A strong program of lesser-known Oscar nominees gets the point across with style, smarts, and time to spare
While the Fish Man dukes it out with the Lady Bird, the Vancity Theatre turns its attention to this year’s Oscar-nominated shorts, cartoons, and documentaries.
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OSCAR-NOMINATED SHORTS: ANIMATION Rating unavailable
Themes of loss, growth, and childhood 2
memory dominate this unusually satisfying collection of animated shorts, most of which clock in at seven minutes or less, with one half-hour exception.
We reviewed Kobe Bryant’s ambitious “Dear Basketball” out of a recent travelling ’toon fest. This career-summing exercise in B-ball nostalgia is marred only by an overbearing John Williams score (seriously), and perhaps by unpleasantries circulating about the athlete himself.
The French-made “Negative Space” was directed by Japan’s Ru Kuwahata and American Max Porter, who work together as Tiny Inventions. They’ve crafted playful stop-motion ads for Ben & Jerry’s and others, and here expand a short poem about a father and son who say little but bond over suitcase-packing techniques. The puppets are simple, the mood introspective, and yet this has the best punch line (in English) of the bunch.
France also backed the spectacular “Garden Party”, directed by a team of six students, as it happens. It evolves from amazingly realistic nature study into a kind of frog noir, as a number of delightfully individuated amphibians make their way through a seemingly deserted villa, with clues gradually revealed as to how the place fell into disrepair. The rippling water alone makes this an unforgettable thrill.
“Revolting Rhymes”, the long one here, is a fabulous BBC rendering of Roald Dahl’s twisted take on familiar fairy tales, as filtered through a CGI update on Quentin Blake’s nutty drawings. (Pro tip: the seven dwarves are all ex-jockeys.) It’s a cliffhanger, though. So, good to know that Part 2 can be found on Netflix.
Unlike last year’s scintillating “Piper”, Pixar’s new “Lou” is such an on-the-nose bulletin about bullying, based on a playground ogre and his war with a lost-and-found locker, it can only really work on kids. (It’s currently touring with Coco.) That’s the last and least of five official nominees, but its focus on human detritus carries over to “Lost Property Office”, a beautifully sepia-toned study of loneliness and reinvention fashioned entirely from cardboard by obsessive sculptor Dan Agdag.
It’s the best of three honourable mentions, but the remainders are also worthwhile. One person’s “Weeds” is another’s delight in a very brief look at what flora will do to survive desert conditions— and it carries an unexpected whiff of the immigrant spirit. And the tale of a dragon who sneezes fireworks, “Achoo”, is set in ancient China. But it was made by a different team of talented students in France. Vive les cartoons! > KEN EISNER
OSCAR-NOMINATED SHORTS: LIVE ACTION
The one bit of light stuff 2
among five live-action shorts nominated for Academy Awards comes as much-needed comic relief from the rest.
The fun one, also the briefest, is “The Eleven O’clock”, named after a psychiatrist’s first patient of the day, carrying delusions that he’s the doctor in charge. One of the verbally battling twosome is played by Josh Lawson, who also wrote the just-right Australian short, and the other is Damon Herriman. They’re frequent sketch partners, as can be seen online in shorts like “Pet” and “Smithston”.
The others here all clock in at about 20 minutes each, with the heaviest burden borne by “My Nephew Emmett”, a re-creation of events leading up to (but not including) the notorious lynching of a Chicago teen murdered for vaguely offending a white woman while visiting his relatives’ town in—where else?—mississippi. The slow-burning drama is all the more remarkable for having been made by a film student, Kevin Wilson Jr. He includes testimony made by the real uncle at the time, and that part could have been just a tad longer.
The result of another half-century’s neglect of basic justice is seen in Reed Van Dy k’ sun sensationalized re-creation of a real incident, in which a disturbed young man entered a neighbourhood school with an automatic weapon. “Dekalb Elementary” finds the intruder confronted by a spectacularly patient bookkeeper, played by The Help’s Tara Riggs, underlining the desperation facing a U.S. with its moral bearings adrift.
Mania of a different kind—the religious sort, exacerbated by extreme poverty and neglect—is depicted in “Watu Wote (All of Us)”, a likewise fact-based tale and another student project, this time from Germany’s Katja Benrath, and the
only film not in English. It takes place in Swahilispeaking Kenya and follows a young Christian woman on a long, harrowing bus ride toward the border with Somalia, where Muslim terrorists have been known to attack “infidels”. It’s a tense journey with an ultimately uplifting message.
The sole British entry resembles the first installment of a first-rate TV series, although “The Silent Child” is a stand-alone drama written by actor Rachel Shenton, known for the Yank show Switched at Birth. She plays a speech and signlanguage therapist tasked with assessing a young deaf girl (unforgettable Maisie Sly) who seems to have been ignored by her rural but upscale family. Shenton built the tale on her own, unrelated family experience, and if there were more episodes of this, you’d want to watch them.
> KEN EISNER OSCAR-NOMINATED SHORTS: DOCUMENTARY
Unlike the other Oscar-nominated short 2
subjects, these filmlets are long enough—at least a half-hour each—to require two separate showings. The first has three offerings, all touching on issues of marginalization.
To Mindy Alper, “Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405”. That’s because a major slowdown can give her a chance to draw people in their cars. Alper has a host of social and learning disabilities. Her cramped apartment is a virtual pharmacy of daily meds, and she speaks in odd locutions, saying her possibly abusive father “would louder his sound” when talking to her, and recalling something that happened “when I am one-nine” years old. But these barriers haven’t stopped her from making dramatic art, most stunningly in papier-mâché. (She prefers the Wall Street Journal to the flimsy L.A. Times.) Some childhood drawings are animated for the film, and that gets a little busy, while minor-key thuds
Oscar-nominated shorts from previous page
Kobe Bryant looks back in “Dear Basketball”, one of the toons in this year’s batch of Academy Award–nominated animated, live action, and documentary shorts.