Friday, February 24, 2012

picking the shorts

With the Oscars ceremony just two days away, it's time once again to offer up some thoughts on the Academy Award-nominated films! This year I'm going to focus on the three categories of short films: live action, animated, and documentary. I've been increasingly drawn to the shorts in recent years, and I wish they could be given more exposure. That said, it's great to know there's been significant effort on the part of Shorts International, which coordinates licensing rights, to get the films onto as many movie screens as possible in the weeks before Oscar night. (They're also mostly available on iTunes and through various video-on-demand systems.) If you have a chance to check them out, do! If not, at least my picks should help you out in your Oscar pool...

LIVE ACTION SHORT SUBJECT

Should win: Tuba Atlantic
When a curmudgeonly old Norwegian living on the rocky North Atlantic coast finds out he has only six days to live, he receives a visit from a "death angel," a young woman charged with seeing him through his final days. In the days that follow, she manages to coax from him the secret behind the mysterious giant tuba he's built next to his house. I loved this film for being at once quirky, funny, and tender. I hope it wins!

Will win: Time Freak The live action short subjects are always extremely varied: you have foreign films mixed with more home-grown material, and the topics range from super-dramatic to highly comedic or otherwise in-your-face. In recent years the Academy voters seem to have gone with more upbeat American pickings in this category. That would describe 2011's Time Freak, a cute film about a Brooklyn man who decides to use his time machine to relive events from his very recent past. I won't be completely surprised if the voters decide to go for something more dramatic this year, but I'm calling Time Freak as the favorite.

DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT

Should win: Saving Face
In many ways, this short documentary is not easy to watch. It tells of the horrific trend in South Asia in which abusive men—often with the help of their families—maim women and girls with corrosive acid. It's impossible not to be affected by the damaged faces of some of the women shown in the film, but the point here is that this isn't some made up tale; these attacks have become an accepted part of the male-dominated cultures in which they occur. Stepping in to help is a Pakistani-born plastic surgeon who, like the rest of us, cannot fathom how such horror could be perpetuated in his home country. The film follows several of the victims he treats and documents new legal challenges to the penal codes for men accused in such attacks. As unlikely as it seems, there's a bright ending to Saving Face, which is eye-opening in more ways than one.

Will win: Saving Face This is a tough category this year. Much ado has been made about the Iraq War short Incident in New Baghdad, which details the now infamous 2007 helicopter shootings of unarmed civilians and two Reuters journalists through the eyes of one of the American soldiers on the ground, Ethan McCord. McCord has apparently received death threats for appearing in the film, in which he recounts his experience and expresses deep reservations about the Iraq mission and the American military in general. The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom is another powerful film about the complete destruction of one Japanese city in the wake of last year's tsunami disaster, and I wouldn't be surprised to see that one come away with the statuette. But the Academy seems to have a soft spot for "hopeful intervention" short docs, and this year's offering on that front is a great one, so I'm going with Saving Face.

ANIMATED SHORT SUBJECT

Should win: Wild Life
I loved this rare bird of a film, which tells the story of a Briton who transplants himself to the Canadian frontier. The unusual duck-out-of-water story is supported by gorgeous animation, which comes off like a moving painting. Add to this the fact the protagonist's plight is compared throughout the film to that of a comet, and you've got a winner in my eyes.

Will win: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore It's difficult to summarize this tale, which takes cues from both The Wizard of Oz and Fantasia. At its core, The Fantastic Flying Books... is a heartwarming story of a man in search of himself. The film reminds us all of the power of literature and of the tendency of fictional characters to enter our lives and become our friends. It's an imaginative piece that tugs at the heartstrings and is, in my view, the only real contender to take home the Oscar.

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