The Academy Awards category for Best Short Live Action and Animated Films tends to be the most vague to the average moviegoer since few of those films are ever seen, unless they have the advantage of being included on the DVD of a much bigger animated feature. Fortunately, Apollo Cinema has collected five of the shorts nominated for Oscars, three live action and two animated, including the Academy Award winning animated short, Harvie Krupmet.
The selections are well picked and arranged, alternating live action and animated with a number of noticeable similarities between a few of them. For instance, two of the live actions shorts take place in Sarajevo, and two of the shorts involve the death of one’s parents. Otherwise, they show a wide range of style and production values.
In the live action short Die Rote Jake (The Red Jacket), the title object is thrown away by a grieving father in Germany, only to end up on the back of a boy in war-torn Sarajevo. The production in this German short is impressive, using the political background of the country to its fullest. Some of the best short movies in recent memory have come out of third world and war savaged countries, and Die Rote Jake is a poignant drama with an interesting story to tell. Unfortunately, it ends rather abruptly at a rather odd place, and you wish that there were more to this story. 7/10
The highlight of the compilation is also the only one that actually won the Oscar. Adam Elliot’s Harvie Krumpet is a Claymation children’s storybook, as if told by Matt Groening and the creator of “Wallace and Grommit” (both easy comparisons, granted). Narrated by Geoffrey Rush, this charming surprise follows the life of a hapless loser–one that looks more than a bit like Homer Simpson–who faces tragedy and mishaps at every turn, but somehow finds a way to still enjoy his very full life. Krumpet is an instantly likeable character that you instantly feel sorry for, although it’s almost impossible to not laugh at the same time. It’s a joyful break from the wartime tragedy, and it is an absolutely brilliant piece of animation and storytelling that is worth the price of admission. 10/10
(A) Torsion is a Slovenian production in which music soothing the savage beast (sic) is taken to the extreme when a choir is asked to sing for a cow having birthing difficulties. It’s a lovely story of people making sacrifices to help others in need. Although it doesn’t shirk from showing the war around them, you don’t get nearly as good an impression of the country as you do from Die Rote Jake. Like the movie No Man’s Land, it’s a touching piece of real life in the midst of chaos. 7/10
Nibbles is an instantly forgettable Canadian animated short about a fishing trip as shown through the consumption of various foods and drink at the roadside stops. The jarring animation style is surreal and scratchy like the drug-fodder of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, but it doesn’t work as well here. It’s not a very pleasant cartoon, and you’ll be glad that it’s the shortest selection of the bunch at around four-and-a half minutes. 5/10
A psychological cat and mouse game between a man and his sadistic boss on a squash court makes up the longest of the live action shorts in Lionel Baillu’s Squash. While it’s the most simplistic and minimal film as far as filmmaking, the French film is all about the script, the characters and the performance of the two actors, Eric Savin and Malcolm Conrath. This riveting piece of work shows what happens when the boss pushes his employee too far and a fun sport turns into a test of wills and egos. The terrific and realistic character interaction is accompanied by action that is raw and visceral. If nothing else, both actors should be able to use this short to get more work, as they both do an impressive job exploring the complexities of their characters and their relationship. Another high point. 9/10
As an added bonus, the winner of the Student Academy Award for Animation, Perpetual Motion is a cute scientific experiment involving cats and jellied toast.
The 2004 Oscar Shorts are worth seeking out if only for Harvie Krumpet and Squash, two shorts that show great skill and potential for greater works to come. One can hope that Elliot and Baillu will continue making films, as future work by them would be welcomed with open arms. Though the rest of the selections are a bit erratic, you get a nice mix of styles and nationalities, and as a whole, the compilation is impressive, if not a bit short.
The 2004 Oscar Shorts has been making the rounds across the country. It opens in New York City and other towns on March 26th and will open in other cities in the next few weeks. Go to OscarShorts.com for more information.