Friday, February 6, 2015

Academy Awards nominated shorts - reviews

Here are my capsule reviews of this year’s edition of the Academy Awards Nominated Short Films, the ever popular screenings put on annually by the Detroit Film Theatre at the Detroit Institute of Arts. For more go to Screenings continue through the month.

The first five shorts are animations.

Me and My Moulton. This is Canada’s entry for this year’s Oscars but it’s actually a Canadian-Norwegian co-production by Torill Kove. This childhood memory of growing up in the 1960s is a funny take on the narrator’s eccentric parents, the kind who love modern art and designer furniture when all families around them are white bread conventional, as the narrator yearns to be. This is a typical National Film Board animation - sorry - with stick figure creations. Worth a few chuckles though the audience seemed to enjoy it.

Feast (US - Patrick Osborne and Kristina Reed). This was the best animation by far. Not only in terms of its technical superiority and imaginative story but its whimsical joy and humour. It’s a take on how dogs will do almost anything for a scrap of food, especially the toss offs from humans. 

The Bigger Picture (UK - Daisy Jacobs and Christopher Hees). The best thing about this short is the merger of fine art and conventional animation. But it’s a dark, depressing story about Me-generation selfishness and the unregretted disposal of the aged. Not sure why the filmmakers made it but it struck me as almost contemptible.

A Single Life (Netherlands - Marieke Blaauw, Joris Oprins, Job Roggeveen). A whimsical take on the periods of a person’s life all to the tune of a vinyl record. Whatever.

The Dam Keeper (US - Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi). This, the longest animated short at 18 minutes, has a lot to it. Beautifully drawn characters and landscapes with a type of George Orwell Animal Farm theme, only about bullying. Bullying is an all too common topic these says. Nevertheless this film deserves a break because of its beauty and sentimentality.

Now for the five live action shorts:

Parvaneh (Switzerland - Talkhon Hamzavi & Stefan Eichenberger). This movie is about the Moslem African migration experience, a theme pretty overworked these days by European film makers. Still, it’s a sweet tale about a young woman and her spur of the moment friendship with an anti-establishment punk. Good performances by both actors.

Butter Lamp (France/China - Hu Wei and Julien Féret) is the most bizarre film of the lot. A photography crew poses various groups of traditional (Tibetan) Chinese families in front of huge static backdrops of famous Chinese scenes, as if they’re actually in those locations. Whatever.

The Phone Call (UK - Mat Kirby & James Lucas). Now we’re getting into something good. Acclaimed actress Sally Hawkins at first seems a klutzy emergency hotline worker. Until, that is, she gets on the phone (on a call from a character played by also acclaimed actor Jim Broadbent) and deals with an emotionally taut situation.

Aya (Israel/France - Oded Binnun & Mihal Brezis - picture above). This is the best picture of the five. A woman at an airport waits for a friend. But she meets someone entirely different and goes off on a long drive with this stranger and possible romantic interest. The film is a mystery on several levels, and speaks to modern ennui.

Boogaloo and Graham (UK - Michael Lennox & Ronan Blaney). A heartwarming story about a couple of kids during The Troubles in Northern Ireland in the 1970s. Two brothers become so attached to their pets, baby chicks, that they’re ready to defy their parents and run away from home to protect them. The domestic humor is an antidote to the violence we know is all around.

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