Oscar-nominated shorts in brief
This year's Academy Award-nominated shorts at the Lagoon Cinema offer a little something for every viewing temperament, though in 2012 the best bet is in the animated category.
In the live-action field, first up is "Pentecost," a forgettable comedy concerning an Irish youth who has to be an altar boy the day of a big televised soccer match. In the overcooked moral drama "Raju," a German couple travel to Calcutta to adopt a child with a dark secret. The glib "Time Freak" tells the story of an uptight inventor who has made a time machine, which he uses to "fix" all his recent minor social interactions. "The Shore" has the highest star wattage—Hotel Rwanda filmmaker Terry George and actor Ciarán Hinds—but this comedy-drama about two estranged friends plays out in predictable ways. In a mediocre category, top honors easily go to "Tuba Atlantic," Norwegian director Hallvar Witzø's droll comedy about a machine-gun-toting, seagull-killing curmudgeon who has six days to live. Buoyed by a sharp, melancholy performance from Edvard Hægstad, "Tuba Atlantic" touches on mortality and reconciliation in unexpected ways.
For sheer inventiveness, though, nothing holds a candle to the animated nominees. The understated humor of "Dimanche/Sunday" is its greatest attribute, as filmmaker Patrick Doyon shows one memorable Sunday in the life of a small boy. Less cheeky and more tender, "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore" documents the adventures of an avid reader who is blown Wizard of Oz-like into a magical world where books are alive. If those two sound a little too precious, try "A Morning Stroll," director Grant Orchard's darkly comic tale that recounts the same interaction between an urban dweller and a chicken three times over the span of 100 years. (Warning: A zombie is involved.) And though Pixar's recent shorts have been technically superb but emotionally flimsy, "La Luna" is a subtle beauty. Anchored by Michael Giacchino's gorgeous score, director Enrico Casarosa's film follows two men and a small boy as they await the moon's arrival. But as affecting as "La Luna" is, it must take a backseat to "Wild Life," a moving, painterly look at an Englishman who decides to reinvent himself in the rugged Canadian frontier in the early 20th century. What starts off as a fish-out-of-water comedy soon becomes something richer and sadder—a reminder that sometimes when people head out to find themselves, the only thing they discover is oblivion.
IN SAFE HOUSE, Ryan Reynolds plays Matt Weston, a junior CIA agent assigned to babysit a safe house in Cape Town. He's dying to be transferred to Paris, where his adorable girlfriend (Nora Arnezeder) is scheduled to take a job. But his boss (Brendan Gleeson) tells Matt he needs to prove himself. Then an extremely high-value "guest" checks into the house: rogue agent Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington), who has apparently been trafficking in global intelligence secrets for a decade and has just survived an attempt on his life. He's escorted into the safe house by a CIA crew who—to Matt's wide-eyed surprise—starts waterboarding their detainee as soon as he's "safely" inside.
When the guys hired to kill Frost show up and interrupt the interrogation, Matt escapes the ambush with Frost in tow. Grainy and hyper-saturated, Safe House has the distinct look of deliberate "amateur" cinematography, taken to its abstract limit by Bourne series DP Oliver Wood's handheld, zoom-happy camera. Most of the fight and chase scenes register not as action but as blasts and blurs of vivid color. Is this accidental or an acknowledgement that scrutability is not a paramount value of the contemporary action sequence? —Karina Longworth
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