|by The Ultimate Dancing Machine
Apollo Cinema (www.apollocinema.com) recently undertook a modest yet nifty venture that shouldn’t go unnoticed: They distributed all (almost all—more on that later) of this year’s Academy Award nominees among two oft-overlooked categories, Best Animated Short Film and Best Live Action Short Film, on one program in very limited theatrical release. Those of us who watch the Oscars are aware of the distinct lack of tension in the air when they announce the winners in these categories—how many of us have seen these movies? How many of us can name last year’s winners? In any case, I went through the bother of watching all nine nominated films and am here to report on what I found. And in setting out on this task, I suddenly feel... empowered. I know something you don’t, and it doesn’t matter that you probably didn’t care one way or another.
I really am curious who will win on Sunday—neither category has a clear-cut winner, and it may come down to the Academy’s notoriously fickle tastes. It all depends on what they’re into this time around. Politics? Then Dog might win. Well-made suspense? Then Gridlock might take it.
As a side note, you may notice that most of the films below come from non-English-language countries. What this means, I don’t know—I just thought I’d point that out.
BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM (five nominees):
KATEDRA (THE CATHEDRAL), Poland, Tomek Baginski: This is essentially a meticulously rendered D&D landscape, with animation of a decidedly creepy tilt. It has no real story—all you see is some guy wandering around a forest for a while. This film reminds me of those teaser films they put on videogames; all it needs is a subtitle at the bottom reading “HIT ENTER TO SKIP INTRO.” It is well done, but they shouldn’t be giving out Oscars for stuff like this.
THE CHUBBCHUBBS!, USA, Eric Armstrong: A pleasant piece of whimsy, taking place on some far, far away planet, about a space-age janitor and his encounter with the dreaded Chubbchubbs. Who are the Chubbchubbs? I can’t tell you without giving away the whole movie. Pure silliness, with a few good gags—that’s it.
DAS RAD (ROCKS), Germany, Chris Stenner & Heidi Wittinger: More goofball animation, this time from Germany. Taking place sometime in the prehistoric past, it features a pair of talking rock-creatures who experience a vision of the world in the future. Good, but not as good as it needs to be.
MIKE’S NEW CAR, USA, Pete Docter & Roger Gould: This is one of those Pixar jobs, featuring characters from Monsters, Inc. It has the coolest animation of all the nominees; I like the curvy, vibrantly colorful look. The story, dealing with one-eyed Mike’s various mishaps with his nice new car, isn’t as clever as it’s supposed to be, but you’d probably get a few giggles out of it.
ATAMA YAMA (MT. HEAD), Japan, Koji Yamamura: Boy, this movie is nuts. A miserly, eccentric man finds one day that a tiny tree is growing atop his bald head. He cuts it off, but it grows back... Complete with singing narration and all kinds of daffy twists, this movie makes up for its relatively crude animation with surreal imagination. I can’t say I liked it without reservation—I’m not sure what the point is, if there is a point—but it’s certainly different.
And the Oscar should go to... Mt. Head, but they’ll probably opt for Mike’s New Car.
BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM (four nominees out of five):
FAIT D’HIVER (GRIDLOCK), Belgium, Dirk Bellen & Anja Daelemans: A man who’s stuck in traffic calls his young daughter on his cell phone. After that, things get really strange. A visually sharp film with a snapper of an ending, it’s a neat coiled-spring of a movie. One thing bugs me, though: I’d swear I saw a short film some years ago with a very similar premise.
INJA (DOG), Australia, Steven Pasvolsky & Joe Weatherstone: Shot in South Africa, this features a young black man, his older white boss, and a dog with a very long memory. The ending is one of those intentionally ambiguous Lady or the Tiger twists, but the film is overall a bit too straightforward in its denunciation of South African racism. Also too contrived; I didn’t quite believe it.
J’ATTENDRAI LE SUIVANT... (I’LL WAIT FOR THE NEXT ONE), France, Philppe Orreindy & Thomas Gaudin: A lonely woman on the subway meets a charming stranger who’s looking for love. A very minor piece, it makes its point and goes to credits in barely four minutes. It’s OK, but I don’t see an Oscar for this.
DER ER EN YNDIG MAND (THIS CHARMING MAN), Denmark, Martin Strange-Hansen & Mie Andreasen: Another anti-racism piece, from Denmark, it features an unemployed man whose attempts to woo an old schoolmate lead him to disguise himself as a Pakistani immigrant. It is agreeably light-hearted, but at twenty-nine minutes, it’s approximately as lengthy as the previous three nominees combined. It just takes too long to make a rather simple-minded point about race relations.
JOHNNY FLYNTON, USA, Lexi Alexander & Alexander Buono. Hey, this wasn’t on the program! They didn’t show it! What’s up with that?
And the Oscar should go to... Gridlock, but it’s a toss-up. And there’s always the elusive Johnny Flynton...
(Oscar update: The Oscars went to The Chubbchubbs! and This Charming Man. And people ask me why I don't bother playing the lottery.)
link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=704
originally posted: 03/21/03 19:40:41
last updated: 12/30/03 10:57:20