The Oscar nominated shorts seem to get more and more accessible every year. Even though the big draw to the Oscars tends to be the films running for Best Picture and the actors in the race, the shorts opened in Los Angeles last week and will be available on iTunes starting February 17.
As we move forward in time and technology, the shorts make more and more sense because now anyone can make one, slap it up on YouTube and wait for people to notice it. Therefore, the short films that the Academy nominates must be up to snuff. And this year, they are. The live action and short films are diverse, moving, and thoughtful.
There are a few standouts from the pack, however, all were good enough to outlast the many other contenders from all over the world. Weirdly enough, the live action shorts tend to be foreign and rarely American, which may, at some point, end up with a separate category for “Shorts in a Foreign Language.” Perhaps there is no need for yet another shorts category but if things keep up this way, American filmmakers may start to feel some frustration about almost always being excluded from the bunch; you have to wonder, with all of the film schools in this country, why more Americans aren’t included in the short film race.
The top of the heap for the live action films are three — The Pig, Spielzeugland (Toyland), and New Boy. On the Line (Auf der Strecke) and Manon on the Asphalt are interesting and worth a viewing as well, but they don’t seem to hold the same power as the other three in this reviewer’s opinion. The Pig, probably the best of the lot, is about an old man put in the hospital for an operation. It is a most unpleasant experience for him – a polyp on his anus, yippee! He finds comfort in a painting of a bemused pick in a freefall dive off the end of a small pier. It makes him smile, even during the awful exam. He becomes attached to it and finds himself emotionally distraught when someone removes it. It turns out it was removed by the family of the other patient sharing a room with the old man. It says so much in such a short amount of time. It says everything about the role art plays in our lives, and it touches on the idea of what becomes the most important thing to you when you are confronted with death.
Toyland, is the story of a German boy during the Holocaust whose friend is about to be taken off to a concentration camp, called euphemistically “toyland.” The German boy runs away to be with the Jewish kid, not knowing where he’s inadvertently put himself. The frantic mother chases the boy down and must first prove she is not a Jew before she can retrieve her son. It is a story that is immediately involving because you have no idea how how the conflict will work itself out.
Finally, New Boy is the story of a refugee from a war torn country who moves to Ireland only to be tormented by bullies. The film intercuts with the scene where his teacher was taken away by soldiers and the brutality in his former country. Interestingly, the scenes in flashback are vivid and vibrant compared to the scenes in the present. Are memories more colorful, was his old life more vivid in memory?
The animated shorts are also upstaged by two of the nominees. This Way Up is about two undertakers whose job consists of taking a dead woman to her grave. But it just starts there. It turns into a battle for the woman’s soul.
And of course, Pixar’s Presto is probably the best of the lot. Pixar seems to do no wrong lately. This one involves a magician’s rabbit who is neglected and unfed by his self-centered boss. These films are all mostly family-friendly and well worth a look.