Monday, February 14, 2011

Oscar Nominated Shorts, Plus: Weekend Movies

Speaking of short films, I went to a screening of the 2010 Oscar-nominated animated short films on Sunday with Adrienne and the fam. Here's a brief rundown.


Madagascar, Carnet de Voyage--a Madagascar travelogue short on story but rich in animation. Several different styles, in fact, with unbelievably smooth transitions among them.

Let’s Pollute--a "public service" short that is a cross between government education films of the fifties and sixties and Looney-Tunes satire. Cute and funny, but it's not going to win.

The Gruffalo--a well-animated with great pacing and a couple star-studded voice actors (John Hurt, Helena Bonham Carter) children's book adaptation. About a mouse that outwits his predators.

The Lost Thing--also an adaptation of a children's book of the same name by Shaun Tan. My favorite of the bunch. A boy finds a strange creature--a lost thing--that looks like a octopus in a tea kettle, and helps it to find its place. The city in which the story takes place is very dystopian, which adds to the emotion of the piece.

Day & Night--you all saw this when you watched Toy Story 3. The cleverest of the bunch, but not as much substance as some of the others.

Honorable Mentions:

URS--a man tries to offer a new life for his mother, but she doesn't want it.

The Cow That Wanted to Be a Hamburger--by Bill Plympton, it is pretty much what the title says it is. The music is used creatively to double as dialogue in some places.

To more fully answer your question, Ben, I don't watch a lot of short films. Most of what I've been exposed to has been animation, and that largely because Adrienne is a fan and insists on watching animated shorts from time to time when we get together to watch movies. She has excellent taste, too, I must say.

I used to frequent Atom films when it was the only game in town, but I haven't been back there in awhile. I loved especially the Star Wars short film contest they had every year. I don't know if they still do that (they do; I looked), but there was some good stuff in that batch ( I still have a few VHS tapes of shorts films from Atomfilms I bought in 2000 or so.

Now for movies I watched over the weekend...

El Mariachi (1992, Rodriguez): It's interesting how when you find out this film like this (i.e. independent and entertaining) was made for $7k, suddenly it becomes a much better film. It's not that it's bad, but it looks every bit the low budget film that it is. That said, it excels on a couple of fronts. It knows what it is--an action/chase movie and clocks in at 80 minutes or so. No action film needs to be much longer than this, unless it's got some pretty  frickin' amazing special effects. Rodriguez also keeps dialogue down to a minimum, something that Hollywood lately seems to have a hard time doing. Everybody has to say his piece these days, from long-winded introductions to book-length bad guy soliloquies. El Mariachi gets right to the point and doesn't waste any space doing it.
There's a neat special feature that involves Rodriguez describing how he made his film on the cheap, but it's only ten minutes long. I could listen to the man talk about his process for at least three times as long as that. This film is an inspiration to any aspiring filmmaker and should be required viewing (see also: Ellie Parker starring Naomi Watts).

Kick Ass (2010, Vaughn): I thought this was comparable to the comic, which I read first. The rocket pack was a bit much, but the music and the great editing kept me in the flick nonetheless. I know exactly what this is, and where it's trying to get me, but I don't mind. At it's heart, it's about one kid trying to make a difference and willing to get himself into a load of shit because of it, and I appreciate that.
I didn't think the little-girl swearing was all that bad, relatively speaking. She didn't have nearly as foul a mouth as the kid in Role Models (that's two movies that Mintz-Plasse has starred in with potty-mouthed little kids now. Is he trying to typecast himself?) and it was very much a comic-book movie, rooted securely in a fantasy world. No self-respecting 11-year-old is going to be influenced by Hit Girl's behavior in the least.
Interesting factoid: two of the tracks from the score appeared elsewhere in slightly different forms. The music for the scene where Big Daddy was busting up the lumber mill appeared in 28 Days Later and the scene where Hit Girl was rescuing Kick Ass and her father was heard first in Sunshine (another Danny Boyle film). It was great movie music that I didn't mind hearing again (and ended up downloading to my iPod).

Book of Eli (2010, Hughes bros.): Up until the end, this was an entertaining par-for-the-course post-apolcalyptic film to me. But I was absolutely fascinated with the unabashed religious message from a couple of guys who are not known for being particularly Christian in their approach (From Hell, anyone?). Does that make it a better movie? I'm not sure, but it certainly makes it more memorable. It got me thinking about all kinds of things: would Christians like this movie despite its extreme violence? Is the Christian message a genuine one, or a plot device set up to appeal to Bible belt America (my cynical side is leaning towards this option)? How plausible is it that society would be prone to burning all the Bibles, and how likely is it that the only one that survived would be that obvious (a huge cross on the front)? How realistic is it that a seeing man could learn braille (I've heard it's extremely difficult for seeing folks to master), and that a man could manage to memorize the whole thing, even in thirty years?
Having learned a bit about the process of conserving scripture through scribes in the Middle Ages, I couldn't help but smirk at the thought of all the ammunition the critics in the movie's future would have with that version, considering all their arguments about it now: "You're telling me that ONE DUDE copied it down because ANOTHER DUDE said he memorized it? And this is your supposed Word of God? Hey, give me a few weeks. I'll write you a Bible, too."
All that said, it was visually very appealing, what with the grey-brown filter over everything. The old couple in the house provided some welcome comic relief and the fight scenes were pretty awesome. It could have been a lot more gruesome than it was. I appreciated the restraint.

Helvetica (2007, Hustwit): I had no idea SO many corporations use the font. And I had no idea Arial was reviled by anybody! I love that font! It's amazing the insight into culture so many little aspects of culture contain. Our thoughts and feelings and ideas get transmitted almost unknowingly through so many of the things we do, that all one has to do is pay attention just a little, and a wealth of information about us comes tumbling out. Also, the soundtrack kicks butt and adds some spice to a movie that admittedly has some slow spots. It's all electronica, pretty much--an interesting choice for a movie about a font created in the fifties (but is still relevant today??)

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