For the second year in a row, I hit up the IFC Center for a day filled with all sorts of Oscar-nominated short film shenanigans! This year's crop of live action and animated shorts were interesting indeed... and at times, downright awesome. I highly recommend checking these two programs out if you have the opportunity -- but for those of you who don’t (or for those who have and want to compare notes), here's my take on the nominees. First up... live action!
KAVI (India) -- The first of several heavy-handed entries deals with the nasty subject of modern-day slavery in India. All young Kavi wants to do is play cricket with the other boys, but he is forced to work under strict rule and the blazing heat of the sun in order to help pay off his father's debts. An encounter with a kind-hearted journalist gives Kavi a glimmer of what his life could be like. Can Kavi escape his predicament? Perhaps he could become a contestant on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" Yeah... sorry, but while the story is certainly no laughing matter, the film smacks of some leftover SLUMDOG fever. That said, it is the kind of story that makes Oscar cry, so I’m going to be uncharacteristically cynical and predict that it takes home gold.
THE NEW TENANTS (Denmark) -- Deliciously dark comedy that gets off to a hilarious start and then gets funnier and more bat-shit insane as the minutes tick by. Great dialogue, acting and even a couple of amusing cameos by (relatively) famous actors. It will make you think twice about moving into a new place without doing a thorough background check... and you will definitely never again use flour without knowing exactly who bought it and where it came from. A too-weird-bordering-on-pretentious ending prevents this one from being perfect... but it's still damn good.
MIRACLE FISH (Australia) -- This year's best entry, in my humble opinion. It's about a lonely, bullied boy who sneaks into the school nurse's office to lie down and escape the harsh realities of the day... only to awaken and find that he is suddenly all alone. Did his classmates and teachers disappear? Get abducted by aliens? Whatever the case, he is free to roam the halls, eat junk food and enjoy what appears to be an awesome birthday present... at least until he discovers what is really going on. At first, the film feels like something out of THE NEVERENDING STORY... only to take a chilling turn of which I will speak no more. Jaw-dropping stuff.
THE DOOR (Ireland) -- This entry starts off with a man breaking into a house to steal a door. Then in a flashback, we see how he and his family were forced to abandon their home and belongings after the Chernobyl disaster of 1986, and then suffer the agony of their young daughter's death. Back to the present, we learn the true, heartbreaking nature of the stolen door. Tough to watch, but also kind of frustrating -- it feels disjointed and rushed, as if it’s an extended trailer for a feature film instead of a standalone short. Good film, though -- flawed but affecting. Can't believe there hasn't been a big-budget, high-profile drama about Chernobyl yet....
INSTEAD OF ABRACADABRA (Sweden) -- Clearly Sweden took the whole NAPOLEON DYNAMITE craze to heart, because this feels like a little slice of that universe. Tomas is a twenty-something slacker who still lives with his parents and dreams of becoming a famous magician, specializing in "gothic mystery and mayhem" (as illustrated by his bowtie and eyeliner, of course). Unfortunately, his tricks often go awry... and his father goes a little more insane with every puff of glitter that Tomas blows in his face. But when Tomas meets a pretty nurse, he suddenly finds his purpose and takes his magic to a whole new level... for better or worse. Hilarious, occasionally cringe-worthy stuff, and my second-favorite of the bunch.
Now, I must state for the record:
I'M ROOTING FOR: Miracle Fish
WILL PROBABLY WIN: Kavi
Stay tuned for animation madness!