The 2012 Oscar Nominees: Short Films

| February 9, 2012

One of my favorite parts of the Oscars is a lesser known category, and one to which people are often oblivious: the shorts section. Short films are delicious little tidbits from the film world that can tickle the fancy of anyone, from hard-nosed movie critics to children in all parts of the world. There are a number of great nominees this year, and no matter which one wins, it’s nice to see these films are getting the recognition they deserve.
Terry George’s “The Shore” is a film about an estranged friendship. The child-like innocence amongst the responsible adults in the film is refreshing, and the simple life “The Shore” portrays opens the eyes of viewers to remind them that each relationship has a story behind it, and that no matter how painful it might be, the past is just as important as the future. There are some great shots of the Irish countryside, but the important part of this film isn’t really the cinematography; it’s the way the filmmaker was able to capture such a powerful story so matter-of-factly. Each character is great, and the storyline feels so authentic. “The Shore” is original and heartwarming, and definitely deserving of its Oscar nomination this year.
A more melancholy film is “Tuba Atlantic.” The Norwegian film tells the story of a dying man going through the five stages of death, and follows him as he reflects on his past and thinks about the loose ends he wants to tie before leaving the world. It’s a simplistic film that has a dark humor undertone. His relationship with his “Angel of Death” – a young girl from the “Jesus Club” who must help assist a dying citizen in order to progress in the club – is an odd one, but nonetheless heartwarming. The two become unlikely friends, and affect each other more than they realize. The poignant tale might come across as a tearjerker, but the comic relief provides a great balance.
Millions were shocked as they watched the footage and heard the stories and news reports about the tsunami in Japan. “The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom” documents life from the point of view of the local townspeople who watched their lives change dramatically as the giant wave destroyed everything they had ever known. The cherry blossom – the first plant to bloom when spring rears its head – is a sign of hope and encouragement. Some people view the delicate blossoms as children while others view them as watching eyes or even gods, but all believe that they are an important part of Japanese culture that is helping the individuals who experienced such destruction to start living again. The documentary is heart-wrenching and riveting from beginning to end, but leaves viewers with a sense of encouragement.
Adoption is never a quick and easy occurrence, and “Raju” proves that. A German couple goes to India to adopt a young boy named Raju. The couple is unfamiliar with the territory, but is relieved to find that their new son is fond of them. One day, when Raju is bonding with his new father, he goes missing. As the devastated parents go looking for him, they uncover secrets from the boy’s past that make them reconsider their whole adoption. “Raju” is full of riveting twists and turns that are sure to evoke every emotion in the book.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a serious problem that plagues many of America’s veterans. “Incident in New Baghdad” looks into the life of a veteran named Ethan McCord, who openly pours out the story of his experience in the military, and how one day changed the way he perceived his country and its population. It’s a story that’s simply told, but full of emotion. It’s a story of loss, anger, and numbness that’s just as powerful as it is heartbreaking. The film’s relevant and dynamic edge is probably what won it the award for Best Documentary Short at the Tribeca Film Festival. It’s not surprising to see it contending for an Oscar this year.
African-American citizens have made great strides since the foundation of America and the Civil Rights Riots in the 1960s. Some of those strides are documented through the story of Mr. James Armstrong in “Barber of Birmingham.” His tiny barber shop is filled with historical images and memorabilia, including newspaper articles about the shop and portraits of Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Herald Washington. Negro spirituals, gospel, and folk music accompany the moving film, and Armstrong’s amazing story is sure to stir the hearts of millions.
Mr. Lessmore enjoys sitting on his balcony and writing books. But when a tornado devastates his little town, he’s left with nothing but an empty book, his hat, and his cane. William Joyce’s “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” is an adorable animated adventure in which the world is a place made better only by books, and by the people who tend to them as if they were children. It is filled with cute characters and sweet little musical numbers. The mix of grayscale and color is definitely notable and is well-utilized, and the film is sure to put a smile on even the most hardened individual’s face. It’s my pick for Best Short Film.
Many sons and daughters dream of a life different than their own. The main character in “Wild Life” does just that. The Englishman turned Canadian rancher’s story is told through the local townspeople who find him odd, and through his letters back home. All the while, he is being related to a comet: a phenomenon that never becomes a planet, is short lived, but burns bright and draws attention. The film consists of wonderful painted illustrations and a great storytelling method. It’s the type of film that could definitely have been live action, but the fact that it’s animated makes it that much cooler.
“Pentecost” tells the kind of story that a great aunt shares at dinnertime. It’s a story of religion with a dark sense of humor. In 1977, Damien Lynch is an altar boy who was given a second chance after being kicked out of the group for hitting one of the fathers with a sanctus bell (on accident, he claims). Like “Wild Life,” comparisons play an important role in this film: mass is likened to a football game, in which Damien is the star player. The shocking but almost sacrilegious ending makes this film as entertaining as it probably was controversial.
No one has successfully traveled through time yet, but great minds do exist. When Evan can’t find his friend Stillman after three days, he finally stumbles upon his hiding spot, a lair filled with scientific data and weird gadgets. Stillman looks haggard, exhausted, and on the brink of insanity. He tells his friend that he’s just created a time machine. The minds in and behind “Time Freak” are ingenious, and audiences are sure to find the story both mentally challenging and amusing.
One of the more dismal cartoons, “Sunday” (also known as “Dimanche”) is about a young boy who is misunderstood by the adults but a friend to the animals in his tiny little town. Unfortunately, they also tend to be put in danger more than the townspeople are, and the boy loses quite a few of his friends. Maybe the film is an abstract protest against animal cruelty; maybe it’s just a story. Either way, it’s a cute little cartoon.
Due to the world’s current obsession with the undead, it wasn’t surprising to see a film with zombies included in the nominees. “Morning Stroll” is based on a story published in the New York Literary Review in 1987 called “The Chicken.” It’s a simple story about a chicken on his morning stroll, but the animations and change of scenery along the chicken’s route changes over the course of 109 years. The changes in animation over the different time periods are well-done.
With such great contending films this year, it will be interesting to see who takes home that infamous golden statue this year. Who are you rooting for?

About the Author:

Caress is a Chicagoan who has a deep fascination with film. Her love for movies began as an undergraduate at Roosevelt University, where her teacher suggested she write a movie review. Caress' favorite genres include indie dramas, foreign films, experimental films, and psychological thrillers. When she's not watching movies, Caress enjoys writing, photography, travel, fashion and music.

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