Oscar-nominated short films deliver big
Maggie Simpson in The Longest Daycare
Twentieth Century Fox
There's scant dialogue but plenty of eloquent storytelling in the five animated short films up for a 2013 Oscar, all of which — along with their live-action counterparts — will get a pre-award show release at the Uptown Theatre beginning February 1. Save for a five-minute Simpsons segment ("Maggie Simpson in 'The Longest Daycare'"), this year's nominees are a mute and expressionistic bunch. With evocative elegance, they convey both plot and emotion through sumptuous, stylized visuals, be it the black-and-white romanticism of "Paperman," the tale of an office worker using paper airplanes to connect with a potential love, or "Adam and Dog," which details with Hayao Miyazaki's grace the Garden of Eden origins of man's relationship to his canine best friend. For artistry and poignancy, though, none can quite compare with the Claymation majesty of "Head Over Heels," the story of an estranged married couple in which the husband lives on the floor of their house, and the wife, mirroring his movements, lives on the ceiling.
If the animation category is rife with aesthetic splendor, the dramatic category is far more uneven. Three of the nominees — "Asad," about a young Somali boy attempting to choose between life as a pirate or a fisherman; "Buzkashi Boys," in which two young Afghan kids dream of becoming stars at the game of buzkashi (a variation of polo played with a dead goat); and "Curfew," concerning a down-and-out loser who interrupts his suicide attempt to care for his young niece — milk youthful distress for melodramatic pathos. Manipulative heartstring-tugging is also characteristic of "Henry," an Amour-lite saga of an old man increasingly aware of his own Alzheimer's. (It's still wrenching, though.)
Far more entrancing is "Death of a Shadow," the story of a killed World War I soldier tasked, in the afterlife, with photographing the shadows of the dead so he can receive a second chance at life — a vignette less moving for its depiction of sacrifice in service of love than for its striking, melancholic, Terry Gilliam-by-way-of-Jean-Pierre Jeunet sci-fi style.
Stand Up Guys also opens this week, and based on what Al Pacino suffers and the identical humiliations visited upon Robert De Niro in Little Fockers, Hollywood will not be satisfied until it has speared a hypodermic into the pill-engorged erection of every remaining leading man of the 1970s. In Pacino's case, he's an old-timer gangster named Val just released from lockup. His pal Doc (Christopher Walken) takes him to a brothel. Val gulps down a mouthful of Bob Dole pills, and, yes, the star of Dog Day Afternoon winds up in a hospital bed, the sheets rigged up with some pitch-a-tent prosthetic hard-on. And, yes, a doctor must prick said hard-on with a needle on loan from the Saw movies.
There is a plot to all this. The crime lord who rules this any-city has charged Walken's Doc with offing Pacino's Val immediately upon Val's release. But the movie is really about the slow-demolition process of old men aging in the public eye. Pacino's face has puddled, now all jowl and whisker, and his voice has taken on a wet rasping undertone somewhere between cat purr and the coring of cabbages. He yaps and yaps but with little of the old power. Walken, meanwhile, has stiffened into himself, becoming more funny without losing what's imposing in him. Of all the '70s-made men who have been made, by age, into comic figures, only Walken seems in control of what makes him funny. Area theaters, starts Friday. —Alan Scherstuhl
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