Thursday, February 28, 2013

High Finance Was Never So Dull

COSMOPOLIS

Maybe the book was better, because I can't imagine Don Delillo's novel Cosmopolis being anywhere near as boring and self-important as David Cronenberg's adaptation is.  One can perhaps admire how Cronenberg captured the cold, dispassionate nature of the financial world Cosmopolis takes place in, but it does not make up for being slow, confusing, and ultimately uninteresting to almost anyone.

Taking place in one day, Cosmopolis is about Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson), a wunderkind of high finances who wants to get a haircut.  He wants to get it at a specific, nondescript barbershop clear across New York City where he got his hair cut as a child.  He doesn't want the barber to come to him or to use another barber, and he has several obstacles blocking him.  There is a Presidential motorcade, an Occupy Wall Street-type protest, and a rap star's funeral all in his way.  Nothing will dissuade Eric from getting his hair cut.

Thus he goes on the odyssey across the city, where he meets with all sorts of people in his ultimately pimped-out limousine.  Among those are Shiner (Jay Baruchel), some sort of technical genius, mistress Didi Fancher (Juliete Binoche), financial advisor Vija Kinsky (Samantha Morton), a hooker whose name I don't remember, and other people I can't recall.  He is guarded by Torvol (Kevin Durand) and meets for breakfast, lunch, and dinner with his new bride, Elise (Sarah Gadon).  During the course of his trip, Eric discovers the billion-dollar fortune has vanished, and someone is after him (hence the protection).  Eric is not disturbed by anything: not the loss of the fortune, not the stalker, not the wild protests that launch rats as the new currency.  About the only thing that does affect him in any way is the rap star's funeral (though I'm not sure exactly how since I had drifted off to sleep for a few minutes).

Eventually, Eric does get his hair cut (after he killed Torvol) but he ends up near his stalker, one Richard Steele (Paul Giamatti), whose real name is Benno Levin (or is it the other way 'round).  In any case, they get to talking, Eric shoots his hand, and Cosmopolis ends with Richard pointing a gun to Eric's head, then fades to black.



The words best descriptive for Cosmopolis would be 'pretentious', 'indecipherable', and ultimately 'boring'.  Despite what could only be described as both Cronenberg and DeLillo's best efforts (with Cronenberg adapting DeLillo's novel) the translation fails spectacularly.  I get the idea that Eric is suppose to be this cold, uncaring being, selfish and cruel to those around him.  That being the case, why do or should we care about him?  More to the point, why are we given this strange odyssey for Eric to undertake if we're going to just be introduced to characters who just pop in and out without rhyme or reason?

Take Binoche's mistress.  For once, Binoche's French accent proved to be distracting for the first time.  Let's leave that aside for a moment.  You have her talking with Eric about buying a painting for his collection.  That's nice, but what do we care?  Again and again he meets people who talk about things we cannot possibly follow, understand, or care about.  They might make sense to them, but certainly not to us.

I say 'might' because I suspect not even the characters appear to fully understand what all their grand pronouncements about Capitalism Without Morality (if there were such a thing as Capitalism WITH Morality) has corroded the soul.  Everyone seems to be speaking but their words have no meaning apart from sounding like so much white noise.  EVERYONE speaks in this same, stilted, mannered speech.  Even Richard Steele/Benno Levin is as pretentious as Eric.  All the people in this thing are spouting all this gibberish as if it were deep and esoteric when it's really all so awful in both delivery and meaning. 

I suppose that given Pattinson's Eric Porter is this dead-eyed bore it makes Cosmopolis his richest, deepest work.  Right from the get-go Pattinson is bad with his blank monotone delivery, and for some reason known and understood only by Cronenberg everyone was asked to follow Pattinson's lead.

More bizarre are moments that clearly must have been for comedy, or at least seems so wildly out of place in a serious drama like Cosmopolis.  The most nutty part is when the International Monetary Fund head is murdered on-air during a North Korean interview.  The whole sequence is not taken seriously, or at least I can't imagine anyone watching it taking it seriously because it is acted as if it were all a joke.  I can't figure out why a North Korean is interviewing anyone as if there were such a thing as 'chat shows' from the Hermit Kingdom (Good Morning Pyongyang, perhaps?) and given the totalitarian nature of the North Korean regime it seems impossible to believe someone could be murdered on the air and get away with it.  It's all just so stupid, and it makes a mockery of the grand pretentions Cosmopolis aims for.   

For those awake during Cosmopolis, we get moments of total unintended comedy.  Apart from the North Korean Morning News sequence we get one of his meals with his sex-starved young wife.  She knows he's been fooling around in that limosine that looks like a spaceship.  "You smell like sex", she says, and I expected her to start singing Sex and Candy.   I wish she had...it would have livened things up.

I understand what Cosmopolis was trying for: an exploration of the soul of one who is soulless.  It doesn't mean that Cosmopolis has to be boring.  A film may be remote and distant, but if one is dropping off while watching it, if one can't enjoy it, then there really is no reason to take a ride.            

Even R-Pattz fell asleep during Cosmopolis...


DECISION: F-

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Seth And Destroy

Boob Meets Tube

What do we have to remember from the 85th Annual Academy Awards? Neither the disaster or snoozefest predicted, we had genuinely shocking wins, predictable moments, and at least for one winner, a most unexpected trip.

I went 15 out of 24, which is remarkably good for me.   Quick discussion of my predictions and outcomes before we tackle the show itself.  Red indicates inaccurate predictions with correct winners noted.

PICTURE: Argo
ACTOR: Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)
ACTRESS: Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln(Christoph Waltz: Django Unchained)
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables)
DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg (Lincoln) (Ang Lee: Life of Pi)ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook) (Chris Terrio: Argo)
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Michael Haneke (Amour)
(Quentin Tarantino: Django UnchainedDOCUMENTARY FEATURE: How to Survive a Plague (Searching for Sugar Man)
DOCUMENTARY SHORT: Redemption
(Inocente)FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: Amour
ANIMATED FEATURE: Wreck-It-Ralph (Brave)
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Life of Pi
MAKEUP: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Les Miserablés)
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Anna Karenina (Lincoln)
ANIMATED SHORT: Paperman
LIVE-ACTION SHORT: Curfew
VISUAL EFFECTS: Life of Pi
COSTUME DESIGN: Anna Karenina
FILM EDITING: Argo
SOUND MIXING: Les Miserables
SOUND EDITING: Zero Dark Thirty * (Tie with Skyfall)
ORIGINAL SCORE: Life of Pi
ORIGINAL SONG: Skyfall (Skyfall)...unfortunately

Some were not big surprises.  Lee's win wasn't totally unexpected (and would have been my choice).  Searching for Sugar Man is a rare time the Academy went for a positive film rather than the "America is to blame for everything" advocacy film they favor (Bowling for Columbine, An Inconvenient Truth).  Some, however, were genuine stunners.

The Academy goes Deutsch...
Best Supporting Actor was the first award presented, and of the five nominees, Christoph Waltz was always at or near the bottom of choices to win.  Thus when his name was announced it was a shocking moment.  In how things can change quickly from nomination to win, Argo's Chris Terrio and Django Unchained's Quentin Tarantino's went from "not gonna happen" to "it just happened".  Back on Nomination Day, both Lincoln's Tony Kushner and Zero Dark Thirty's Mark Boal were practically assured victories.   Nothing like a little controversy to shift momentum away from you.

My biggest non-Skyfall disappointment was Brave's win for Best Animated Feature.  I thought it pretty-looking but a weak film with a rather unpleasant main character, always whining and treating her parents badly.  I still hold that Wreck-It-Ralph was the best of the five nominated and find its loss puzzling.


From Abduction to Absolution...

 

My biggest joy was with Shawn Christensen's win for Best Live-Action Short Film for Curfew. I now fully forgive you from your sin of writing Abduction, so let us never speak of it again. It just proves my theory that if people are exposed to these films (Animated, Live-Action, and Documentary Shorts) people would discover a breath of quality work that puts bigger-budgeted films to shame.

Most of the other wins were predetermined.  When it came to Daniel Day-Lewis' inevitable third Best Actor Oscar (a new record), I'm not sure presenter Meryl Streep even bothered to open the envelope.  For those who know how I detest Skyfall, I'll get to it in a bit.  However, I've digressed enough, so let us now look over the show.

When you get the mind behind Family Guy to host, you have only yourself to blame that said host decided to write a Family Guy Oscar Special rather than for the Academy Awards.  Seth MacFarlane started out all right (the Tommy Lee Jones joke went over well), but it took only five minutes for things to turn ugly.  MacFarlane made a Rihanna/Chris Brown joke apparently making light of the assault she suffered at his hands that wasn't funny, and then it all pretty much went downhill from there.

You need...color...ful...metaphors...for the...show...

William Shatner's appearance as Captain James T. Kirk was...odd.  My friend Raoul, who was watching with me at the extremely sparsely-attended Oscar Party of mine (and who is an unapologetic Trekkie...he calls himself that) asked why didn't they go with Chris Pine instead of Shatner.  It would have made more sense to promote Star Trek Into Darkness than subject us all to a long and boring schtick that seems to reveal that despite his swagger and crassness Seth MacFarlane appears to be a highly insecure man, desperate for approval.  Why else build a whole routine about how bad your reviews were going to be...unless you saw the material (Flight with sock puppets, a song about boobs) and knew it was going to bomb. 

Good Grief that Boob Song.  While I enjoyed his takedown of Kate Winslet (an actress who is remarkably haughty and imagines herself a grande dame of the screen despite going topless more often than your average stripper), the song appeared to come from a Family Guy episode rather than the Academy Awards.  If the godless MacFarlane had any guts, he would have sung it straight AT the audience rather than hide behind the "this is from the future" gimmick, then cut to said actresses reaction to the lyrics.  It was clear Naomi Watts, Jennifer Lawrence (J-Law to me) and Charlize Theron were in on the joke, but I wonder what Streep, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Helen Hunt, Scarlett Johannsen and the rest thought of being so publicly mocked for their choices.  Some, like Hunt, were not gratuitous (she does play a sex surrogate), and some, like Johannsen, were unintended.  MacFarlane laughing at ScarJo being hacked and having the pictures meant for her then-husband Ryan Reynolds put out for the world to see was in retrospect especially low.  

The BIG question about the Boob Song is, given that he was backed up by the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles, what exactly do gay men know about women's breasts and why should they care about them?  Wouldn't they get more excited about Channing Tatum's nipples than Anne Hathaway's?  

Speaking of...The Way You Look Tonight has never been made so redundant.  What was the point of this song-and-dance (except for MacFarlane to showcase his own singing)? 

And Tatum, even while dancing, still looks like an imbecile who needs cue cards to know which foot to use.

On and on it went, culminating in the FOURTH musical numbers in the first twenty minutes (or one every five minutes) with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Daniel Radcliffe joining in the 'fun'.  While Radcliffe is no stranger to musicals (he did great in a Broadway revival How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying) and Gordon-Levitt can do anything (if ever I had a man-crush...), again, it's taking up far too much time.

Some of his jokes bombed even worse.  When he cracked about Lincoln, "I would argue that the actor who really got into Lincoln's head was John Wilkes Booth," he was met with a surprisingly loud number of groans amid the silence.

Somehow, quips about assassinating Presidents just don't get the laughs one expects.

Another crack about Zero Dark Thirty's female heroine also fell flat. 

He just couldn't find a balance between being edgy and being audience-appropriate.  MacFarlane wanted to laugh at the audiences and at the same time please them. 

There were also skits that bombed.  Spoofing The Sound of Music was already bad enough (not because it's a sacred film, but because it wasn't funny), but having it come right after his animated character Ted's Jewish jokes (meeting at a 'secret synagogue') just seemed a coda of bad taste.  

What else sank the show?  How about a lengthy tribute to current-day musicals?  It was all right to feature Les Misérables (seeing as it was a nominee), but the All That Jazz and the And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going numbers from Chicago and Dreamgirls respectively seemed to come from another show altogether.

Will you join in our crusade for Oscar gold?

The Miz Medley had some good things (Eddie Redmayne proves to be a shockingly good singer, and anyone with proper hearing can tell Samantha Banks sings better than Anne Hathaway and should be a star).  Hearing Russell Crowe briefly was also good, so I guess that should be a highlight too (if only because we were spared Crowe's growl).  The bad thing is that we got only a brief clip of Suddenly, the Oscar-nominated song, rather than hearing the whole thing.    

I may be taller than Mark Ruffalo & Jeremy Renner,
and I'm 5'8".

Few presenters seemed like they were having a good time.  Paul Rudd & Melissa McCarthy were made to look unfunny (well, sometimes they can be, but their Best Animated Short and Feature presentation was embarrassing), and the five Avengers looked confused (which is usually Chris Evans' normal look, but I digress).  It does seem to solidify that Renner might have no real sense of humor.

As we know, some of the winners were already expected, but what they did or wore was not.  At the top of horrifying choices was Anne Hathaway's entire appearance.  First, her Oscar clip consisted of I Dreamed A Dream (verifying my view that her one big showstopping song is the only thing anyone remembers from her performance), but dear God I could not focus on anything other than her nipples.

She showed us her boobs...
In what could only be one of the worse coincidences in Oscar history, Anne Hathaway accepts her Best Supporting Actress Oscar in a dress where her nipples were clearly visible after the show opens with a song about women (including Hathaway) bearing their breasts.  I had to rewatch her acceptance speech because frankly I kept focusing on the indentations her nipples were leaving on her gown.  

I'm sorry, Annie, but I couldn't focus on how one song got you an Oscar.  I was too focused on your nipples. 

Congratulations, QT. You get an Oscar
for writing "ni---r" 112 times...

In terms of biggest disappointment, it has to be the much-vaunted James Bond 50th Anniversary tribute.  It was the epitome of the bad clip reel, with nothing that spoke of what has made the James Bond series so popular and in some cases, so good.  No mention of Nobody Does It Better or For Your Eyes Only, or the glories that are the Bond Girls (where was Pussy or Honey Rider or Tiffany Case or Xenia Onatopp) or those great Villains like Blofeld or Goldfinger.  If you can't find room in a Bond tribute for Rosa Klebb's shoe-blade, you can't call yourself a respectable James Bond Tribute.

Adele, let me show you what a
REAL Bond Song sounds like.

However, it lead to one of the three highlights of the evening.  76-year-old Dame Shirley Bassey emerged at the end of the Bond Clip Reel to belt out her signature song (and damn the other critics, the BEST Bond Song Ever), Goldfinger (sorry, Adele, but to quote your song, when it comes between you and Shirley Bassey, you're "a million miles and poles apart").

Granted, we can't expect a 76-year-old to have the force she had almost half a century ago.  However, for her age she is remarkable, and that last note puts Miss Adkins' bombastic warbling to shame.  It is also curious that the producers didn't go for the obvious segway from the Bond Clip Reel to having Adele sing Skyfall.  After all, isn't Skyfall suppose to be the Greatest Song Ever Written in the History of Mankind (how can Skyfall be mentioned in the same breath as those crappy, forgettable winners like Over The Rainbow or White Christmas)?  I am the only one who thinks Skyfall is The Funeral Theme for The Dark Bond Rises, but I'm left scratching my head.  Here, at what is suppose to be this great tribute to 007, no one picked the "greatest Bond Theme in history".  Instead, they went with the never-nominated Goldfinger

Curious that.  

However, I am convinced that despite what my brother critics say, it's Goldfinger, it's For Your Eyes Only, it's Live and Let Die, it's Nobody Does It Better from The Spy Who Loved Me, and probably A View to A Kill that will be remembered as definitive Bond Themes fifty years from now, not Skyfall.   Five years, ten years, twenty-five years hence, people will still be able to hum or sing all those songs but won't be able to recall a note from Skyfall.    

People will remember my song like they remember
Sweet Leilani and It Goes Like It Goes!

Speaking of Skyfall, I hope now that people have heard it, they realize what a boring song it is.  Again, to her credit she kept the bombast she can devour a song with to a minimum, but the general consensus I heard from my co-workers was "boring" and "nowhere near the best Bond Song".   This Funeral Theme to The Dark Bond Rises has lousy lyrics and is melodically sleep-inducing.  "Skyfall is where we start".  What does that mean?

I think that in my defense, I might not hate it so much if it weren't being so fanatically promoted as The BEST Bond Song Ever...or perhaps as the Best Best Original Song Ever Written.  Having heard it again, her performance was pretty bad: I thought she struggled to sing at all, at one point even looking pretty bored.  Note she got no standing ovation, unlike Dame Shirley Bassey. 

Coincidence?  I Think Not.   



Nobody Did It Better.
Thanks, Marv.
The second highlight of the Oscars was the end of the In Memoriam section.  The fact that my Brother Gabe had no idea who Celeste Holm was is a failure on my part.  The fact he had no idea who Adam Yauch was is a failure on his.  The comments I heard was that Larry Hagman was left out, but I was surprised that Ann Rutherford, star from the Andy Hardy films and one of the last surviving castmembers of Gone With the Wind, was left out. 

The last name mentioned was the much-missed Marvin Hamlisch, and at the end Barbra Streisand emerged to sing a beautiful version of The Way We Were.  I'm not a fan of Babs, but it was something that Seth MacFarlane lacked during his entire performance: a touch of class.  Hamlisch was truly one of the greats, and having him sung into history with one of the most beautiful love songs is a fitting tribute.  Even at 70, Streisand still has A Voice. 

How interesting that the 70-year-old Barbra Streisand and 76-year-old Shirley Bassey received standing ovations for their performances, but 24-year-old Adele Adkins didn't.  How interesting that two women old enough to be her grandmother could outsing our Cockney chanteuse.


This one's for La Raza!
The third best moment was Ben Affleck's acceptance speech for Best Picture (well-deserved in my view).  He already had earned points when he shot back at MacFarlane's snide comments at Affleck's expense.  "I thought the show's been going pretty well, but maybe you'll turn that around," Affleck quipped before presenting Best Documentary Feature.  However, Affleck was fully aware of how his fortunes had turned.  A few years ago, he was written off, compared (always unfavorably) to his Good Will Hunting writing partner Matt Damon (let us not forget Family Guy had ridiculed Affleck, suggesting Damon did all the work and Affleck's only contribution to the GWH script was a fart in between pot use).   While Damon was winning praise for such films as The Talented Mr. Ripley and the Bourne films, Affleck was floundering in such things as Daredevil, The Sum of All Fears, and Gigli, lost in a sea of tabloid excess with Bennifer.  Now, he'd gone from a perennial Razzie nominee to an Oscar winner.

"You have to work harder than you think you possibly can.  Can't hold grudges...and it doesn't matter how you get knocked down in life, cause that's gonna happen. All that matters is that you gotta get up".  

Affleck's speech was humble and gracious.  I have never been a fan of Ben Affleck.  I think he's a second-rate actor.  I also HIGHLY criticize his decision to cast himself as a Hispanic in Argo.  Having said all that, I respect him as a filmmaker, and my opinion of him has gone up considerably...not that he cares, but it has.

He deserved to win. 

Well, that's the long-winded review for the 85th Annual Academy Awards.  It was fun while it lasted, but I suspect that somewhere, James Franco and Snow White are waiting for an apology...





This pretty much sums up the 85th Annual Academy Awards...

What's all this rubbish about
"liberal Hollywood"?
No Les Misérables life for Lady O.
As for the rest of us...
Wonder what Madame Obama thought of Django Unchained...
 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

2012 Oscar Nominees: The Predictions


We enter the 85th Annual Academy Awards with shifting momentum for all sorts of films.  When the nominations were announced, Lincoln appeared to be the odds-on favorite to win Best Picture, especially since both Argo and Zero Dark Thirty failed to earn Best Director nominations for Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow respectively.  Momentum briefly moved to ZDT, until the vocal liberal community within Hollywood railed at the idea of honoring a film that "endorsed" torture.  With Lincoln failing to catch fire the once-dead Argo has been resurrected and is now the clear-cut front-runner and likely winner.

It isn't just in the Best Picture category that we see front-runners turn into also-rans.  Tony Kushner was suppose to have his acceptance speech all ready for Lincoln, when virtually out of nowhere David O. Russell's adaptation for Silver Linings Playbook has come roaring to within the winner's circle.  While certain nominees have been virtual locks (Daniel Day-Lewis, Adele...unfortunately), this year's Academy Awards have been a fun guessing game.  With everyone else throwing their two-cents in, I thought I'd do likewise...and pray I can be brief.

With that, let us begin.

It's a safe bet four of them
didn't vote for the President.

BEST ACTOR

Daniel Day-Lewis: Lincoln
Denzel Washington: Flight
Hugh Jackman: Les Miserables
Joaquin Phoenix: The Master
Bradley Cooper: Silver Linings Playbook

Will Win: Daniel Day-Lewis
Should Win: Denzel Washington

First, Daniel Day-Lewis ought to give thanks to God for not putting in John Hawkes in The Sessions among the nominees (I suspect the popular Cooper took his slot), because Hawkes would have either given Day-Lewis his greatest threat or so split the vote that it would give any of the others a fighting chance.  As it stands, only Washington's brilliant turn as the troubled pilot gives Day-Lewis a run for his money.  However, the pull just seems too strong to stop Day-Lewis for picking up his third Oscar.  I personally found Washington to give a better performance than Day-Lewis' strong but slightly remote one.  Day-Lewis is getting praise for sticking to President Lincoln's high-pitched voice.  It was good but I've tired of actors who 'stay in character' and get lauded for it.


For one of them, "Give it to the Old Lady"
could mean ANY of them...
Best Actress:

Jennifer Lawrence: Silver Linings Playbook
Quvenzahne Harris: Beasts of the Southern Wild
Jessica Chastain: Zero Dark Thirty
Naomi Watts: The Impossible
Emmanuelle Riva: Amour

Will Win: Jennifer Lawrence
Should Win: Emmanuelle Riva

Poor Jessica Chastain.  She has proven herself one of the most versatile actresses working today, going from white trash in The Help to the tough-as-nails Maya in Zero Dark Thirty.  Yet she will be denied because ZDT is misconstrued as a paean to torture.  While Watts was devastating as the mother caught in the chaos of the Boxing Day tsunami right now the Academy likes them young, and J-Law is the It Girl of 2012.  The Academy loves rewarding crazy, and that's what Lawrence gives us in SLP.  I personally wasn't enchanted by the "I'm screaming so it must be funny" routine SLP took, but she's popular, young, and a genuine talent.  It does, however, squeeze Riva out of the race.



I could outsing that bitch anytime...
Best Supporting Actress:

Amy Adams: The Master
Sally Field: Lincoln
Anne Hathaway: Les Miserables
Helen Hunt: The Sessions
Jacki Weaver: Silver Linings Playbook

Will Win: Anne Hathaway
Should Win: Amy Adams

It's bad enough that the most boring Bond Song which inexplicably has been hailed as some sort of musical landmark on par with Stravinsky's Rite of Spring will win.  Now people will win Oscars for merely singing ONE song in a film?  This is one of the categories that truly is as close to a sure bet as anything, but while I think Hathaway is one of the best and brightest young actresses working today, she is winning for all the wrong reasons.  All she did was belt out one song, and then she died.  She had very little to do in Les Miserables other than sing a showstopping number (yes, sing it well but that's all).  Let's be honest: apart from I Dreamed A Dream, what else can ANYONE point to in Hathaway's performance that merits an Academy Award?  Hathaway was in Les Miserables for less than fifteen minutes certainly, perhaps not even ten.  She wasn't integral to the plot, she didn't add anything special to Fantine, but because she did this rendition of I Dreamed A Dream she now has coughed her way to an Oscar.  I think Hunt is a lead performance, and while I loved her it was Adams' turn as the brittle wife of the guru that stood out in a film I didn't care for.


I heard things.
I just won't hear my name...

Best
Supporting Actor:

Alan Arkin: Argo
Robert DeNiro: Silver Linings Playbook
Philip Seymour Hoffman: The Master
Tommy Lee Jones: Lincoln
Christoph Waltz: Django Unchained

Will Win: Tommy Lee Jones
Should Win: Philip Seymour Hoffman

As Emma Stone so cattily (and I'd say, rather disrespectfully) pointed out, all of them have won before.  I thought it was a rather cheap joke, but yes, we do have a set that has previous Oscar winners.  Truth be told, I was not overwhelmed by any of them, but of the ones listed here the one that impressed me the most was Hoffman as "not" L. Ron Hubbard in The Master.  We never found whether Lancaster Dodd actually believed his own ideas or knew it was all a scam or a mixture. This isn't to say they were bad (though Arkin was to my mind the weakest of the bunch), but I never found anything in particular that I was wild for.

BEST DIRECTOR

Michael Haneke: Amour
Benh Zeitlin: Beasts of the Southern Wild
Ang Lee: Life of Pi
Steven Spielberg: Lincoln
David O. Russell: Silver Linings Playbook

Will Win: Steven Spielberg
Should Win: Ang Lee

We already know that the winner of Best Director will not correspond to the winner of Best Picture because Argo's Ben Affleck and Zero Dark Thirty's Kathryn Bigelow failed to win nominations.  That being the case, it's Spielberg's to lose.  Again, in the early days Spielberg appeared to be the sure bet, but now the star has dimmed on his chances, while both Lee and Russell have risen to challenge him (forget the foreign-language Haneke or the newbie Zeitlin).  Lee is weakened because like Spielberg he's won before (while Russell hasn't) but I still think that Life of Pi will be rewarded in other categories, Russell will have a better chance in Adapted Screenplay and by elimination Steven Spielberg will be one Oscar short of tying the most honored director, four-time winner John Ford.

Curiously enough, the last time Spielberg won was for Saving Private Ryan, again the Best Director winner did not correspond to the Best Picture winner.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

5 Broken Cameras
The Gatekeepers
How to Survive a Plague
The Invisible War
Searching for Sugar Man

Will Win: How to Survive A Plague
Should Win: No Idea

The Documentary Feature category loves advocacy films: movies that less chronicle real life and more promote an agenda.  With the exception of Searching for Sugar Man all of them are about issues (the Israeli-Arab Palestinian conflict, AIDS, rape in the military).  I'm at a disadvantage since I've only seen one, but I'm giving the edge to the AIDS-centered How to Survive a Plague.

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT

Inocente
Kings Point
Mondays at Racine
Open Heart
Redemption

Will Win: Redemption
Should Win:  No Idea

Again, given the film industry's stubborn idea that audiences are stupid, we are never exposed to any of the Documentary Short Subject nominees.  It's just a shot in the dark.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Au Bientot, Mon Cherie


Amour (Austria)
Kon-Tiki (Norway)
No (Chile)
A Royal Affair (Denmark)
War Witch (Canada)

Will/Should Win: Amour

The consolation prize for receiving a Best Picture nomination and having no chance of winning.  Whenever a movie earns both Foreign-Language and Best Picture nominations, the foreign-language film will always win the former because the latter is thoroughly out of reach.  No non-English film has won Best Picture, and the chances of that happening are as likely as a black President, so one never knows, but not this year.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

Brave
Frankenweenie
ParaNorman
The Pirates! Band of Misfits
Wreck-It-Ralph

Will/Should Win: Wreck-It-Ralph

One wonders exactly how The Pirates! Band of Misfits even got nominated given how it flopped (and managed to insult the leper community at the same time...seriously).  Brave was underwhelming, the two horror-centered films well, too horror-centered to gain mainstream audience affection (though Frankenweenie was actually a well-done homage to old-school horror films), but Wreck-It-Ralph, taking a page from Toy Story, is the one that should take home the prize.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Anna Karenina
Django Unchained
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Skyfall

Will/Should Win: Life of Pi

It's unfortunate that Roger Deakins will lose for his beautiful work in Skyfall (about the only thing I enjoyed from that boring, self-important, morose, alleged "Bond" movie).  For the longest time I thought he was finally going to win a long-overdue Cinematography Oscar since all the others, while pretty I suppose, didn't strike me as splendid.  Then I saw Life of Pi and figured Cinematography Oscars were created for films such as these.  Life of Pi is simply too extraordinary-looking to ignore.

BEST MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING

Hitchcock
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Les Miserables

Will/Should Win: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Well, I was disappointed by the first part of the inexplicable Hobbit Trilogy, and to think there will be two more films does not make me more enthusiastic.  I however, figure that any movie that can make a dwarf into a hunky figure deserves the Oscar.

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

Anna Karenina
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Les Miserables
Life of Pi
Lincoln

Will Win: Anna Karenina
Should Win:  Les Miserables

The odd thing about this category is that I don't care for any of them.  In short, none of the sets impressed me as 'great'.  A general rule is that royalty and royalty-related films are rewarded, and Anna Karenina is the closest royalty-centered nominee.  I give it the edge because the very artifice of Anna Karenina was the very thing being focused on.  However, I remember the elephant in Les Miserables, and think that it might pull out a surprise.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Amour: Michael Haneke
Django Unchained: Quentin Tarantino
Flight: John Gatins
Moonrise Kingdom: Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola
Zero Dark Thirty: Mark Boal

Will Win: Amour
Should Win: Moonrise Kingdom

I loved Moonrise Kingdom (which is something I don't usually associate with Wes Anderson).  What's great about this category is that with the exception of Django Unchained (which was just far too long), all of them were well-written films.  Given the wealth of choices, I'm giving the slight advantage to Haneke's script for Amour as a way to award him personally.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Argo: Chris Terrio
Beasts of the Southern Wild: Lucy Alibar and Behn Zeitlin
Life of Pi: David Magee
Lincoln: Tony Kushner
Silver Linings Playbook: David O. Russell

Will Win: Silver Linings Playbook
Should Win: Life of Pi

I simply don't understand the hold Silver Linings Playbook has over the general and critic world.  It comes from the 'we're all screaming at each other at the same time so it must be funny' school of comedy.  However, it is starting to steamroll over the other main contenders: Argo and Lincoln.  I never thought Lincoln was this brilliant piece of writing (it was good, not great) and Argo was overshadowed by first Lincoln then Silver Linings Playbook.  However, one of them has been ignored: Life of Pi, the novel that was suppose to be unfilmable.  That it was adapted at all is worthy of recognition, and I don't understand why it is never mentioned as the one to challenge SLP's likely triumph.

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM

See my predictions for full reviews, but in a nutshell, Paperman and Curfew respectively.
It helps when you see the films.

Better luck next sequel...

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

The Avengers
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Life of Pi
Prometheus
Snow White and the Huntsman

Will/Should Win: Life of Pi

I'm knocking out both Prometheus and Snow White & The Huntsman because they weren't big with audiences.  Of the three left, Life of Pi is the one that best blended the effects with the story.  Let's remember that the tiger was wildly realistic to where we hardly ever questioned it was real.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

Anna Karenina
Les Miserables
Lincoln
Mirror Mirror
Snow White & The Huntsman

Will Win: Anna Karenina
Should Win: Mirror Mirror

The fact that Mirror Mirror received a posthumous nomination for Eiko Ishioka is a positive given that Mirror Mirror came out early in 2012.  It does have a legitimate chance given the general rule that royalty-centered films win the Costume Design Oscars.  However, I think Anna Karenina, also a costume picture, might come out on top.  Still, I wouldn't write out a posthumous winner.

BEST FILM EDITING

Argo
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

Will/Should Win: Argo

I'm tipping my hand, but the Film Editing and Best Picture winner tend to go together.  That and the fact that the final escape from Tehran are so tense is a great editing job.

BEST SOUND MIXING

Argo
Les Miserables
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Skyfall

Will Win: Les Miserables
Should Win: Any except Skyfall

They sang LIVE!  They are also a musical, and what do you have in a musical?  SOUND!  Go with that.

BEST SOUND EDITING

Argo
Django Unchained
Life of Pi
Skyfall
Zero Dark Thirty

Will/Should Win: Zero Dark Thirty

I'm giving it to the war movie, where things have to be loud.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Anna Karenina
Argo
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Skyfall

Will Win: Life of Pi
Should Win: Not Skyfall

I can't recall anything in the nominated scores that was overwhelming and memorable.  I don't remember one note of Skyfall's score, and while I do remember Argo and Lincoln, I remember them because I figured they went the way I thought they would (vaguely Middle Eastern/Islamic for the former, a touch schmaltzy for the latter).  I do remember Life of Pi's score, and thought it beautiful. 


The song's ugly too.
BEST ORIGINAL SONG

Before My Time: Chasing Ice
Everybody Needs a Best Friend: Ted
Pi's Lullaby: Life of Pi
Skyfall: Skyfall
Suddenly: Les Miserables

Will Win: Skyfall (unfortunately)
Should Win: Suddenly

I simply don't understand why my fellow critics basically masturbate to Skyfall's theme song, declaring it the Greatest Bond Song in the franchise's history (with the possible exception of Goldfinger).  Skyfall is slow, boring, and with a rather dull chorus:  Let the sky FALL, watch it crum-BLE, we will stand TALLLLL and face it allllll TOGETHER.  It's almost as if Adele were sleepwalking through it all.  OK, so the bridge is nice, but this theme is nowhere near the romanticism of Nobody Does it Better or the action of Live & Let Die and certainly nowhere near the brilliant bombast of Goldfinger.  THOSE are the Bond themes people will remember, not this morose little ditty that people have said sounds like something for a funeral.   It will win because she's popular, because it's Bond's 50th Anniversary, and because it's been pushed fiercely by my fellow critics, who are enraptured by the Dark Bond Rising.  I agree that A View to A Kill is a bad movie, but at least I enjoyed it, which is more than I can say for this pathetic Dark Knight rip-off I was treated to.   As for why I chose Suddenly, I think it is because I was pleased as to how Suddenly was seamlessly integrated into Les Miserables.

Finally,

BEST PICTURE

Amour
Argo
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained
Les Miserables
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

Will/Should Win:



Well, being at a slight disadvantage having not seen Amour, I go by what I have seen.  Of the other nominees, only two earned an A from me, and while I still loudly complain about Ben Affleck casting himself in the lead (because he's not a good actor) and casting himself as a Hispanic (because he isn't, making a mockery of his left-wing viewpoints), the film itself was so well-done it cannot be denied. 

Now for the final predictions:

PICTURE: Argo
ACTOR: Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)
ACTRESS: Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln)
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables)
DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg (Lincoln)
ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Michael Haneke (Amour)
DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: How to Survive a Plague
DOCUMENTARY SHORT: Redemption
FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: Amour
ANIMATED FEATURE: Wreck-It-Ralph
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Life of Pi
MAKEUP: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Anna Karenina
ANIMATED SHORT: Paperman
LIVE-ACTION SHORT: Curfew
VISUAL EFFECTS: Life of Pi
COSTUME DESIGN: Anna Karenina
FILM EDITING: Argo
SOUND MIXING: Les Miserables
SOUND EDITING: Zero Dark Thirty
ORIGINAL SCORE: Life of Pi
ORIGINAL SONG: Skyfall (Skyfall)...unfortunately

I have Life of Pi and Lincoln winning three, Silver Linings Playbook, Argo, Anna Karenina, Amour and Les Miserables winning two. Beasts of the Southern Wild and Django Unchained shut out, Zero Dark Thirty all but shut out.  No clear cut dominant picture as in other years.  Perhaps that is good, showing that with so many to choose from one is rather spoiled for choice.  Then again, it might mean that they just don't make them like they used to, and that pushing certain films doesn't necessarily mean one will win.  

On Monday, I will see how well I did.

Monday, February 18, 2013

2012 Animated Short Film Oscar Nominees: The Reviews

2012 Academy Award Nominees: Animated Short Film
Adam & Dog, Fresh Guacamole, Head Over Heels, 
The Longest Daycare, Paperman
It is a curse of American thinking that animation is seen as primarily and exclusively as a children's medium.  That being the case, people imagine that watching 'cartoons' is not something they would do because they are for kids.  This might be a reason why it is rare to feature an animated short before a feature film.  When we do see an animated short, it tends to come before an animated or kid-friendly film.  This is why you have Toy Story Toons shorts being screened before the newest PIXAR or Disney film or how one of this year's Academy Award nominees (The Longest Daycare) screened before Ice Age: Continental Drift.

Given this mindset that only children would watch animated shorts (or actually, animated feature films...which makes one wonder what would happen if Grave of the Fireflies were shown to preschoolers), it does make some sense.  How does one present something like Paperman or Adam & Dog before The Hangover Part II or Zero Dark Thirty?  The sad thing is that before, particularly from the 1930s to 1950s, animated shorts we de rigueur in the filmgoing experience.  Perhaps as hard as it might be to believe, they showed cartoons before such films as Mrs. Miniver, It's a Wonderful Life, Casablanca, and Duck Soup among others.  Animated shorts were the norm, and seeing a "Mickey Mouse" or a "Bugs Bunny" was just part of the filmgoing experience.  Studios had their own animation departments, and Disney started out as just animation until Walt Disney in his business genius started branching out into first full-length animation (a revolutionary move in itself) and eventually live-action features.

Today, however, seeing an animated short before a film not geared towards children or families is a rarity.  This is perhaps why the Animated Short Film Oscar category seems to most people something from another world, another time.  Since they don't know the nominated films, they simply don't care about his category and thus, everything about it seems like a waste of time.  It is unfortunate that things have turned out this way, as the five Academy Award nominees for Best Animated Short Film category are inventive, well-crafted, sometimes funny, sometimes touching, and even more original and enjoyable than the films that follow them.  Now, for reviews of the five nominees based on order of presentation.

The Longest Daycare: 5 minutes

The Longest Daycare is basically a silent film (with music of course) where Maggie Simpson, the youngest of the Simpson clan, is taken to the Ayn Rand School for Tots (where A Is For "A").  Maggie undergoes a battery of tests that show her to be of average intelligence, so instead of being taken to the swanky Gifted Area, she is dumped in the appropriately dumpy Nothing Special section.  Here, she tries to find something to do, but is frustrated by another baby who delights in smashing butterflies.  Maggie finds a cocoon and knowing the fate it faces, she does her best to safe the burgeoning butterfly.  When all seems well, the butterfly appears to be similarly destroyed.  However, in the end we find that Maggie has hidden the newly-created butterfly as her bow, and the butterfly goes out into the world.

The Longest Daycare is cute and funny (about the only animated short where I laughed out loud...when you see Raggedy Ayn Rand Dolls, you have to laugh...unless you are a Libertarian devoid of humor, and I find that those friends of mine who are radicals for capitalism are remarkably short on that).  It would fit perfectly within a Simpsons episode, and perhaps that is my issue with it.  It was cute and funny and clever, but it also didn't seem anything out of the ordinary.  It might just as well appeared within a Simpsons episode.  I liked it, thought it wonderful, but not overwhelmed.

DECISION: B-

Adam and Dog: 16 minutes

Adam and Dog is based on the Biblical story of Creation as chronicled in the Book of Genesis.  We are in the Garden of Eden, and Dog is wandering through this brave new world.  He marvels at the world he is in, and then comes across a strange new animal.  This upright creature gives him some food, then is able to imitate Dog's bark.  Soon they start spending time together, until the upright creature meets someone else.  He no longer is interested in spending time with Dog and throws a stick far out to get rid of him.  Dog searches long and far and wide for his former friend, and then finds him and his companion during a fierce thunderstorm.  The two creatures are all but running out of Eden, victims of The Fall.  While all the other animals watch silently and turn away, Dog is the only one to follow Adam and Eve out of Paradise, where they wearily but joyfully embrace him.

Adam and Dog would fit in perfectly within Judeo-Christian theology (though given that we do see Adam fully nude, it might make more conservative Christians & Jews uncomfortable and not be shown to their children).  The animation was beautiful and this was another silent film with music and should be easy to follow for anyone who has a cursory knowledge of Scripture.  Finally, it does end with a note of optimism and hope, with Man's Best Friend earning his reputation.

DECISION: A

Fresh Guacamole: 2 minutes

Fresh Guacamole is a very quick film. In stop-motion animation we see various materials such as a grenade and golf balls being turned into ingredients to make guacamole, with casino gambling chips used to scoop it up.

It was very clever, even amusing, but just like the real thing, I can't work up great enthusiasm for Fresh Guacamole.  However, I do admire the inventiveness behind it.

DECISION: B-

Head Over Heels: 11 minutes

Head Over Heels is about a couple who are so far apart they literally see the world from opposing viewpoints: the husband is on one level, the wife directly above him (or below, depending on how the house floats).  They don't communicate and live virtually separate lives.  The only thing they have is a photo of their wedding where the wife was kicking up her heels.  During the course of their day, the husband finds her shoes, repairs them, and attempts to give them to her.  He is rebuffed, and before their anger can grow the house finally crashes.  She is able to wander off, he stays on the opposite side.  Eventually she finds the shoes, and nails a series of shoes to the ceiling to be able to be with him.

Out of all the nominees Head Over Heels was the only one I didn't go crazy for.  It's a good idea and well-crafted, but perhaps the symbolism was a little too blunt for my tastes.  I also wasn't too thrilled by the actual look of Head Over Heels.  It's understood but not overwhelming.

DECISION: C+

Paperman: 7 minutes
 
Paperman is the tale of a young businessman or bureaucrat with a large stack of papers.  One of them flies into the face of a pretty girl, which imprints her red lipstick on it.  Instantly he is smitten, but she leaves on another train.  Later, the young man spots the girl from his office window to another building.  He launches several paper airplanes but none reach their target.  The lipstick-marked paper flies out the window, and the young man, defying his boss, runs after both it and the girl.  However, he cannot find either and he leaves in disgust.  The various paper planes, however, take on a mind of their own and find him, forcing him towards an elevated subway station.  The lipstick-marked paper finds the girl and leads her to the same station, where a paper-clad man and the girl meet.

I was thoroughly enchanted by Paperman, a sweet, cute, original and lovely story.  The only spot of color was the red lipstick, but the animation is strikingly beautiful, giving it a timeless quality where it would fit in perfectly in any time period.  Further, while the animation style itself is within the traditional Disney style, it still its own unique style to be appreciated.  Paperman is a well-written and drawn short that is just heartwarming.

DECISION: A  

First, some tidbits.  Fresh Guacamole is the shortest at a mere 2 minutes (the boob ad I've had to sit through was longer), with Adam and Dog the longest at 16 minutes (which puts it two minutes shorter than Asad, the shortest of this year's Live-Action Short nominees).  All of them are essentially silent films, and all except Fresh Guacamole (which I'd argue is just art for art's sake) are optimistic.  Only Adam & Dog has a sense of pathos, but even that had a note of hope when Dog joins Adam & Eve on their journey out of Paradise.

And now, my prediction for the Best Animated Short Film:

     

I was so taken and enchanted by the mix of whimsy and joy in Paperman that I just fell for it.  It is curious that Paperman falls into the 'animation is for kid's only' business, having premiered with Wreck-It-Ralph, but I wonder whether kids would have responded to it the way adults would.  Certainly a love story (which is what Paperman is) wouldn't really mix well with children. Then again with the exception of The Longest Daycare I'd say none of the nominated shorts are for children.  It's just a strange world and ridiculous mindset: animated shorts are for 'children' but  animated shorts require a greater level of intelligence than children have.

Here is how I would rank the nominees:

Paperman
Adam & Dog
The Longest Daycare
Fresh Guacamole
Head Over Heels

Well, thus we wrap up my predictions for the Live-Action and Animated Short Film Oscar nominees.  It's just a shame that modern audiences have to sit through promos for Rizzoli & Isles and ads to get women to buy bigger boobs rather than such work as Paperman or Curfew on a regular basis.  It is because film companies simply do not trust modern audiences to be intelligent enough to appreciate those type of films.  I am not stupid, and I do not believe the audiences are stupid either.  They just are treated as such by those who make movies.  People would be surprised to see something like Asad or Adam & Dog popping up before Insidious or Grown Ups, but as I've often said, it's up to US the audience to rally towards good to great films like Argo or Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry and reject things like Ghost Rider and the remake of Planet of the Apes.

Really, the choice is ours. 

Now, I think I might just cover all the other Oscar categories and provide my own predictions.  Maybe, maybe not.                  

2012 Live Action Short Film Oscar Nominees: The Reviews

2013 Academy Award Nominees:
Live-Action Short Films
Asad, Buzkashi Boys, Curfew,
Death of a Shadow, Henry

It's now customary to sit through a half-hour if not more of commercials for various things before a film starts.  I've sat through ads for television programs, community colleges, upcoming films (not trailers, mind you, but little commercials for a yet-unreleased movie), businesses such as Subway and GEICO (I love the food and the pig that goes 'wee', but didn't pay to watch commercials), and more than once suffered the indignity of watching a spot for a plastic surgeon touting breast implants. 

Modern audiences don't think anything of it.  It's curious that while audiences have no problem watching a heavy-set woman subtly suggest to her befuddled husband she wants bigger boobs (rather than the liposuction that would be of greater benefit), they would be horrified to watch a mini-movie ranging from 18 to 28 minutes (some with subtitles) play before the main feature.

For now sixty years the Academy Awards have had a Best Live-Action Short Subject category to honor films that run under thirty minutes.  It is because in the 1930s through the 1960s audiences would watch short films, some that became popular series of shorts (even at times, more popular than the actual feature).  The Laurel & Hardy classic The Music Box for example, was the first Short Subject Oscar winner, and The Pete Smith Specialties, a series of comic short films narrated by, as the billing went, "A Smith Named Pete" with Smith's distinctive nasally voice, were wildly popular with wartime audiences. Two of the 150 short films he made, (Penny Wisdom and Quicker'n a Wink) would win Oscars, as would Smith himself with an Honorary Award for his body of work.

However, as time went on short films were eventually weeded out of the program.  Short films were no longer being played with the feature presentation.  I suspect part of the reason was because in the 1950s and 60s movies were getting larger, bigger, and longer, thus a need to cut out anything that would take out space.  Also, with the demise of the studio system which produced the short films, the slack was picked up by independent filmmakers with smaller budgets and thus fewer outlets to screen them.  Once short films started disappearing from general circulation, being relegated to niche art-houses, the category became a puzzle to most audiences.  Why should they care about short movies they've never seen or heard of?

They are right about the not-caring bit, but wrong about the not-caring bit.  The five nominees for the 2012 Live-Action Short Film Oscar are all well-made films ranging from comic to tragic to artsy, and if they were shown before the main film, audiences would be treated to actually better stories.  Certainly any of these films in their original form (or even in a feature film adaptation) are smarter and better in every way than things like Green Lantern or The Hangover Part II (films with bigger budgets, bigger stars, but bigger disasters).   I was privileged to see the five nominees and now I present my short reviews for the Short Films and my prediction for the winner.  Reviews are by order of presentation.

Death of a Shadow (20 minutes)
Languages: French & Dutch

Death of a Shadow involves Nathan Rijckx (Matthias Schoenaerts).  He is forced to photograph shadows in their exact moment of death by the Shadow Collector (Peter Van Den Eede) with a special camera.  The twist is that Nathan is himself a shadow, and the Shadow Collector will grant him his freedom after a certain set number of shadows are caught.  Nathan has fallen in love with Sarah (Laura Verlinden) a nurse from World War I, but she is in love with Daniel (Benjamin Ramon), a soldier.  Now he has a chance to collect him as his final shadow, and the Shadow Collector will not only release him but he can be brought to life in any time in history.  Nathan chooses Sarah's time, but Sarah, devastated by Daniel's death, has gone mad.  Nathan tries to return Daniel's shadow but the Shadow Collector must have one there.  With that, Nathan makes the sacrifice to bring Daniel and Sarah together again.  In the end, Nathan is shot in World War I and Sarah dies of old age, their shadows together.

Death of A Shadow is an inventive and original story that provides twists upon twists.  It is well-acted, bringing a sense of tragedy to this bizarre story.  It is odd in its plot but Death of a Shadow is one of the most unique films, capturing the tragedy of Nathan's dilemma.  He does not enjoy capturing shadows at the moment of death, having to stand quietly as they become part of the Collection.  Now having a chance to be with the woman he has fallen in love with, he opts to sacrifice himself for her happiness.  A beautiful film.

DECISION: A
    
Henry (21 minutes)
Language: Canadian French

The title character of Henry is an old man, once a pianist.  He was married to a violinist and by all appearances things are going well.  However, it is soon clear that Henry is suffering through dementia: unaware that his wife is dead and not recognizing his daughter.  His younger self urges him to keep remembering and Henry flashes between how his long romance with his music-loving wife and his present are colliding.  Eventually, Henry appears to accept that he is losing more than his memories.

What I found about Henry was that in some respects it is a mini-Amour.  The themes of death and loss that Amour tackles are also here. The performances, especially by Gerard Poirier as the title character, are all excellent.  It is a moving film, but I would say a bit predictable.  I suppose it wasn't meant to be a mystery that Henry was suffering of dementia or that the woman he was talking to was known to him.  The mixing of Henry's past and present are effective but I'd argue a bit obvious in what Henry was trying to say.  Still, a well-made film. 

DECISION: B+

Curfew (19 minutes)
Language: American English

Curfew involves Richie (writer/director Shawn Christensen), who is depressed and starting to kill himself when his estranged sister calls.  She is desperate for someone to watch her daughter Sophia (Fatima Ptacek) for a few hours, so desperate that she calls the last person she'd rather see.  Richie covers up his slashed wrist and goes for Sophia.  His niece has a list of things they can do or there'll be 'hell to pay'.  The only thing they can do is a bowling alley.  Over the time Richie and Sophia bond, where Sophia learns the reason for the estrangement and Richie finds a glimmer of a reason to live.  His sister however, who appears to be suffering from domestic abuse with a restraining order, doesn't want him around.  Richie goes back to his place and is going to pick up where he started, even pulling out the telephone cord to stop it from continuing to ring.  Just as it's all about to come to an end, he quickly plugs the phone back in, where his sister asks if he could watch Sophia on Friday afternoons. 

Curfew came from the same man who wrote Abduction (one of the worst films of 2011).  I therefore figure that Abduction must have been made for the money, because it is amazing that something so wonderful as Curfew could come from the same mind that brought us something so awful as Abduction.  Shawn Christensen just emerges as a wonderful actor (he reminds me of Mark Ruffalo), a first-class director (he appears to be drawing inspiration from Wes Anderson but with more wit in his whimsy...the musical number in the middle of Curfew is a delight), and an excellent writer (we're ready to forgive Abduction).  This is one of the best calling cards not just for Christensen but for Ptacek as well, who brings a weariness and innocence to Sophia.  If it were expanded to a feature-length film, it would be a wild success, and at nineteen minutes the story is compact.  It is also funny, sweet, clever, original, touching, heart-warming/breaking, and redemptive.     

DECISION: A

Buzkashi Boys (28 minutes)
Language: Dari (Afghan language)

Buzkashi Boys is about two friends: the orphan Ahmad (Jawanmard Paiz) and Rafi (Fawad Mohamedi), son of the local blacksmith.  Rafi's father does not care for Ahmad but tolerates both him and his son wishing to go out with him for a few hours.  In that time Ahmad takes Rafi to watch a buzkashi event (an Afghan sport akin to polo except it involves a dead goat being carried to certain spots for points).  The boys dream of being buzkashi players but Rafi knows he is destined to be a blacksmith like his father, grandfather, great-grandfather, etc.  Ahmad, being a resourceful lad, manages to get a horse to begin his dream of greatness, but tragedy strikes.  Rafi is at first angry but then accepts how things are, his buzkashi dreams now being deferred like a raisin in the sun.

The film is a devastating experience.  We perhaps should expect what occurs but it doesn't take away from how emotional it gets for the audience.  Buzkashi Boys is a glimpse into a nation devastated by wounds both external and self-inflicted.  We do get some sense of hope that perhaps Rafi's son will not be relegated to put away his own dreams for his own future.  The two children are wonderful, showing that children everywhere have dreams.  In short, Buzkashi Boys has a mix of hope and despair for Afghanistan.  My only argument against it is perhaps that it might be a bit long.

DECISION: B+

Asad (18 minutes)
Language: Somali

Asad is the main character of Asad.  He lives in a devastated Somalia, a fisherman (or fisher-boy) who has had bad luck catching anything.  Mentored by Erasto, a wise old fisherman, Asad stays apart from the pirates who make a good living.  One day, Erasto has come back with a large fish, and he asks Asad to take it to his mother.  However, soldiers from Mogadishu come, threatening Asad's friend Ali (who has a clear limp).  In exchange for Ali's life Asad must give the fish up.   Later, Asad finds Erasto injured by those same soldiers and he tells Asad that he must go catch fish.  Asad believes he can't due to his bad luck but goes anyway.  To his surprise he finds a yatch whose occupants, including his pirate friend, are all dead.  Asad does find something, something unique: a Persian cat.  No one in his village has ever seen an animal like this, and Asad (whose name means 'lion') decides to call this new catch Lionfish and takes him to the village, where everyone now recognizes Asad's luck has finally changed.

Asad is a little odd in that one can't believe a yatch would be sailing around this rather dangerous part of the world and in this world being so isolated that a Persian cat is unknown, but it also has two great things to it.  First, it has a great sense of authenticity due to the fact that all the people in Asad are non-trained actors who are all Somali refugees (even the small parts of Asad's mother and sisters).  This is all drawn from their personal experiences, so this story is real to them (and makes it real to us).  Second, it has a sense of hope and optimism: perhaps the luck has changed not just for Asad but one hopes for Somalia and its long-suffering people.

DECISION: B-



First some notes.  Asad at 18 minutes is the shortest of the five nominees, while Buzkashi Boys is the longest at 28 minutes.  Of the five nominees, only one, Curfew, is in English.  The five films have a certain similarity in that all of them deal with loss of some kind, whether of identity and love with Death of a Shadow and Henry or interpersonal connection as shown in Curfew or Buzkashi Boys.  Curiously, only two of those films, Curfew and Asad, end with a sense of hope and optimism.  None of them are comedic and only one, Curfew, has anything that can be considered light moments.

In terms of length, they go from Asad, Curfew, Death of a Shadow, Henry, and Buzkashi Boys.  In terms of storytelling, it is a credit to all the nominees that they could all tell such wonderful stories in such a brief period of time, putting other films to shame that they can't tell a story in two-plus hours. 

At last, here is my prediction for the Best Live-Action Short Film:



Curfew ran all the emotions, was brilliantly acted, written, and directed.  It was reminiscent of what Wes Anderson tries to do (make films about people in the midst of crises) without drowning in its own cuteness.  You had moments of fantasy that worked (how else to have a dance number that didn't look ridiculous) and moments of great drama, and two brilliant performances by Shawn Christensen and Fatima Ptacek (who both should get more jobs out of this if there is any justice on this Earth).  I'd be happy for any of them to win, but Curfew should be and I think will be the winner (with only the inventive, moody, and dark Death of a Shadow giving it a run for its money). 

Finally, my rankings:

Curfew
Death of a Shadow
Buzkashi Boys
Henry
Asad

Next time, the Animated Short Films.