Thursday, January 29, 2015

Time for Oscar-nominated shorts

Writing about Oscar-nominated shorts is never easy. We're talking about more than 15 films that range in length from 40 minutes to less than four.

Inevitably, reviewers are bound to give something (you'll pardon the expression) short-shrift. And if I tell you that I found the documentaries to be exceptionally strong this year, it's not because I mean to dissuade you from seeing either the animated or fictional shorts programs.

For the record: In Denver, the animated shorts and short features will be playing in two programs with separate admissions at Landmark's Mayan. The documentary shorts will be playing at the Sie Film Center in one program with one admission.

Of the animated nominees -- eight in all -- several stood out for me:

Norway's Me and My Moulton (photo at left) tells a story about a girl trying to adjust to the tastes of her idiosyncratic parents. Disney's Feast introduces us to a dog who suffers when his master discovers a new girlfriend and nouvelle cousine. Who wants the kind of table scraps that are served with parsley sprigs? The Bigger Picture deals with two adult brothers trying to come to grips with the aging and death of their mother.

The short feature program includes Boogaloo and Graham (photo at right), a 14-minute look at two Belfast brothers who in 1978 become attached to their pet chickens. As ridiculous as it sounds, the film takes place against a backdrop of complex issues. In La Lampe Au Beurre De Yak (Butter Lamp), a photographer takes pictures of Tibetan nomads against faux backdrops that ultimately conceal a disturbing reality, and Parvaneh, from Switzerland, tells the story of the brief, unexpected friendship between two teen-age girls, one from Afghanistan. The Phone Call, a poignant entry from the UK, stars Sally Hawkins as a woman talking to a desperate widower on a suicide hotline.

As for the documentaries, prepare to be devastated -- and I mean that in a good way.

Beautiful and touching, Joanna (from Russia) focuses on the relationship between a cancer-stricken mother and her young son. HBO's Crisis Hotline (which also can be seen on HBOGo) brings us into the only U.S. call center that responds to distraught veterans; and the Reaper (an appropriately grim nominee from Mexico) introduces us to a man who works in a slaughter house where he kills as many as 500 bulls per day.

Our Curse (photo at right) is an honest and touching look at two exhausted Polish parents coping with a newborn who faces a lifetime of mechanical ventilation when he sleeps.

In sum: If you're the sort who complains that too many movies are about nothing, you'll find solace and inspiration in these shorts programs, most of which have ample substance.

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