The categories lurk at the bottom of
Academy Award contests, sabotaging your chances to be perfect.
You're hoping to outguess everyone at
an Oscar party, but the shorts categories – animation, live-action
and documentaries – are enigmas.
Or maybe they don't have to be. Right now, some movie theaters are running three separate packages of the Oscar-nominated shorts.
I caught them at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor; you can find all the show times at the end of this story or at www.michtheater.org. If you live elsewhere, look around for a theater near you; anyway, here's my shorts overview:
Here's the happy surprise, bursting
with fresh approaches and sharp craftsmanship.
Only “Raju” is dead-serious. It's
an OK drama about a German couple adopting a boy in India.
“The Shore” does start seriously,
as a man (Cieran Hinds) returns to Ireland with his American-born
daughter (Kerry Condon). It bounces into broad comedy, then returns
to warm drama.
The others glow with whimsy.
“Pentecost” is a beautifully filmed tale of an Irish altar boy.
“Time Freak” is an American comedy about a guy and his time
machine, with a great final scene. “Tuba Atlantic” is a Norwegian
delight about an old man with six days to live and the young woman
who may or may not help with his final wish.
– My favorite: “Time Freak,” but
“Shore” and “Tuba Atlantic” are also great.
– Prediction: “Tuba Atlantic,”
with “Time Freak” as a possibility.
As usual, Canadians were big
contributors here. “Wild Life” is the droll tale of an
upper-class Englishman on the Canadian frontier; “Dimanche” is
one lad's odd Sunday with relatives.
The British “A Morning Stroll”
deftly leaps between three time periods – with a different
animation style for each. Americans made the feel-good “La Luna”
and the offbeat “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris
– Favorite: “La Luna,” by a
smidgen. Still, none of these was nearly as good as “Skylight” –
a Canadian delight that isn't nominated, but made the short list and
is included in the Ann Arbor package.
– Prediction: “La Luna” –
unless there's resentment for a mega-company (Pixar) in this
category. Then “Morning Stroll” or “Lessmore” could win.
This is the tough one to watch. “Saving
Face” – about acid-scarred Pakistani women – is wrenching;
“Incident in New Baghdad” and “The Tsunami and the Cherry
Blossom” are difficult.
All are important; none is particularly
well-crafted. (A fifth film, “God is the Bigger Elvis,” isn't in
the package because of licensing issues.) That leaves one stand-out;
“The Barber of Birmingham” is a soaring view of one man's
passion, from the early civil rights days to the election of Barack
Favorite and prediction: “The
Barber of Birmingham.”
And if you'r near Ann Arbor, Mich., here are the show times:
– Before the Oscars: Wednesday (Feb. 22) -- animated, 5 p.m.; live-action, 7:15; documentaries, 9:30. Thursday -- docs, 4:30; animated, 7:15; live, 9:30. Friday –
docs, 4 p.m.; animation 6:45; live, 9. Saturday –
docs, 4:15; live, 7; animation, 9:15. Sunday (Oscar day, Feb. 26) – live, 3:15;
Animated, 5:45; docs, 8,
– Afterward: Monday (Feb. 27) – live, 4:45;
animated, 7:15, docs, 9:15. Tuesday – docs, 4:15; live, 7:15;
animated, 9:35; Wednesday – live, 7:30, animated, 9:45; Thursday –
docs, 4:15; animated, 7:15, life, 9:30.
– Also: Oscar-nominated “Pina”
continues through March 1; “A Separation” (nominated for script
and foreign-language film) starts March 2; “Rango” is 1:30 p.m.
March 4-5. See www.michtheater.org.