No longer just the bathroom break during your annual Oscar party, the Academy Award nominated Short Films are available for viewing, and, once again, one must wonder if these are truly the best and brightest, or if they’re just whatever the voting committee discovered lying around somewhere.
Most cloying is Max Zahle’s Raju, punishingly overlong at a scant 20-something minutes. Following a personality-free German couple as they attempt to adopt an Indian child, the short is comprised mainly of admittedly expensive-looking establishing shots. There’s a meager attempt to ask some interesting questions regarding poverty and privilege, but the central conceit is awfully thin and stretched out over far too much screen time to sink in.
A similar one-joke conceit mars director Andrew Bowler’s Time Freak, in which a nebbish played by John Conor Brooke invents a time machine and spends the following year and a half obsessing over his day-to-day errands and a casual morning meeting with his ex-girlfriend. At least possessing the decency to clock in as the shortest of these very short films, it’s an underdeveloped single-punch-line gag that gets in and out in a hurry.
No shortage of Irish blarney this year, kicking off with Peter McDonald’s Pentecost, following a World Cup crazy altar boy through a hectic Mass upon the arrival of the archbishop. Again a slave to the one-joke nature of these proceedings, this 1977 church staff is granted a live broadcast soundtrack with crowds cheering and boisterous play-by-play announcers. Yeah, that’s really all there is to it.
Writer-director Terry George, who once upon a time co-penned In the Name of the Father and helmed 2004’s Hotel Rwanda here represents the Emerald Isle further with the craaky, maudlin The Shore. Expert character actor Cirian Hinds shows up as an American ex-pat returning to his seaside village after 25 years spent abroad. There are some vague mentions of The Troubles, and a good deal of awkward exposition. A reconciliation with an old friend and a few long-buried secrets take a backseat to goofy slapstick and awkward jokes about the dole. A rare whiff from a filmmaker who typically knows better.
Best in show by a country mile is Hallvar Witzo’s Tuba Atlantic, a stubbornly original and screamingly funny deadpan farce starring craggy-faced Edvard Hagestead as a miserable old fisherman diagnosed with only six days to live. Ingrid Viken turns up as a comely young representative from the local “Jesus Club,” attempting to walk our sour old protagonist through the Kubler Ross stages of denial, anger and acceptance.
Meanwhile, the crotetchety bastard just wants to take as many seagulls with him as possible, attempting to contact his long lost brother in New Jersey via a giant electromagnetic tuba, all the while murdering lame birds with machine guns and dynamite. It’s a droll, slender farce imbued with a sly, distinct personality missing from the rest of these easy offerings.
Starting in 1949 Havana, the story plows through several decades in the lives of its titular heroes, respectively the country’s “hottest piano player” and a prostitute with not only a heart of gold but also a pair of pipes. Her sexy-breathy act leads her to fortunes in New York and Hollywood, while Chico contends with more modest work, including touring Europe with Dizzy Gillespie. Our central pair try to stay together, but the vagaries of history and film plotting more often keep them apart.