Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

I’m almost always a big fan of short film programs. Like our weather they’re a “don’t like it? just wait fifteen minutes…” sort of situation that almost always gives you a little treat at some point in the afternoon. Hence, I was pretty excited to screen the films nominated for the short film Oscars (animated and live action). I’ve seen a pretty broad set of shorts over the past year from solid youth shorts at NFFTY to the SXSW Midnight series, including the memorable Eagles are Turning People into Horses. For whatever reason, the latter didn’t make it into final 5 nominations for Best Live Action Short.

That Academy failing aside, over the next week we’ll all have the opportunity to have our own little mini film festival at the Varsity theater (or on our iphone, via iTunes) – putting you in-the-know during the part of the Oscars when too many folks are grabbing a snack. All the nominated films are very solid examples of the short film form, if a tad darker than I tend to remember things being in past competitions. So if you’re all caught up on the major Oscar categories, this might be a nice way to mix things up cinematically speaking this weekend.

A brief rundown of the live action category follows, with notes on the animated shorts right behind…

For The Confession (UK), I’m going to take the word of the filmmakers’ that your first confession is a trying time. Never having gotten that experience in Hebrew school, I can only imagine it must be nearly as scary as being a thirteen-year-old told you’re going to sing in front of the entire congregation in a language you an neither read nor write. The young lead of The Confession isn’t worried because he has a huge issue to own up to, rather that he has nothing that seems to merit confession. Given a checklist of possible sins to review by the helpful priest, he and one of his less awed by the church BFF’s set forth to correct the “deficiency.” Given that this is a dark, dark short nothing quite goes where he expected. This film set a bit of the mood for the live action shorts, suggesting one’s not in for a light-hearted ride. It’s professionally made, if a bit predictable. Metaphor for the impact of the church on otherwise well meaning people? Perhaps. You’re certainly free to see things that way.

The second short, The Crush (Ireland) , takes you from cute to dark, whiplashing you into actually wondering how things will turn out. Our little protagonist has a crush on his teacher whom he proposes to in the first scene. At one point going so far as to mark his datebook ten years hence with the expected date of their nuptials. Awwww – so cute. Devastated when he learns teacher has replaced his engagement ring with that of her current beau, he feels obligated to do something about it. Which of course means a duel to the death – possibly for reals. But it’s cool, ‘cuz the fiance is sort of a tool.

And speaking of tools: we have the hero of the cute short, God of Love (USA) . This was the only cleanly “fun” of the short films, being an odd amalgam of Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, any other mumblecore romcom, and the 1990 NYC reign of Dartman. Our “hero” is the lead singer and trick dart thrower (really) of a lounge quartet. Though his real life focus is trying to get the girl. The girl being a member of the band who’s digging on his best friend, and not our hero. We’re assured repeatedly the best friend isn’t at all interested – and true to this, he coldly rejects advance after advance. After extensive praying to a deity he’s admittedly never asked anything of (so, the least you can do is help me out this one time), a package arrives from the Olympus Corporation. The mystery box contains a set of love darts that will make the receiver susceptible to the charms of another, though not guarantee true love.  Our newly empowered Cupid wannabe plays with fire – in a sort of cute, adorable way. I’m a sucker for this sort of thing, but I think even for normal people it’s an enjoyable little film. If you want to bet on the most different live action short of the bunch for the Oscar in your pool, God of Love is it – though personally (and sadly) I think it’s a longshot.

Na Wewe (Belgium) tackles the most disturbing materials of the five, but manages to do it with a touch that makes it sort of oddly entertaining. After their car breaks down in Burundi, two men hitch a ride with some strangers. Not long after, they’re pulled over by a group of rebels. It’s immediately clear that the armed men intend to split the travelers along racial lines – and nothing good of it will come for those on the “wrong” side of things. Each traveller in turn argues with the rebel leader that they’re of his ethnicity, and thus should be spared as the tension and suspense mounts. With a bit of humor thrown in, the film manages to mock the absurdity of such conflicts while still grabbing you emotionally by the throat. If I had to bet on a winner it’d be Na Wewe – I think the makers of this film have a good chance of being the first set of “foreigners” in 2011 to be kicked off the stage at the Oscars without being able to finish their speech first.

The last of the live action shorts posits the question: What would you wish for if you were a 15-year-old dying of cancer when the make a wish type folks come a calling? It’s not easy to argue with his request for sex in place of a trip to Disneyland – and that’s the setup for Wish 143 (UK). Seems taking care of a lad’s virginity isn’t in the playbook for the Dreamscape Charity, so the boy’s on his own. As he wiles away the days in the cancer ward, he schemes on how to make this a reality – with the facilities pastor first trying to talk him out of it, and then warming to the idea. Honest and sad, this won’t really have you leaving the theater with a big grin on your face.

Of the five live action shorts, at least three deal with some pretty grim realities – but I suppose light and fun is what the animated shorts are for in this year’s competition. So let’s see what the animated package has in store for us… Normally this isn’t necessarily my favorite category of short film, but in a lot of ways I think this is possibly the stronger of the two sets. Not that you should choose just to see one or the other. If you want to dominate your local Oscar pool, seeing both is likely the wise investment. Anyway, on to the five films:

Day & Night (USA) is the one short the average film goer has probably seen, as it toured theaters as part of the presentation of Toy Story 3. It’s very clever and charming, though a bit hard to explain. We meet two persons Day & Night – through whom we can see the corresponding part of the earth’s rotation on its axis as they explore the world. In a wordless exchange that’s easy to follow, they joust about whom leads a more interesting existence until a happy middle ground is achieved. I enjoyed this short a lot when I saw Toy Story 3, and it certainly holds up well many months later.

The Gruffalo (UK/Germany) is a story told by a mother squirrel to her two young offspring after a close call with a predatory bird. The tale teaches of a mouse walking through the woods who through his wits manages to elude a successive series of more deadly predators. Until he cannot bluff his way out of a situation – or can he? Brains vs. brawn in lush 3D looking animation.

Seems I like my humor a bit dark, because Let’s Pollute (USA) had me chuckling all the way through. It’s a satirical public service announcement from “Happy go Dismal Instructional Films” about how we can all do our part as members of the human race to keep on polluting. Filled with truisms about how our ability to pollute has improved as society advanced, “in the early days some of our habits were counterproductive, like fixing things when they broke, and women wearing shoes more than once”, and simplistic animation – this one is a keeper. Even if you don’t get a chance to see the film, you can still consider the “twice rules” espoused towards the end of the piece:

– Always buy twice what you need
– Never use the same thing twice
– Waste Twice as much as yesterday
– Never think Twice about it

Words to live by…

Madgascar, A Journey Diary (France) is a beautiful but occasionally befuddling diary of a journey by a European traveling through Madagascar. I really loved the style of this one, but with limited context, I felt I was sometimes guessing a bit too much at which customs I was actually watching.

The Lost Thing (Australia/UK) is a trippy, surrealistic journey about a young boy who finds a “lost thing” and his journey to find it a proper “place”. It’s beautiful, odd, and at the end touchingly reminds you about the things you likely forgot about as you became an adult. Actually, this is the one of the five animated shorts that I can totally see myself watching a few more times – both because it’s enjoyable but also because the overall art is so complex that there’s truly a lot to see in each frame.   

As the five animated Oscar nominees are truly pretty short, those going to the theater to catch the Animated set of films will be treated to the bonus The Cow Who Wanted to Be a Hamburger from Bill Plympton, and Urs, a German film. Certainly a lot of variety for your money at the Varsity this Friday!