The Irvine International Film Festival has nine Oscar-nominated short films on its program this year. As Oscar movies go, they're the most obscure — but are they any good? Features Editor Michael Miller reviewed each of the nominated films, rating them on a scale of four stars (great) to one star (awful).
Live-action short film; directed by Bryan Buckley
A young Somalian boy who dodges soldiers and lives among pirates in his seaside town gets a hoped-for chance to prove his mettle as a fisherman.
For most of the way, this film is an intriguing slice of life, depicting a part of the world where a gun over the shoulder is as casual as conversation, and a death threat from soldiers is so commonplace that it stirs only mild alarm. Buckley provides some sharp dialogue as well — it brings a poignant smile when a teenage pirate hails the image on his Jay-Z T-shirt as his ideal of wealth. The tone of the final stretch feels off, though; the hero encounters a traumatic situation that the movie brushes aside much too quickly, and the payoff at the end feels cute and unconvincing.
Live-action short film; directed by Sam French
The friendship between two boys in modern
French uses a Third World backdrop for an old-fashioned story — the relationship between the free-spirited urchin and his tentative sidekick evokes Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn at times — but it works with effortless performances, plus some gorgeously composed shots. The most vivid character here is Afghanistan itself, which serves as a snapshot of a country teetering between two walks of life: one so dusty and decrepit it seems practically mired in Biblical times, the other dotted with cars and modern buildings that evoke a city being pieced together slowly as parts become available.
DEATH OF A SHADOW
Live-action short film; directed by Tom Van Avermaet
A photographer who works for a mysterious employer has an assignment to take pictures of people at the moment of death.
So much is haunting and intriguing about this film that I wanted to like it more; Van Avermaet stages shots in seductive film-noir style and gives us flashes of a story that feels too complex (and too full of unanswered questions) for a 20-minute short to successfully handle. What lingers in the mind, more than anything, is lead actor Matthias Schoenaerts' face: hollow, bemused, almost spectral in its numbness. With more development, this concept could be brilliant — remember,
Animated short film; directed by Pes
Stop-motion film showing hands creating guacamole out of oddball ingredients.
Anyone who enjoyed
HEAD OVER HEELS
Animated short film; directed by Timothy Reckart
A married couple live in the same house, but on different planes of gravity — the man on the floor and the woman on the ceiling.
Obviously a metaphor for broken marriage — the man and woman, in their dueling gravities, fight over which side of their wedding portrait should go up — this wordless film is a true charmer. The lack of dialogue gives added weight to small gestures, and the image that accompanies the beginning of the end credits has a surreal splendor. (Comparisons with
Short documentary; directed by Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine
A homeless 15-year-old girl lives between two worlds — her family's precarious life in San Diego and her burgeoning career as a painter.
The legendary director
Short documentary; directed by Sari Gilman
A group of residents in a Florida retirement home share their anxieties about aging, losing partners and rekindling romantic passion.
More than anything, this heartbreaking documentary astonishes with its language — some of the lines are so expertly crafted that you almost have to pinch yourself to remember they're not scripted speech. "I buried one wife; I don't want to bury another," a man says, explaining why he's resisted the affections of a woman several years his senior. A fellow resident, sizing up her neighbors' social mores, opines, "Self-preservation is number one, always." That statement is an unsentimental as the film itself, which evokes feelings of loss and hope without straining for pathos; the shock for young viewers may be that these seniors' concerns — social cliques, nervous courtship — are a mirror of many of their own.
MONDAYS AT RACINE
Short documentary; directed by Cynthia Wade
A hair salon, which provides head-shaving for women undergoing cancer treatment, brings together the stories of several families coping with illness.
As a look at people struggling with the growing limitations of their bodies, I actually found this film more moving — more emotionally rich and surprising — than the Best Picture-nominated
Directed by Kief Davidson
A Rwandan doctor escorts a group of young heart-surgery patients to Sudan, which offers the only clinic in the region capable of treating their condition.