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Entries in short films (101)


Best Documentary Short: Sad, Sadder, Saddest...

Glenn here to discuss the Oscar-nominated documentary shorts. Much gets made year in year old about how the short categories are typically the hardest to predict. It’s a sentiment that bodes true for many reasons, although with the recent boost in popularity of the theatrically-released Oscar-nominated shorts programs “nobody’s seen them!” has gone out the window as an excuse. We used to have little to go on with these films and usually, by default, most people would predict the most serious sounding of the lot. A movie about WWII? Sure! A movie about political conflict? Why not! A movie about children with AIDS? Gosh, how can it lose? It’s simplistic, but sometimes the best method.

It’s rather impossible to do that this year since all five nominees deal with subject matter that is extremely Important with a capital I. I mean, the most upbeat of the lot is the one about suicide amongst war veterans for crying out loud! PTSD, dying mothers, incurably ill babies, the oil fields of America's Midwest and death in slaughterhouses – it is a miserable collection of nominees, which makes sussing out the winner a tricky prospect.

I find myself gravitating towards HBO’s Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1. For starters, it’s the glossiest and most watchable of the lot. Secondly, and most importantly, because it’s subject matter – suicide prevention hotline operators dealing with war veterans – ties in perfectly with that of Best Picture nominee American Sniper. If voters can’t give that immensely popular film any big prizes, they may as well give this one the statue. I certainly see it as a more likely winner than either of the two Polish entries, one of which – Our Curse – may just go down as one of the saddest films ever made. Likewise, The Reaper from Mexico, which obnoxiously parades its grotesquery around in such a fashion that I can see many voters turning it off before the end credits. The final film, the second American entry called White Earth is relatively low key compared to the rest and will likely find itself overshadowed. Maybe the fact that it’s not entirely soul-crushing like the rest will give it a boost, but this year’s prize feels like HBO’s to lose.

The Nominees:

Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1, dir. Ellen Goosenberg Kent and Dana Perry (40mins)
Joanna, dir. Aneta Kopacz (45mins)
Our Curse, dir. Tomasz Śliwiński and Maciej Ślesicki (28mins)
The Reaper (La Parka), dir. Gabriel Serra Arguello (29mins)
White Earth, dir. J. Christian Jensen (20mins)

Will Win: Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
Could Win: Joanna
Should Win: To be honest, I'm not entirely sold on either, but White Earth (above) is my favorite

Apart from in select cinemas, Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 is available on HBOGO.


Living For Love & Skimming Through Grammys

Annie takes us to church, then puts a spell on usWith Taylor Swift's cheekily titled "1989" the music world's best-seller of 2014, and a least half of all movie franchises with their roots firmly embedded in the "me" decade is pop culture forever frozen in 80s amber? We hardly needed another reminder that the 1980s are still roaring but what were the chances that the two best performances of the Grammy's would come from Annie Lennox and Madonna?

I don't ask this as someone with significant ties to loving the 1980s (though I am someone like that) but from genuine surprise. It's not that there aren't great performers that are very now but they all seemed conspicuously absent last night or visibly subdued within the long procession of funureal ballads the Grammys showcased. Hell, even Pharell's boppy "Happy" which memorably gave us Streep shimmying and Nyong'o jumping to her feet at the Oscars last year, was performed with 'everything is not awesome' minor key ominousness.

After the jump movie & Oscar related Grammy stuff and big wins. But first a few words on Madonna and the delicious deep red new video from the undeposed Queen of Pop.

Click to read more ...


Best Animated Short - The Nominees

Tim here, with a look at one of those Oscar categories that always screws up everybody's office pool. It's time for the Best Animated Short Film nominees, now playing in a theater... maybe not "near" you, depending on where you live. But they're supposedly hitting VOD in the next couple of weeks, along with the live-action and documentary shorts. Anyway, let's dive right in!

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Sundance: Don Hertzfeldt Peers Into The "World of Tomorrow"

Michael C. here. I couldn't wrap up my Sundance coverage without writing about this gem from one of my favorite filmmakers.

Fans of Don Hertzfeldt know there is little point in describing the plot of one of his films.  His animated shorts operate on the director's unique blend of absurdist humor, philosophical wonderings, and sophisticated visuals masquerading as crude scribblings, not on traditional story beats. So when I say his new short, World of Tomorrow, is spectacular, right up there with his best work, you just have to take my word for it, so difficult is it to capture its odd appeal in words.

Hertzfeldt took on World of Tomorrow as a quick project between two massively ambitious undertakings, the upcoming Antarctica, his first full length feature, and It's Such a Beautiful Day, his recent triptych of shorts which combined represent one of the new century's indisputable masterpieces. It's a testament to Hertzfeldt's artistry that a project the filmmaker dashed off, relatively speaking, is still such a marvel.

World of Tomorrow represents two notable firsts for Hertzfeldt. It is the first foray into computer animation for a filmmaker that has spent his career as a champion of practical in-camera effects, and fittingly, this expansion into digital also marks his first attempt at science fiction. This new short is of a piece with Hertzfeldt's It Such a Beautiful Day trilogy and before that his The Meaning of Life, all films fascinated by the idea of what it is to be human. World of Tomorrow focuses on four year old Emily (voiced adorably by the director's own niece) who is contacted by a clone of herself from the future that proceeds to whisk her away for a tour of the universe many centuries down the road. It's a dark picture the film paints, but as usual, Hertzfeldt maintains boundless amusement at what a strange species we are, with our refusal to acknowledge our smallness in the universe, and the way we deliberately create technology which robs us of our humanity. All of it is delivered with Hertzfeldt's distinct carnival of non-sequiturs, surreal tangents, and odd beauty that can make you laugh one second and bring you to the edge of tears the next.

Don Hertzfeldt. Image via Criterion CollectionWorld of Tomorrow defies its classification as short, packing in several feature length films worth of ideas into its trim twenty minutes, covering everything from the perils of discount time travel to the benefits of programming robots to fear death. It is a film that once seen is not easily forgotten. It is a must-watch for fans of Hertzfeldt's. It is also a must-watch for non-fans, so they can get on board with one of the most exciting voices in film.

Grade: A



Sundance Award Winners: Slow West and Earl and That Diary Girl

Michael and Nathaniel are both safely back in New York but a few more Sundance reviews are forthcoming as well as an Oscar discussion about the first possibilities for the new film year. The festival closes up tonight for another year and last night, they announced the winners. As with last year when Whiplash one both the Jury and the Audience award, one film took both again this year: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, based on the best seller by Jesse Andrews. Can we expect a similarly Oscar friendly trajectory? 



Grand Jury Prize & Audience Award  Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Michael's review coming later today. It's said to be a bit Fault in the Stars-ish young people and terminal illness only better. 

Directing Award The Witch, Robert Eggers 
Michael's rave review. A 1630s set horror film about a religious family in Salem. 

Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award The Stanford Prison Experiment, Tim Talbott
Nathaniel's Review. This one is based on the infamous 1971 college psychology experiment that's inspired other movies before it.

Special Jury Award – Excellence in Cinematography Diary of a Teenage Girl, Brandon Trost
Michael's review & Nathaniel's quick take. Michael liked it a bit more but expect a lot of talk about it when it's released. With Bel Powley, Alexander Skarsgard, and Kristen Wiig

Special Jury Award – Excellence in Editing Dope, Lee Haugen
Nathaniel's review. The editing has crackerjack timing and is deeply commendable for the first half but why is the second hour so much less taut?  

More after the jump...

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Tim's Toons: World of Hertzfeldt

Tim here. It's such a beautiful day to be animator Don Hertzfeldt, whose newest short, World of Tomorrow, premieres at the Sundance Film Festival tonight - his seventh film to play there, a record. It's an even better day to be a fan of Don Hertzfeldt, for in addition to WoT (which has been popping up on "most anticipated" Sundance lists all over, as well it should), news has come down today that Hertzfeldt is about to beginning working on his second feature, Antarctica. It's going to be the first project of his career made with an actual team of animators, owing to its unprecedented complexity compared to everything he's ever made (besides which, his last feature took over six years to complete, dribbling out in the form of three short films released as they were ready). And let me tell you, the notion of a Hertzfeldt film of unprecedented complexity is exciting on a deep, primal level. The kind of exciting where all movies released between now and then will be disappointing just by virtue of not being Antarctica.

Since I, for one, am not prepared to think of anything but Hertzfeldt today, I've taken the liberty of putting together this little primer of some of his work. For those of you who haven't seen any of it, I can't imagine how you could have gone on this long without your life being complete, and for those of you who have, it's never the wrong time to re-watch his stuff, right?

Billy's Balloon (1998)
Hertzfeldt's fourth short, completed when he was a 21-year-old UCSB student, was his big breakthrough. It bears all the hallmarks of an early work - the limitations of his hand-hewn aesthetic feel more like limitations, and not the secret strengths he'd make them in later projects - but the groundwork for all of his later films can be spotted here. To wit, we live in a universe of capricious cruelty, where everything that seems nice will turn on you, and there's no such thing as finding a human connection to make that cruelty easier to take. All done with surprising, absurd, morbid humor. There's a reason his production company is called Bitter Films.

Hertzfeldt's Oscar nominee, and his first feature below the jump

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Whiplash Screenplay Drama (Plus: My Personal Ballot)

This can't be good news for Whiplash by way of splintered votes. Mark Harris, who is married to an Academy Award nominated writer remember, reported on Grantland that on the e-ballot reminder list Whiplash is officially considered an Adapted Screenplay by the Academy. The film's campaign always listed it as an Original Screenplay (see FYC ad left). The confusion, as also detailed on Deadline, stems from the Sundance winning short of the same name, also made by Damien Chazelle and starring J.K. Simmons. The short, according to the team, was made solely to get the feature funded. So if anything the short is an Adaptation of the feature which was made later if you will.

But the Academy rules on this are ever blurry. And technically they aren't "rules". You can vote for anything you'd like after all on your paper ballot (where this isn't a "pulldown menu" of course) but if half of its fans vote for it in Original and half in Adapted it's simple math (if math can ever be simple in preferential ballots) that it's probably not going to get nominated.

[Sidebar: The Writers Guild of America announces its nominees tomorrow but they have such strict rules about who is eligible that many well written films each year are disqualified so it's rarely a very correlative award in terms of the Oscar race. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Better more movies celebrated than fewer.]

This seems as good a time as any to announce my own ballot for Best Screenplay(s) which includes some surefire nominees (like Gone Girl) some absolutely deserving but sure not-to-be Oscar nominated screenplays like Pride, Force Majeure (original) and some oddities like The Babadook (which I put in Adapted even though it's considered Original by many because it is inspired by derived from (whatever) this earlier embryonic short... also by the wonderfully talented Jennifer Kent (who we recently spoke to).

Monster - Jennifer Kent from Jennifer Kent on Vimeo.


...unlike the Whiplash situation where it's just the same thing. Only the short is yanked from the future feature. Categories? What are they good for!? ;)

Nomination announcements have now been made in Best Picture, Best Screenplay, and Best Art Direction for this site's annual celebratory jamboree, the Film Bitch Awards. Now in its (gulp) 15th year.