Serious Film's Michael C. back for Part 2 of our trip through the short film categories. This time it's the Live Action nominees. Your cheating yourself out of some Oscar night drama if you don't check out these contenders. This year there is an even a small scale Shakespeare vs. Private Ryan, comedy/drama showdown happening. While the majority of the country is making popcorn I'm going to be on the edge of my seat.
The nominees are...
THE CONFESSION – UK, 26 minutes, Dir: Tanel Toom
This is a quietly somber short about a 9-year-old boy who is nervous to make his first confession. What if, he worries, he doesn’t have anything to be sorry about? So he is and his friend decide to pull an innocent prank that will serve the purpose, but things quickly spiral out of control.
For It: Toom shows an impressive control of tone and manages to get decent work out of his child actors who need to carry some weighty material, especially in a nicely played final scene. Voters who equate heaviness of the subject matter with quality could respond to this heaping serving of tragedy. The way circumstance piles up tragedy on top of tragedy recalls an Inarritu movie like Biutiful or 21 Grams.
Against It: It lays on the Catholic guilt awfully thick at times. The story heaps one too many devastating twists of fate onto the protagonist to remain believable, and at this short length one can really feel it when things start to get contrived. It’s hard to imagine voters going for The Confession when there are other serious shorts that are not so unrelentingly bleak.
WISH 143 – UK, 24 Minutes, Dir: Ian Barnes
When a 15-year-old boy with terminal cancer gets a visit from the English equivalent of Make-a-Wish he informs them he doesn’t want to meet an athlete or go to Disneyland. What he would really like is to get laid, please.
For It: Though it deals with children with cancer the filmmakers bring a refreshingly light touch to the material. The relationship between the kid and a priest sympathetic to his situation is also well handled and acted, especially by veteran character actor Jim Carter, an actor most recently seen in Nathaniel obsession Downton Abbey. Unlike The Confession the story here never feels forced. Its mixture of substance and honest sentiment could prove winning.
Against It: Though it never steps wrong into the maudlin or cloying, it never exactly wows either. The story has its heart in the right place but it is also pretty predictable. Wish’s admirable restraint might actually hurt its chances since it never goes for the big emotional catharsis. It is difficult to imagine it overcoming such strong competition.
NA WEWE – Belgium, 19 Minutes, Dir: Ivan Goldschmidt
When the ethnic civil war in Rwanda spills over into Burundi it leads to a nerve-jangling confrontation as van full of civilians is stopped by a group of violent rebels who interrogate and terrorize them.
For It: Na Wewe is first and foremost a beautifully crafted piece of filmmaking. Often the shorts have some amateurish touches that make them feel like the cinematic minor leagues, but Goldschmidt’s work here could stand proudly alongside similar work from, say, Paul Greengrass. It’s also a story perfectly suited to the short film length. Some shorts suffer from trying to cram feature-length arcs into half an hour but Na Wewe (You Too) gives the perfect slice to let the one scene stand as a microcosm for the big picture. It also stands out from the other shorts by being damned exciting. Delivering the substance as well as the thrills in a movie-movie kind of way = a tough combo to beat.
Against It: Nothing I can spot. Here is your frontrunner.
THE CRUSH – Ireland, 15 Minutes, Dir: Michael Creagh
When an 8-year-old boy is devastated to find out that the teacher he has a crush on is engaged to marry a lout who doesn’t deserve her, he takes the surprising step of challenging her fiancé to a duel to the death. Obviously the guy doesn’t take him seriously, though perhaps he should.
For It: Dark comedy isn’t the Academy’s favorite genre but it helps that a cute kid is center stage. Voters who like having a short with a clear beginning, middle, and end will be entertained by The Crush, which is much more concerned about its twisty plot than about atmosphere or grand themes. If enough voters are impressed by its cleverness it could surprise.
Against It: It's difficult to be too tough on a solid, enjoyable short but it starts to strain believability, and honestly the climax disappoints. It settles for cute when it had set the stage for something more surprising. As a result it ends up feeling slight, even next to its comedic competition. And the sight of young boy waving a gun around will make some queasy regardless of the light-hearted resolution.
GOD OF LOVE – USA, 18 Minutes, Dir: Luke Methany
In the only purely comedic short director/star Luke Methany is Raymond Goodfellow, a jazz singer hopelessly in love with Kelly, his drummer who only has eyes for Fozzie, his guitar player and best friend. After months of non-stop prayer for assistance the Gods finally intervene with a gift of Cupid-style love darts to help him win Kelly’s heart.
For It: If anything is going to upset Na Wewe it will be this charmer from star-in-the-making Luke Methany. Like Na Wewe, Methany shows a control of tone and pacing that can compete with the feature length competition. On top of that God of Love is filmed with gorgeous black and white visuals that stands out from the competition and highlights its superior craftsmanship in a way that a comedy wouldn't otherwise. God of Love is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise somber lineup.
Against It: Say it with me: It’s a comedy, and with the Oscars that means stepping up to the plate with two strikes against you. Although maybe in the short category voters will loosen up enough to vote their heart and let the feature length films carry the weight of importance.
Marking Your Oscar Pool: If you want to play it safe check off the box next to Na Wewe, no question. The fact that it is a right in the Academy wheelhouse in terms of subject matter shouldn't detract from the fact that is is an extremely deserving winner. But my vote, and a strong upset possibility, would be God of Love for its control of tone, its originality, and for announcing the presence of a big new talent, Luke Matheny.