Once again ShortsHD has rounded up all the Oscar nominees for Best Animated Short, Live Action Short and Documentary Short to take them on the road in separate theatrical programs. It's a great way not only to figure out who might win in these Oscar pool tie-breakers, but it's a wonderful showcase for the kinds of films that don't get theatrical exposure outside of Oscar season. It's not only a worthwhile endeavor for Shorts HD and Magnolia Pictures to bring them to wider audiences, but some of the films are more engaging than their counterparts in the marquee feature races. Here's a rundown.
BEST ANIMATED SHORT
The category this year is filled with a lot of the usual suspects. There's an entry from Pixar and two from the often nominated National Film Board of Canada. The best of the latter's pair of nominees is Patrick Doyon's Dimanche/Sunday, a charming, rather crudely animated look at the routine of Sunday life in a small town as the kids, Dad, Grandma and others all go through their amusing motions on that special day of the week. The National Board's other contender is the 14-minute Wild Life from directors Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby. Set in Calgary, 1909, the film revolves around the arrival of a proper Englishman who moves to the wild Canadian frontier only to find it may not be his cup of tea; the filmmakers juxtapose his adventures to the crashing descent of a comet. It's all a little weird but oddly intriguing. Much better, and certainly slicker, is the heartfelt and very personal Pixar entry Luna, by Italian director Enrico Casarosa. A fable about a young boy going to work with papa and grandpa for the first time, the men row their boat out to sea and come upon the brightly lit moon as their duties are just beginning. At just under 7 minutes, this gorgeous CG dream is the shortest entry of the bunch and it's given heft by Casarosa's own family history. From the UK comes another quick short, A Morning Stroll, a truly weird tale spanning the past, present and future and involving a New Yorker and his wacky encounter with a chicken on a morning walk. It gets a lot crazier, and bloodier, from there but the animation is first rate. The longest nominee at 17-minutes is an old-fashioned stew of cinematic inspirations from Buster Keaton to The Wizard of Oz: The Fantastic Flying Books Of Mr. Morris Lessmore is set in a library and takes a cue from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina to explore the magical healing power of books.
BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT
Ireland's 11-minute Pentecost is the fairly forgettable tale of an altar boy whose love for football collides with his duties at mass. Writer /Director Peter McDonald's film debut is quirkily likeable as it goes, but that just isn't very far at all. Another nominee from Germany and India is the 24-minute Raju from director Max Zahle . It revolves around the angst of a German couple who arrive in India, adopt a young boy and then promptly lose him in the teeming foreign city. As it unfolds we learn they may not be ideal parents but there is much more to this adoption than meets the eye. Ultimately the resolution is a little strange and not all that satisfying. Another Irish entry, the half hour long The Shore sports the best-known director of the quintet, Terry George (Hotel Rwanda, Hart's War, Reservation Road). Here, he writes and directs a nicely told tale of two boyhood friends, Joe (Ciaran Hinds) and Paddy (Conleth Hill), who found their lives split over the course of 25-years of national conflict. Joe returns home and finds his daughter bringing him together with Paddy for a reunion. Director George brings a lot of professional polish to his film and is helped enormously by a first rate cast, particularly Hinds. Perhaps the most entertaining short in the mix is Andrew Bowler's hilarious Time Freak, about a nutty inventor whose time machine works but only takes him to yesterday. As he describes these frequent trips to the past 24 hours, his personality comes to the fore. It's a clever concept that works perfectly in just 11 minutes, but it gets a run for its money with Norway's wacko 25-minute Tuba Atlantic, an oddly deadpan comedy about the last days of a feisty old curmudgeon who wants to put things right with his brother in New Jersey, but finds seagulls are the bane of his existence. When a young girl, a public "death angel," comes to see him during his final week he's determined to go out his own way. Unpredictably and devilishly comic, Tuba Atlantic is blessed by the wonderful performance of Edvard Haegstad.
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT
An extraordinary group of doc shorts are led by two entries from HBO Documentary Films. Rebecca Cammisa's 36-minute God Is The Bigger Elvis is the lilting and wondrous story of Hollywood star Dolores Hart, the mid-century actress who left the limelight to become a nun and now is a Mother Prioress advising young nuns in Connecticut. The title refers to one of her co-stars in two early Presley films, King Creole and Loving You. The doc is not only a love story between this remarkable woman and God, but also a very touching one with Don Robinson, her fiancée in 1963 who remains close to her even today. This one will knock you out. Also from HBO is another amazing work, the 40-minute Saving Face from director Daniel Junge, a devastating story about Pakistani women who are the victims of acid attacks, usually by their husbands. A doctor from London arrives to help them, through intricate surgeries, regain their faces after these attacks. The film also examines the political and legal process these women forge and which are also changing Pakistani laws in their favor. Another 40-minute gem comes from filmmaker Lucy Walker (Wasteland) who took her camera to the devastated village in Japan that was virtually wiped out by the earthquake and subsequent Tsunami. The first half of her film, The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom, details the unspeakable tragedy through the eyewitness accounts of the survivors, while the second half displays their renewed hope through the annual blossoming of the beloved Cherry Blossom trees, a symbol that not all beauty and life can be destroyed and that nature works in mysterious ways. There is no narration, just interviews and footage and it is all powerful and moving. The 22-minute Incident in New Baghdad from director James Spione effectively chronicles the aftermath of a deadly incident in the Iraq War involving U.S. Soldiers and local children. Through recently uncovered footage (released by wikileaks) and interviews with Iraq vets who were there, and suffered post-traumatic Stress disorder as a result, the film dryly illustrates the realities of war and the toll it takes on everyone. Finally the 18-minute The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement from director Robin Fryday, looks at the civil rights movement and the election of Barack Obama through the prism of those, particularly an 85-year-old barber named James Armstrong, who gave up so much to earn equality in a divided south. It serves as a tribute not just to him but also to all the "foot soldiers" and inadvertently becomes a nice real life companion piece to Best Picture nominee The Help.
Distributor: ShortsHD/ Magnolia Pictures
Running Time: N/A
Release Date: February 10 ltd.