March 26, 2008

Oscar-Nominated Live Action Short Films '07

The Academy Award for the Live Action Short Film falls in with the most unrecognized awards of Oscar night. The miniature counterparts of Best Picture nominees and usually as first-rate as those films, they too often fall through the cracks because of their lack of promotion outside of film festivals or art house theaters. Because of this, they also miss the attention of the average American who complacently enjoys the newest box office smash. Despite this, this forthcoming Sunday will herald a new winner, and out of the following five films, I believe one will attain this distinguishment.

“The Substitute” is an Italian short about a seemingly crazy man who decides to substitute teach until he is found out and revealed to be a businessman who chooses the wrong day for fun. The film’s first tracking shot aims to show the calamity of schoolchildren’s lives, but the following handheld mobile framing instead shows the calamity caused by the cool substitute teacher you always wish you had. The meeting room at the end of the film has a much more boring take on framing and editing, thus making the children’s world more visually dynamic compared to the adults’ world. This establishes the idea later that childhood is just a better place, more particularly because of the film’s clear moral: protecting what you value amongst temptation. Interesting and amusing, “The Substitute” is short, sweet, and to the point.

“Tanghi Argentini” is a little Dutch delight. Never lacking in humor, a clever matchmaker tries to learn the tango in order to impress a date, so he recruits his boss to show him the moves. This charming film is full of belly laughs.

An anguishing, tearful film, “At Night” is a masterpiece with a powerful script and flawless acting. Its mise-en-scène (light blue hospital rooms and dim lighting) and bleached tones contribute to the overall feeling of moroseness and somberness. Visually arresting, the frequency of close-ups and medium shots (among other fantastic shots) imparts a feeling of pain and reality in the three cancer-stricken women. The score frequents the idea of silence and its power in times of both happiness and grief. This director has complete control of the camera, and this story unfolds amongst perfection. If this one does not win the award, I will be completely surprised.

“The Mozart of Pickpockets” is a witty French film about a pair of unlucky pickpockets who lose three of their partners-in-crime and find a new one in a little deaf and mute boy. Clever in its use of off-screen space, this simple film keeps the laughs alive with its not-so-intelligent pickpocketing pair and one adorable child who confounds their work until he proves to be the titular “Mozart.” Funniest moment: the hilarious misspelling of “la maison” with “meson” and the corrective “mêson” when the little boy draws a house. Perfectly made, this film has the best chance of winning if the Academy goes “funny” again this year.

The British “Tonto Woman” is a fish among four sharks this year. The compassionate story follows a man who falls for a shunned, marked woman in the Old West and wants to help her. With creative stylistic effort in the Western dynamic, the film falls completely short everywhere else. Feeling, at best, like Hallmark’s next “hall-of-famer,” “Tonto Woman” is one big yawn with a poor story. This film is the weakest of the five films I watched; I could hardly make it through it.

The Oscars will air live on February 24th at 7 p.m. CST on ABC.

Originally published in the February 21 issue of Versus Magazine: Entertainment & Culture

NOTE: My second guess, "The Mozart of Pickpockets" won the Oscar.

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