Matt Reviews the Oscar-Nominated Short Films (Live Action) of 2012

Pentecost, Ireland, 11 minutes

Of all the live action shorts, I feel that Pentecost embraced and acknowledged both the opportunities and limitations of the short film genre.  Too often, comedic shorts end up playing like a sketch, and dramatic shorts attempt to tackle too much plot-wise (and we see examples of both in this year’s crop of nominees).  Pentecost is a comedy, and while it certainly does not attempt any significant depth plot or character development, also maintains a sincerity that prevents it from feeling either sketchy or college filmy.  This brief story of a reluctant altar boy who would rather be watching soccer is small but charming – the plot is simple and we only really have one character that we get to know, but he is great fun, and the dialogue is funny throughout.  It doesn’t overreach, and in doing so, it accomplishes all that it sets out to do.  A

Raju, India/Germany, 24 minutes

This disturbing short story of a German couple who travels to Calcutta to adopt a young boy, only to discover that the boy has been kidnapped and his parents are looking for him, is eerie and unmoving.  We don’t learn much about any of the characters’ backgrounds, but it is the scene when the couple is faced with the unsettling decision of whether to return with the child to Germany and offer him a promising future or return him to his biological parents in the slums of India that offers the most humanity.  This film had me right up until the end.  The story ends with an ellipsis, answering one question, but leaving several more up in the air, in a way that seems less poetic and more a product of the inherent brevity of the short film.  Still, all-in-all, an excellent movie that makes the most of each of its 24 minutes.  A-

The Shore, Ireland, 31 minutes

This was without a doubt the weak link here, and clearly suffered from an attempt to do too much, and as a result accomplishing little.  The plot is familiar and tired, the story of a man returning to his hometown in Ireland after raising a family in America, reconnecting with his childhood adopted brother, who he severed ties with, and his former fiancee, who he jilted when he met a new woman in America.  The dialogue is incredibly stilted, with supposedly emotional moments slapped clumsily across the viewers face.  While there were some good performances (Conleth Hill), the entire film suffers from the dreadful acting of Kerry Condon, playing the 20-something American daughter, who delivers her lines with the subtlety of a less successful child actor.  The most enjoyable scene of the entire movie (the chase scene when the three mussel farmers flee from a woman on horseback) is completely tangential to the plot.  While not altogether terrible, the movie left a lot to be desired, and in this reviewers opinion was certainly not worthy of an Academy Award nomination.  C-

Time Freak, America, 11 minutes

Of all the movies, you will spend the most time laughing during Time Freak, which is constantly funny, and at times hilarious.  It tells the story of a college student who secretly develops a time machine, but rather than follow through on his goal to visit ancient Rome, he gets caught up in perfecting the small actions of his daily life, ultimately spending years repeatedly living out moments of a single day.  The success of this film lies in its premise, which is very funny and well-executed.  The only problem is that because it relies to heavily on a single funny premise, it does indeed feel like it falls somewhere in between a fantastic SNL sketch and a film school project.  A-

Tuba Atlantic, Norway, 25 minutes

Certainly the most surreal of the nominees, this film is about an elderly man, who is told by his doctor that he has six days to live.  He intends to spend his remaining time taking out his anger on the seagulls that have tormented him, and attempting to finally make contact with his brother in New Jersey using an enormous homemade tuba.  He is reluctantly aided by a young girl, who aspires to become a “Death Angel,” a fictional scouting organization who earn badges by helping people to die.  The plot of cranky-old-man-wants-to-carry-out-ridiculous-childhood-dream-before-dying-but-can’t-shake-annoying-but-helpful-scout-character reeks of Up, but the characters are quirky and endearing, and the film is ultimately enjoyable to watch, if not an altogether amazing piece of cinema.  B+

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