Combustible Celluloid

The 2010 Academy Award Nominated Short Films (2010)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

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French Roast **1/2
Fabrice Joubert's short is one of the most gorgeous of the nominees, but its various narrative parts never quite come together in satisfying way. A businessman in a café discovers that he has lost his wallet and bides his time by ordering more coffee, all the while watching a parade of odd people come and go.
Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty **1/2
Nicky Phelan's short from Ireland incorporates two different kinds of animation for a really luscious effect, but the film contains only one mediocre joke. A nasty old lady tells an angry, self-serving fairy tale to a terrified little girl.
The Lady and the Reaper ****
Directed by Javier Recio García from Spain, this is a great one. A sweet little old lady wishes to go to heaven to join her departed husband. The grim reaper shows up to take her away, but an egotistical doctor (surrounded by voluptuous, redheaded nurses) keeps bringing her back. The battle between doctor and reaper grows ever more ludicrous and imaginative; it moves beyond its single joke and into something beautifully surreal, like an extra-crazy Chuck Jones chase cartoon.
Logorama ***1/2
At first I wasn't sure what to make of this entry from France, by directors François Alaux, Herve de Crecy and Ludovic Houplain. It takes place entirely in a city made up of corporate and product logos and characters, and it's astonishingly vulgar and violent. It's a bit off-putting, but then I began to appreciate how much the relentless parade of logos contributed to the uneasiness, more so than the shooting and chasing. The plot has two "cops" (actually Michelin tire men) chasing after Ronald McDonald and shooting up the town.
A Matter of Loaf and Death ***
Nick Park returns to his beloved characters in the short form once again, with this new half-hour entry. It's as technically sophisticated as anything Park has done so far, but the plot doesn't really offer anything new; it's very much a re-tread of A Close Shave. This series is funniest when Gromit gets to show some of his low-key deadpan behavior, but this particular plot requires him to be ramped-up and anxious the entire time. Call it the weakest of the series, but still a likeable enough visit with these two wonderful characters. (See my full review.)

Live Action

The Door **
Juanita Wilson's film takes place in Russia just after the Chernobyl incident, and it's a pretty typical Oscar contender, with heavy, self-conscious symbolism and weighty importance. A father must break into his own house to steal a door upon which to lay the body of his daughter (dead of radiation poisoning).
Instead of Abracadabra ***1/2
Patrik Eklund's little comedy from Sweden is my favorite of the live-action batch. A very geeky magician (with a scraggly little moustache and bad glasses) still lives at home with his parents and is on the verge of having to get a real job when he meets his pretty new neighbor. To impress her, he convinces his father to let him perform at his 60th birthday party, where he plans to try the old "saber-in-a-box" trick. Eklund keeps a quirky pace throughout, and there are some funny lines around the magician's favorite magic word: "Chimay," which he uses "instead of abracadabra."
Kavi **
More typical Oscar-fodder from director Gregg Helvey. Set in India, the film tells the story of a boy who must work for a tyrant to help pay his father's debt; he'd much rather play cricket. The film sets up some very awkward moments of violence and suspense (it feels too rushed) and pays off with a printed message about real-life slavery.
Miracle Fish ***
Directed by Luke Doolan and set in Australia, this is another Oscar-bait short, but at least it keeps its preaching a secret until the payoff. A lower-class boy endures the cruel ridicule of his classmates for not getting anything more than a "miracle fish" toy for his 8th birthday. He sneaks off for a nap in the nurse's office and when he wakes up, everyone is gone. He begins to enjoy the solitude, until the other shoe drops. The treatment of the child actor is fairly shallow, but young Karl Beattie has a presence that grows on you.
The New Tenants ***1/2
This is another standout, focusing on humor instead of messages. It's translated into English from a screenplay by Anders Thomas Jensen, though I'm not sure whether it's a "remake." Two men move into a new apartment. Unfortunately, the former tenant had some unresolved issues that brings several new visitors, including an angry husband (Vincent D'Onofrio) and a fast-talking drug dealer (Kevin Corrigan). Director Joachim Back keeps a steady, deadpan pace, and writer David Rakoff cooks up some terrific dialogue.

February 19, 2010

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