The Oscar Warrior on the Oscar Nominated Short Films 2012

Once again, Magnolia and ShortsHD, the Short Movie Channel, have teamed to release the Oscar Nominated Short Films 2012 theatrically across the US and Canada, starting on February 10, giving moviegoers a rare chance to see short films nominated in three categories which for years were a crapshoot in office pools, since few people actually had a chance to see any of the short films. We’ve seen most of them already and we’re going to give you our thoughts, but you don’t have to take our word for it and check them out for yourself if you’re in one of the areas the program is playing, which you can check on the Official Site.

This year’s ANIMATED SHORTS includes one from Pixar Animation Studios, Enrico Casarosa’s lovely “La Luna” featuring a young boy learning the ropes from his elders as they conduct their lunar janitorial duties, essentially cleaning stars off the surface of the moon. It’s a beautifully-made short, much like Pixar normally does with strong dialogue-free storytelling, but we’ve gotten used to Pixar being snubbed by the Academy for far more captivating shorts than this one, so we don’t think this one will break that streak.

Grant Orchard’s “A Morning Stroll” is a clever “variation on a theme,” adapting a simple short story called “The Chicken” with a man walking down the street in a city who encounters a chicken who goes up steps, pecks on a door and goes in. The story is explored in three different manners determined by how the story may be told in three different eras. It’s done simply enough as 2D black and white animation in the 1959 segment, then it jumps forward to 2009, still using fairly simple 3D animation, but getting more into technology and how it affects the story. Things really go crazy when it jumps forward to 2059, where we’re now dealing with a post-Apocalyptic world and a crazed zombie creature chasing after the chicken for food. We really liked the mix of animation styles, but we just don’t see this winning because it’s just so crazy and edgy compared to the films the Academy normally goes with.

On the other hand, “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” by William Joyce feels very much like the type of animated film we often see in this category, though it also feels more like one geared towards kids, which may not necessary help. That said, it uses CG animation that feels very solid and it’s very cleverly done as it uses the animation to play up the sense of wonder. Being more traditional and kid-friendly helped past winners like “Peter and the Wolf,” and after watching it a few times, it certainly feels like it has just the right amount of emotional resonance to win over Oscar voters, so we’ll put our money on this one to pull out the win. (Apparently, the short even has its own iPad App.)

There are two animated shorts from Canada this year—the French-Canadian “Dimanche/Sunday” from Patrick Doyon and “Wild Life” by Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby. The former is a day-in-the-life fly-on-the-wall type story that uses simple line drawing 2D animation and it feels rather primitive compared to the others, which may put it a disadvantage. “Wild Life” is similarly bizarre, mixing lots of different ideas and animation styles that don’t necessarily tell a cohesive story. Much of it is painted animation and it’s certainly an artistic statement, but it just doesn’t have the beauty and grace of something like “La Luna” or “Flying Books,” which seem like the two animated shorts to beat this year.

Next, we have the LIVE ACTION SHORTS, starting with Peter McDonald’s “Pentecost,” the first of two from Ireland, a comedy that plays on the idea of a coach giving a pep talk to a team, only this has a Catholic priest giving a speech to his team of “altar boys” and one young boy forbidden from watching football for misbehaving taking it to heart. Frankly, we’re not sure this type of humor will connect with American Academy members and it doesn’t really have that much going for it, because even the final punchline isn’t that funny.

It’s a pretty rough offering compared to the other Irish short, Terry George’s “The Shore,” which benefits greatly from having the likes of Ciaran Hinds and Kerry Conron in its cast with him playing an Irishman returning to his Belfast home with his grown-up daughter Patricia to introduce her to his world. George is best known for directing films like Hotel Rwanda and Reservation Road (plus he directed the second episode of HBO’s “Luck” which aired this past weekend) and you can tell that he has more experience than other filmmakers, writing a strong drama that includes a beautiful scene between Hinds and Conron talking about a woman from his past. It’s a poignant film mixed with light and fairly easy-to-digest fare that should be easily accepted by the older Academy members. Even though it feels long at 29 minutes, it’s still one of the stronger offerings in this category and the presence of a known actor like Hinds–a rarity in this category–should give this an advantage on Oscar night.

Max Zähle’s “Raju” involves a German couple arriving in Calcutta India to adopt a young boy who promptly disappears causing them to panic before they learn he’s not exactly what they thought. This is a straight dramatic story, though it’s not a particularly captivating tale, the writing and acting feeling weak compared to Zähle’s great shots of modern-day Calcutta. You can only watch these people looking for this kid or talking about his for so long before it gets boring; it has some nice dramatic moments, but overall, it’s pretty forgettable.

The one American short in the running is Andrew Boler’s “Time Freak,” a very clever comic short about the dangers of time travel starring Michael Nathanson as a guy who goes a bit overboard trying to “fix things” and John Conor Brooke as his friend who finds out what he’s been up to and realizes he has to stop him. It may be a little bit too genre for Academy voters, even if they have often gone for comedies in this category, but it’s a very funny short that’s worth seeing for sure.

Last but not least is the Norwegian short “Tuba Atlantic” from Hallvar Witzø about an aging man named Oskar who only has six more days to live, and he’s visited by a perky and overenthusiastic teenaged “Angel of Death” there to help him on his way to the afterlife. The odd couple try to coexist as they work together killing the seagulls surrounding his house and talking about matters from his past while preparing to test out the giant mechanical tuba he built, a fairly strange concept but one that’s quirky, funny and charming similar to many Scandinavian films, though it may be too much of an acquired taste to go over big with Oscar voters.

We’ll take a look at the Oscar-nominated DOCUMENTARY SHORTS later this week, but from what we discussed above, these are the ones we think will win on Oscar night:

Animated Short: “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” (Alt: “La Luna”)

Live Action Short: “The Shore” (Alt: “Time Freak”)

Oscar Nominated Short Films 2012 will be getting the widest release of any previous year, playing across the country starting on February 10. You can find out when and where they’ll be in your city by going to the Official Site.

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