Oscar-nominated shorts at DIVA
by Molly Templeton
Short film is often the bane of anyone looking to win an Oscar pool — or at least it has been. For the last few years, screenings of the Oscar-nominated shorts (live action and animated, though not documentary) have cropped up across the country, giving film fans a chance to see some of the world’s best short films, some of which may become the feature films of tomorrow. At least two of last year’s major releases got their start as shorts: Best Picture nominee District 9 began life as a short called “Alive in Joburg,” while director Shane Acker’s 9 was an Oscar-nominated short film of the same name a few years before.
It would be a mistake, however, to look at short film as only a step on the way to features, just as it would be unfair to think of short stories as only an introduction to an eventual novel. Short film, though we don’t often see enough of it, has its own rewards, often depicting just a slice of life, a brief portrait, a compact vision of the world.
In the animated category, Nick Park’s latest Wallace and Gromit effort, “A Matter of Loaf and Death,” has the usual Park charms — Rube Golberg-like machines for making bread; Gromit’s subtle, exasperated body language — but the mechanics of its plot are overly familiar to W&G fans. The character design of “French Roast” outweighs the sentimentality of its last scene; just watch the faces and the gorgeous, reflected street scene of this French short to see what its creators are capable of. The bitter storyteller of the fantastic “Granny O’Grimm” is weirdly charming as she recounts “Sleeping Beauty” from a new perspective. Another granny is the star of “The Lady and the Reaper,” in which the forces of life and death battle for her future. But the cleverest animated short is the unsettling “Logorama,” in which Los Angeles is transformed into a landscape made up entirely of logos. Even people and animals — the MGM lion, for example — are figures from ads. It’s an action movie, a distaster sequence and a commentary on branding, and it’s quite a trip. (Two other shortlisted films, “Runaway” and “Party Cloudy,” which ran before Up in theaters, will screen with the nominees.)
The live-action shorts have fewer charms than their animated siblings and are more prone to sweetness and sentimentality, even if the creators’ intentions are good. “Kavi,” about an Indian boy in an untenable situation, is more successful as an awareness-raising tool than as a film. “Miracle Fish” has a solid child actor at its center, but it comes undone in the somewhat heavy-handed last scene. “The Door,” Juanita Wilson’s requiem for a lost city, is beautifully shot and lit in chilly tones. “The New Tenants,” the only short with recognizable actors (Kevin Corrigan and Vincent D’Onofrio appear), is dark, humorous and gently romantic; the banter of the bickering leads is spot-on, but the zig-zag story of their new apartment’s colorful history is a little slap-dash. Hailing from Sweden, “Instead of Abracadabra,” is the story of a 25-year-old magician. Director Patrik Eklund tells the story with a dollop of Scandinavian restraint, carefully reining in the story’s inherent quirks.
The Oscar-Nominated Animated Short Films screen at 10 pm Friday, March 5, and 3:15 pm Sunday, March 7. The Oscar-Nominated Live Action Short Films screen at 9 pm Friday, March 5, and 1 pm Sunday, March 7. Screenings continue through March, all at the Downtown Initiative for the Visual Arts (DIVA, 110 W. Broadway). $6 each screening. For more information or complete schedule, see divacenter.org