If nobody had ever heard of Wallace and Gromit, Nick Park would be the winner in the “Oscar Nominated Short Films of 2010." His 29-minute A Matter of Loaf and Death, about the apple strudel of Wallace’s eye, a fleshy femme fatale out to murder a baker’s dozen bakers, would be a slam dunk like toast in tea. The poodle who reprises Sigourney Weaver’s Aliens forklift rescue scene is a neat touch. But this would be Nick’s fifth Oscar win, and what fun would that be?
It would be more fun to honor Park’s Oedipal rival, his Curse of the Were-Rabbit animator Fabrice Joubert, for French Roast, his droll fable of a Paris café habitué who’d rather order coffee indefinitely than admit he’s lost his wallet.
But justice would demand that the animated short Oscar should go to another French effort, Logorama, by the collective H5. Like a refugee from Fassbinder’s Third Generation, Ronald McDonald kidnaps Bob’s Big Boy on a machine-gun crime spree, hunted by Michelin Man cops in an LA (in fact, a universe) entirely composed of corporate logos. Mr. Clean, an outrageous queen, leads tours of a zoo where MGM’s lion roars and the Republican elephant stampedes into the Jolly Green Giant’s gonads. It’s a sharp little computerized shoot-‘em-up.
Nicky Phelan’s Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty, a fairy tale fractured by an opinionated granny, is wry and spry, but if H5 loses the animated Oscar, it should be to Javier Reno Gracia’s sprightly The Lady and the Reaper, about an ER doc battling Death for a crone’s life.
You’d think the live-action Oscar would go to Kavi, Gregg Helvey’s miniature imitation Slumdog Millionaire, but forget it. Kavi is all suffering, with no ecstatic dancing redemption. Sure, I deplore the enslavement of India’s child brickmaker laborers, but why should I suffer too?
Likewise, Juanita Wilson’s The Door tries to guilt-trip its way to Oscar glory with a fact-based tragedy about a noble Chernobyl child’s death, and Luke Doolan’s Miracle Fish rides the gritty headline issues of school bullying and schools stalked by psycho killers. They’re both impressive. Doolan taps right into childhood, and he makes every second pulse with life. Wilson’s compositions are quietly resonant, utterly beautiful: a motorbike framed by a Ferris wheel, then by train tracks as it its glowing taillight dwindles into the distant Ukrainian gloom.
Green-light these talented people’s first feature. But I was with the dying Chernobyl girl’s mom, who said, “It’d be better for her to die than to suffer like this, or for me to die so that I don’t have to watch anymore.”
The most star-studded entry, Joachim Back’s The New Tenants, is the worst. A shaggy-dog tale about two gay guys with crazy neighbors, it starts out with David Rakoff’s bravura whining aria about a suicide bomb: “Hanks of hair and teeth, splinters of bone are just shooting these airborne sprays of blood like those soft drink commercials where the lemon slices splash through the arc of soda, some slow-motion orgasm of what it means to be refreshing..." I could go on (he does), but you get the idea: virtuoso writing and acting, no stops on the organ. That’s why Vincent D’Onofrio and Kevin Corrigan do movies like this, so they can go over the top. It’s fun for a few minutes, then gets flabby.
What should and probably will win the Oscar is Patrik Ekland’s Instead of Abracadabra, a sweet Swedish farce about a 25-year-old magician who lives with his long-suffering parents and tries to magic-trick a dishy blonde into bed. It’s funnier than Napoleon Dynamite, with snappier comic timing.