Underrated Oscar Shorts Delight
In all the glitz and glam that generally characterize tonight’s Academy Awards, it’s easy to lose sight of the little guy. Amongst all this year’s titans of cinema (Inception, The Social Network, The King’s Speech) we forget that that there are also unheralded documentaries, costume designers, sound mixers, and, perhaps least noticeable of all – short films.
Short films make up such a small percentage of the American movie industry that it’s probably a little generous to call them a niche item. For most of the year, it is nigh impossible to see them in actual movie theaters.
The one exception is Oscar season. For a few weeks in February, a small number of luxury art house theaters in urban areas carry a package of the Oscar-Nominated short films, the purported cream of the crop.
One such theater is Washington’s E Street Cinema, owned by Landmark Theaters, the largest art house movie theater chain in America.
E Street Cinema was opened in 2004, and definitely caters to Washington’s elite moviegoers. Lush red carpeting, sophisticated and obscure-looking French movie posters and upscale concessions (espressos, gourmet chocolate) abound.
Even in this veritable palace for cinematic elitism, the short films were consigned to the smallest of the theater’s eight screens, with maybe fifty seats.
Although there five live-action and five animated shorts, both the Academy and this writer will pick just one favorite from among the pack. This also gives you something to root for in the early going of the Oscar ceremonies.
Among the live-action shorts, Tanel Toom’s “The Confession” is the clear standout. In 26 short minutes, director Toom tells the compelling and unexpectedly tragic story of Sam (Lewis Howlett) and Jacob (Joe Eales), 9-year-old English schoolboys approaching their first confessions.
Sam has a clear conscience, and Jacob plans a sin for him to confess. Their initially harmless prank takes a rather unexpected dark turn. The cinematography and shot composition is striking here, perfectly evoking quintessential British village life with its rustic cottages, verdant meadows, and dark, spooky forests.
The child actors are unusually gifted, and remain highly believable even when the story briefly steers into melodrama. The script, written by Toom and Caroline Bruckner, is suffused with Catholic guilt and serves as a potent meditation on the controversial values of the church.
Among the animated shorts, usually shorter than their live-action counterparts, Bastien DuBois’ “Madagascar, Carnet De Voyage” is particularly entertaining and creative.
In the film’s introduction, it is introduced as a “visual travel journal,” which is fairly accurate. DuBois wrote and directed this semi-autobiographical look at a trip to Madagascar.
The 11-minute film utilizes potent colors, several different types of animation, and a lively score composed by Malagasy musicians to convey the sounds, look and feel of a traditional Malagasy funeral.
Written mainly in French with sporadic and garbled subtitles, it was often hard to understand the film’s minimal dialogue. However, the sheer intrigue and adventurousness of the film mostly compensate for this fault.
The rest of this year’s crop of short films, while slightly less entertaining, are certainly worth watching, especially at the bargain price of $8.50. Just try to limit yourself to one ridiculously overpriced E Street Cinema concession.
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