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Movie Review

As a film geek, I find the Academy Awards are like the Superbowl of movies. Prognostications and hopes, complete with the box scores from the early season of lesser awards shows, lead up the big night itself.  

Currently playing in two separate programs (animated and live action) at the Crest Theatre, are all 10 Academy Award nominated narrative short films (plus a few extra animated films to round out the program). The shorts are co-presented by the Crest and the Sacramento Film & Music Festival (www.sacfilm.com). They’re a neat way to experience quality filmmaking and storytelling in a manner normally reserved for the festival circuit.

Animated Program (mostly PG except for “Logorama”)
“French Roast” is a neat little film about a well-to-do man who finds himself at a loss in a small café when he can’t pay for his coffee. Rather than admit his problem, he delays the inevitable by ordering more cups while events swirl out of control around him.

“The Lady and the Reaper” has some of the funniest moments of any of the films, as the grim reaper and a trauma doctor compete over a dying elderly lady but it also demonstrates how a shorter film (8 minutes) might have been better if it had been even shorter, with a second act that seems more like a class exercise.

The most substantial of the animated shorts is “A Matter of Loaf and Death” at 30 minutes. It’s the latest “Wallace and Gromit,” featuring the ongoing adventures of the well-known claymation man and dog. It tells the story of an encounter with a mysterious romantic interest for Wallace. It’s probably also the most conventional of the bunch, complete with parodies of other movies like “Ghost,” and might have an advantage with mainstream audiences (and Oscar voters) in that regard.

Probably the best demonstration of narrative efficiency comes in “Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty” – a 6 minute variation of the Sleeping Beauty tale, as told by a very bitter old grandmother to a very nervous young child at bedtime.  

The most inventive and refreshing of the animated films, and my personal choice if I was a voter, is “Logorama” – an off-color buddy cop movie made up entirely of logos and trademarks. All the buildings and cars are familiar symbols. The world is populated by AOL people and Michelin men, and the city zoo is filled with animals such as the MGM lion, Izod alligators, and Linux penguins.  

The bonus films include Pixar’s “Partly Cloudy” and “Kinematograph,” a dark film about an obsessive inventor who focuses on his work to the point of missing his wife’s illness. The least enjoyable was “Runaway,” about a runaway train depicting a runaway metaphor of rich people exploiting poor people on the way up and having no recourse to avoid crashing and burning on the way back down.

Live Action Program (more like PG-13/R rated material)
“Kavi” is a master’s program thesis film from USC and is dedicated to the 27 million people in the world who are still living in some form of modern slavery or indentured servitude. It tells the story of a young boy and his parents who are forced to live and work in an Indian brick factory to pay off the father’s debts.

“The New Tenants” is the writer’s exercise of the lineup, with fast, witty dialog and feels a little like a student film that might have been made by a young Tarantino or Carnahan. It tells the story of a gay couple who rent an apartment, with a backstory of crime and violence they weren’t told about at the lease signing. It include cameos from Vincent D’Onofrio and Kevin Corrigan, playing like many festival shorts in an attempt to impress somebody enough to win a larger project and a larger budget.

“Miracle Fish” is a simple but haunting Australian film about a small boy who hides out to avoid bullies on his birthday, only to discover that the school is empty when he wakes up. The “miracle fish” of the title refers to the old cheap plastic toy that when placed in the palm can be interpreted like a mood ring. I’d probably pick this for its simplicity over the flashier “The New Tenants” or the more political “Kavi.”

“The Door” is an effective and bleak biographical work about a man who returns to his abandoned apartment in Chernobyl after the nuclear accident forces the complete evacuation of the town. As the film says, little did the residents know that although they left their possessions behind, they took their troubles with them in the form of radiation sickness.

The last of the films is the lightest, with a quirky tone like a smaller version of “Napoleon Dynamite.” “Instead of Abracadabra” tells the story of a young Swedish slacker who, much to his father’s chagrin, would dearly love to be a magician despite not being especially good at it. Chimay!

Regardless of which win, I’d pick any of the 10 nominees over the disappointing “Shutter Island.”


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