2022 Oscar Shorts Review: Animation and Live-Action

Did you think with this being an Oscar year I would miss my chance to see the films nominated in the short films categories? The chance was there and I took it again. All the films had a unique style about them and all appeared worthy of their nominations. So here I go. Here are my reviews for the nominated films in the Animation and Live-Action categories.

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM

The Boy, The Mole, The Fox And The Horse (dirs. Charles Mackesy and Matthew Freund) –

A boy is lost in the winter snows. A mole finds him. He hopes the mole will lead him home, a home he’s never had before, and wants to grow up to be kind. The two hope the river they find will lead them there, but they’re encountered by a fox. The fox wants to hunt them both down, but finds himself in a trap. The mole frees him and the fox runs away. The next day the mole falls into the river, but is saved by the fox. The fox joins the mole and the boy on the journey to the boy’s home. Along the journey, they encounter a white horse who is an outcast. The three welcome the horse along the journey. Soon they discover the horse has a special trait. He can fly like Pegasus! Soon they come to the village where the boy’s home is. The three animals say their good-byes, but the boy makes a surprising decision.

It seems like every year, there has to be at least one animated short from the UK that’s nominated. This is this year’s nomination. This is an adaptation o f a 2019 children’s book from Charlie Mackesy, who co-directs this short film. This is a 2D short that has been on Apple TV starting this Christmas. It has a quiet soft tone that’s more touching than sentimental. It makes the right moves and is able to be soft without getting too mushy or manipulative. This is one charmer that I give both my Should Win and Will Win pick.

The Flying Sailor (dirs. Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis) – It’s the morning of December 6, 1917 along the coast in Halifax. Two ships collide within each other with one catching on fire. A sailor thinks nothing of it and lights a cigarette. Only the burning ship soon explodes. The sailor goes flying naked in an out-of-body experience. His life flashes before his eyes from childhood to his life at sea as Halifax is engulfed by the blast. The blast sends him out of earth and even out of the galaxy. Then all of a sudden, he’s brought back down into the galaxy, then earth, then back into Halifax into a body of water. Miraculously he’s still alive. He even stares a shocked fish in the eyes.

As I was watching this, I asked myself “Is this about the Halifax Explosion?” Yes, it was. In fact the film makers dedicate the film to a sailor who flew 2 kilometers in the explosion and lived to tell! This film from the National Film Board of Canada is one of of two animated features from The New Yorker Screening Room to be nominated. It’s a clever story that doesn’t need any dialogue for us to get the message. It lets the images and the moments tell the story of a man who’s near a sudden death contemplate his existence. A fast film, but entertaining and even humorous from start to finish.

Ice Merchants (dirs. Joao Gonzalez and Bruno Caetano) – A widowed father and son run an ice selling business. The ice comes from a box they fill with water, let freeze overnight, and break up to sell the next day. They get their freezing temperature by being up on the very mountain they have their house upon. The house is thousands of feet above the ground hanging from ropes and requires a system of pulleys and ropes to get to. They have to skydive down together into the town to sell their wares. The flight always causes their hats to fall off. They use the money from sales to buy new hats. Then one day, the son notices the water in the box didn’t freeze. The temperature is above freezing. The high temperature of the snow is causing an avalanche and the house’s ropes are breaking. The parachute falls from the house. The father makes the decision to jump with his son. Fortunately a female skydiver finds the two in the air, grabs hold of them, and opens her parachute. The two survive, but in a surprising way!

This film from a Portuguese animation company is another film from The New Yorker Screening Room. It’s a good 2D film that is as much about its art as it is about telling its story. It uses only a few colors at a time for each of its scenes. It has the visuals and the music tell the story without having any dialogue. It also does a very good job in showing the drama of the climax. It also ends on a happy and humorous note that works well with the story.

My Year Of Dicks (dirs. Sara Gunnarsdottir and Pamela Ribon) – It’s 1991 in Houston and Pam seeks to lose her virginity as she is approaching womanhood. She, however, is undecided which boy she wants to lose her virginity with. She constantly trusts the opinions of her best friend Sam, who is male. The first boy she tries to lose it with is David, a skateboarder who thinks he’s a vampire. She’s attracted to his mystique, but soon learns what a jerk he is and of the little game he had with his guy friends. The second boy is Wally, who’s a theatre usher. They try to do it in a broom closet during work hours, but it doesn’t work out. Third boy is Robert, whom she finds as nice. She soon learns he’s gay and was interested in Sam. Pam tries a party hosted by her friend Karina. She meets a boy named Joey who appears to be orderly. The party comes to a sudden halt and Pam learns Joey is a Nazi! The story ends with a surprise that Pam learns what she was searching for was there all along.

It’s a story with both intrigue and humor. The rotoscope animation adds to the story and adds to the comedic elements of the story. Pam brings an intriguing story and Sara Gunnarsdottir does a great job of animating and directing it.

An Ostrich Told Me The World Is Fake And I Think I Believe It (dir. Lachlan Pendragon) – Neil is a telemarketer trying to sell toasters. His boss confronts him of his poor performance and threatens to fire him. As he continues working, he hallucinates and notices things missing from his cubicle. He wakes up and he sees an ostrich. The ostrich can speak and tells him this world is a ‘sham’ and advises him to get a better look at his surroundings. Neil soon finds his way out of the animation world and into a prop box full of his own mouths. The following day, Neil is shocked to see all the furniture removed. A co-worker named Gaven tells him it’s a corporate decision, but Neil rips his mouth off. The creator tries to intervene, but Neil falls off the set. With Neil’s body all broken up, the creator puts him back together and on the set. The next day, Neil is confronted by his boos, and quits.

This Australian short is an amusing stop-motion animated film. It goes from the animated story to the world of the production studio. It’s funny how the film knows it’s stop-motion and knows how to joke around about that fact. That adds to the humor of the story. It’s a funny film that goes from the animated story to the real world and back to the animated story. It seems odd at first, but it’s very likeable.

BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM

An Irish Goodbye (dirs. Tom Berkely and Ross White) – Two brothers from Belfast, Turlough and Lorcan, have lost their mother. The priest gives the sons the ashes and attempts to give them their mother’s ‘bucket list,’ but Turlough thinks its useless. Turlough, who works in London, wants to sell the farm and have Lorcan, who has Down’s Syndrome, live with his aunt. Lorcan wants nothing to do with it. Lorcan says he has the bucket list and still believes they can fulfill his mother’s wishes with her urn. The two agree to try all 100. However it’s the 99th, skydiving, that her urn smashes. Turlough soon finds out the truth about Lorcan’s bucket list the priest. That leads to even bigger friction, but a resolution does occur after they proceed with the 100th item.

This Irish short film is a well-acted film that’s mixes both tragedy and comedy with the intensity of family drama. It also deals with the issue of Down’s Syndrome in a humorous manner that doesn’t tread on being insulting or having mockery. It’s a story you anticipate to be sad, but instead turns out to be humorous, enjoyable, and even heart-warming. It’s worth seeing.

Ivalu (dirs. Anders Walter and Rebecca Pruzan) – It’s morning in Greenland. The Queen of Denmark is to visit. Pipaluk is looking for her older sister Ivalu. Her father, who acts like he doesn’t care, says she ran away. Pipaluk tries looking for Ivalu. She sees a raven and thinks Ivalu’s spirit is in the bird. As she continues the search, she remembers the conversations she had with Ivalu. It’s then she faces the facts of a lot of ugly secrets about Ivalu and how her father treated her. Pipaluk feels she has to confront the awful truth. In the end Pipaluk wears Ivalu’s dress for the Queen’s visit.

This is a story that touches on a taboo rarely discussed but is well-known among indigenous peoples. Child sexual abuse is also very common in the Inuit populations of Canada. Although this is touchy subject matter, it does a good job in adapting a short story into a watchable film. The film has visuals that are both mystic and disturbing. It’s a sad story that does come as life-affirming at the end. Its imagery is the film’s best quality.

Le Pupille (dirs. Alive Rohrwacher and Alfonso Cuaron) – The story revolves around a Roman Catholic boarding school in Italy during World War II. The central character of the story is a girl names Serafina. She’s an outcast at the school and the nuns are strict to all the girls, including Serafina. Mother Superior Fioralba is the strictest of them all. Christmas is fast approaching and the girls are to put on a Nativity play. The people in the town see the girls as darlings, but Fioralba always finds something to scold them about like singing a romantic song on the radio, which Fioralba describes as ‘filthy.’ She’s angry Serafina won’t admit to singing the lyrics and tells her what a bad girl she is. On Christmas, a rich socialite, who’s frustrated by her cheating boyfriend, gives the nuns a big red cake for the girls. Fiorabla thinks the cake is a bad thing as soldiers are starving. At the Christmas dinner, the girls are about to have dessert of the cake, but Fioralba tries to convince them not to have it. Serafina, shamed by her scolding, is able to get a slice. Fioralba hoped to use the cake for the Bishop’s visit. In the end a chimney sweep is given the cake which, thanks to him falling, is enough for everyone from the schoolgirls to his chimney sweep friends to the alley-way pets to have some of the cake.

It’s a charming story. I didn’t think Cuaron would be the type to do a short film for Disney. And in Italian. At first, you think with subject matter like this, it would be a dark story. Instead it turns out to be humorous and also turns out to be a good lesson in charity the girls and the chimney sweeps end up teaching a stern but dishonest nun like Fioralba. It’s also a story that shows how freeing yourself can even triumph over in a strict religious boarding school. And during World War II in Italy to boot! That’s why I give this film my Will Win pick.

Night Ride (dirs. Elrik Tveiten and Gaute Lid Larssen) – In a town in Norway, a woman with dwarfism named Ebba is waiting for a tram on a cold night. A tram arrives, but the driver is taking a half-hour’s break. Impatiently, Ebba sneaks her way on the tram as he’s in the washroom. She plays along with the buttons in conductor’s controls and is able to get the tram moving. The conductor leaves the washroom shocked to find the tram moving, but Ebba moves on wit the runaway tram. Two rude males board the train along with a woman named Ariel. One of the males hits on Ariel, only to learn she’s trans. The two males get confrontational with Ariel, even threatening, but Ebba stops the tram to face up the men to stop. Even as the men are rude to her about her height, she doesn’t back down. She then tells the men to lead the tram and Ebba and Ariel get off. It’s just Ebba and Ariel on the bus bench as they watch a police car chase the runaway tram. They both laugh together.

It’s very rare that a film can take the topic of transphobia and make a comical situation. Here we have a case of a woman with dwarfism who steals the train and the trans woman whom the woman prevents from being attacked. It’s almost as if the runaway tram was a miracle for Ariel as it prevented physical abuse from happening. Not to mention the eventual comeuppance of the transphobes as both Ebba and Ariel see the police car chasing the tram on a bench. Both are cold, but they’re both safe, unlike the transphobes. And an unlikely friendship to boot!

The Red Suitcase (dir. Cyrus Neshvad) – Ariane, a young woman from Iran, has just arrived at the Luxembourg airport. She looks fearful. She has her red suitcase but refuses to leave past security. This causes suspicion among the guards and they check her suitcase. All that’s inside is clothes, pencil drawings. and art supplies. Nothing threatening. The true threat is past security. A middle-aged man her father arranged for her to marry. Her father even instructs her to approach the man through text message. Ariane has to escape and try to avoid catching his eye. She tries to get her money exchanged for Euros. It doesn’t exchange to much. She then tries to go out to look for an escape. She sees an airport bus and boards it, using her exchanged money to get on. Meanwhile the man is impatient as he has a big wedding planned that day. He received a message from Ariane’s father that her flight has arrived. He notices her money envelope so he knows she is outside. He searches in the bus area. He boards the very bus Ariane is on. Ariane finds an escape. He sees her suitcase but can’t find her. Ariane hides herself in the baggage area of the bus and won’t leave until it’s safe. Even a text from her father promising if she returns home, she can have anything won’t calm her. Then the bus drives off with the man on board and Ariane still at the airport.

The theme over here has to be the subject of arranged marriages. This is especially an important film as the Iranian feminist movement has been fighting for their freedoms since October. Those scenes where Ariane takes off her hijab and one where she cuts her hair are definitely part of the message. Even though the film is important because of its subject matter, the way the film plays out as we see one side of the subject matter and we learn more as it goes along is a creative element. Even the scenes of near-misses add to the intensity. We all wants Ariane to avoid being with the husband she doesn’t want, but we fear for her safety. We get the relief at the very end. Ariane is alone at the airport with all her money spent and without her suitcase, but she is free. It’s because of this that I designate this film as my Should Win pick.

And there you have it. That sums it up for the Animated and Live-Action short films nominated for this year’s Oscars. Those that aren’t normally film buffs, watching these shorts are more worth it than you think!

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DVD Review: Sing Street

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Sing Street is about a band in Dublin led by Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, left) , a boy with musical dreams.

2016 was seen as a weak year for comedies, unless they were animated. Possibly the most overlooked gem of 2016 was the Irish musical comedy Sing Street. I passed it up when it first came out, but I finally saw it recently. I’m glad I did.

We see Conor Lawlor strumming his guitar in his bedroom. Conor is a 15 year-old boy living in a shabby suburb of Dublin in 1985. Right now, Ireland is going through difficult times. It’s economy has been hit hard and many young people are fleeing to the UK, most notably London, for a future. His family is also going through difficulties as his father is struggling in his architecture practice and is struggling in his marriage and drinks excessively. Because of that, Conor is taken out of his high-class Catholic school and put into an all-boys free state school in Synge Street. A move older brother Brendan objects to, knowing how terrible the priests are there.

Things don’t go well for Conor on the first day. Being the new kid, he gets bullied. On top of it, he has the principal Br. Baxter giving him a hard time because he’s wearing brown shoes instead of black shoes in the dress code. Conor does end up with a bully name Barry but he makes a new friend in Darren who has big-time entrepreneur dreams. Conor also meets a 16 year-old girl named Raphina living at the orphanage nearby the school. He learns that Raphina is a budding model who’s headed to London. Conor impresses Raphina saying he’s in a band.

Now it’s up for Conor to create the band with the help of Darren. Darren is quick to act as Conor is introduced to Eamon: an awkward looking teen with a passion for music and can play many an instrument. Conor is able to meet a local black teen who is mostly shunned away from the others and two other awkward but musically-inclined students from his school. They start out pretty flat together and create a demo tape of popular 80’s songs. Conor gives it to Brandon but he’s unimpressed. He instructs Brandon not to be a cover band but do their own original stuff. That helps Conor to meet with Eamon to compose a song about his infatuation with Raphina: The Riddle Of The Model. The boys try on various costumes for filming a video and Raphina even volunteers to be their makeup artist and ingenue.

The song and video impress Brendan, feeling they’re off to a good start. However Conor’s rocker image of dyed hair and makeup gets on the nerves of Br. Baxter who insists in turning all boys into men at the school. Baxter even grabs Conor and washes the makeup off his face in a bathroom sink with hot water. But Conor and the band are undaunted. They continue making music and Raphina even advises that Conor be known as Cosmo. Conor develops the self-confidence to stand up to school bully Barry. The romance between Raphina and Conor heat up too, despite Raphina claiming an older man is her boyfriend. Conor even talks of sailing to London with Raphina.

However things soon take a turn for the worse. Conor’s parents are on the verge of separating with the mother moving in to her new lover’s place. Plus Raphina doesn’t show up when Sing Street are shooting a Back To The Future style video for their song Drive It Like You Stole It. Raphina later revealed she was set to leave for London, but her boyfriend abandoned her. A disheartened Conor breaks up with her. The breakup affects Conor in writing new songs for the band.

However it’s Brendan who encourages him to get back with Raphina and get back into playing. It’s through Brendan’s own personal feelings of past failures that drive him to give Conor the advise. Sing Street have a chance to perform a gig at school. Conor even offers Barry a chance to become a roadie for the band to escape his abusive household. The band performs their gig to the delight of the school and a condescending Br. Baxter looking on in disappointment, but they saved the best for last. The film ends not as one would expect but one that would leave the audience happy and hopeful.

I won’t deny this is a common story you’d expect to see in a film. I’m sure the story of a person growing up in a trash-bin of a city starting a band has been done before. The thing with this story is that for a common story like this to work again, the characters have to connect with the audience. They have to make the audience want them to succeed. The film succeeds in making the audience want Conor, or should I say ‘Cosmo,’ and Sing Street to succeed. The film succeeds in making the audience want Conor win Raphina’s love. The film succeeds in making the audience want the bullying of Barry to Conor to end and for Conor to get even with Br. Baxter. The connection of Conor with the audience is one of the biggest elements of magic in this story.

It’s not just the connection of Conor with the audience. It’s the connection with Raphina too. You get a sense Raphina is the right one for Conor, despite being confused about her love to her older boyfriend. However you get a sense that Conor will win her love. Raphina believes in the band and believes in Conor. You can see it in her eyes. Also Raphina shares Conor’s dreams of leaving for London. Seeing how unpromising Ireland looked with its economic drabness back then and the people seeing the priests as ‘rapists’ leaves you sensing life would be better for the both over in London.

It’s also the connection with Brendan with the audience too. Brendan is the first character in the film outside of Conor that’s easy to like because Brendan believes in Conor’s talents. Brendan’s also the type of brother that would be honest about how Conor is doing. Even after he disses what Sing Street does at first, he will give Conor words of encouragement. He will give Conor music albums to give him a sense about what makes rock and roll. It’s Brendan’s embrace of music in both its past influences and future directions that become a huge boost for Conor. However it’s also Brendan’s past failures that we get a better understanding. We see why Brendan pushes Conor in that scene after the parents’ separation and he throws a violent fit over his past failures. Because Brendan views himself as a failure who doesn’t have a chance, so he wants Conor to chase his dreams and be the one that has what it takes to go to London. It’s easy to feel for Brendan. It’s also easy for a viewer to see their own feelings of failure and regret in Brendan too.

With this being a film about a rock and roll band, the music has to be as important as the story itself. Brendan’s embrace for music is a big quality of the film, but it has to rub off on Conor as he’s the one with the gift of music. The film gets focused on the themes of music like themes of love, themes of heartache, themes of frustration, themes of emptiness and themes of hope. We learn about the ‘happy-sad’ feeling that we all get, but may¬† not know it. The ‘happy-sad’ element is definitely influential in music. Now once all the themes and elements of music are put together, the film has to have catchy songs. The film succeeds in doing so with songs like Riddle Of The Model, Drive It Like You Stole It and Brown Shoes. Brown Shoes made the perfect end-number for the school show. Even music from other musicians like Duran Duran, The Cure, The Jam, and many others add to the theme of music in the film. The film is as much about music as it is about love and dreams.

Writer/director John Carney succeeds in delivering an enjoyable film to the big screen. Music has been a common theme in past films of his like Once and Begin Again. He succeeds here again in delivering a film that’s enjoyable and keeping you engaged in the story. The film featured a very good debut performance for Ferdia Walsh-Peelo who was 16 years old when this film debuted at Sundance 2016. Ferdia is actually a singer who has performed professionally as a child in Ireland for years. This is his first acting role and he does an excellent job. Lucy Boynton also did a very good job in playing Raphina. The best thing is she made Raphina appear older than she really was. Jack Reynor was also very good as Brendan. He made Brendan into a likeable character, but also made you feel for him too.

Sing Street is a musical comedy that delivers excellently. It delivers a story and characters that connect with the audience very well. It also delivers entertaining music, which is what a film about a rock and roll band should do.