While many movie buffs scramble to see the ten pictures nominated by the Academy as the best of 2010, far fewer will even have the opportunity to see the ten other nominees–the five selected in each of the live-action and animated short film categories. Fortunately in some cities the ten are being shown in two sets and can be enjoyed on the big screen. Since shorts are often the training-ground for filmmakers who go on to bigger–and sometimes better–things, checking out these collections can provide a taste of future potential as well as being enjoyable in its own right.
The animated series offers one item already widely seen–Pixar’s Day & Night, which was shown as a teaser to Toy Story 3 in theatres. It’s an imaginative take on the opposites of the title, winningly drawn and scored. The remaining items include The Guffalo, a sweet jungle fable about a shrewd little mouse, based on a popular book and featuring an all-star voice cast; The Lost Thing, an evocative Australian piece about a dystopian society where the narrator finds a strange living machine and tries to return it home; and Madagascar, Carnet de Voyage, a pastel water-colored tour of the island that’s very different from the features of the same title (no penguins here at all). The one really weak entry is Let’s Pollute, which uses the obvious format of a 1950s-style educational film–and even more obvious reverse narration–to warn about the danger of destroying the environment.
Two of the live-action films are coming-of-age stories centering on young boys. The darker is The Confession, about a timid Catholic lad preparing for his first confession whose more outgoing chum aims to help him commit a sin for the occasion by arranging a car accident that has fatal consequences. The Crush is about a kid whose infatuation with his teacher leads him to challenge her boyfriend. Both are technically well-done, but also show the difficulty of getting good performances from children. That problem is less obvious in Wish 143, about a terminally-ill boy whose sole last desire is one that his priest friend is reluctant to arrange; it’s grittier than the other two films, but not much superior. Very different is God of Love, a one-man show in which director Luke Matheny plays a singer who asks for the aid of the god to win a girl. Though it’s sleekly done in black-and-white, the story shares with entirely too many film-school efforts a smart-alecky fascination with the Greek Cupid myth.
By far the best of the lot is Na Wewe, a Belgian film by Ivan Goldschmidt about a ragtag band of African fighters stopping a van filled with passengers to divide Tutsis from Hutus for execution. It has a subtlety its competitors frankly lack.
The Oscar Nominated Short Films of 2011 are clearly a varied lot, in both subject and quality. But they are an interesting bunch, well worth taking a look at.