Each year, the Oscars come and go amid a melange of paparazzi and hype. There are favorites and underdogs, dramas and comedies, and the culmination of the buzz is a multiple-hour broadcast of the winners. If you watch these award ceremonies, you will quickly find that a handful of films seem to be nominated for nearly every award announced. You will also notice that moments before they cut to commercial, as the cameras scan the audience for pop icons, an announcer quickly mumbles through a list of other categories and winners. In total, up to 25 standard awards are presented annually, as well as several honorary and special achievement awards.
Two categories that you will not find in the televised ceremony are Best Animated Short Film and Best Live Action Short Film. Lucky for Boise residents, we have a well-known little theater downtown called The Flicks. Opening Friday for one week only, The Flicks will be showing Apollo Cinema's Academy Award-nominated shorts.
The presentation consists of eight films, ranging from five to 23 minutes in length. Each film is vastly different from the others, but the common element is an undeniable emotional reaction. Whether it invokes laughter or contempt, each short is able to draw the viewer into the story. As is the case with many short films or stories, I found myself aggravated as the credits began to roll at the end of each, which is a testament to the writing and directing of the films. The shorts presented have enough depth and development to warrant lengthier versions, leaving the viewer speculating about withheld information.
Of the animations, I'd give the award to Birthday Boy, written and directed by Sejong Park. In a mere 10 minutes, using sparse language, Park is able to convey the story of a young Korean boy who loses his father to war. The story is not melancholy (the bulk of the film is devoted to the boy at play), but there is a persistent emphasis on war and turmoil underlying his childish games.
The Academy did not agree with me, however, and the Oscar went to Ryan, directed by Chris Landreth. It is a brief account of the life of Ryan Larkin, a famous Canadian animator, and his eventual ruin. The animation in this short is a much less traditional, somewhat psychedelic form. Visual representations, of emotional and physical scars (such as gaping holes in a skull) and substance abuse plague the bodies of the characters, and admittedly, the animation is so well done that the images are disturbing.
The live action short films are all captivating. Two Cars, One Night, by Taika Waititi and Ainsley Gardiner, is a black and white film utilizing only one scene throughout set in two parked cars. The characters are children, waiting for their parents, who are inside a motel. What the parents are doing is left to the imagination. As time passes, the boy and girl begin to converse through the windows, albeit antagonistically at first. Adolescent relationships and their awkwardness are showcased well with these children and their attempts to impress one another.
Next is The Little Terrorist, by Ashvin Kumar. Again, a child is the focal point, but the topic shifts to religion and politics. It is set on the Pakistani-Indian border, where a Pakistani boy accidentally finds himself on the wrong side, hiding from patrol. He is taken in by a schoolmaster and hidden until he can safely sneak back across under the cover of darkness. The boy lives the Hindu lifestyle for only an afternoon, but the effects of experiencing a culture that his opposes so greatly surely impact him for life.
7:35 In the Morning, is best classified as a musical. It is the story of a woman who has attracted an unusual admirer. He has taken hostage the patrons of a café that the woman visits each day and commanded them to take part in a song he has written about the woman and his desire to know her. The artillery that he has strapped to himself convinces the diners to stiffly participate.
Wasp, by Andrea Arnold, is the final film and the undisputed winner by both the Academy and me. The story of a single mother, desperate for attention from a man, is the most dramatic. In only 18 minutes, Arnold is able to dredge up fervent disdain for the character, and a deep compassion for her children. From beginning to end, there is a feeling of unease as you watch, fearing and expecting the worst to happen, as if you are watching the train derail but cannot force yourself to look away.
The compilation of these short films is a must-see; I wager that you will be surprised by the amount of time that has actually passed when the lights go up in the theater. The grouping of shorts is a great balance of comedy and drama and a good opportunity for a friendly debate afterwards. There is at least one film in the collection to interest even the most picky viewer.