Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts and Live-Action

When people talk about all the movies nominated for Oscars that they haven’t seen, I understand their pain. Some foreign films or smaller, indie pictures, either don’t get released in San Diego, or they might have a limited run at one of the Landmark Theatres, and you weren’t even aware of it. Unless a movie like Lady Bird gets incredible reviews and word of mouth (and possibly a wider release), a lot of films go under the radar.

I have two friends that look forward to the Oscar nominated live-action shorts and animated shorts, which the Ken Cinema on Adams Avenue show each year. And it’s pretty good bang for your buck, considering one ticket price gets you in to see the five films nominated in the category.

Of the live-action shorts, only two are from the United States. The picture from the U.K. is my favorite.

It’s nice that there’s such a variety in the genres, and many will like a few of the topical issues (gun violence being one).

DEKALB ELEMENTARY is the picture dealing with that topic. It’s Reed Van Dyk’s story about a school that has an agitated teenager show up with a gun. He’s played by Eastbound & Down actor Bo Mitchell. Apparently Van Dyk used real 911 calls from a shooting in an Atlanta school to create this narrative.

A receptionist named Cassandra has a calming effect on the crazed teen, who admits to being off his meds and merely wanting to go to a hospital. Yet the more they talk, the more you start cringing at the acting. It ends up not being very convincing.

We should feel the pressure of what she must be going through, but she speaks so calmly with authorities and you never feel the office is as claustrophobic as you should. In fact, at a few points, my wife asked why she didn’t just run out when she had the chance.

MY NEPHEW EMMETT. I know the Super Bowl was last weekend and with football on the brain, you might first think of Emmitt Smith. This second short, the other from the U.S., is Kevin Wilson Jr.’s real life story about the lynching of Emmett Till in 1955 in Mississippi. It’s a powerful story, but it’s told horribly here. It lacks tension, and moves too slowly. When Till’s uncle, Mose Wright (L.B. Williams) tries calming an angry mob, it is rather effective. Yet we’ve seen this all before. The last time I remember a scene in a movie where someone is trying to be rational with a bunch of nutjobs, and the audience knows it’s going to go south, was Nocturnal Animals. I wished this movie had that kind of intensity.

THE ELEVEN O’CLOCK is a comedy out of Australia. I was loving it at first. It was like a “Who’s on First” bit done by Monty Python. Derin Seale and Josh Lawson (who plays the psychiatrist, I think) give you a story of a psychologist and a new patient, who get into a spirited debate over who really is the patient. The receptionist is a temp (Jessica Wren), and that adds to the confusion. It’s very cleverly written, and very well acted. I love the facial expressions of the two exasperated people. I did think it could’ve been a little shorter, which is an odd thing to say when these are shorts.

THE SILENT CHILD, out of the U.K., blew me away. It’s set in rural England, where an upper class family is trying to deal with their deaf daughter Libby (Maisie Sly). Since both parents are working, and the two older siblings seem more concerned with their lives, the girl is largely ignored. They just want her to be “normal” and they end up bringing in Joanne, a social worker that works with deaf children. She’s played by the beautiful Rachel Shenton (Switched at Birth), who is a rising star in Britain, and who also wrote this touching story. [My research found that she wrote this story after her dad got a rare cancer, causing him to go deaf for a few years before he died; she since has learned sign language and has become an outspoken advocate for the deaf community].

Joanne starts teaching Libby sign language, and watching this girl come out of her shell brings tears to your eyes. And watching Joanne, who clearly loves this girl and loves the fact that she’s making progress, is a joy. Her animated, happy facial expressions make you wish everybody who worked with children was like this. Even the way she realizes the parents should be trying to make more of an effort, but continuously soldiers on with her job.

I didn’t see the ending coming. It was the most beautiful and heartbreaking thing I’ve witnessed in months. This short alone is worth the price of admission.

WATU WOTE: ALL OF US, is out of Germany and Kenya, and is also based on a true story.

It’s about a young Christian that’s reluctant to sit with a Muslim woman and her child. The bus travels across the Kenyan landscape. Terrorists show up and…I’ll let you find out the rest of the journey when you go to see it.

 

The Oscar nominated animated shorts usually get more attention than the live action shorts. I usually don’t think they’re as good, and that’s especially true this year.

DEAR BASKETBALL originated as a poem that Kobe Bryant wrote upon his retirement, and it got made into this. The animation is interesting (the talented Glen Keane), and the legendary John Williams was brought in to do the score. Unfortunately, Williams makes it a bit manipulative. The visual of the socks as basketballs was cute, but part of my problem was that I thought Bryant was bad for basketball. He was a rather selfish player and always griped to the refs. And the poem he wrote wasn’t all that moving. Perhaps if Jordan or Magic would’ve written a piece, it would’ve been more powerful to me. Also, with the “#metoo” movement and having James Franco losing out on an Oscar nomination because of it, it’s surprising that Kobe (who settled a rape case), seems to be getting a pass with this (no pun intended).

GARDEN PARTY has incredible visuals using a photorealistic cg technique, done by French students. It goes in a direction you won’t see coming. I won’t spoil it but I will say…it may start with cute frogs trying to grab some grub, but it’s an animated film that’s too dark for the children.

LOU was easily the favorite of my wife and I.  It’s a Pixar entry, about a bully that changes his ways thanks to a magical “lost and found” toybox on the playground. It’s something that would be a shoe-in for the Oscar, if not for the fact that the executive producer on it is John Lassiter. He recently took a leave after many sexual misconduct charges came his way. Yet that shouldn’t spoil your enjoyment of this fine short.

NEGATIVE SPACE is extremely powerful. It reminded me of the Harry Chapin song “Cats in the Cradle” where the father that’s always on the road performing never has time for his son. In this, the guy is a traveling salesman, and the bonding he does with his son is over him teaching the tyke how to properly pack his suitcase. The visuals are rather creative and playful, but I felt it needed a little something more.

REVOLTING RHYMES was the most disappointing of the bunch. It started out as a poem, based on the Roald Dahl books, and is the 3rd nomination for Magic Light Pictures in the animated short category. It also has the voice of Rob Brydon, who I think is a comedic genius. My wife and I thought the dialogue was weak and not the least bit clever. In fact, the only clever element was the pig that ran a bank (filled with piggy banks). It was a waste of 30 minutes.

For those interesting in catching these, head over to the Ken Cinema this weekend.