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Film Review

2011 Oscar Nominated Short Films: Live Action

For the past few years, Landmark Theaters has been showing the Oscar nominations for live action and animated short films. Five films in each category. Mostly ignored in the Oscar coverage, a short film is defined as less than 30 minutes, and this year the five live action films each run from 18-26 minutes. These films will never have commercial distribution, so it is wonderful opportunity to see some truly inspired filmmaking. Making a short film seems much more difficult than a standard length film, because the director has to develop the characters and tell the story, all in under 30 minutes. They are the cinematic equivalent of short stories, and many have a power and intensity that must be experienced.

The first film, "The Confession" (UK), is a dark tale set in a small English town, which follows two friends, young boys attending a Catholic school. The school, a handsome 19th C building, is in a lovely wooded setting, with the two boys bicycling past farms each day to class. They pass by a cornfield, with a Christ-like scarecrow, having been warned by their parents never to go into that field because the farmer seems threatening. This week a priest is teaching them about confession, which impresses the first boy but not his friend. The two decide to do a prank, which soon turns into something shocking, and the story, initially playful, becomes something very different.

The second film, "Wish 143" (UK), opens with a young man, perhaps 16, in a hospital ward, that we soon discover is dedicated to pediatric cancer. He is gaunt, hooked up to various drips, but eager to be cured and back to his life. A kindly, understanding priest visits him and attempts to help him deal with the severity of his illness. But his tumor continues to grow. The priest takes him for various outings, but balks at his wish to lose his virginity. One night ........... "Wish 143" is a very effecting, poignant tale, with so much humanity, and the acting could not be finer.

The third film, "Na WeWe" (Belgium), is set in Burundi in 1994, when murderous tribal conflicts are sweeping the region. A local white man's pickup breaks down. He hitches a ride with a jitney bus filled with passengers and a few animals. He is an incessant talker, and begins to irritate the passengers with his nonstop monolog. Suddenly a group of armed men and boys stop the bus, order the passengers out, and begin to separate them into Hutus and Tutsis. The band is very menacing, repeatedly threatening to kill all the Tutsi "cockroaches". As each is questioned about their tribal identity, some show a surprising courage in the face of death. The militia band is at times grimly comic in their arbitrariness, as the situation becomes even more frightening.

The fourth, "The Crush" (Ireland), begins with a cute young boy, a policeman's son, who has a crush on his very attractive teacher. He gives her a ring, telling her that they should be married. She, surprised but not wanting to disappoint the boy, accepts the ring in a very cute way. But later, while with his mother shopping, he sees his teacher with a man, who she introduces as her fiancee. She is wearing a diamond ring, not the boy's ring. The boy is crushed but determined to do something. Unbeknownst to his teacher, he challenges her fiancee to a duel, and the story becomes unexpectedly darker.

The last film, "God of Love" (USA), possibly set in the 1970's in New York, introduces us to an awkward looking young male singer and his band, doing gigs, trying to break into better venues. His shtick is to throw darts at a target while singing. He is good, always hitting the bulls eye. But he is not so good at attracting the attention of the one female member of the band. She likes the bass player. One night, before a performance, he prays to the gods for the ability to attract the girl. After the performance, he is handed a small box, addressed to him from Olympus Productions. He opens it and discovers some darts, with instructions that whoever is hit by these darts will become smitten with the person they are with for the next 24 hours. At first disbelieving, he discovers they seem to work. And the story then takes some very quirky turns. The film is entirely in black and white, which is well suited for the evening scenes, and gives it a vintage quality.

I loved every one of these live action short films, the first four with compelling stories and fine acting, and the fifth, the American film, wonderfully whimsical and inventive. The cinematography is outstanding in all, and each film is a gem. Total film time is about 106 minutes, and ranks with the best experience I've ever had in a theater. The animated shorts, on the other hand, are decent, but not as good as last years. Both are screening at the Lumiere and Opera Plaza.

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