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Thread: Oscar Nominated Shorts 2016

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    Oscar Nominated Shorts 2016

    From Deadline Presents Awards Line:

    Five days after the 2016 Academy Award nominees were announced, we have theatrical playdates for the short films that made the cut. ShortsHD, a cable channel dedicated to short films, and Magnolia Pictures are teaming to put The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2016 in moviehouses January 29. The program — which includes all 15 live-action, animated and documentary shorts — will screen in more than 400 screens across North America.

    I'll comment on the live action and animated shorts nominees. They hit theaters Jan. 29, including San Francisco Bay Area theaters (Landmark Embarcadero, San Francisco; Landmark Shattuck, Berkeley) I won't preview the documentary shorts.



    Matthew Needham in The Stutterer

    LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM NOMINEES

    Ave Maria

    Directors: Basil Khalil and Eric Dupont
    Synopsis: Five nuns living in the West Bank find their routine disrupted when the car of a family of Israeli settlers breaks down outside the convent. Unable to use the telephone due to Sabbath restrictions, the family needs help from the nuns, but the sisters’ vow of silence requires them to work with their visitors to find an unorthodox solution.
    Country of origin: France | Germany | Palestine
    TRT: 15
    Language: Arabic | English | Hebrew
    Comment: This is a witty and stylish little film with droll but somewhat cruel humor. It is a Palestinian film that ruthlessly satirizes snotty, spoiled, quarrelsome Orthodox Jewish Israelis who, apart from the arguable excess of the usual ruthless Orthodox Sabbath rules against performing anything deemed to be work, even dialing a phone number, do nothing but argue and squabble among themselves. The Christian nuns are silly too, with their own unrealistic and impractical practice, a vow of silence. But they at least have some ingenuity as well as the decency to overlook the Orthodox family's rude and condescending manner. It's a little hard to know how to take this film given its level of ethnic satire; but its vividness, clarity and humor are admirable and play well. The statue of the Virgin Mary falling over at the end provides a neat, elegant coda. There is good sense of real-time pacing and structure here.


    The fussy Orthodox Jewish family in Ave Maria

    Day One
    Directors: Henry Hughes
    Synopsis: On the heels of a painful divorce, an Afghan-American woman joins the U.S. military as an interpreter and is sent to Afghanistan. On her first mission, she accompanies troops pursuing a bomb-maker, and must bridge the gender and culture gap to help the man’s pregnant wife when she goes into labor.
    Country of origin: United States
    TRT: 25
    Language: English | Dari
    Comment: First days on the job can be tough, especially in a war zone. A fledgling young woman interpreter for Americans in Afghanistan gets a baptism of fire. The filmmakers lay it on heavy, and it may seem rather artificial, generic, over simplified, over dramatic. (This is based on personal experience, but still.) Nonetheless it is easy to see why this would stand out to the jurors selecting best entries. It demands, indeed screams for, our attention. And there is a (partly) happy outcome. The new interpreter helps bring a child into the world. Not everything goes so well. The film is rich with drama, and we get a glimpse of modern education and up-to-date medical knowledge butting head-on into virtually medieval social and religious customs -- in a benighted country the US has helped wreck. One won't forget this film in a hurry. Or will one? Extreme action isn't always the most memorable. There is no time for subtlety here and I'm not sure the actors are quite up to the pressure.


    A new interpreter must do nurse/midwife duties in Day One

    Shok
    Directors: Jamie Donoughue
    Synopsis: In Kosovo in 1998, two young boys are best friends living normal lives, but as war engulfs their country, their daily existence becomes filled with violence and fear. Soon, the choices they make threaten not only their friendship, but their families and their lives.
    Country of origin: United Kingdom | Kosovo
    TRT: 21
    Language: Albanian | Serbian
    Comment: First Kosovo-made film to be Oscar-nominated; the director is a Brit collaborating with Kosovo crew. The focus is children in wartime and two Albanian boys: Oko, who gets a bike, and Petrit, who does business with Serbian occupiers to earn himself the money to buy wheels for himself. Pressures on the friends increase as the war escalates. The film deftly establishes at once a contrast between the worldly, plump Petrit and the more delicate, idealistic Oko. The beauty of this film is the way it explores the rocky friendship of the two boys in relation to the growing horror of the Albanians' situation under Servian occupation, and though things turn violent and ugly beyond words, the action takes time to breathe. It is a fine and sensitive film that vividly draws us into the terrible world of civil war and ethnic cleansing from a child's poin of view.


    Two boys find friendship deeply complicated in 90's Kosovo

    Stutterer
    Directors: Benjamin Cleary and Serena Armitage
    Synopsis: For a lonely typographer, an online relationship has provided a much-needed connection without revealing the speech impediment that has kept him isolated. Now, however, he is faced with the proposition of meeting his online paramour in the flesh, and thereby revealing the truth about himself.
    Country of origin: United Kingdom
    TRT: 12
    Language: English
    Comment: This is a theme that goes back decades: the way, sadly, people are tempted to use online relationships as a way of hiding truths about themselves and deceiving others about who or what they really are, leading to heartbreak. The young London typographer (he's good with words in all ways but speaking), who lives with his understanding dad, conceals his severe stammer from the woman he's been online-dating for six months; now she wants to meet in person. The trick, for us, is, in his head (the voice we hear) he speaks perfectly normally, so he is constantly rehearsing speeches he will never be able to deliver, a great jumble of conversational gambits. This device, and the online conversation, enables the short film to convey a great deal of text in a very few minutes. Maybe the surprise ending will occur to you before it comes, but this is an ingenious and thought-provoking piece that becomes a study in disabilities. It doesn't hurt that the lead (stage actor Matthew Needham) rather resembles the always-appealing Ben Whishaw. The film rambles just a bit and drags to a near-standstill in its last moments; it may linger over its tension and approach-avoidance a bit more than necessary; but it's all about its doubletake - very O. Henry.


    Alles Wird Gut

    Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut)
    Directors: Patrick Vollrath
    Synopsis: Michael, a divorced father devoted to his eight-year-old daughter, Lea, picks her up for their usual weekend together. At first it feels like a normal visit, but Lea soon realizes that something is different, and so begins a fateful journey.
    Country of origin: Germany | Austria
    TRT: 30
    Language: German
    Comment: The director, Patrick Volrath, explains that did not provide any dialogue, preferring to block the film in scenes and work with improvisation, relying on natural sound design with no music and staying loose, using handheld camera. The actor playing the father, Simon Schwarz, is well known and very experienced; Julia Pointner, who plays his 8-year-old daughter, was inexperienced and brought freshness to the scenes of little girl's dawning awareness that this is not a normal visit with her dad; he's planning to keep her to himself now - kidnap her. And this does not feel like "everything will be okay" to her. at all. Vollrath examines the contradictory mix of love and cruelty in such actions.


    World of Tomorrow

    ANIMATED SHORT FILM NOMINEES



    Bear Story
    Directors: Gabriel Osorio and Pato Escala
    Synopsis: Every day, a melancholy old bear takes a mechanical diorama that he has created out to his street corner. For a coin, passersby can look into the peephole of his invention, which tells the story of a circus bear who longs to escape and return to the family from which he was taken.”
    Country of origin: Chile
    TRT: 11 mins
    Language: No Dialogue
    Comment: It's a sad, somewhat saccharine story, with repetitious tinkly music that rings in your ears after it's over, and no fun at all. Elaborate animation that looks like stop-motion. Is it? This is a commentary on the exploitation of animals. Technically it's superb, handsome to look at, but but it's rather lifeless, the images are somewhat repetitions, and overall it's certainly joyless. If you like intricate, elaborate animation, this may be the one for you.


    Prologue

    Prologue
    Directors: Richard Williams and Imogen Sutton
    Synopsis: 2,400 years ago, four warriors — two Spartan and two Athenian — battle to the death in an intense struggle witnessed by a little girl, who then runs to her grandmother for comfort.
    Country of origin: United Kingdom
    TRT: 6 mins
    Language: English
    Comment: This is old-fashioned hand-drawn animation, rather monochromatic, with a line-drawn look, illustrator stuff. A big part of its appeal is its classic use of the medium of animated film. The action however is extremely gruesome. You would certainly not want a real little girl to witness it. A little surprising this was nominated.


    Sanjay's Super Team

    Sanjay’s Super Team
    Directors: Sanjay Patel and Nicole Grindle
    Synopsis: Young Sanjay, a first-generation Indian-American, is obsessed with television, cartoons and his superhero action figures. He is reluctant to spend time in daily prayers with his devout Hindu father, but a flight of imagination helps him develop a new perspective that he and his father can both embrace.
    Country of origin: United States
    TRT: 7 mins
    Language: English
    Comment: Well, this is Pixar/Disney, so it has that look, but the difference is that the boy allegedly obsessed with TV (it's not really proven) is led by his father's Hindu worship into a fantasy world that's a mix of Marvel Comics and traditional Indian art. Here, the filmmakers tend to settle for a dazzling visual display rather than storytelling depth, though the images are certainly glorious for a while. Too bad the sound effects are relatively crude. But the fact that this may be the artist, Sanjay Patel's homage to his father makes it a rather touching film.


    World of Tomorrow


    World of Tomorrow
    Directors: Don Hertzfeldt
    Synopsis: A little girl named Emily is taken on a fantastical tour of her distant future by a surprising visitor who reveals unnerving secrets about humanity’s fate.
    Country of origin: United States
    TRT: 17
    Language: English
    Comment: The adult has a British (Australian?) voice. This is a delightful film that reminds me of more adventurous "Best of Annency" animations visually with its vibrant use of simple lines and circles, primary colors, many scenes -- and in this case, an elaborate sci fi tale of a future clone contacting her "prime," a small child from eons back (whose authentic child voice and short comments are hilarious) and lecturing her on how future generations of clones will descend from her, etc., etc. Spoiler alert: Life is long and fascinating, but ends "horribly" and many get lost in space or time. The concepts being expounded upon are tricky and ingenious and may not make complete sense the first time through.



    We Can’t Live Without Cosmos
    Directors: Konstantin Bronzit
    Synopsis: Two best friends have dreamed since childhood of becoming cosmonauts, and together they endure the rigors of training and public scrutiny, and make the sacrifices necessary to achieve their shared goal.
    Country of origin: Russia
    TRT: 16
    Comment: The concept of comradely friendship is very Russian; to Americans it might seem almost gay. The two bros train as Cosmonauts together and are best friends and more. Only one goes up in space; his friend is only backup, sitting at mission control pathetically holding a Polaroid of the two men together in their space suits. Then the man in space is lost, and his friend cannot bear it and literally goes insane, catatonic inside his space sit. The ending is inconclusive but touching. A Russian viewer has said on IMDb " is impossible to watch it without breaking into tears." That too is Russian. But this film clearly has a soul. The line drawing of the animation is simple, clear, satisfying. Bronzit has been nominated before.

    These are all worthy, except maybe for "Prologue." It seems a tossup between "World of Tomorrow" and "We Can't Live Without Cosmos." It's intellect and wit vs. soul.

    DOCUMENTARY SHORT NOMINEES

    Body Team 12
    Directors: David Darg and Bryn Mooser
    Synopsis: In Monrovia, Liberia, Garmai Sumo is the only female member of Body Team 12, one of the many teams collecting the bodies of those who died from Ebola during the height of the 2014 outbreak. Despite the perilous nature of her job and the distrust with which she is often met, Garmai remains dedicated to her work.
    Country of origin: Liberia
    TRT: 13
    Language: English

    Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah
    Directors: Adam Benzine
    Synopsis: Thirty years after the release of the documentary SHOAH, filmmaker Claude Lanzmann discusses the personal and professional difficulties he encountered during the more than 12 years it took to create the work. Lanzmann also discusses his relationships with Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, and his teenage years spent fighting in the French Resistance during World War II.
    Country of origin: Canada | United States | United Kingdom
    TRT: 40
    Language: French

    Chau Beyond the Lines
    Directors: Courtney Marsh and Jerry Franck
    Synopsis: Chau, a teenager living in a Vietnamese care center for children born with birth defects due to Agent Orange, struggles with the difficulties of realizing his dream to become a professional artist and clothing designer. Despite being told that his ambitions are unrealistic, Chau is determined to live an independent, productive life.
    Country of origin: United States | Vietnam
    TRT: 34
    Language: Vietnamese

    A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness
    Directors: Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
    Synopsis: Every year, more than 1,000 girls and women are the victims of religiously motivated honor killings in Pakistan, especially in rural areas. Eighteen-year-old Saba, who fell in love and eloped, was targeted by her father and uncle but survived to tell her story.
    Country of origin: Pakistan
    TRT: 40
    Language: Panjabi

    Last Day of Freedom
    Directors: Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman
    Synopsis: When Bill Babbitt realized that his brother Manny had committed a crime, he agonized over the decision to call the police, knowing that Manny could face the death penalty but hoping he would instead receive the help he needed. Manny, an African-American veteran who served two tours in Vietnam, suffered from PTSD and had found it difficult to obtain healthcare.
    Country of origin: United States
    TRT: 32
    Language: English

    Last Day of Freedom is a roto-scoped hand drawn animated film with documentary sound narration by Bill Babbitt. It is being offered for prior review to critics and is available on Netflix in toto, so I am going to review it separately.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-03-2016 at 08:01 AM.

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    The Oscar-nominated shorts reviewed in the Times.

    Stephen Holden reviews the shorts in the NYTimes. He notes the films combine "suffering, embattled nobility and a dash of whimsy" and a notable "paucity of humor" with "just enough levity" to "prevent viewers from succumbing to despair." Of the live action shorts He calls "Ave Maria" "the most anomalous"
    The comedy, which suggests a Middle Eastern answer to "Curb Your Enthusiasm," is a lacerating farcical satire of religious extremism.
    "Day One" he thinks has "the most disturbing image" -- of the arm protruding from the woman's womb, but notes that "Shok" is "even darker." My favorite, "Stutterer," he calls "a likable trifle." I think that's just the reductive effect produced by the solemnity of the other films. It's not a trifle. Of the 30-minute German live action short "Everything Will Be Okay" he says it's "a heart-rending, impeccably executed soap opera episode." This, I'm afraid, is true." In my view, the film's ending is realistic only in the manner of a "Cops" episode. It lacks the economy of the best short films and at 30 minutes hardly is one.

    On the animations Holden is less cogent. He's of course right in calling "Prologue" an "antiwar story"; I'm not sure how "nifty" it is, or of what use it might be since it seems unsuitable for young people. Of "Sanjay" he says diplomatically if a bit cattily that it's "visually sumptuous and cleverly conceived" and "as ingratiating as a Disney cartoon."

    Holden has almost nothing to say about the Russian Cocmonaut film that I find so endearing.

    He is right in suggesting that "World of Tomorrow" is complex enough to demand repeat viewings. I'm not sure it repays them; but it is probably the most original and certainly -- a fine quality in an animation competition -- the most classically "minimal" (Holden's word) in its stripped-down visual style. Though it uses primitive circles and lines, its frequent changes of scene and color scheme make it as visually sumptuous as "Sanjay" but in a more original manner.
    Don Hertzfeldt’s haunting, melancholic "World of Tomorrow" is the best and most minimalist entry. In this sophisticated meditation on the limits of technology and the vain human quest to be immortal, a girl is contacted from the future by a clone of herself who gives her a preview of things to come. Although the future in this science-fiction fantasy is mind-blowing, all the technology in the world can’t ease the essential loneliness of the human condition. This is a film worth several viewings.
    Herzfeldt's exploration of a a far-fetched and ornate quest for immortality brings to mind the fantasies that run through a lot of David Mitchell's fiction, notably his most recent novels, The Bone Clocks and Slade House.

    Starting 29 January 2016 all three sets of Oscar-nominated shorts will be showing in New York City at the IFC Center, and the live action and animated ones will be showing in the Bay Area at San Francisco's Landmark Opera Plaza and Embarcadero Theaters and Berkeley's Shattuck Theater.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-29-2016 at 10:32 AM.

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    Tasha Robinson's reviews of the Oscar nominated shorts in The Verge.

    This is the most beautifully laid-out piece on the set of nominees I've seen, and she also has perceptive and smart reviews. Above all she keeps the big picture clearly in mind and she notes what I also saw but chose not to comment on so much: that while there is (some) joy in the animated shorts, misery predominates in the live action ones. She also shrewdly observes that "Stutterer" contains more subtle action and finer sound design than any of the other live action shorts, and ought to be looked at carefully by the judges, which she calls "the best and most stylized of the bunch." Here is her comment on "Stutterer" in full:
    Oscar handicappers should take a careful look at the best and most stylized of the bunch: the 12-minute UK story "Stutterer" doesn't deal with life-or-death situations, ugly politics or history, or international stresses, so it may feel inconsequential compared to its four competitors. But Matthew Needham's performance as a young man with a debilitating stutter is strikingly pained and sensitive. He feels like a raw nerve compared to the casts of the other shorts, who are dealing with larger issues in less expressive ways.

    A REMARKABLE PIECE OF CINEMATIC EMPATHY
    The film does intense and beautiful things with sound design, filling the air with all the words Needham's character wants to say, and is fighting to say, as he navigates simple experiences like being asked for directions, or being invited to meet the woman he's been chatting with online. Writer-director Benjamin Cleary gives his short a suffocating sense of claustrophobia, as if everything the character is trying to express is building a wall around him, and his inability to get the words out is swallowing all his air. It's a remarkable piece of cinematic empathy, grounded by the artfulness its filmmaking. This year's shorts are all personal stories of unhappy people navigating emotional situations. "Stutterer" just feels more personal than most.
    --Tasha Robinson in The Verge.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-03-2016 at 07:48 AM.

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