Since 2005, Magnolia Pictures and Shorts International have teamed up to tour the Oscar nominated short films (Live Action, Documentary and Animation) to over 150 theaters across the U.S. and Canada, allowing audiences to see the nominated films before the Oscar Awards are announced. This year they also offered the films for purchase on ITunes, where, for $1.99 per short, you can purchase this year’s crop of shorts as well as prior years’ nominees and winners. The release will also be available via cable’s Movies On Demand (MOD), distributed by leading MOD distributor, IN DEMAND L.L.C.
Typically, and this year is no exception, the Animated selection is the strongest. Since most animations are lengthy labors of love, the films are all gems representing a diverse selection of animated styles from drawn flat animation to CGI and hybrid projects like “Madagascar, Carnet de Voyage.”
Australians Shaun Tan and Andrew Ruhemann won the well-deserved Oscar for their ravishing, inventive “The Lost Thing”, based on Shaun Tan’s remarkable eponymous book. Director Andrew Ruhemann (then as a producer at the Richard Wiliams Studios) worked on the award winning animation for “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.”
Tan’s kid-friendly surreal vision is part Hieronymus Bosch, part Yellow Submarine and utterly memorable. While on the beach looking for bottle caps to complete his collection, a young man discovers a huge “lost thing” a marvelous steam punk creature, part machine, part crustacean. He plays fetch with the puppy-ish bell-ringing marvel, and when it gets dark he takes it back to his parents home, where it squeezes in behind the family as they watch TV. A tip from a mysterious, slithering janitor at the Federal Department of Odds and Ends leads the boy and his friendly ward to a Utopian refuge for other fabulous lost creatures. This is a film you’ll want to watch more than once.
Max Lang and Jakob Schuh’s overlong “The Gruffalo,” is a pleasant fable about a clever mouse that outwits a series of woodland predators when he invents a frightening giant uber-beast, which sports tusks, claws and all things frightening. The black-footed animated fox is a wonderful creature. One of the best moments is the mouse’s improvisation kick that diverts a line of ants from following the leader up a tree to their death as prey. Voice talent by Helena Bonham Carter, Rob Brydon, Robbie Coltrane, James Corden, John Hurt and Tom Wilkinson add texture.
Geefwee Boedoe’s ingratiating satirical “Let’s Pollute” is reminiscent of the arty 50’s educational animations like the Frank Capra directed “Our Mr. Sun” and “Hemo the Magnificent ” or the Disney history of music short “Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom.” Boedoe is Disney and Pixar alum.
Bastien Dubois’s musical travelogue “Madagascar, Carnet de Voyage” uses sketches, painted snapshots, watercolor portraits and the pages of a scrapbook to summon an artist’s journey across the lively Malagasy cultural landscape of Madagascar, where relatives celebrate their dead in an unusual festivity. In the funerary tradition of Famadihana (the turning of the bones) people disinter the bodies of their ancestors from the family crypts, rewrap them in fresh cloth, then dance with the corpses around the tomb to live music.
Pixar’s “Day and Night” by Teddy Newton (released with “Toy Story 3”) is a poetic feud turned friendship between the energetic upbeat Day and the moody Night. The characters show off their realms with CGI images on their round bellies/ Night is seduced by the bathing beauties lounging in the sun, and Day is enchanted by the firework displays only visible against a night sky.
Two Highly Commended bonus animations rounded out the uniformly entertaining section” Moritz Mayerhofer’s graphically rich “Urs” recalls the expressionist woodcut graphic novels of Lynd Ward. Bill Plympton’s atypically illustrated “The Cow Who Wanted To Be A Hamburger” recalls the vivid children book illustrations of the 40’s and 50’s (the golden age of children books.) In this energetic dark fable about a cow’s suicidal impulses, a calf is seduced by advertising into becoming a star-hamburger.
The Live Action Shorts:
Luke Matheny’s stylish black and white “God of Love” won the Oscar. Writer, director Matheny stars as lounge singer Ray Goodfellow, in love with band drummer Kelly (Marian Brock), whose in love with Fozzie (Christopher Hirsch). A mysterious package of love darts resolves the love triangle in a surprising way, and Ray finds a second career as a post-modern cupid.
Tanel Toom’s darkly sly ‘The Confession” follows two young British boys, Sam and Jacob, from their first confession, through a dark misadventure. The boys attempt to commit a sin worthy of confessing, but the deadly accident they engender is too much for them to confess.
Ian Barnes’s “Wish 143”, another UK entry follows 5-year-old David’s attempts to fulfill his dying wish to “know” a woman before he dies of cancer. When Dreamscape, the local charitable organization refuses to comply, the local priest steps in.
Based on a true story, Belgian director Ivan Goldschmidt’s “Na Wewe” is an absurdist comedy-thriller set at a roadblock in Burundi, infected by the Rwandan Tutsi genocide. When Hutu rebels haul the passengers of a bus, they all claim to be Hutus.
Damon Quinn’s “The Crush” portrays 8-year-old Ardal Travis’s crush on his second class teacher, Miss Purdy. Once he catches site of her abusive boyfriend, he challenges the thug to a deadly duel.
The Documentary Shorts: Jed Rothstein’s “Killing In the Name” follows Ashraf Al-Khaled’s attempt to understand, survive and transform terrorism. When a terrorist bomb destroyed his wedding, killing 27 members of his family, Al-Khaled began a personal journey of transformation and activism. He stepped up to the plate, broke the Muslim code of silence, and organized to educate the community to the true cost of terrorism.
Sara Nesson’s “Poster Girl” is a portrait of Sgt. Robynn Murray, a machine gunner in the Iraq War. Returning home to her military family, the former cheerleader, now a combat vet with hip injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder, struggles to obtain her promised to obtain government disability benefits. Pointing to her collection of prescription drugs prescribed to relieve her various ailments, Murray shares her experience surviving suicidal depression. PTSD symptoms affect over 300,000 veterans of the Afghanistan and Irag wars.
Karen Goodman, Kirk Simon’s “Strangers No More” visits the Bialik-Rogozin school, a public school in Tel Aviv, which welcomes and educates refugee children from 48 countries. Individual stories of hardship reaching Israel pepper the film.
Jennifer Redfearn’s “Sun Come Up” follows the relocation of the Carteret Islanders, one of the world’s first environmental refugees. Rising seas from global warming force the islanders to find higher ground, leaving their ancestral home. Community youth visit 15 villages in the Tinputz District of the Bougainville mainland, traumatized by a 10-year civil war. Their challenge includes the suspicious aftermath of the war. This is a companion piece to Steve Goodall’s exceptional highly-indie feature documentary “Someplace With A Mountain”, which premiered at this year’s Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
“The Warrior Of Qiugang”- Ruby Yang’ spent three years filming villagers turned activists who took on a chemical company that was destroying the air and water in their remote village in Central china. Animation and live action details the three years of protest. Their rivers are black with dyes and pesticides. The impoverished illiterate villagers feel powerless, but after 30 years of pollution, the majority band together. They sign a petition and suffer death threats and other repercussions but they persist. One of many emerging stories of local protest movements throughout Mainland China.