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“2012 Live Action Oscar Nominated Short Films” – Review

February 20, 2012

I recently attended a wonderful screening for this years Oscar nominated short film subjects, each intense, sweeter, funnier, charming, and darker than the last. Comedies seem to be a favorite this year for the Academy shorts (minus one) and they all seemed to have their unique/different spin on the basic genre that is comedy; you’ve got your sci-fi comedy, dramedy, adolescent-comedy, and (pure) black-comedy.

RAJU – Directed by Max Zähle; Screenplay by Max Zähle & Florian Kuhn (GERMANY/INDIA)

Let us begin with the serious film first, “Raju” was made by Germany/India. The film tells the story about a German couple, Jan & Sarah, visiting India. What appears to the audience as a vacation-like set up turns out to be something much more. Jan & Sarah are there to adopt a four-year-old orphan named Raju. It’s love at first site for the couple when the meet young Raju. Jan & Sarah are certain that they will give Raju a ‘good life’. Later in the day, Jan & Raju go out on the town one last time before leaving for Germany. As Jan turns his head briefly away from Raju, the boy vanishes. Raju is lost in a major city, where kidnapping children isn’t too uncommon. As Jan ventures on a desperate search, he comes to learn of a horrible truth that could endanger he and his wife.

“Raju” was a very powerful, with magnificent cinematography and good story. I was worried that movie would end up being about losing the boy, but the sudden twist that presents itself made it totally refreshing and daring. It goes into a controverstial territory I don’t think many filmmakers have the nerve to do. The acting was pretty good, the unknown child actor play Raju was a scene stealer and came off very natural. I didn’t seem to care for the casting of Sarah, something about her just seemed a little fake. Other than that, “Raju” was a powerful family drama that I think many would finding powerful

GRADE: A-

PENTECOST – Written & Directed by Peter McDonald (IRELAND)

1977, Ireland. Eleven-year-old Damian is called in at the last moment to serve as an altar boy at an important mass in his local parish. Following his last appearance as an altar boy when he knocked one of the Father’s of the church off the altar, Damien is serving a 3 month ban from his only passion in life…football. To make matters worse, Damian’s team, Liverpool FC, are playing in their first European cup final in two weeks time. Damien’s father offers him a one last chance to redeem himself, his only chance to see the European cup final is if he serves the mass correctly. Damien now faces a rough choice: either conform to the status quo or never watch his beloved Liverpool play again. What to do? What to do?!

This movie had everyone in stiches laughing. It was funny, somewhat screwball in it’s nature, but near the end of the film when the priest has a pep-talk with the alter boys, sort of resitnating a sports coach fueling up the athletes with energy before hitting the field, that’s when things got really funny. You feel so bad for Damien, the melancholy expressions the boy gives off is enough to make anyone with a passion then having their parents tarnish can make anybody cry. But, thank goodness for the climactic ending, we all knew what was coming, and as the kick-off was about to be made, you hear that glorious Liverpool team making their final goal of the game in the background, somehow it all comes together perfectly.

GRADE: A

THE SHORE – Written & Directed by Terry George (NORTHERN IRELAND)

After 30 some odd years, Joe returns to his home of Northern Ireland. He brings his daughter Patricia for the visit, there she learns about a falling out her father had with his best friend Paddy. Joe & Paddy were the best of buds, they were in a band together for crying outloud. Joe fell in love with Mary, the two were a match made in heaven, it was bound that they would get engaged. However due to extenuating circumstances, Joe had no choice but to leave both his friends behind for America. As Paddy and Mary were left behind, Paddy had an unfortunate accident where he lost his right hand, Mary was there for him every single day taking care of him, they married.

A story like this has been done before quite a few times, so I think it’s lack of originality is holding it back from a complete Oscar win. However the film stars Ciarán Hinds, who I’ve always thought could lead a film all on his own without having to always play a supporting character. It’s weird, I just come off from seeing him play Satan in “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance”, and here he is just playing a normal guy. It’s ending I must say felt a little empty handed. Paddy is left with guilt that he really shouldn’t be feeling and Joe pretty much accepts the fact that he’ll never have to tell Paddy the truth, he’s just happy that he’s got his best friend back.

GRADE: B-

TIME FREAK – Written & Directed by Andrew Bowler (U.S.A.)

In the vein of Harold Ramis’ “Groundhogs Day”, “Time Freak” is about a neurotic young scientist, Stillman, who just can’t seem to get his day right. He goes back over and over and over again thankfully through the means of his time machine he invented, by doing so he’s hoping he’ll get it right. Stillman’s best bud/roommate, Evan, learns of what he’s been up to, he knows that what he’s trying to do is unhealthy and certifiably nuts! Can Evan convince Stillman to stop traveling back in time or will Evan have to take the daring leap into the time machine and fix the screwed up timeline?

The movie sort of bends the rules on a few time machine loars, so it can get it’s “Groundhogs Day” feel through. It’s a movie about a happless guy who wants to have the perfect day, but screwing one thing up is a snowball effect for other things to come. The characters are well rounded indviduals, Stillman of course has to be as mad as Doc Brown to be considered absent minded and it works out nicely. Writer/Director Andrew Bowler has crafted a very clever sci-fi comedy that I’m sure will please many viewer alike if it ever had the chance to be turned into a feature, if not, then just watch the original short off of itunes.

GRADE: A-

TUBA ATLANTIC – Directed by Hallvar Witzø; Written by Linn-Jeanethe Kyed (NORWAY)

At age 70, Oskar learns from a very precised doctor that he is going to die in 6 days. He is now ready to forgive his brother for a disagreement years ago. However Oskar’s brother lives in New Jersey and he doesn’t even know if he’s still alive to this day. Oskars spunky young Death Angel, Inger, pops up making sure that he will die properly, so she can earn wings to become a full-fledged angel. Inger spends her time with Oskar for the next 6 days helping him kill seagulls with a machine gun, coping with his ultimate demise, and climactically blasting a super-sized Tuba that Oskar and his brother built when they were younger, hoping the soundwaves will reach the East coast of the US for his brother to hear.

Out of all the Oscar nominated shorts “Tuba Atlantic” was my favorite one. It’s so unique, so different, so incredibly black with it’s humor, that it can almost come off being mean spirited, but that’s thanks to the casting of the old man portraying Oskar. Oskar the grouch, LOL. It’s got this sort of Spike Jonze style of storytelling, it’s a fantasy that seems to be grounded in surrealistic/realistic manner. It’s just very…unique is all I can really think of. I could watch this one over and over. The actors were aces, Oskar & Inger make a terrific pairing. Simply a wonderful movie and I’m rooting for it to win the Oscar for Best Live Action Short.

GRADE: A+

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