Are those animated shorts or are you just happy to see me?

They’re shorts, so I’ll try to be brief, but I love the shorts.

  • p11304775_i_v8_aaBear Story (Chile). This warm fuzzy (not!) has the most interesting technique of the bunch. Don’t know what it’s called, so I’ll dub it mechanized magic. It could win on sheer complexity — I imagine it took years to make — but the story was way too grim for me: Instead of running away to the circus, Papa Bear gets kidnapped, tortured for years/decades, only to escape and find Mama Bear and Baby Bear either murdered (ursacide!) or nabbed as well. So what else? He becomes the Quentin Tarantino of Bearywood and peddles his sad story on the street. Or something like that, it might just be he’s a psychotic, morose tinker-tailor bear. Could be a metaphor for fascist oppression. What happened to gleeful cartoons?! 
  • Prologue (United Kingdom). I sampled the shorts via the cinema-house bundle, and this one was saved ’til last because it contained “nudity and violence” and was “not suitable for children,” giving responsible parents time to shuttle out the kids.  Sorry, Charlie. It’s also not suitable for adults. I’m no prude; in fact, I was looking forward to an R- or even X-rated cartoon, but this was sick, sick, SICK, Mister. Gratuitously so. It involves gladiators who murder by sticking swords up each other’s genitals. Not even as good as it sounds. I hope the artist does not have access to sharp objects other than colored pencils. What’s scary is the “artist” says he wants to make it a feature film. Please, let’s start a Kickstarter and pay Richard Williams off if he’ll promise never to create anything again. Listen, below, to his insanity (and it figures he “conceived” the idea when he was 15 — I wonder what it was that “happened to him three years ago” — did he fall on his head or get kicked in the nuts?!):
  • SANJAY'S SUPER TEAMSanjay’s Super Team (USA). A Hindu youngster wants to watch his superhero cartoons on the boob tube on one side of the room, but his dad insists he comes pray on the other side in the armoire altar. Then the kid gets religion, realizing gods are actually superheroes, too. Super cute!
  • We_Can't_Live_Without_Cosmos_film_posterWe Can’t Live Without Cosmos (Russia). Dedicated to “our friends,” this one was extremely touching. Two cosmonauts, 1203 and 1204, dream their entire lives of space and play and train together — showing work should not be work but should be JOYFUL — but then one is lost and the other loses his mind. It even seems a bit rebellious, anti-government-ish, though approved by censors. Wouldn’t mind if it won, except the technique reminds me a little too much of Space Ghost, just two-dimensional, literally and figuratively.
  • World of Tomorrow (USA). Indescribably brilliant. I tend to judge shorts based on which ones I’d tell my adult children they MUST see. This is it. Emily Prime, on the right (I’m guessing she’s 3), is playing with the computer and ends up meeting her future third-generation clone, on the left. I can’t even tell you. Poignant, prognosticating and belly-tickling funny. MUST-SEE. MUST-WIN. (It is streaming on Netflix, if you have a free 16 minutes.)lead_960

 

Among the also-rans packaged in the feature as “highly commended”:

The Short Story of a Fox and a Mouse (France). Theme: finding friends in strange places/faces. This student-created dreamscape feels like an audition tape to join the coveted Disney/Pixar team, though the fur was friggin’ flawless and the enemy owls, a hoot.

Catch It (France). Another animal tale in the tradition of Road Runner. And again? The birds (a turkey vulture) are the villains!?!? C’mon! This classic-feeling cartoon will appeal more to kids than will any of the others. But … oh shoot, you can’t bring your kids because Sir Richard Williams ruined the fun for everyone, didn’t he? A bunch of meerkats pine for one fragrant fruit, then tangle with a vulture for possession.

If I Was God (Canada). For those who prefer stop-action, this autobiographical memory sketch will more than satisfy. Adored the section where the narrator is daydreaming and the images become pieces of cardboard, complete with corrugated seam. The frog-dissection scene is alone worth your ticket and time. A lady in my theater exploded in laughter and became her own spectacle. Story line ended up feeling too narcissistic for me, though. (Apparently animators are gods?)

loneliest-stoplightThe Loneliest Stoplight (USA). A tender treatise on the rush of technology. Evoked two huge laughs from the audience. Probably my second-favorite. Am I just about technological cautionary tales this year? You decide: For 99 cents, you can stream it on vimeo.

In short …

My money’s on:

Prologue, sad to say, because the forbidden fruit always gets picked, plus this guy knows everyone in Hollywood, he animation-directed Who Framed Roger Rabbit, won an Oscar for his adaptation of A Christmas Carol, this is his “life’s work,” and because it illustrates the Spartan/Athenian wars 2,400 years ago, apparently it’s educational. Aaaaack.

My heart’s with:

World of Tomorrow, for reasons stated above. Watch it, you’ll see.

Taking a long shot at Oscar’s short bets

The allure of Oscar shorts: They represent the workshops from which filmmakers master their art and craft. And who doesn’t like rooting for the little guy now and again? Most Oscar watchers don’t bother to see them, so it’s like a horse race, picking the name with the catchiest ring. I’ve seen them all, so I’m here to help shorten your bets.

Guessing which shorts will grab hold of an Oscar, though, is an inexact science. Last year, I correctly predicted only the animated short category. So I’m operating under the assumption that the ones I favor won’t win. You probably should, too.

DOCUMENTARY SHORTS

My Prediction: “Open Heart”

open-heart_592x299Open Heart tells the touching tale of eight chronically cheerful Rwandan children dying of rheumatic heart disease, which roughly 13 million of their peers have developed because of untreated strep throat (the disease has been eradicated in the U.S. because of easy access to penicillin). They are treated at a free clinic in Sudan, led by a brilliant, chain-smoking, greasy-haired, elderly surgeon. He spends time pleading with the Sudanese government for a reneged $5 million in funding, so Oscar voters should rise (fund-raise) to the occasion.

ITS EDGE: Academy members seem pressured to pick the documentary that makes the most difference or advances the greatest cause. Typically doesn’t matter whether it’s the best produced film or evokes the greatest emotional response from an audience. Seeing that Saving Face won last year — that film shed light on the brutal acid attacks on Pakistani women and a doctor who returns to his homeland to perform pro-bono cosmetic surgery — I’m betting Open Heart will play on those same voters’ heartstrings.

My Pick: “Mondays at Racine”

mondaysatracine-300x225So many beautiful things about this film, but the beauty of its title is you have no idea what it’s about if you go into the shorts experience cold, as I prefer to do: A salon run by two sisters on Long Island — sisters who were forced to witness their mother hiding from the world while undergoing her own cancer treatments — extends free beauty and pampering once a month to female chemo patients. One could argue this is this year’s feminist piece and will follow in the footsteps of Saving Face. Though the topic is cancer, it is more than a warm pink fuzzy as these courageous women bare far more than their bald heads and flat chests. Every member of our audience, male and female, needed time to compose themselves after its disquieting conclusion.

Also-rans:

  • “Redemption” — You’d expect a religious treatise, but “Redemption” follows down-on-their-luck New Yorkers who “can” — redeeming bottles and cans after scrapheap-snorkeling 24/7. People of all ethnicities and walks of life do it, sometimes dragging along kids for lack of day care. The territorial disputes are amusing, interviews at times are LOL funny, but ultimately the “there but for the grace of God go I” revelation is chilling. Academy voters might have a soft spot for these colorful souls, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it pulled out a win. This is everything a documentary short should be.
  • “Inocente” — Probably the best-produced of the documentary shorts about a 15-year-old homeless Latina artist who finds a path out of her dead-end life. Handicap: I see marketing written all over it and the focus is a bit too narrow to earn my vote.
  • Kings Point” — Far more depressing than Amour, this bittersweet look at end-of-life issues is set in one of those sunny, Southern retirement communities filled with eternal darkness. Kill me now.

POST-OSCAR UPDATE: “Inocente” wins; shoulda known.

ANIMATED SHORTS

papermanMy Prediction: Paperman

On the strength of Disney’s promotion — nearly everyone I know has either viewed or shared this cartoon online — this story of love-at-first-sight and paper-airplane darts seems destined to win. I do like the black-and-white undertones of paper saving the day in a digital world.

head-overheelsMy Pick: Head Over Heels

While Paperman witnesses to romance, Head Over Heels — the only non-American contender in this category — is the real deal. In this stop-action gem, an elderly couple share a topsy-turvy house, where one’s ceiling is the other’s floor. Eventually, they find some kindling and reclaim some common ground. This is to Amour as Silver Linings Playbook is to Paperman.

POST-OSCAR UPDATE: “Paperman” clinched it.

Also-rans:

  • Adam and Dog — The clear winner for all dog owners, about the first domesticated canine. Be prepared to whimper and wag. Loved the watercolors and the artists’ loyalty to the dog’s point of view.
  • Maggie Simpson in “The Longest Daycare” — The only short to receive applause in our theater. Familiar but refreshingly unpredictable. Still, it felt like a warm-up short for the rest of the shorts.
  • Fresh Guacamole — Fresh and zesty. This one could win — goes by in a blink and a wink and has absolutely no fat. A friend says it was the best two minutes she spent at the movies.

Bonus: Because the animated shorts are so short, producers threw a few highly commended entries onto the reel. I’ve already written about my favorite, Dripped, from France, here. Abiogenesis from New Zealand was a doodler’s dream, and The Gruffalo’s Child from U.K. and Germany seemed a desperate follow to The Gruffalo (2009), both of which seem too long to be shorts. I’d rather read the books and imagine my own visuals than hear it read by squirrels.

LIVE-ACTION SHORTS

ht_buzkashi_boys_mi_130212_wgPrediction: Buzkashi Boys

Guilt over the war alone could edge out a win for this boilerplate buddy flick (wanna-be Western) from Afghanistan. According to The Huffington Post, the young Afghan stars will attend the Oscars ceremony. Hard to send them home without a gift bag.

shorts-curfew31rv1My Pick: Curfew

Pure made-in-the-USA genius. A suicidal uncle’s day out with his nonpareil niece proves doubly life-affirming.

POST-OSCAR UPDATE: “Curfew” took home the Oscar!

Also-rans:

  • Death of a Shadow (Dood van een Schaduw) — From Belgium, a film school-ish portrait of hell.
  • Henry — Oh, Canada, Alzheimer’s is so last decade.
  • Asad — South African/U.S. filmmakers track a young boy at the crossroads of becoming either a Somali pirate or legendary fisherman. An animal from the sea helps seal his fate. Also could win, as it shows the flip side of piracy.

Weighing the merits of Oscar-movie bingeing

People think I’m crazy trying to see all of the Oscar-nominated movies in every category. My husband says: “Don’t go see something just because you haven’t seen it.”

I guess he means I should use more discretion based on buzz.

Therein lies the rub. The fact something is nominated is enough buzz for me. Exercising no discretion is the point. Technically, I lean anti-buzz by seeing everything. My method rejects those marketing/media campaigns that seal the winner before the envelope gets unsealed.

Sure, someone had to do some marketing just to get on the nominees’ list. But most of them have no chance in Jupiter of winning. Predicting the winner isn’t what this is about. It’s not who will win but who should win that interests me. The two are rarely aligned.

I’m not a moviegoing addict. (Is that denial speaking?) If I were, I would see all the crap out there and go to the movies every week. I don’t. I see maybe four first-run movies a year. When the nominations come out in January, however, I go looking to be inspired. I want to sample la crème de la crème, but I don’t have time to just throw darts, nor do I want some Google or Amazon search engine analyzing my “tastes” and saying: “If you liked that, you’ll like this.”

Nope, it’s diversity I seek. Pure who-woulda-thunk-it-gee-whiz discovery. I use the list of nominees as a starting point, but typically my muse is holed up far down the list.

I’m also interested in discovering what themes have bubbled up, like water. What the latest commentary on society — humanity — might be, as reflected by these artists.

Filmmaking is an art, so what better place to sample rich nibbles than from those who stretch the envelope with experimental shorts?

dripped-1-510x286One particular animated short, which didn’t even get nominated but is on the “highly commended” list, sums it up for me this year. It comes from France and translates as “Dripped.” Luckily, the folks who put out the Academy members’ voting reel didn’t have enough nominees to fill it up — attention spans are shrinking, so the animated nominees are shorter than ever — and they included some also-rans.

“Dripped” is about an art thief who fills his walls with master works, and then eats them.

chez-eddy-dripped-surface-and-surfaceHe gets a momentary high by transforming into the theme of the work, whether a cherubic angel or a cubist monstrosity. He ingests all of the art in his possession then glumly stares at empty walls. Having depleted his sources, he gets resourceful and tries his hand at creating his own art. When he eats his own work, though, it sickens him. He retches in disgust. His creations just aren’t good enough. And doesn’t every artist feel this way in the beginning?

Eventually, he drips some paint where he hadn’t intended … and the dam of inspiration bursts open. He creates a style, eats it and is transformed into beautiful drips of paint that somersault joyfully along city streets.

Cut to the art gallery, where his own works of dripped paint now line the walls. He’s arrived.

d1And so it goes for artists. Everything stinks for a while, but at least you try, while sampling other great works dripping with inspiration. Maybe you aren’t exactly stealing ideas, but something rubs off and allows your own style or idea to break through.

That’s what I’m doing here: bingeing on art. Insatiably. The message for us all here is “I coulda been a contender.”

There’s no shame in being an also-ran, Drippers, because it means at least you ran.

Where I stand as of today:

  • Amour
  • Argo
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Django Unchained
  • Les Misérables
  • Life of Pi
  • Lincoln
  • Silver Linings Playbook
  • Zero Dark Thirty
  • The Master
  • Flight
  • The Impossible
  • The Sessions
  • Brave
  • Frankenweenie
  • ParaNorman
  • The Pirates! Band of Misfits — may catch it On Demand. not necessary, as I’ve already seen animated feature winner, shhh.
  • Wreck-It Ralph — will catch it at second-run theater for $2
  • Anna Karenina — I’ve passed up many chances to see this … somehow can’t get up for it, but it’s now On Demand, so no excuses
  • Skyfall
  • Mirror Mirror — On Demand. If time.
  • 5 Broken Cameras — found it on free Internet download.
  • The Gatekeepers — Opens in D.C. Friday, plan to see it
  • How to Survive a Plague — CAN’T FIND IT. won’t see it.
  • The Invisible War
  • Searching for Sugar Man — will catch it On Demand.
  • Hitchcock — at last! On Demand.
  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey — will see it at Smithsonian IMAX this weekend.
  • Chasing Ice — will download song it’s nominated for, at least.
  • Ted — My ultimate anti-buzz demonstration: I refuse to see this, despite the fact creator Seth MacFarlane is hosting the Academy Awards show and I do like teddy bears. I will download the song, tho.
  • Kon-Tiki (Norway)
  • No (Chile) — doesn’t open locally until March 1, but found it on free Internet download.
  • A Royal Affair (Denmark) — one local theater is still showing it. Hoping it lasts through the weekend. Otherwise, don’t care, because it looks a lot like “Anna Karenina,” plus “Amour” will win this category.
  • War Witch (Canada) — CAN’T FIND IT. probably won’t see it.
  • Marvel’s The Avengers
  • Prometheus — available On Demand.
  • Snow White and the Huntsman
  • Moonrise Kingdom — available On Demand, and this WILL be the next one I rent. Writing categories are a must for me.

SHORTS — It’s a wrap! (My picks, in an upcoming post.)

  • Inocente
  • Kings Point
  • Mondays at Racine
  • Open Heart
  • Redemption
  • Adam and Dog
  • Fresh Guacamole
  • Head Over Heels
  • Maggie Simpson in “The Longest Daycare”
  • Paperman
  • Asad
  • Buzkashi Boys
  • Curfew
  • Death of a Shadow (Dood van een Schaduw)
  • Henry