The 2007 Academy Award Nominated Short Film Program (Magnolia, NR)

film_oscar-shorts.jpgIt’s devastating and human, a potent combination for swooning the oldies of the Academy board.




Once upon a time, the short film nominees of the Academy Awards served as the lucky draw of your Oscar poll. "Well is it about starving children in Africa or the Holocaust? Then, I’ll pick it," was usually the prerequisite for my ballot. But for the past two years, Magnolia has provided clarity to the usual crapshoot of these minor-league Oscar contenders, giving viewers a chance to make a more educated guess as to which film will go home with the coveted Oscar. In years past, though, these categories still remain a mystery to me. How the silly West Bank Story, a musical about dueling falafel stands, won the same award last year that Andrea Arnold’s brilliant Wasp in 2003 still confounds me. Wasp, from the director of Red Road and starring Nathalie Press (My Summer of Love) and Danny Dyer (Severance), remains one of my favorite films of the past few years in any length and a strong indicator that somewhere at the Academy Awards, good films are still being commended.

This year’s live action short program is uniformly strong, with four of the five nominees coming from Europe, the only category where language and nationality doesn’t seem to pose much detraction for voters. For my money (which probably counts for very little), look for At Night, a Danish tearjerker about three young women spending the holidays in a cancer ward, to pluck the heartstrings of the Academy. It’s devastating and human, a potent combination for swooning the oldies of the Academy board. The only American short nominated is The Tonto Woman, a western adapted from an Elmore Leonard story with a visual landscape not far from Best Picture frontrunners No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood. From Italy, The Substitute depicts a memorable day in the lives of a classroom of high schoolers when an unruly substitute teacher (writer/director Andrea Jublin), acting like Jim Carrey on amphetamines, works the kids into a frenzy. The remaining two (Tanghi argentini from Belgium and The Mozart of Pickpockets from France) fill the Juno slots of this category as the sweet-natured crowd-pleasers, the first about an office worker learning the tango to impress his Internet girlfriend, the latter about a pair of petty thieves who unwittingly adopt a deaf mute little boy into their gang.

The animated program features an entirely international lineup, with two from Canada and one apiece for Russia, France and the United Kingdom. The least appealing of the five, My Love, comes from Russia, an exquisitely animated (in the style of a water-colored Beatrix Potter) story about a young boy’s budding romantic and sexual desires. Despite its originality in presentation, My Love is probably the dullest of the collection. The two from Canada (I Met the Walrus and Madame Tutli-Putli) are remarkably more visionary and exciting. I Met the Walrus animates in hand-drawn fashion the dialogue between a teenage boy and John Lennon after Lennon was refused entry into the United States. Madame Tutli-Putli depicts a woman’s fears and anxieties while riding a train, balancing reality and nightmarish fantasy in beautifully rendered stop-motion animation. The French entry, Même les pigeons vont au paradis (or, in English, Even Pigeons Go to Heaven) shows an old man’s comic descent to purgatory and his interaction with some sort of fusion of St. Peter and a smarmy car salesman. Peter and the Wolf, from England, is a moody, wordless ode to a young boy’s imagination and curiosity. | Joe Bowman

Short Film Live Action Oscar website

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