Call it a rite of mid-winter: it’s time once again for my annual (and usually futile) effort to guess which short subjects will win gongs at the forthcoming Academy Awards ceremony. And you can play, too, as all the films – Animated and Live Action – will be screening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas beginning on Friday, Jan. 29.
The Animated category is almost always dominated by whichever short Disney/Pixar has produced during the preceding twelve months, and I suspect this will continue to be the case on Feb. 28. This year’s likely shoo-in is a warm-hearted ‘toon entitled Sanjay’s Super Team, in which a young lad repurposes his action figures as Hindu gods and goddesses doing battle with a multi-headed, multi-armed purple demon. Featuring rich, deep colors bathing in an almost psychedelic atmosphere, it’s a beautiful film book-ended by a nice personal note from director Sanjay Patel.
If any film might squeak past and steal Sanjay’s Oscar, it should be World of Tomorrow, the creation of Fremont-born Don Hertzfeldt, whose 2000 short Rejected was also an Oscar nominee. World of Tomorrow tells the story of Emily, a stick-figure toddler visited by an iteration of her cloned future self, who explains what the years ahead hold for Emily – and for humanity. Laced with dry, mordant wit this was, for me, the most satisfying of the five nominees.
Traditional cel animation is well represented by Russia’s We Can’t Live Without Cosmos, the tale of a pair of lifelong chums in training to become astronauts. Droll and sad in equal measure, the film has its moments but ultimately feels rather inconsequential.
Chile’s Bear Story is a gorgeous example of computer-generated animation, but too treacly for my taste. Britain’s Prologue, meanwhile, brings up the rear: a baffling and deeply unpleasant experimental chamber piece, it reminded me of René Laloux’s feature La planète sauvage (Fantastic Planet), a film that had me scratching my deeply confused 11-year old head (and no doubt had my poor, tolerant mother scratching hers) in 1974.
The live action category is blessed with four exemplary and one passable (but ultimately mediocre) nominee, and naturally it’s the latter I expect to win the prize. The only American film in the category, Day One is set during America’s war in Afghanistan, and though well-made and well-acted, is ultimately little more than a paean to liberal interventionism. As much propaganda piece as art, it’s probably a shoe-in for the Oscar.
I’d be much more inclined to vote for Shok, a gut-wrenching drama from Kosovo about two Albanian boys and their unfortunate interactions with a company of Serbian soldiers during the Yugoslavian civil wars. It’s grim and unrelenting stuff, right down to a final ‘sting in the tail’ which delivers an almost unfair sucker punch to viewers.
Germany’s Alles Wird Gut (Everything Will be Okay) takes a disturbing look at divorce and parenting, and will hit home for many viewers. It’s a dark-horse candidate that left me with decidedly mixed feelings, which is probably the point, and would be a worthy winner.
From the Palestinian Occupied Territories comes Ave Maria, a comedy-drama about a West Bank nunnery that has some unexpected visitors when an Israeli family crashes into – and decapitates – their statue of the Virgin Mary. Pointed but amusing, the film details the rules, regulations and prejudices that dominate the lives of both Israelis and Palestinians.
Finally, Britain’s Stutterer is very unlikely to win, but does signal the arrival of an assured and talented filmmaker in the form of Benjamin Cleary. Perhaps the most cinematically satisfying of the five nominated films, it’s the story of a handsome young man burdened with a speech impediment that makes social interaction challenging at best. It even has a happy ending!
Berkeleyside’s film writer John Seal writes a weekly movie recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as well as a column in The Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly. Read more from Big Screen Berkeley on Berkeleyside.
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