Each year, every national cinematic organization celebrates the best in feature filmmaking; our Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) remains just about the only organization around that salutes the best in short films as well features. A few years ago, with the help of Magnolia Pictures and Shorts International, AMPAS decided to exploit the short film Oscar nominees and bring all 15 of these little known movies, some of them gems, to a wider audience. Now we have three distinctly different packages of shorts to choose from (Documentary, Live Action and Animation) and each section of shorts provides us something to recommend. Box office should be nice in the short term, and sweet in ancillary markets and DVD down the road.
The Animated Program features five disparate and basically appealing works. The best of the bunch is the charming children's tale, The Gruffalo, based on a best-selling kids book. This short features the voices of Tom Wilkinson, Helena Bonham Carter, John Hurt and others in a story of a not-so-mighty mouse and his attempts to conquer the forest with a (potentially) imaginary beast. Also worth savoring is the annual Pixar offering, an inventive 3D experience called Day & Night that was widely seen as short preceding, Toy Story 3. We see the point of view of two creatures experiencing the world by daylight and by night, and there's a strong message of tolerance for others to glean from them. Let's Pollute tries to ape grade school-level educational films and marry them to Inconvenient Truth-style messages about taking care of our planet; it's fitfully amusing and important at the same time. Festival favorite, The Lost Thing is a winning buddy-story of a young lad's encounter with a mysterious contraption on a deserted beach. It's not only fun to watch, it's quite touching and terrifically inventive as well. Finally director Bastien Dubois' trip to Africa is chronicled in the very different and impressively animated Madagascar, Carnet de Voyage. It lacks the warmth of the others, coming across as more of a travelogue, but is worth seeing nonetheless.
The Live Action program is less impressive but not without its highlights. The real standout, God of Love, is a very funny and beautifully crafted short about a darts throwing champion who uses his skill to win over his friend's girl. The Confession is a student Academy Award winner about a 9 year concerned about his first confession. Religious customs lead to complication and tragedy in an oddball 26-minute film that doesn't come together the way the director probably hoped; acting is first rate though. The Crush, from Ireland, is a charming 15-minute flick about an irrepressible 8-year-old with such a crush on his teacher he challenges her boyfriend to a duel. This one is a winner, unpretentious and skillful. Na Wewe is a far more serious effort than the others. From Belgian director Ivan Goldschmidt the film is set in Burundi, just outside Rwanda, during that country's Civil War in the mid-90's. It uses all real people and situations to focus on the near Genocide in its midst and the very human cost to all. Finally there's Wish 143 about a dying boy's desire to spend one of his last hours with a naked woman. The film's bittersweet premise doesn't feel fully realized, but it does represent a quirky attempt to humanize the process of dying.
Another program, presented in this format for the first time this year, is devoted to Documentary shorts. These weren't screened in time for press. They include Sun Come Up, Killing in the Name, Strangers No More, The Warriors of Qiugang and Poster Girl and are five films dealing with such subjects as global warming, terrorism and education in Israel.
Distribution: Magnolia Pictures and Shorts International
Cast: Helena Bonham Carter, Rob Brydon, Robbie Coltrane, James Corden, John Hurt, Tom Wilkinson, Jim Thornton, Tim Minchin, Aran Bell, Joe Eales, Lewis Howlett, James Simmons, Charlie Bonner, Neilí Conroy, Oran Creagh, Rory Keenan, Olga Wehrly, Luke Matheny, Marian Brock, Christopher Hirsh, Emily Young, Miguel Rosales, Jim Carter, Jodie Whittaker, Dean Andrews
Directors: Teddy Newton, Jakob Schuh, Max Lang,Geefwee Boedoe, Andrew Ruhemann, Shaun Tan, Bastien Dubois, Bill Plympton, Moritz Mayerhofer, Tanel Toom, Michael Creagh, Luke Matheny, Ivan Goldschmidt, Jean-Luc Pening, Ian Barnes, Jed Rothstein, Sara Nesson, Karen Goodman, Kirk Simon, Jennifer Redfearn and Ruby Yang
Screenwriters: Julia Donaldson, Max Lang, Jakob Schuh, Geefwee Boedoe, Andrew Ruhemann, Shaun Tan, Bastien Dubois, Bill Plympton, Moritz Mayerhofer, Caroline Bruckner, Michael Creagh, Luke Matheny, Ivan Goldschmidt, Tom Bidwell and Thomas Lennon
Producers: Kevin Reher, Michael Rose, Martin Pope,Geefwee Boedoe, Sophie Byrne, Ron Dyens, Aurélia Prévieu, Biljana Labovic, Stina McNicholas, Emily Williams, Damon Quinn, Gigi Demant, Ryan Silbert, Stefanie Walmsley, Ivan Goldschmidt, Samantha Waite, Jed Rothstein, Liz Garbus, Rory Kennedy, Mitchell Block, Sara Nesson, Karen Goodman, Kirk Simon, Jennifer Redfearn, Tim Metzger, Thomas Lennon and Ruby Yang
Genre: Short Films
Release date: February 11 ltd.