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Over the past two weeks we’ve been revealing our choices for most of the Oscar categories. Here is a handy recap of those picks! Refer to this page often during tonight’s telecast to see if you should be agreeing with the winners! (Hint: use the “John” column)

Adam Brian Jared John
Picture Hugo The Artist Midnight in Paris
Director Allen Scorsese Havanavicius Malick
Actress Mara Mara Williams Streep
Actor Dujardin Dujardin Dujardin Oldman
Supporting Actress Bejo Bejo Spencer Chastain
Supporting Actor Hill Nolte Branagh Plummer
Original Screenplay Midnight in Paris Margin Call The Artist Midnight in Paris
Adapted Screenplay Hugo The Descendants Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Art Direction Midnight in Paris Hugo Hugo Hugo
Cinematography The Tree of Life Hugo The Tree of Life The Tree of Life
Costume Anonymous Jane Eyre
Film Editing Hugo Moneyball The Descendants
Makeup Harry Potter The Iron Lady Harry Potter The Iron Lady
Score The Artist The Adventures of Tintin
Song The Muppets The Muppets The Muppets
Sound Editing Transformers The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Transformers Drive
Sound Mixing Transformers The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Transformers Transformers
Visual Effects Transformers Rise of the Planet of the Apes Harry Potter Transformers
Animated Short A Morning Stroll A Morning Stroll A Morning Stroll Wild Life
Live Action Short Time Freak Time Freak
Documentary Short Saving Face The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom

The 84th Academy Awards is almost here! Leading up to the event, we’re going to put all the hours we spent watching these films to good use by giving our thoughts on all the categories, big and small. We may not be experts on everything, but I daresay that’s never stopped anyone from blogging before. On the (very remote chance) you disagree with us or the (much more likely chance) you want to applaud our picks, please chime in below.

Short Film (Live Action)

The nominees are:

  • Pentecost
  • Raju
  • The Shore
  • Time Freak
  • Tuba Atlantic

JARED

I quite enjoyed the live action shorts this year.  Perhaps correlated, the shorts are the one place where Oscar seems to be OK with comedy on a regular basis.  Wasn’t really thrilled with any of their endings – most seemed to just fizzle out, but overall they were pretty entertaining.

Raju feels like the filmmakers started production, filming scenes sequentially, only to realize they’d run out of money halfway through filming.  The film eventually finds its way to a point three-quarters of the way in, in the manner of a Meaningful ethical dilemma, only to “resolve” a half-beat later just as soon as the characters finally start to get interesting.

It is a well-known fact that Scandinavians are weird, and Tuba Atlantic just provides more evidence.  It has a handful of very funny moments: anything with the seagulls (in particular the washing machine, but really all of them), when the girl shows up, the way they say “tuba”.  The meat of the short didn’t really connect with me, though.

I’m in the tank for Ciaran Hinds, so I was happy to see him show up in The Shore.  I think there was definitely an interesting short in there, but the setup wasn’t quite worth the payoff.  Which, to be fair, is sorta the point.  Fun fact: the director of photography also lensed Albert Nobbs and Winter’s Bone.

Pentecost is about 50% perfection.  The opening was OK, nothing special.  But the central conceit was simply fantastic.  It was a brilliant idea executed nearly flawlessly.  But the ending, ugh.  Other people in the audience seemed to love it, which just made me dislike it that much more.  To me, it just sorta comes out of nowhere and feels out of place.  Still, I’d recommend the short to pretty much everyone.

Time Freak was hilarious.  When Adam and I were discussing the shorts, I think we spent a solid minute just laughing at various jokes and bits from the short.  It does have a certain student film feel to it, but I think that may only enhance the experience.  It does everything so well you almost have to wonder if the filmmakers were like the main character, going back in time over and over just to things exactly right.

ADAM

Time Freak

We’ve been releasing our takes on the big eight categories throughout the week with a few more to come. Before the big show tonight, I wanted to take one last look at some of the smaller categories that we didn’t bother to do the full treatment on, mostly because we have successful careers and vibrant social lives. Mmmhmm

Art Direction

Nominees: Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part 1, Inception, The King’s Speech, True Grit


How many of these movies have rotating hallways and a flooded Japanese pagoda-style mansion? Oh, just Inception? Then I pick that.

Makeup

I’ve only seen The Way Back, but what a makeup job it is. This is a film about escaped prisoners traveling across Siberia and the Gobi desert. That is a hard trek and the makeup really sells it: sunburn, bug bites, extreme thirst, swollen limbs. The makeup is integral, noticeable, and realistic. Also, Colin Firth has some badass tattoos.

Documentary Feature

Restrepo and Exit Through the Gift Shop are both terrific and number among my favorite films of the year. I do like Restrepo slightly more, though I’m rooting for Exit because it’s so different from the usual Oscar documentary and because I love the idea of Banksy as an Oscar winner.

There’s been some talk of Waste Land coming up on the outside and sneaking in for the win. That would be unfortunate. It follows an artist as he recruits trash pickers in Rio de Janeiro’s largest dump to help him create large-scale works of art out of garbage. It’s a decent film, but it piqued my interest in ways I don’t think it intended. The first half deals a lot with the pickers’ daily lives. Where the film sees degradation I see fascinating economic forces at work – mainly positive ones. The film also has an intense Savior Through Art theme, which is probably the common movie theme that I hate the most. It drives my left-sided economist brain crazy. Savior Through Economic Growth, Technological Advancement, Improving Institutions, and Access to Credit, anyone?

I haven’t seen the other two nominated documentaries.

Animated Feature

Toy Story 3 is still my pick, but I have seen The Illusionist since my look at this category a month or so back. (You can go there to see my thoughts on Toy Story and the third nominee, How to Train Your Dragon.)

The Illusionist is amazingly gorgeous. The hand-drawn, watercolor style is breathtaking and creates a wonderfully colorful and vivid version of Scotland. It also has one of my favorite shots of the year, one that starts on a grassy hilltop and swoops through the streets of Edinburgh. I literally gasped, which I believe no 3D animated film has made me do. Director Sylvain Chomet also composed his own music, and it’s very good.

I wish Chomet would break away from the wordless style that he uses here and in Triplets of Belleville. Both films feel slight on plot without dialogue to advance them, which makes them drag. The whimsy and the animation go a long way, but a little more needs to happen to really push me over the top.

Live Action Short

Shorts International and Magnolia have been releasing the Oscar nominated shorts theatrically for the past few years. I would encourage those who can to see out this year’s Live Action program (I believe you can also find them on iTunes).

My choice is Wish 143, about a teen with terminal cancer who gets to participate in a Make A Wish-type program. His wish? To lose his virginity. This film killed me. It does a great job of portraying one’s reaction to illness. The teen, played by Samuel Holland, is so richly realized. For most of it I wondered if it would be appropriate to put a short on my Top 10 list. Unfortunately the ending stumbles a bit.

Na Wewe is my second choice and will be your winner tonight. A van is stopped by rebels in Burundi during the Rwanda/Burundi genocide in the 90s. The rebels separate the passengers into Hutus and Tutsis, planning to execute the latter. The passengers try to convince the rebels to spare them. It has basic emotional elements (suspense/ tragedy/ injustice), an important issue (genocide), and a well-developed and feel good – albeit somewhat obvious – theme (self-definition and how we’re all connected). A natural winner.

The other nominees are God of Love, a cute film about a modern-day hipster Cupid who uses darts instead of arrows; The Crush, a trite story of a young boy who has a crush on his teacher and will fight for his love; and The Confession, a good-looking but sort of pointlessly bleak tale of two boys who can’t figure out what to confess for their first Confession so they set out to cause some trouble.

Animated Short

I try to catch these every year because it usually features some really creative animation. I was underwhelmed with this slate. Check out the live action shorts if you can only see one.

Madagascar, carnet de voyage (Madagascar, a Journey Diary) is the only one that wowed me. And even then, it’s much more style than substance. It’s about a trip into the Malagasy countryside, visualized as a scrapbook come to life. The story is sort of bland, but the animation pops with some cool use of perspective. The Malagasy music used as accompaniment is also a treat.

Let’s Pollute is an amusing take on a 1950s public service film, sarcastically promoting the benefits of pollution. The Lost Thing follows a boy who finds some sort of alien-robot on the beach and tries to find a home for it. Honestly, I just didn’t get it. Day & Night is the cute Pixar short preceding Toy Story 3 about two characters representing the two times of day. I hear it’s great in 3D, but I’ve only seen it in two dimensions, where it’s rather flat, pardon the pun.

The Gruffalo is by far the longest and features the voices of several famous actors like Helena Bonham Carter. The animation is nothing special and the plot is aimed at the toddler level. At 30 minutes, this adult was very restless by the end as I knew where it was heading about 5 minutes in. And yet, except for one brief mention of Madagascar, it was literally the only film people were talking about walking out of the theater. It makes me wonder if it has a shot for the win.

For the first time ever, I watched the Oscar nominated shorts because I felt that I hadn’t found enough categories to grouch about, so I might as well add two more. Overall I was much more intrigued and entertained by the animated shorts, but discussion of those will come later. First, the live action shorts that were uneven, not especially moving or involving, with a the comedic entries outshining the serious ones. I’ll kick things off with my reactions then Jared will follow up for all five. Listed in the order as shown at E St. Cinema:

Jared: I’d break the live action shorts into two distinct categories.  Three of them deal with easily identifiable human tragedies.  The other two are bizarre comedies where violence plays at least a tangential role.  Guess we know what the Academy was looking for.

Kavi

Brian:
I recall that when Slumdog Millionaire came out, was praised, and then ran into the predictable backlash, the term “poverty porn” was thrown around. Merited or not, I was reminded of the term again when watching Kavi, the story of an enslaved laborer at an Indian brick-making shop. With his father indebted to an EVIL, EVIL MAN, Kavi must sublimate his curiosities and desire for school and cricket and instead toil non-stop turning over clay bricks. I was interested in seeing how each film used the “short” form, but was generally bored with what Kavi offered. The story was slight and predictable and the characters were broadly drawn. Considering the subject, I am surprised that I wasn’t more affected by the content. Still, considering that Gregg Helvey made this film for his MFA thesis at USC film school, it’s a rather impressive showing.

Jared: Chock full of familiar characters, Kavi feels like the third draft of a very good short.  The characters have shading just past cartoonish, but not quite to the point of being interesting.  Most of the main scenes work, but the auxiliary ones (e.g. Kavi’s garden) feel incomplete.  And while the topic of modern slavery is certainly important, the short itself doesn’t seem to have any particular point.  Obviously slavery being bad is a point, but if that’s the entire point of the film, it seems a documentary is more in order.  Because as is, the short feels a little trite.

The New Tenants

Brian: This ranks as one of my favorites of the bunch — and if all the Grouches saw the shorts, I’d wager that consensus would form around The New Tenants, an absurdly dark comedy featuring Kevin Corrigan and Vincent D’Onofrio. The gist of the film is that a gay couple (played by Jamie Harrold and David Rakoff) have recently moved into an apartment that was the site of a gruesome murder — and they are visited by a variety of characters — all of whom have unfinished business with the previous tenant. I liked the funny script and the acting was generally strong. Perhaps it was a little too weird for my liking — and dark comedies aren’t my favorite comedies — but I thought that — more than the other shorts — it was the right length for the story that was told.

Jared: My favorite live action short, anyone who has seen a trailer for a Danish movie recently will have no trouble placing this one’s origins in Denmark.  I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to describe this film’s level of weirdness, but actually it is quite obvious: the film kinda makes Vincent D’Onofrio seems normal.  The short certainly has its flaws, of course.  It relies a little too much on long monologues and immediate reactions to them (though the first one is priceless).  Some of the dialogue felt a little off, and the film may not be as weird as it thinks it is.  But the insanity is generally well-paced and consistently off-the-wall engrossing.   Overall, this dark, funny, bizarre short is a gem.

Miracle Fish
Brian: Easily my least favorite in the bunch, this story of a lonely, bullied kid who wakes up from a nap to find his school eerily deserted is ambitious, but in the end pointless. It may have been well-produced as a film, but the payoff/twist is unearned. Its hard for me to talk too much more without spoiling the short film, but even the title was a red herring that didn’t fit well with the thematically confusing story.

Jared: This short felt like it had shocking twists for the sake of shocking twists. The turns didn’t fit into the story and they didn’t serve any larger purpose. Like with Kavi, just because a film references some great tragedy doesn’t make the movie tragic.  The big twist felt a little cheap, to be honest. It is a shame, because certain parts of the short felt fairly strong, for example, I thought it did a good job establishing the main character’s isolation. But the story just tripped all over itself.

The Door
Brian: I’m a sucker for historical fiction in movies — so this depressing story of a family evacuating Chernobyl, and a father’s return to the condemned house to pick up one last item — was another of my favorites. In just a few minutes, I felt as though I learned more about this family unit than I did about the one in Kavi. And yet, even though it focused on this one family, I also managed to get a sense of the enormity of the Chernobyl disaster. This was the short I think did the best job of handling the limitations and advantages of the form.

Jared: To me, this one didn’t feel like a cohesive unit at all.  It felt like they plucked out a few scenes of a movie and tinkered with the order some.  It was depressing, sure, but I felt that the short was a little restrained.  I mean, goodness, there shouldn’t be anything much more depressing than parents burying their daughter as a result of fallout from Chernobyl.  That’s got Russian nihilism written all over it.  Instead, I was relatively unmoved.  Maybe mostly because the film never really got around to its punchline.

Instead of Abracadabra


Brian: Napoleon Dynamite-lite. Funny at the time, but the more I stew over it the less I remember and or care about it. By far the best part of the short was the parents of the 25-year-old amateur magician. Living at home with his sights on the nurse next door, the magician has his funny parts, but its his mom and dad, especially the former, who steal the show. Her maternal and easy-going nature is undeterred by a trick gone wrong and serves as a humorous balance to the stock-character father, embarrassed by his son but loving nonetheless. With a predictable script, I give credit to the actors behind the roles, but even their efforts couldn’t push this short to excellence.

Jared: I see the comparison to Napoleon Dynamite, but I’d generally disagree, and not just because that film is a blight on humanity matched by very few.  Here’s the thing about this short.  There’s one really funny moment, just a classic.  There’s maybe three or four pretty humorous bits.  And the rest ranges from filler to vaguely annoying.  Is that enough?  I dunno, maybe for a nomination.  I’d be seriously concerned about expanding it to a full-length feature. I think it may be comedies like this, with little real lasting value, that somehow make the Academy unable to nomination any comedies at all.  Also, I’ve spent about fifteen minutes trying to find something listing the song from the end credits, but have had no luck, so if anyone happens to know it, I’d appreciate the info.

BRIAN:

Should win the Oscar: The New Tenants
Will win the OscarKavi

JARED:

Should win the Oscar: The New Tenants

Will win the Oscar: Miracle Fish

May 2017
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