Friday, February 14, 2014

Oscar Short (Wanous)

Tropic screens wide variety of short Oscar hopefuls

"Oscar-Nominated Short Films," not rated, playing at the Tropic Cinema, 416 Eaton St., Key West.

Academy Award season is upon us -- the Oscars are presented March 2 -- and the Hollywood promotion machine is in full swing.

It's hard to miss the ads that appear everywhere -- on television, in newspapers and magazines, online -- and most of the Oscar-nominated films are easily seen in local theaters. But until recently, it has been nearly impossible to view the short films that have been nominated.

Thankfully, the past couple of years, Hollywood has started making the eligible short films available for wide theatrical release. The short-film categories -- animated, live-action and documentary -- are now packaged into three feature-length films and the result is that viewing the often-missed shorts is now almost as easy as seeing the major films.

The animated films are a mixed bag of ideas that range from amusing to surreal to confusing. They vary in length from six to 30 minutes and while some are better than others, all sow that a good director doesn't necessarily need 90 minutes to tell a great story.

Daniel Sousa's "Feral" tells the story of a young boy raised in the wild who has trouble fitting into modern city life and soon reverts to his untamed ways. The animation is minimal, almost child-like, but effectively tells the tale with no dialogue.

Disney's "Get A Horse" is a wonderful homage to the original Mickey Mouse cartoons that cleverly blends black and white and color animation in a fun way. From France comes "Mr. Hublot," a stunning view of a mechanical world where nuts and bolts comprise almost everything, and adopting a stray pet can have unexpected consequences.

"Possessions" is from Japan and is an artistic masterpiece of color and shape about a laborer caught in a storm who takes refuge in a seemingly abandoned temple.

The most satisfying of the animated films is an adaptation of Julia Donaldson's best-selling classic children's book "Room On the Broom." It tells the story of a friendly witch who can't say no to anyone wanting to hitch a ride on her magic broom. The animation is delightfully whimsical and viewers won't be able to resist its charms.

The live-action films are more emotional and moving but there are some very funny nominees, too. The most touching is "Helium" from Denmark. In it, a scared young boy is in hospice care and a janitor tries to ease his fear of dying by telling him about the land of Helium, a magical place that lies beyond this world. Rare will be the viewer with a dry eye after watching this one.

"Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn't Me)" comes from Spain and is a gut-wrenching story of Spanish aid workers in Africa that is frighteningly real yet somehow hopeful. "The Voorman Problem" features English actors Martin Freeman ("Sherlock," "The Hobbit") and Tom Hollander ("Hanna," "Valkyrie") in a wickedly delicious tale of a problem prisoner who thinks he's God.

"Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything)" is a too-real story that drops viewers into the midst of a domestic-abuse case where a mother and two children are trying to escape the abusive husband's grasp.

"Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?)" is from Finland and is the funniest by far of all the nominees. An alarm clock signals the start of a mad dash to get to the church on time for a wedding. But things aren't what they seem and the result is a hilarious take on the difference between weddings and funerals.

These shorts are imaginative, ingenious and inventive. Some will grab viewers better than others but they all deserve the recognition the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has given them.

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