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Oscars 2014 Live-Action Shorts Review

Cinema

Most years I have the luxury of seeing both the animated and live-action shorts nominees back-to-back. This year I didn’t have that much of a luxury because of how tightly scheduled my life is right now. Actually I could’ve waited to see the ‘double feature’ the day before the Oscars but why should I wait when I have many chances in the days and weeks leading up? I had the good luck of seeing the animated nominees last week. I had my chance to see the live-action ones just a couple of days ago. I’m glad so I can make my predictions well ahead of time. So here’s my review of the shorts and my predictions:

Parvaneh – dirs. Talkhon Hamzavi and Stefan Eichenberger – Parvaneh is a teenage Afghani girl living in the Swiss alps trying to make money for her family, especially her ailing father to afford medicine. It’s hard enough staying in refugee housing away from her family and being around young sleazy guys. It’s not clear whether she’s a legal emigre or illegal. However it’s hard to get good work. It’s also hard for her to send money since she doesn’t have the right ID to send and she’s under 18.

While in Zurich where she traveled to in order to send money via Western Union, she asks a street girl for help. She’s willing to but at a percentage: she starts at 50% but is negotiated down to 10%. At first the girl decides to just simply help Parvaneh or ‘Pari’ by just having her at her mother’s, whom she’s not on good terms with, while she’s showering. Both arrive too late as the Western Union is closed.

The girl decides to take Pari out to a party while she’s staying overnight. Pari is reluctant at first but starts getting more comfortable over time to the point she is enjoying herself. The girl has her own fun but doesn’t let Pari out of her sights. Unfortunately more drinking than Pari can handle leaves her feeling sick. Outside she’s approached by a young male trying to seduce her. Her refusal to accept only leads him to get even more invasive with her. It isn’t until the other girl comes out and attacks the male that he stops and runs off, only for Pari to find out her money was stolen by him. They are able to get the money back. The film ends on a delightful note.

The film can be seen by having a lot of themes about it. One theme could be of all the young males who think they’re God’s gift to women and hit on a girl like Parvaneh. Another could be on the theme of the relation between native Swiss and emigres. I don’t know how the native Swiss population treat emigres or foreigners so I can’t say. However seeing what became of two young girls who are complete strangers– an Afghani emigre and a Swiss street girl — and cultivate into a friendship overnight feel this may be a story with a social message. And one with a happy ending. Very well-written and well-acted. That’s why I feel this Should Win the Oscar.

Butter Lamp – dirs. Wei Hu and Julien Feret – Two Chinese men are taking portraits in a Tibetan village. They’re of various Tibetan families, children, people of authority and even a newlywed Chinese couple that live there. Many of the Tibetans wear traditional clothes. Some wear modern clothes. Some pose with props like their yak, their religious items and even a motor scooter for the couple. They pose by the various backdrop that include Tiananmen Square, Tibetan Himalayas, downtown Shanghai, gardens, the inside of the Beijing 2008 stadium (where children pose on a podium wearing plastic medals and a paper torch) and Jokhang Temple whom an elderly woman mistakes as the real thing. Most of the time it works well. In one case, a man walked off because they thought a jacket he was wearing wasn’t right. It turns out it belonged to his late mother.

During the various photo shoots, you feel that the film is trying to send a message about Tibetans in China. You feel like it’s confirmed at the end as they shut down for the day, take down the backdrop setting exposing a bridged highway under construction in the mountain area, and talk about ‘authorities’ coming the next day. It’s a very impressive short as this short does send a statement about the mistreatment of Tibetans by the People’s Republic and the encroachment of modernization in their region, especially with various Chinese peoples coming to the ‘province.’ Very good short that says a lot just by showing a common situation.

The Phone Call – dirs. Matt Kirkby and James Lucas – It stars Sally Hawkins and James Broadbent. Heather is a shy woman who works as a helpline call centre respondent with Daniel who’s just simply her co-worker. Her first call of the day comes from a man names Stan. Stan is in tears as he is a widowed man for two years. He has just taken a load of pills. Heather does what she can to find help for him but he refuses as he wants to die. Heather tries to develop conversation in hopes of getting results. She finds out more about his history with his late wife Joan and even learns about their one child, a stillborn daughter. Just as things get friendlier and there appears to be a ray of hope that he’ll want to live, a surprise happens. It leads to an unexpected ending that appears to turn for the better for both.

It’s hard to tell if it’s giving a social message or not. You could assume it’s to do about the lonely people in England or even depression. You could even assume at the end as Stan (whose real name is John) and Joan are reunited in death that the filmmaker is saying this is how it’s supposed to be or even about true love forever. Even at the end as Heather has wine with Daniel could send a message about love that’s meant to be. Nevertheless it does make for a good story that keeps you paying attention and wondering what will happen next.

-Aya – dirs. Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis – Aya is a 29 year-old woman at Tel Aviv airport waiting for a family to arrive. A chauffer to a Jerusalem hotel who’s waiting for a Danish man named Mr. Overby to arrive has to leave and gives Aya the sign while he’s gone temporarily. As Mr. Overby arrives, Aya doesn’t tell him to wait for his chauffeur. Instead she acts as the chauffeur and even has a dinner with him. As she drives him to the hotel, which she doesn’t know how to drive to, the conversation gets more personal as she learns he’s a musical judge in Jerusalem for a competition. It even gets more personal for her as she wants his attention. She does eventually reveal she’s not his driver and welcomes an intimate moment with him. You think that she has met a new love but you get a surprise ending.

I will admit I thought this would end up being political. It’s hard to blame me as year by year, many of the nominated shorts in this category end up having a political message. However this turns out to be something different. It’s entertaining too because how the story of a mismatch appears to lead to something romantic. This is my prediction on which short Will Win the Oscar.

-Boogaloo and Graham – dirs. Michael Lennox and Ronan Blaney – The story is set in Belfast in 1978 and narrated by a grown-up Jamesy. Back then, Jamesy and Malachy are two brothers growing up in Belfast. Their father is a bit of a dreamer and lousy at keeping jobs and the mother is unhappy with the marriage, even constantly calling him a ‘fool.’ One day the father brings the two baby chicks. The boys immediately fall in love with the two and the chicks become the best of friends. They’d much rather have the chicks than a dog because ‘everybody has a dog.’ They’ll even make themselves partial vegetarians because of their friendship with the chicks whom they named Boogaloo and Graham.

Months pass by, Boogaloo and Graham grow up to be full-grown chickens but the brothers’ friendship with them is still as thriving as ever. However their parents announce that they’re expecting a new baby and the chickens will have to be killed. The boys refuse to accept this to the point they’ll even run away right in the middle of the dangerous inner city streets of Belfast. However just as the chickens are about to be killed, they all learns Boogaloo’s a female that lays eggs. Renamed Boogalooloo, the parents change their mind.

No question there is a political message. It’s a reminder of children that grow up in political hot spots that they face a load of dangers and ugly realities most children don’t have to face and grow up too fast. Jamesy and Malachy are boys growing up in Belfast in 1978 when political tension was at its most heated. Bombings and shootings between Catholics and Protestants were all too common at the time and children like Jamesy and Malachy were not immune. However it was a story where Jamesy and Malachy found an escape from it and they found it with Boogaloo and Graham. Having Boogaloo and Graham as pets and even friends helped Jamesy and Malachy stay children during that time. It’s a funny charming story which allowed the children to be cute without being hard to stomach. Even the boys’ talk about sex will have you laughing. A charming comedy. Also the inclusion of the song ‘Why Do Fools Fall In Love’ may seem odd in a film like this but later on you’ll think it fit the film well.

This is a unique selection of short films this year. Some were political while some just wanted to tell a simple story. Some did have a dark story to it while some were more comedic. It’s always hard to predict which short will win or whether they will choose a political one or non-political one. We’ll have to see on Sunday which one wins.

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Oscars 2014 Best Animated Shorts Review

Cinema

Normally each year I’d see the Oscar nominated shorts for both animation and live-action on the same day. Because of my crazy schedule, I actually seized the chance to see the animated nominees on Saturday. I arrived in decent time and was able to see all five nominees plus four additional shortlisted films. Here are my thoughts on the nominees.

Me And My Moulton – dir. Torill Kove – Kove has already won the Oscar in this category before for The Danish Poet. I haven’t seen it so I can’t compare the two. Nevertheless it is a charming short with 2D drawings telling of a personal story of a troubling time in Kove’s childhood for her and her family that ended on a happy note. It’s a good story that shows the differences between the world through a child’s eye and the world through adults’ eyes. It gives you a happy ending you hope for despite the troubles you see. Interesting how it’s the National Film Board of Canada that that produced it this time.

Feast – dirs. Patrick Osborne and Kristina Reed – If you’ve seen Big Hero 6, then you’ve already seen this short that was screened before. It’s another Disney short where you don’t need very much dialogue to get the story. Even with the little dialogue in there, you’ll get it. You just have to let Winston the dog to the talking and the acting. However it’s the ending that turns out to be a surprise. You think it will end one way like Winston really is man’s best friend but instead ends on a funnier note that’s very fitting. Excellent animation and enjoyable for all ages. However I’m kind of pessimistic that it will win. Usually shorts shown before Disney features don’t win.

The Bigger Picture – dirs. Daisy Jacobs and Chris Hees – This is a film where the focus is more on the animation than it is on the actual story. Yes, there’s the story of the two brothers discussing the fate of their elderly mother and the ensuing squabble after squabble. However you can tell that with this story looking like oil paintings coming to life, you can tell it’s the art which is given more focus. The style is very unique and the story has an enjoyable humor to it.

A Single Life – dir. Joris Oprins – It’s just three minutes but this 3D story really entertains. You think the girl is playing a simple vinyl single but surprise surprise, her life elapses as the song plays on from beginning to end. Cute, bizarre and entertaining where even her timely death at at the end–a death that’s surprising but you should expect– is funny and surprising. Seeing how this film packs in so much in three minutes and successfully entertains, I pick this as my Should Win pick.

The Dam Keeper – dirs. Robert Kondo and Daisuke ‘Dice’ Tsutsumi – It’s the longest of the five nominees. It’s a story that starts off sad where the pig both works the dam’s windmill and goes to school ridiculed by all the other animal students. Things change when a new student, a fox with a knack for drawing, joins the class. Soon a friendship builds. However things change for the worse one day as the pig sees what he suspects to be a mockative drawing of him and the fog overtakes the city. The story ends with how it should. The short is charming as the caricatures can remind many of Richard Scarry books. The story is rather dark but it does end with a fairy tale-like ending that remains true to the story instead of a lopsided ending. That’s why I predict it for the Will Win pick.

It’s always entertaining and interesting when watching the nominated shorts. The interesting part is seeing the various styles of animation in the film. We have the 2D style of drawings of Torill Kove’s style, 3D style common in Disney/Pixar films, paintings coming to life, humorous 3D style and painting style 2D caricatures. This allows for a lot of diversity in the nominees. Also noteworthy are the ‘commended’ shorts that didn’t get nominated: Sweet Cocoon, Footprints, Duet and Bus Story. Especially with the latter being a Canadian story that’s charming. They were all also very impressive and had a unique style about them.

And there you go. Those are my thoughts on the Best Animated Short Film nominees. There’s hardly ever a sure favorite and it’s always hard to predict the winner. Nevertheless it’s still enjoyable to watch and I’ll just have to wait a couple of more weeks to see who wins.

Oscars 2013 Shorts Review

CinemaI saw the Oscar-nominated shorts yesterday and this makes it the sixth year in a row I’ve seen them. However it almost wasn’t the case. By the time I arrived for the first segment, for the animated shorts, news was they were all sold out and those interested had to stand in a rush line. By the time the rush line were allowed, only those with orange tickets could get in. That had me waiting for a bit longer. Fortunately I was able to get in but I was probably the fourth-last in and my friend the third-last.

Nevertheless I was able to see all the shorts. And I’m able to give you all my thoughts as well as my picks for what Should Win and what Will Win:

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM:

  • Get A Horse! – dir. Lauren MacMullan – If you’ve seen Frozen, you’ve already seen this short. At first you think this is a Disney cartoon from the 1930’s until Peg-Leg Pete gets nasty with Mickey and punches him off through the theatre screen and into the present as 3D. The whole story is a battle between the good characters and Peg-Leg Pete which has them all going from the black-and-white past to the 3D color present with humorous results. Very entertaining and funny and that’s why I pick it as my Will Win pick.
  • Mr. Hublot – dirs. Laurent Witz & Alexandre Espigares – This is very unique and also quite futuristic. It’s of a robot man who has a robot dog as a pet. He’s man’s best friend but gets bigger and bigger over time. So what’s Mr. Hublot to do? The short is more focused on the animation than in telling the story. It comes off as both intriguing and quite charming.
  • Feral – dir. Daniel Sousa – This may remind some of the 1960’s French film The Wild Child. This 2D film is of a boy found in the wilds of the wood by a hunter. He is taken and raised to be a human but finds at times he has to rely on his animal skills for survival. This short reminds us that not all the stories involve humor. Some are dark. This 2D short does capture the darkness of the story and one can get an understanding of it without any dialogue.
  • Possessions  – dir. Shuhei Morita – This is a unique style of Japanese anime: not of the style we commonly call ‘anime.’ This was not too focused on the plot as it was about the style of animation and the entertainment factor. Nevertheless very colorful and very entertaining. It also included a lot of elements of Japanese culture which I really liked. That’s why I give it my Should Win pick.
  • Room On The Broom – dir. Jan Lachauer & Max Lang – This is another entertaining short from the team of animators responsible for the Gruffalo shorts. Here they tell a different story of a witch with a broom whom she first uses for herself and her cat. Soon other animals find a place on it until it becomes too small and it stars to break. Features voices of Simon Pegg, Gillian Anderson, Timothy Spall and Sally Hawkins. Very charming story which is great for all ages. It will also remind you of the Gruffalo shorts.

BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM:

  • Helium – dir. Anders Walter – This Danish short is of Alfred, a dying boy striking an unlikely friendship with Enzo, the hospital janitor. Enzo tells him the story of a place called Helium where he’s about to head to. The place is a wonderful fantasy world. The problem is that Alfred’s condition worsens as the story nears its end. Enzo has to tell Alfred about his trip to Helium before he dies but Enzo being a janitor is not allowed in the area. The story keeps from being your typical story of a dying child that pulls at your heartstrings. Instead it aims for a happy ending. It’s as much a nice trip to a fantasy world as it is a drama. That’s why I give it my Should Win pick. It could pull an upset to the one I think will win.
  • The Voorman Problem – dir. Mark Gill – This British short stars appearing as a drama but comes off as a surprise in the end. Dr. Williams feels he’s dealing with yet another mentally ill person when he’s dealing with a man named Voorman. Voorman tells him all sorts of bizarre and eccentric things, even how he destroyed the country of Belgium. Dr. Williams tells his encounters to his wife but is in for a surprise. A bigger surprise awaits him in what would be his last interview with Voorman. The best quality is its unpredictability and surprise ending.
  • Just Before Losing Everything – dir. Xavier Legrand – This French short starts off as a melodrama that you think is about the young boy Julien. Instead things take  sharp turn as Julien’s mother Miriam picks him up and his sister who leaves her boyfriend in tears. Turns out the mother is hiding herself and her children from her abusive husband and seeks the department store she works at as her refuge. Then her husband shows up. Excellent drama that’s very true to life and you don’t know what will happen next, even though you hope for the best result. That’s why this is my Will Win prediction.
  • That Wasn’t Me – dir. Esteban Crespo – The story begins as international doctors going to work in a village in Africa only to be held at gunpoint by child soldiers and then held hostage by an angry and accusative warlord. Frequent flash-forwards to when the young boy soldier is all grown up and telling his story to an audience. The drama of what takes place and how he’s able to escape is a painful reminder of child soldiers but also a message of hope that they can find a way out. Very well-played out and passes on a good message.
  • Do I Have To Take Care Of Everything? – dir. Selma Vilhunen – This Finnish short is actually a comedy. A family overslept and is late for a wedding. they’re in a rush to dress themselves and their children. The parents get themselves ready fine but their daughters end up in Halloween costumes. They forgot their present so they take their plant instead. even after they drop it while running to the church and smash the pot, they still take the plant there. The ending is a hilarious surprise. Definitely the funniest of the five and succeeds in entertaining in the seven minutes it has.

And there you have it. My thoughts and predictions of the five nominees from both shorts categories. Any of the five can win. I remember last year the ones I thought would win didn’t. We’ll just see which ones win on Oscar night. For those that want to know my predictions for all the other categories, click here.

Baby Boomers: Still A Draw To The Box Office

Maggie Smith stars in Quartet, a film of aging musicians that did well with critics and scored well at the box office too.

Maggie Smith stars in Quartet, a film of aging musicians that scored well with critics and the box office too.

“Initially you’re overwhelmed. But gradually you realize it’s like a wave. Resist, and you’ll be knocked over. Dive into it, and you’ll swim out the other side.”

-Evelyn Greenslade from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

In the last two years, it seems like movies are mostly set out for the Echo or Millenial generation but also intended to attract Generation X and today’s children too. It seemed like the Boomer Generation was a movie crowd that had many years and decades in the sun in terms of movies and its now past. But not so fast. They’re still leaving one last impact that been especially present in the last two years. I’ve noticed it in three films from the past while and even a current release. It’s positive there will be more to come but it does face challenges.

It’s hard to exactly pinpoint what birthyears define a generation. There are common assumptions of what years consist of the Baby Boomer generation but I was commonly told it was the generation that began just after World War II had ended. The most common birthyears I have seen associated with the Baby Boomer generation are from 1946 to 1964.

The Baby Boomer generation is a generation that has made an impact in many ways but is especially noticeable on its impact in movies. We first saw it in the 70’s when they went to see thrillers by Spielberg and Lucas and dramas from Scorsese and but also experimental movies like Clockwork Orange and Pulp Fiction. They’ve also made their own sets of stars like Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Meryl Streep, Bette Midler, Billy Crystal, Tom Hanks, Geena Davis…I could go on. Baby Boomer filmmakers, actors and audiences have contributed to the changes greatly in both Hollywood film and films of other format. Even Baby Boomer women left their mark as many showed they didn’t simply have to be in front of the camera but behind the camera too.

Even as they were getting older as the late-80’s came, they still showed that they were a viable audience market worth major focus and continued to have films and movies with them in mind. They also showed that an actor or actress can get older in age like their 30’s and 40’s and still be a big draw. They also changed family movies in the late 80’s/early 90’s too as the movies directed to their children would also have to include elements in which parents could watch and enjoy too.

Then it appeared at the turn of the millennium, it would be handed to the younger generations like Generation X and especially the Echo/Millennial generation mostly comprised of their children while most boomer actor would be relegated to supporting roles. It was thought that they would now have to make way for them. Even now with the Boomers getting older and many entering into their Golden Years, it appears the core audience for movies is now the Millennial generation mostly composed of their children or children of the generation after them. Even though the Boomer generation no longer has that decades-old grip on movies they used to, they appeared to still have a spark in them that allowed for films to be released with them in mind.

I believe the first trigger was back in 2007 with the hit movie The Bucket List. Directed by Rob Reiner and written by Justin Zackham, this featured Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman as two men with terminal lung cancer giving themselves goals to achieve before they ‘kick the bucket.’ The movie was a hit achieving $93 million at the US box office and $175 million worldwide. The box office success sent the message that Boomers and the generation before them were still a marketable film crowd and that younger generations can also be entertained by movies featuring older movie stars. Hey, didn’t we like Grumpy Old Men back in the 90’s?

The first movie that caught my attention to this was a British movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. The movie was directed by 64 year-old John madden and its ensemble cast consisted mostly of British actors in their 60’s and 70’s like Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson and Bill Nighy. The movie was about older retired people who come to live at what they think will be a nice hotel in India. Instead it turns out to be dingy. Over time they discover more about themselves and many learn that their life doesn’t have to end in their golden ages. They can start a new life. One can free their soul. One can even finally meet Mr. Right. The movie did very well grossing $46 million in North America and $134 million worldwide.

There was a second British movie also based on aging that scored well: Quartet. This was the directorial debut of American Dustin Hoffman. The movie starred Maggie Smith, included Ton Courtenay and Michael Gambon, and is based off of a hit British stage play. The movie is situated in a retirement home for former professional musicians. The home has always had financial issues but has always kept themselves going by teaching to young people and holding an annual gala. The gala has had its issues as many of its top former musicians have died over the years. Their best hope is to have a famous quartet as their main attraction. Their best hopes rest on soprano Jean Horton who actually is an ex-wife of one of the other quartet singers and both failed to heal the bad terms between them.  The movie was not just about healing relationships. The movie was also coming to terms with aging and dealing with the changes; especially since the artistic giftedness that once made their greatness withered away with age. The movie scored very well with the critics and made $55 million worldwide at the box office.

You may have noticed that not every star actor in the movie is a Baby Boomer. Not Maggie Smith, Judi Dench and Michael Gambon. Nevertheless the theme of aging is a common theme Baby Boomers can relate to especially since the first wave of Baby Boomers–born in the first few years following World War II– have now entered into their 60’s and are dealing with the issues with aging and also attempting to overcome the obstacles associated with it.

Hollywood has noticed that too and they even sent out a more commercial movie about getting older called Parental Guidance. Since it stars Bette Midler and Billy Crystal, you know it would be a comedy. It’s not necessarily about aging but about the role of grandparents who come into the lives of their daughter, her husband and grandchildren. The movie is about grandparents trying to raise the grandchildren while the parents are away. They have a wide array of obstacles to deal with like new technology, children’s behavior, modern methods of parenting and psychology, a musically gifted granddaughter making social sacrifices, a new job pursuit and above all the role as grandparents. This was a unique movie upon release as it appeared marketed to Baby Boomer grandparents, Generation X or Echo parents and the current generation of children. The critical consensus was not too pleased with parental Guidance but it made 4477 million at the US box office and almost $120 million worldwide.

Parental Guidance may have been a hit but it’s not to say that aging Boomer stars still face challenges in Hollywood movies. Recently there was the movie The Big Wedding which featured an ensemble cast starring older stars like Robert de Niro, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon and Robin Williams along with younger stars Ben Barnes, Katharine Heigl and Amanda Seyfried. The movie was written and directed by The Bucket List scriptwriter Justin Zackham. The movie was seen by the consensus of critics as unfunny and predictable. The box office didn’t fare well either grossing a total of $21 million so far.

Even the artistic film industry faces challenges as well. There was the French Language film Amour about an aging couple dealing with their love for each other as the wife suffers a stroke and is left terminally impaired. The film was nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture and won Best Foreign Language Film but achieved less than $7 million at the US box office and $20 million worldwide.

The past twelve months have showed that the aging populations, especially the aging Baby Boomers, are still a marketable and profitable movie crowd despite the majority of movies focused on the under-30’s. It’s fair to say that the film industry has done a good job in turning out movies with them in mind but it still faces a lot of challenges in the present and in the future. It’s not just the aging crowds that want to see movies but the aging actors that still want to act and aging stars that want to prove they still have it. Only time will define what works with them and what will continue to draw them to the cinemas.

Oscars 2012 Shorts Review

Interesting how these past few years, they’ve released the short films nominated for an Academy Award as reels at the box office. They’ve since drawn good-sized crowds as they’ve been doing it again ever since. This marks the fifth year in a row I’ve seen them and this year’s crop of nominees are both entertaining to watch and interesting to see the visions of either the director or the animators. Here’s my rundown of this year’s nominated short films:

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM:

Adam And Dog – dir. Minkyu Lee- Unique story how a dog became man’s best friend as Adam meets the dog before Eve. It seems charmingly cartoonish at first and gives the viewer a feel. Soon it becomes more cartoonish both in drawing and in the characters of the two. Also the plot before the ending becomes a bit awkward. Nevertheless it did end well. Overall I felt something was missing in it and I don’t think it will win.

Fresh Guacamole – dir. PES-What can an animated film accomplish in two minutes? This film does a lot as it goes from cutting items for guacamole into turning it into gambling goodies and toy bits. It’s both entertaining and charming. It doesn’t even have to tell a story to entertain. Its ability to charm and entertain in its two minutes is why this is my Should Win pick. Great job!

Head Over Heels – dir. Timothy Reckart- Walter and Madge are an unhappily-married couple. They live in the same house but she lives right side up while he lives upside down as the house floats in the sky. It’s a shame since they used to dance ballet together. One day Walter tries to solve things by repairing Madge’s ballet shoes. However something goes wrong between him and Madge and the separateness grows. Its use of its form of 3D ‘puppetry’ adds to the unique charm of the story but its ability to convey human emotions much like flesh and blood people is its biggest quality that makes it shine and why this is my Will Win pick.

Maggie Simpson: The Longest Daycare – dir. David Silverman- Maggie Simpson is the star of this funny short where no dialogue is needed. If you’ve seen Ice Age 3 in the theatres, then you’ve seen this short already. Maggie is left at the Ayn Rand School For Tots. And when there’s a daycare run in the spirit of Ayn Rand, you know trouble will abound. This Simpson’s short without dialogue succeeds in entertaining while remaining true to the flavor of the Simpsons show. And you finally find out why Maggie always had animosity to the baby with the unibrow. I always had a feeling he was diabolical!

Paperman – dir. John Kahrs- If you’ve seen Wreck-It Ralph in the theatres, then you’ve seen this short already. Done in black and white with the only color being the woman’s red lipstick. It’s a charming boy meets girl story where they meet on a subway platform and boy attempts to meet girl again by making paper planes out of his inbox papers. Eventually the paper planes become his destiny as they send the message the two were meant to be. Another charming short from the Disney studios.

One thing to say about all five of the films is that you’ll notice all are done without dialogue. I find it unique that all five nominees possess that quality. Shows how volumes can be spoken without uttering a word. Pixar’s been showing that for years in the shorts they’d shown before their features. Another thing is that it’s something that none of the nominated shorts were done in 3D computer graphics. That’s a bit of a surprise for me considering it’s now all the rage for feature-length animation.

BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM

Asad – dirs. Bryan Buckley & Mino Jarjoura- Normally you would not expect a story of Somalian children being caught in the war to be a comedy but this is and it succeeds well. It does show a lot of the nastiness of war with the temptation of young children to become pirates but it has an ironically humorous ending that makes it a delight. Normally a story about a child being caught in an African cival war doesn’t sound like comic material at all but this film does an excellent job in making a comedy out of it without crossing the line. Also this film could be seen as a ray of hope for Somalia as most of the actors are in fact Somali refugees living in South Africa.

Buzkashi Boys – dirs. Sam French & Ariel Nasr- This is a story of two poor boys in Kabul, Afghanistan. One, Rafi, is the son of a blacksmith whose father expects him to carry on the family tradition. The other, Ahmad, is a young fatherless street urchin who begs on the streets. One day Rafi’s father allows him to see a game of Buzkashi with Ahmad. Ahmad tells Rafi his dreams of being a Buzkashi star and isn’t afraid to shout out his dream from a demolished castle while Rafi is skeptical for his future. One incident changes everything that changes how Rafi thinks and dreams. This story is the one of the five that most stayed with me. It was very well-played out and gets you thinking. That’s why I declare this to be my Should Win pick.

Curfew – dir. Shawn Christensen- This is a dark story that features some humor. The girl is a scene stealer even thought the man is the main protagonist. Often you’d wonder why a sister would let her suicidal brother babysit her daughter but it turns out to be the best thing for both of them in the end. It’s dark humor is what gives it its edge. Definitely the most original of the five.

Death Of A Shadow – dirs. Tom van Avermaet & Ellen De Waele- This is a haunting story of Nathan, a death photographer who photographs deaths and transfers the shadows onto his master’s wall for his artistic entertainment. We later learn that Nathan died in World War I and the master will give him his life back upon 10,000 photographs. He wants to return to life to return to the love he believes he could’ve had if he wasn’t killed by soldiers. It’s the 10,000th photograph and the aftermath that changes everything including his perspective. Very dark and haunting. Very well-directed and well produced. That’s why I give it my Will Win pick.

Henry – dir. Yan England- This is a story of an elderly man with Alzeimer’s trying to remember and reclaim the past for his memory. It starts in a bizarre situation. He’s strapped to his hospital bed and can’t remember his wife Maria or daughter Nathalie. His recollection progresses through the help of his daughter, his twentysomething self and the classical music he played with his loved ones. It’s through both of them and the music that he’s able to go back in time to remember the two for their sake and for his. It’s haunting as it is touching. It is a sad story but it does lead to an ending that’s somewhat positive. Very good and very intimate as it’s honest in human feelings.

This is the difficulty of predicting a short film. The winner could be a story that makes you think like recent past winners Toyland or The Shore. Or it could be something humorous like past winners The New Tenants or God Of Love. There’s no telling what will impress the Academy.

And there you have it. My thoughts and predictions for the short films. Predicting short films in never easy. Any five can be the winner. There’s no clear favorite. Nevertheless it’s always great to see that he audience again has a chance to see them on the big screen. Also those interested in seeing some new directing talent or animating talent, here’s your chance.

Oscars 2011 Shorts Review

Now one would wonder why on earth would one want to see a reel of short films. First reason: They’re all nominated for an Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film or Best Animated Short Film. Second reason: a lot of winners of this category would go on to direct bigger and better things. Peter Cattaneo directed the Oscar nominated short Dear Rosie years before his big break with The Full Monty. Taylor Hackford won this category for Teenage Father 25 years before he directed the Oscar-nominated Ray. Most recently, Brutish director Andrea Arnold won seven years ago for Wasp and has gone on to direct two renowned British features: Red Road and Fish Tank.

Now 2011 has a crop of nominees for the categories of Best Animated Short Film and Best Live Action Short Film. I will review each and give my picks for what I feel should win and will win:

BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM

Pentecost – dir. Peter MacDonald and Eimear O’Kane -Interesting story about a boy–Damian– who’s a lousy altar boy and is punished by having no football for three months. He has the opportunity to redeem himself with a mass led by the Archbishop. Sure enough it’s in time for when Liverpool is playing the European Cup. Even the priest gives quite a pep talk to all participating in the mass. Will Damian do it right? A big surprise at the end!

Raju – dir. Max Zahle and Stefan Gieren-This is an excellent story about a German couple who adopt a boy from India only to lose him and find a dirty secret along the way. The story brings up the same moral dilemma Gone Baby Gone brings up. This is of a situation that could be quite real: an orphanage that gives away kidnapped children. The story will leave you wondering what side to choose and the ending will surprise you.

The Shore – dir. Terry George and Orrlagh George-The story is of two boyhood friends. One, Paddy,  stayed in Belfast, lost his arm and continues life as an illegal crab hunter. Another, Joe, moved to the US but returns to Belfast after being away for years. He wants to come and visit again and make peace with Paddy years after Paddy took his girlfriend, and married her. The story is as humorous as it is touching and it provides for a happy ending. I pick this as my Should Win pick.

Time Freak – dir. Andrew Bowler and Gigi Causey-There have been lots of stories about time travel but none as weird as this. A guy invents a time machine only to go back a few days into the past to correct things he’s done. And he does it again and again until he gets it right. Bizarre is right!

 –Tuba Atlantic – dir. Hallvar Witzo-A man has six days to live. A young woman is to be is death angel and help him before he dies. It won’t be easy because he’s quite eccentric: he hunts with a machine gun and fishes with dynamite. Then she learns he has a horn that can send a signal across the Atlantic. He hopes to use it to send a message to his brother whom he hasn’t seen in 30 years. She wants to be a successful death angel and he’s her third chance. It makes for a touching story with a surprise ending. I predict this for the Will Win in this category.

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM

Dimanche/Sunday – dir. Patrick Doyon/NFB of Canada – This is a charming 2D animation story that is coarsely drawn and has hardly any dialogue but tells a lot. It’s about a boy and the town he lives in and the places he visits. Not spectacular but charming and entertaining. One of two Canadian entries in this category this year.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore – dir. William Joyce and Brandon Oldenberg- Morris Lessmore had everything fly by him in a windstorm. Then one day he sees a young woman flying with books instead of baloons, and that changes everything for him forever. Impressive use of 3D animation. Good use of music and of the animated story. I predict this Will Win the animated feature category.

La Luna – dir. Enrico Casarosa – Interesting that Disney/Pixar’s Cars 2 didn’t get a single nomination but this short that was played before Cars 2 did. While most of Disney/Pixar’s shorts feature a story done without dialogue, this story is mostly in the types of mumbling. As expected from Disney/Pixar, top notch animation and a very unique story about being able to touch the moon and its glitter.

A Morning Stroll – dir. Grant Orchard and Sue Goffe-Features a chicken’s stroll down a New York neighborhood in 1959, 2009 and 2059. In 1959, people say “How do you do?” don’t get too peeved if you bump into them and the chicken’s able to make it there safely. 2009 and people are too into Starbucks coffee and iPhone using. A bump into someone causes a big coffee spill and a chicken entering into a house is perfect moment for your iPhone video camera. Once again, the chicken makes it there safely. 2059 and New York is filled with zombies. The chicken makes it home but not after a big zombie chase. This was a good mix of 2D and 3D animation with a creative image of the future.

Wild Life – dir. Wendy Tilbe and Amanda Forbis- A British émigré tries to make his home in a small town in Alberta. While everyone else is either a cowboy or made themselves a villager, he continues to be an Englishman. Interesting and humorous. Plus me knowing Prairie life helped the sort to appeal to me. Both the dialogue from him and the villagers add to the humor of the story. The animation was excellent not just as 2D but as painting animation. The painting animation was its best quality and it makes it stand out from the five nominees. I pick this as my Should Win pick.

And there you have it. The nominated shorts for the 2011 Oscars. Stay tuned to find out the winners. Stay tuned to find out which directors move on to bigger and better things.

Elizabeth Taylor 1932-2011

I’ll start by asking a series of questions. When you think of the term movie star, who comes to mind? Or what comes to mind? Is it their captivating looks? is it their ability to epitomize fame and fortune? Is it their ability to win crowds to the big screen time after time? Is it a presence that captivates the audience in their seats? Or is it their ability to do great acting time and time again? Do the standards of those that deserve the term movie star change over time? Or are the standards of a movie star timeless? When you think of the term movie star, how many from the past deserve that title? How many current actors deserve to have such a title bestowed upon them?

On Wednesday morning, we lost one who deserved to fit the term movie star in any or possibly every definition of the term. Her name was Elizabeth Taylor. She’s possibly one of the last of a breed that fit the term movie star as we know it to a tee. She had the looks, she lived large in more ways than one, she was able to attract crowds to the theatres and grab hold of their attention, and she knew how to give wonderful acting performances time after time.

Her acting career started early. She was discovered and signed on by both MGM and Universal at the age of ten. She had a great career as a child actor in gems like Lassie Come Home and Jane Eyre but it was her performance in 1944’s National Velvet that was her signature turn as a child actor. She was also successful in making a transition to adult actor almost immediately when she starred in 1950’s Father Of The Bride. Her career as an adult actress would accelerate starting with her role in 1956’s Giant opposite Rock Husdon and James Dean. She would then be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress four years in a row starting with 1957’s Raintree County opposite Montgomery Clift, 1958’s Cat On A Hot Tin Roof opposite Paul Newman, 1959’s Suddenly, Last Summer opposite Montgomery Clift and finally a Winner for 1960’s Butterfield 8 which she acted opposite then-husband Eddie Fisher. In 1960, she became the highest paid actress in Hollywood and more starring roles continued, including for 1963’s Cleopatra, 1967’s The Taming Of The Shrew and her second Best Actress Oscar winning role in 1966’s Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? Soon after, the movies she starred were flopping and her bankability faded. It wouldn’t stop her from acting in movies, television and stage. Her last movie role was in 1994’s live-action version of The Flintstones. Immediately after, she announced her retirement from films.

She also had one-of-a-kind winning looks. Her looks were definitely that of a movie star. Even at a young age, you knew she had a face for the screen. The smooth face and glowing violet eyes. You could tell in her earlier moviesthat she had the looks. Even in adolescence, she matured with grace and beauty and would have the looks perfect for Hollywood’s Golden Age. She also knew how to live the glamorous life. She was always seen with the most glamorous dresses and was renowned for her huge collection of jewelry including huge diamond rings and diamond necklaces. She even launched two fragrances in the 1990’s.

She also had the ability to be the subject of much publicity, both while active in her acting career and after. She was known for her eight marriages to seven husbands: starting with hotel mogul Conrad Hilton and ending with Larry Fortensky. Her relationship and eventual marriage to Eddie Fisher made headlines because it interfered with his marriage to Eddie Fisher. She married Richard Burton twice over a period of twelve years. Only her marriage to Michael Todd lasted until his death. She was known for her weight gain battles, frequently lampooned in Joan Rivers’ standup comedy material. She had well-publicized substance abuse battles that included a stay at the Betty Ford Clinic where she met her final husband Larry Fortensky. Her friendship with Michael Jackson also made tabloid headlines. Fact: she is the godmother of Michael’s two oldest children. She also battled constant health problems and they would always make for good tabloid copy. She broke her back five times and had two hip replacements. She also battled life-threatening illnesses like a brain tumor, two bouts of pneumonia and numerous heart problems. 

Despite her life of luxury and her questionable relationships, she was also one who knew how to use her celebrity to attract a cause. She supported AIDS causes starting in 1984 when they were not popular but became more active after her friend actor Rock Hudson died of the disease in 1985. She founded or co-founded two major AIDS charities and promoted major AIDS fundraising events. He also devoted herself to many causes relating to Israel and Zionism. She herself converted to Judaism in 1959. She would use her celebrity for many fundraising events and for awareness for the causes she believed in. In turn, she has been awarded humanitarian awards during her life. She was even named a Dame in 2000.

When she died on Wednesday, many believe we lost the last great movie star of Hollywood’s Golden Era. Although that’s disputable, we did lose a one-of-a-kind. She had the picture perfect looks for Hollywood but she delivered solid acting every time. What mistakes she made in her personal life, she made up for in her charm and grace. She lived every inch of the definition ‘fame and fortune’ but was still in touch with what was happening in the world. Many leading ladies came before her and many have come since but she will never be equaled. Elizabeth, we’ll miss you.

2010 Oscars Best Picture Nominee: 127 Hours

Imagine you’re stuck in a canyon with your hand crushed by a heavy boulder and holding you stuck inside. Think that couldn’t happen to you? It happened to Aron Ralston in 2003. His story became the subject of the movie 127 Hours. It doesn’t sound like a movie that would catch your eye but it will surprise you.

SPOILER WARNING: This review will have some spoilers of the movie’s plot and even the ending.

The movie starts with Aron Ralston cycling in Utah’s Canyonland National Park. This is a favorite past-time for the avid 27 year-old mountain climber who had learned to love nature ever since he was a boy. He spots some young girls hiking the canyon for the first time and plays a tour guide. He even leads them to a part of the canyon where one can let go of their grip and fall into a canyon lake. Aron videotapes it all. After they leave him and tell of a party later on, he heads into more terrain of the canyon. One cliff has a boulder between the two edges. Aron puts pressure on the boulder while crossing the edges but the boulder comes loose. Aron falls and as he hits the ground, the boulder crushes his right hand and leaves him stuck in a desolate area 15 feet below the cliff. He can’t free himself. He has no cellphone with him. He told no one of his whereabouts. He knows he will die.

During the time down there, he takes out from his backpack whatever vital items he feels necessary, like a sandwich wrap, water bottle, digital watch to clock his time down, the one pocketknife he has, plastic container and a video camera. With the video camera, he videotapes his ordeal often speaking what his thoughts are. He confesses of his carelessness before the trip of not telling anyone where he’d be going. He confesses to his family about not fully appreciating them while alive. He has constant visions and recollections about his past: the good times and the mistakes he made. He even has a premonition of a young boy on a sofa.

During the whole time there, he has to eat and drink enough to keep him alive, such as eating the sandwich wrap, drinking a small amount of water at a time and even drinking his own urine he conserved. It isn’t until five days later he moves his arm out where there’s a free boneless area. He makes a crucial decision to amputate his arm with the dull knife. Finally after braking free, he descends from the canyon wall, drinks a dirty puddle of water and runs eight miles to the nearest help. His ordeal makes national news. At the end of the film, we see the real-life Aron with his wife and holding his son. The premonition of the boy came true.

The movie doesn’t sounds like something that would be entertaining but director Danny Boyle managed to turn it into a watchable entertaining movie. Inclusion of the flashbacks and even other film parts make it entertaining. The amputation scene has to be the hardest to watch. Some viewers who saw it at its debut at the Toronto Film Festival fainted when they saw it. However Danny Boyle insisted that it had to look realistic. Makeup Artist Tony Gardiner worked with medical professionals to make the amputated wound look as medically accurate as possible.

Danny Boyle succeeded again in making an excellent film. James Franco did an excellent job in playing Aron. A.H. Rahman also did an excellent job with the original music. Cinematography of the natural landscape was also excellent.

127 Hours isn’t for everybody and definitely not the faintest of hearts. Despite whatever gruesome details I revealed here, I have to say it was a deep and excellent triumph of the human spirit. It will leave one walking out of the theatre moved.