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« This & That: Working Class Brits, Great Gatsby, Whoopi Goldberg | Main | Berlinale Closes Pt. 1: Jury Prizes, Teddys, and More »
Saturday
Feb192011

The Short Films: Part II

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. 

Part I - Animation

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Reader Comments (14)

I pretty much agree with everything you said here. God of Love was probably my favorite, but that may have had something to do with the fact that it stood out in a lineup that did otherwise seemed a little similar, i.e. the abundance of school aged children from the United Kingdom. I think that might give it an advantage in the field. Who knows?

February 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterWill

Oh, one thing about Wish 143, which I thoroughly enjoyed even if it left no cliche unturned, I was pleasantly surprised to see Jodie Whitaker pop up in it.

February 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterWill

I do not understand the praise for Na Wewe. I found the entire premise disturbing and the joke particularly offensive. It felt like the marketing team for Coca-Cola took on the Rwandan genocide. I'd be happy with any of the other four winning.

February 19, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermikey67

Mikey67 - Yes Na Wewe is disturbing, but how is it offensive? I don't see it. Which joke? The U2 thing?

February 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C

I can't believe you are saying "NA WEWE" doesn't have anything against it. That U2 joke at the end was like a gymnast doing an amazing routine on the high bar only to crash spectacularly on the the landing. I absolutely think that U2 joke is going to cost it the gold and why I'm not voting for it in my Oscar pool. "God of Love" benefits tremendously from being the last short shown in the package. I am wondering if that's how all voters see it or if the order is random at Academy screenings. My vote would be for Wish 143.

February 20, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjtagliere

I'm picking "God of Love." It's very quirky, cool, and is like a hybrid of Woody Allen and Jim Jarmusch. So of course that means I loved it. "The Confession" could very well win too with all of that Catholic guilt going on. "Na Wewe" gets the "global consciousness" vote. "Wish 143" could have been extremely treacly and eye-rolling, but it was instead heartfelt and surprisingly funny. "The Crush" doesn't distinguish itself too much from this lineup. But I'm still going with "God of Love" and cross my fingers Sunday night. It's awesome that I am as into these categories as I am practically anything. This race is as hot as any acting category this year. Go "God of Love"!

February 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDorian

God of Love is pretty much the best of this lineup and it definitely stands out which is always a plus with this group. Comedy or not. Though I liked it a lot more than the rest, it's not brilliant by any means but when compared to its competition, it makes you wanna vote for it that much more. My runner-up would be Na Wewe which was perfectly executed even though it loses some originality points but it would still make a very fine, very worthy winner. The Crush was very cute but also very slight although it did have the best line of the five shorts ("Christ, haven't you seen City of God, woman?!") so I remember it fondly. I thought both Wish 143 and, especially, The Confession were awful. Confession downright so and enough to make me wonder what the voters were smoking. It made approximately a dozen missteps too many.

A few years ago, there was a nominated Danish short called At Night which dealt with similar VERY weighty/depressing themes that Wish 143 and The Confession deal with this year and, though it didn't win, was perfectly crafted in tone and direction and never really did it FEEL heavy despite everything it was dealing with. I wasn't a huge fan of it (nearly put me to sleep actually) but If that short couldn't win for acing its material, then it'd hate to see something win for not.

Also, if we look at the live action short winners from the past decade there seems to be a trend of dark comedy/'important' subject/strange standout/naturalistic drama winning in revolving random order. Not much else seems to get past. Take that as you like, it may just be nothing.

February 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMax

LOL one last thing

I found this on Oscar's youtube page:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0qhiMgvPKMc

Past short film nominee Kenneth Branagh talking about each of this year's nominees.

I bet he voted for The Crush.

There's actually quite a few obscure category video segments on their page up now. Animated Short, Art Direction, Film Editing, Visual Effects and Makeup are the ones available and each seem to feature a different past nominee in that category doing the same as Branagh above. It's tres interesting

February 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMax

I'm late to the bandwagon, but I wanted to share my thoughts. I can definitely think of a few negatives to Na Wewe and besides the U2 silliness that's already been appointed, I thought it really had a mangled message. What exactly was that ending trying to tell us? I sure don't know.

I'd vote for The Confession even though I thought it felt like it was missing a proper ending. The Crush was probably my favorite until the gun scene. It seemed so improbable, as you point out, but then they get crazy with the camerawork-- the shots of the court as gunfire echoes in the background were so amateurish. Wish 143 was nice, but I agree with your point that it never really wows. God of Love seemed a little unprofessional to me as well, particularly the acting.

February 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

Na Wewe means "You Too" in Kirundi, so the whole "U2" thing is an integral part of the movie not only from the standpoint of the pun on the title but also as an emblem of the absurdity of the genocidal conflict. Should win: Na Wewe. Will win: this is a wide open category.

February 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterScott

i found some of the shorts here, and almost all oscar movies
http://www.btarena.org/pages/oscar-2011

February 26, 2011 | Unregistered Commenternam

I certainly enjoyed "God of Love" more than the other four nominees, and I agree with those who are saying that Luke Methany is a filmmaker to watch in the future. I simply have a hunch that "The Crush" is primed for an upset.

Interesting that the two favorites in the category are the only two not to come from the British Isles.

February 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCarl

Scott- I just got that joke (slow, I know), which makes me even more exasperated with that film. How would they know they made a play on words? Does that random Kirundi woman speak English and know the translation for "Na Wewe"? I doubt it.

It's easily my least favorite of the five.

March 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

Evan--
My personal favorite was The Crush. Me least favorite of the five was God of Love. And my least favorite for the prior year was The New Tenants. I guess I am a pretty good contrarian indicator for the Live Action Short Film category...

March 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterScott
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