors of the past, only the ignorance that caused them. Still, it is very well pieced together and easily holds your attention for what is essential one 20 minute long scene.

Grade: B

So, since I wrote this iTunes has also failed to offer up the final Live Action short, so add one more to the “failed to see list”. Awesome false advertising. Shorts International promised 15 shorts and only offered 8.

Anyways, I hope everyone enjoys watching the Oscars and that some of this has been helpful. And if you missed it:

Part 1: Docs, Thoughts, and Links

Part 2: Tunes and Toons

Part 3: Quick Draw

Part 4: Audio Tour

Part 5: Dressed for Success

Part 6: Maybe They’re Born With It

Part 7: This & That

Oscar Quibble

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