I love the Academy Awards. I love the spectacle. I love the speeches. I love the pomp-and-circumstance. I love it all. But what I love most is seeing all of the nominated films, and then trying to predict the winners.
When filling out my “ballot,” there are a few categories I find particularly frustrating due to my lack of personal experience viewing those nominees. I think I’m not alone in guessing my picks for foreign films and documentaries based on the one or two of the five nominees I had actually seen. And I’m also probably not the only one who picks from the short films solely on which title sounds the most intriguing.
In other words, my guessing process for short films is a complete crapshoot.
This year, finally, will be different. For I have found a local independent theatre screening all of the nominated shorts together. This was a new experience for me, as my familiarity and study of film has largely been in regards to feature length work, but, damn, am I glad I went.
This year’s selection of five live action short films was wholly spectacular. There isn’t a bad movie in the bunch (I wish I could say the same about the feature-length Best Picture nominees). Here are, as briefly as possible, reviews of the five live-action short films:
Kavi is the story of a young boy in India working for a brick manufacturer to help pay off his family’s debt to the owner. As Kavi works, he watches the school children across the street playing cricket, longing to join them. The story soon evolves into an exposition of the struggles of and abuses afflicted upon the poor working class in India and the corruption of the wealthy. Kavi is a sympathetic character and he is easy to empathize with. Great performances and ultra-realistic style complement the films ultimately uplifting story perfectly.
The New Tenants
Peter and Frank are in the process of moving into their new apartment when they are interrupted by an elderly neighbor asking to borrow a cup of flower. While waiting for Peter to fetch the flour, she tells them that the last occupant of their unit was shot during a triple homicide that occurred right in the apartment. Soon after she leaves, a gun brandishing drug dealer bursts through the door, looking to settle a score with the deceased tenant. The New Tenants is brilliant storytelling and near-perfect filmmaking; it’s darkly hilarious, unexpectedly romantic and undeniably entertaining.
It’s Joe’s 8th birthday and things aren’t going so well. He is teased by his classmates because his mother can’t afford to buy him the same lavish birthday presents they are accustomed to, so he fakes sickness and sneaks into the nurses office to take a nap. He just needs to get away from everyone and have some time to himself. When he wakes up, it appears his birthday wish has come true; the entire school is empty. Miracle Fish is a beautifully shot mystery that delivers a story through the eyes of a child. Audiences experience Joe’s emotions with him, fully feeling his senses of wonderment, confusion and excitement.
The Door tells the story of a family evacuated from their home in the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster. Leaving their homes, belongings and even pets behind, they relocate with nothing to hold onto but each other. Not long after, they notice a sore on their daughter’s arm, and learn that she developed cancer as a result of the radiation emitted by the accident. Told largely though narration by the young girl’s father, The Door is a touching story of loss, despair and family. While emotionally effective, and well-assembled, the story really needed more time to develop and would have probably been better suited for a feature-length work. Although still good, The Door is unfortunately the programme’s most forgettable short.
Instead of Abracadabra
Tomas is 25 years old and loves to do magic and hopes to turn it into a successful career. There’s just one problem; he isn’t very good at it and as a result still lives at home with his parents. In an attempt to impress his parents, and his attractive neighbor, Tomas puts on a magic show during his father’s birthday party. Let’s just say things don’t go exactly as planned. Instead of Abracadabra plays a bit like a Swedish version of Napoleon Dynamite, only much, much funnier. Tomas’ character is quirky yet likable, and his experiences are indescribably funny.
My favorite of the five shorts is definitely The New Tenants, but my money is on either Miracle Fish or The Door; I haven’t yet decided which.
Hopefully this will help you in your own office or family Oscar pool.