ShortsHD The Short Movie Channel Releases 2015 Oscar Nominated Short Films in Theatres

by Carrie Specht

THE_BIGGER_PICTURE_still-e1422561119223-625x375Following the tradition of ten years, the world’s only short movie channel, ShortsHD is responsible for the theatrical premieres of films in the Live Action Short, Animated Short and Documentary Short categories of the Academy Awards. This year’s Oscar Nominated Short Films opened in Los Angeles theaters and across the country on January 30. The Live Action and Animated shorts began their run at The Nuart in West L.A. and the Documentary shorts stepped things off at the Music Hall 3 in Beverly Hills. All three programs opened in Orange County at the Regency South Coast Village.

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Not to confuse you too much, but the Live Action and Animated programs are separate programs with individual admissions, whereas the Documentary shorts are separated in to two programs due to length but have only one admission price. Got it? Don’t worry, either way it’s worth the price to see these inspiring, innovative and thought provoking mini films. I’m particularly found of the animated ones, which show an unusually high caliber of quality. In past years there has been a clear stand out in the competition making it seem as if the other nominees were included just to round out the field. Not so this year. Each animated short is a true gem and could capture the coveted statue come February 22. I can’t help you out with your Oscar pools here, but I will tell you I’m leaning toward The Dam Keeper.

THE_DAM_KEEPER_stillI honestly got caught up with each and every short, believing I’d seen the winner after each one had ended. Which is particularly notable since most of these little wonders are very short – I mean really short. A Single Life is just two minutes long! I suppose it’s unfortunate for the filmmakers to be nominated in such a truly competitive year, whereas each could easily win had they been eligible a year earlier or a year later. But the situation is a blessing for those who enjoy animation at its best. 

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The entire program of animated films is 77 minutes in length and includes entries from Canada, the US, the UK, and the Netherlands. The styles (as usual) are diverse and the stories tend to be on the sentimental side with plenty of comedy thrown in to keep things from getting too heavy. After watching the five nominees (and four additional honorable mentions) I was elated. With most of the films running under seven minutes the program has a crisp pace that will keep your attention, and likely have you wanting more. A terrific program for all ages, this is a day at the movies the entire family can enjoy. So I encourage you not to miss this once a year experience and expose yourself to the art of animated short films. After you try it once you may discover that this could be a tradition worth continuing year after year.

Check your local listings for theaters and times. Tuesday, February 17 at 7 p.m. there will be a screening of the shorts at the Academy, hosted by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Sean Astin. Come Oscar eve, Saturday, February 21 at 9:30 PM you can catch these spectacular shorts at the historic Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, located just blocks from the site of Sunday’s show. 

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American Sniper: American Masterpiece

by Jonathan Davidson

Gilbert Chesterson once remarked, “I’ve searched all the parks in all the cities and found no statues of committees,” implying that humanity’s greatest accomplishments seldom arise from collaboration, but are the product of singular, enlightened minds. In light of this quote, it’s a wonder that any film relying on the effort of hundreds of individuals could prove itself a masterpiece. Yet each year, two or three films are blessed with just the right constellation of talent, producing an experience so compelling one couldn’t help but call it a masterpiece. 

American Sniper Movie

American Sniper is such a film. Directed by Clint Eastwood and featuring a precise, emotionally gripping performance by Bradley Cooper, this true story about Chris Kyle, the most deadly sniper in American military history, works on every level. Stunning cinematography and tactically accurate battles offer up all the excitement and suspense expected in a war film, yet its true power derives from examining the full spectrum of Chris’s experience as a warrior—how the all-consuming experience of combat can put “lighting in your bones” yet just as easily eviscerate the soul. It also shows how he must choose between being present for his family or his brothers in arms, and the nearly impossible task of coming off the extreme highs of combat and re-assimilating into the emotional flat-line of civilian life.

Bradley Cooper works through a grueling bootcamp workout on the set of American Sniper in Los AngelesThe film’s portrait of Chris Kyle begins early in his childhood. After beating up a bully for hurting his younger brother Jeff, Chris’s father congratulates him for “finishing it” and tells him that there are three kinds of people in the world: sheep, sheepdogs, and wolves. Sheep allow themselves to be victims, sheepdogs protect the weak, and wolves prey on the weak. It’s clear from an early age that Chris sees himself as a sheepdog, ready to use violence to fend off the wolves. But what’s not so clear to Chris is that, even though a sheepdog appears to have noble motives, he’s being raised to be an animal, one who acts off of the base instinct of violence. Subtly, Chris’s upbringing makes the audience wonder, when does the sheepdog become a wolf? Where does the line fall between protecting the weak and becoming a monster? How long can he live by the sword?

detail.de524157Even though Chris never asks these questions of himself, they develop into the underlying themes of the film. In his book What It Is Like to Go to War, Vietnam veteran Karl Marlantes says, “Once we recognize our shadow’s existence we must resist the enticing step of going with its flow.” Throughout the film, we see Chris becoming sucked deeper and deeper into the vortex of war, volunteering for multiple tours of duty despite the objections of his wife, who can tell he’s being enticed to follow his shadow into total darkness. On top of deep and rich themes, this picture excels in balancing action and story. Many high-budget films rely heavily on CGI action; hoping excitement can make up for a weak story. Recently I watched Captain America: Winter Soldier and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. In both movies I was appalled to see twenty minutes of story followed by two hours of chase sequences and combat. Thankfully, the makers of American Sniper understand that action can quickly lead to emotional fatigue, causing the audience to quit caring about what happens to the characters.

maxresdefaultInstead of relying on action, American Sniper focuses on Chris Kyle’s personal journey. The screenwriter Jason Hall, who also wrote Paranoia and Spread, recognizes that the audience connects to a film’s hero only after discovering the hero’s strong desires, for strong desires are universal and highly sympathetic. We see Chris’s desire to protect his younger brother as a child, and we like him. We see Chris working hard to become a cowboy, and we admire his dedication. We see his intense desire to defend his country, and we’re touched by his willingness to sacrifice on our behalf. We see him pursue a beautiful woman until marriage, and we’re charmed. And before long we have so connected with Chris’s desires that we can feel his anguish at having to choose again and again between staying with his family or returning to Iraq to hunt down the sniper—a Syrian Olympic medalist in sharpshooting—who has killed his comrades. Once ensuring we understand and empathize with Chris, the filmmakers put him and his buddies into a few gritty, frighteningly realistic engagements and an incredible climactic battle near the end, but never let those action sequences detract from the real story.

Another area in which American Sniper adds to its richness is through exploring the politics of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Politically, Chris observes the war in stark white and jet black. When asked by fellow frogman Marc Lee if their presence in Iraq is a waste of time and lives, Chris blows off his friend’s concerns by saying things like, “There’s evil here. We’ve seen it. Would you want these f***ers in San Diego or New York?” Yet Marc and other characters in the film have a better appreciation for the complexities and vagaries inherent in the business of war, adding just enough counterpoint to Chris’s hyper patriotism to prevent the film from feeling like a raw-raw pro-war cheerleader.

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 What really surprised and pleased me about this film was its portrayal of post-traumatic stress disorder. So many films focus on the heroic, cinematic battles of war, yet neglect to convey how, for many of the veterans, the battle rages for years after the bullets have stopped flying. In his book On Killing, Dave Grossman says, “Some psychiatric casualties have always been associated with war, but it was only in the twentieth century that our physical and logistical capability to sustain combat outstripped our psychological capacity to endure it.” Each time Chris returns from a tour of duty, the audience can see how modern war ravages the minds of those who fight. Each time his PTSD has grown worse, and its effects on his family prove the true costs of war even for those who are fortunate enough to have “survived.” 

For all these reasons and many more, American Sniper is an important, must-see film. By the end you’ll be thoroughly entertained, emotionally depleted, and will have likely gained significant insight into the lives of our most highly trained warriors.

Oscar Nominated Shorts in Theaters Now

Possessions

by Carrie Specht

The regular movie-going audiences generally overlook short films because usually there’s no sure way to see them. That is unless you happened to go to a movie in Los Angeles where one was linked with the feature film you went to see. Otherwise, short films are traditionally reserved for festivalgoers and even then it’s only those at a festival who go out of their way to attend a shorts program who see them. Fortunately, that has recently changed. For the past nine years the Oscar Nominated Shorts have been organized into a group presentation for public viewing, and this year is no exception. ShortsHD, the Short Movie Channel will be screening the 2013 Academy Award Nominated Animated and Live Action Short Films at the NuArt in West Los Angeles and at the Regency South Coast Village 3 in Orange County starting Friday, January 31. The films will be presented as two collective programs with separate admissions for each group, with the Oscar nominated Documentary Shorts set to open as a third program later in Los Angeles on February 14.

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The world’s only channel dedicated to short films, the Short Movie Channel (www.shorts.tv) is working with Magnolia Pictures to make this special presentation happen in over 250 theaters across the United States, Canada and Europe, with more than 400 theatres slated to screen the films during its theatrical release. These screenings will be the only opportunity for audiences to watch the nominated shorts prior to the 86th Academy Awards® ceremony on Sunday, March 2, 2014. After that you’ll already know who the winners are and have lost your chance at having an edge in your office Oscar pool. Truly a wide open category where anyone can win, this year’s nominated Shorts originate from all parts of the globe, representing the pinnacle of filmmaking from Japan, the UK, Denmark, Luxembourg, France, Spain, Finland, the UAE, Yemen, Canada and the United States.

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The Live Action Short Film Nominees run about 108 minutes all together and include That Wasn’t Me, a story set in Africa amongst child guerilla soldiers, Just Before Losing Everything, which is a French film about domestic abuse, Do I Have to Take Care of Everything, a family comedy from Finland, The Voorman Problem a high profile effort from the UK that stars Martin Freeman, and what I believe to be the front runner, the Danish fantasy/drama, Helium. Each of these films has tremendous production value and is well deserving of the recognition, but there can only be one winner and my money’s on Helium. I’ll refrain from saying why because I don’t wont to give anything away, and I truly want you to see these films for yourself. More than likely they’ll be the best things you’ve seen all year. And no doubt, there’s bound to be a future feature filmmaker or two emerging from the group in the coming years.

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Likewise, I was impressed with the Animated Short Film nominees. Running just a bit longer at 110 minutes, the diversity in this category is even more wide spread. With films ranging from the traditional to the innovative, do not be surprised if this is a tough one for you to make a conclusive call on. The first US submission, Feral is unique in its use of sketches and a style that suggests flowing watercolor. Whereas, the other US contender, Get a Horse is a product of the Walt Disney Company and uses a combination of old school Mickey with creative story telling to keep you laughing (honestly, you’ve never seen the world’s most famous mouse like this before!). At the same time, France’s Mr. Hublot has a dystopian whimsy that charms like no other nominee. Whereas, Possessions, a very styled entry from Japan is a feast for the eyes. And England’s Room on the Broom is a sweet tale with a sort of Toy Story-ish quality to its look.

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I recommend seeing these films in the theater while you can. It’s not often that you get the opportunity to see such high quality filmmaking with such entertainment value from all over the world. And they are shorts after all. So, if there’s one that’s not really to your liking all you have to do is wait a few minutes and something completely different will be along in no time. But I don’t think you’ll want to leave your seat or even turn away, not even for a moment. The films here may be short, but they have the power to hold a viewers attention with the full impact of a feature film, and then some. Given the choice of the typical offerings at the Cineplex and these short little beauties I’d pick the latter. After all, a satisfying five-course feast that out-entertains any single film far more deserves your hard-earned dollar than yet another potentially disappointing current release. You won’t be disapointed.

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For a sneak peak at The Oscar® Nominated Short Films 2014 program, go to http://theoscarshorts.shorts.tv/

Oscar Nominated Shorts in Theaters Now

by Carrie Specht

The Academy Award nominated shorts are currently playing in select theaters, and whether you’re a fan of the medium or not (though I don’t know anyone who isn’t) you’ll find that this year’s nominees are well worth the price of a feature film. In fact, they’re so good you’re likely to enjoy them more than anything else currently playing in the multiplexes. Furthermore, you’re going to have a bit of a hard time making a pick for your office Oscar pool. There is a standout among the bunch, but there’s definitely a dark horse too that could pull off a surprise upset. So, to be safe I think you better see them all and judge for yourself.

The Paperman

The Paperman

If you’ve been involved with any kind of social media over the past few weeks then you already know that Disney’s The Paperman is the odds on favorite to nab the golden statuette come February 24. It’s a gorgeous, traditionally animated tale of boy-meets-girl told without any dialogue what so ever in a beautifully depicted sepia tone. The film evokes a nostalgic feel heightened by its period setting and use of multiple planes of focus. You know, just as if you were watching a movie shot on actual film stock. Thus avoiding the error made by most early digital films and many animated ones: that of having everything in focus. There is a wonderful tangible quality of reality in The Paperman that I just haven’t seen in an animated film in a very long time if ever. This is the safe bet for winner.

Maggie Simpson and The Longest Daycare

Unlike Maggie Simpson in the Longest Daycare. I had very high hopes for this one given its origin, its main character and the title’s allusion to one of my favorite war films. However, I was sadly disappointed. The short just doesn’t have the feel of either the popular TV show from which it spawns or the movie it tries (I think) to emulate. Which is particularly disappointing given all the prestigious names (Matt Groening, James L. Brooks, Hans Zimmer) involved with the production. With this kind of pedigree you expect to have at least something that would stand up to being a good episode for the weekly show, but not so. I guess it was a case of too many cooks or something because these talents just don’t play on the screen. And the animation itself is certainly nothing new given that The Simpsons has dominated the television airwaves for more than twenty years. It’s not that the short is bad, not at all. It’s just that Maggie Simpson in the Longest Daycare has the least chance of winning the coveted award. You’ll enjoy seeing it, especially on a big screen. I just wouldn’t lay any bes for it to win, place or show. Not with these other strong entries.

Fresh GuacamoleThe same can be said of Fresh Guacamole. Yes, this cleverly devised short uses stop motion and claymation to create the most unique bowl of dip you’ve ever seen remaining entertaining from start to finish. But there’s no real story here. It’s kind of a case of art for arts sake. No doubt there will be some that favor it for that very reason, and I’m very pleased that it demonstrates a form of animation highly underrated by the common man. However, when you’re up against a film like The Paperman you have to bring more to the table than the impressive visual gymnastics demonstrated here. Fresh Guacamole certainly deserves its nomination and will likely be the film you’re thinking about most as you leave the theater, but it will not take the Oscar. Not that that will hurt the filmmakers. I’m sure we’ll be seeing more from them at future award ceremonies, and they will likely be taking home an Oscar of their own someday. Just not this year.

Head Over Heals

Head Over Heals

Now I get to the two possibilities for an Oscar upset. First there’s Head Over Heals. An interesting story of an elderly couple who for some unexplained reason occupy the same space but live in separate gravitational pulls. It’s a complicated concept that is very well demonstrated in a brief amount of time. Which is notable since, like all the other nominees in the animated short category this year, there is no dialogue. That’s right. Not a word is spoken to explain anything. Nor is it needed. Although it might be nice to have some questions answered the through line of the story is clear and delightfully touching. Stop motion is the animation form of coice, but more like a puppetry style so it stands out from Fresh Guacamole. Another compelling aspect to the short is the fact that it is a student film made by a young man in the UK who is currently forming his own production company. Very likely he will be following in the steps of Nick Park, so there’s no doubt we will be seeing the name Timothy Reckart again. But will we see it on a golden statue this year? I say maybe. Not the strongest choice, but maybe.

Adam Meets Dog

Adam and Dog

And then there is Adam and Dog. It’s picturesque backgrounds are mixed with a somewhat rougher style for the characters of a man and his dog. I should say the first man and the first dog. This short is longer than the others and certainly paces itself when revealing its story, but it’s worth it. It too is wordless, but clearly offers up a reason why man’s best friend is a dog. As lush as it is rough around the edges the differences highlight the opposites between the garden of eden and the flaws of man. Given the beauty of the artistry demonstrated here there will be those who’ll pick Adam and Dog as the favorite. And that very well may be. However, I think not.

Given the popularity of the style of animation used in The Paperman, its graceful beauty, its stylish presentation and accessibility of its universal story I think it’s the one to beat. But by all means I encourage you to see for yourself. After all, you’re probably going to see all of the feature film nominations. Why not the animated shorts too? Especially if you have the opportunity. It might very well be the best day you spend at the movies so far this year. And most importantly you’ll have an upper hand in your Oscar pool. You can thank me later.

 

 

Oscar Nominated Short Films in Theaters Now

ShortsHD working with Magnolia Pictures is releasing this year’s Oscar® Nominated Short Films to over 200 theaters across the United States and Canada beginning Friday, February 10th, 2012.

Due to the popularity of last year’s theatrical release of the Academy Award nominated Documentary shorts audiences will now have the opportunity to see all three categories of short films before Oscar night on February 26th. These three separate theatrical programs (Documentary, Live Action and Animation) will screen across the country, accessing and entertaining an audience they might not otherwise reach.

I’m a huge fan of the short format, and strongly believe in its essential place among the film world. For years the Academy has played with the idea of eliminating the categories all together, succumbing to pressure from those that believe them to be antiquated modes of filmmaking left over from the days when movie houses actually showed shorts as part of their daily programs. However, due to a surge in public interest in recent times the Academy has rethought this suggestion and has retained the honorable format. After all, many a great future filmmaker has begun with the production of a short film, and those efforts should be duly awarded.

Having just finished watching all of this year’s fine nominees I can whole-heartedly recommend each and every one without reservation. The diversity of subjects and presentation will undoubtedly appeal to a wide scope, providing something for everyone. The animated shorts are touching and definitely family-friendly. I’m particularly found of The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, which is about a Buster Keaton like character who lives a life of quiet beauty among a playful group of books. And the live action films offer a nice variety of plots, ranging from heart-warming (Raju, my pick for Oscar) to out-right hilarious (Tuba Atlantic). The short documentaries are particularly moving with subjects that are issue oriented and of immediate interest. I dare anyone not to be uplifted and moved by these poignant expressions of feeling, especially The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom, my pick for the Oscar.

Although, I must say I wouldn’t be surprised if The Barber of Birmingham takes the prize come Oscar night. It is a particularly inspiring short documentary about an 85 year-old man who has lived and watched the social events that have changed this country’s view on the African American’s place in our society from the Civil Rights Movement right on up to the election of President Obama. It’s a magnificently compact film that elicits a feeling of pride and tugs at your heartstrings at the same time. I just think it may be too short to grab the statuette. It feels as if it should be longer than its 18 minutes. It seemed to end rather abruptly and left me wanting more, which I felt could have been accomplished.

In Los Angeles the Animation and Live Action shorts will be at The NuArt Theater in West LA and Regency Theatres’ South Coast Plaza in Santa Ana. The Documentary shorts will begin screening later this month on February 17 at Laemmle’s Music Hall 3. Also on the 17th you can catch the Documentaries at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. And still later, on the 24th, the Egyptian will be screening the Live-Action nominees, as well as the Animation nominees (check theaters for exact schedules and ticket pricing).

I urge you to take advantage of this opportunity and see these wonderfully entertaining films. Not only will you undoubtedly have a terrific theater going experience, but you’ll also have a leg up on your office Oscar pool. Think about it. Here’s three points no one ever gets (unless it’s with a wild guess) because most people never get the chance to see them, but you do. Just think how smart you’ll look. It’s a win-win situation!

Along with the theatrical run, the nominated short films will be released individually later this month on iTunes beginning February 21st. The release will also be available via cable’s Movies On Demand (MOD), distributed by In Demand and will be available via Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Brighthouse, Cablevision and Cox Communication.

Oscar Speculations

Pretty little statues waiting for new homes.

It’s that time of the year when those of us interested in the entertainment industry begin to spend a lot of time thinking about the Oscars. Perhaps speculating would be the better term. We have our opinions about what will win the big awards, we consider what was nominated, and wonder about what wasn’t even considered. Many nominations and eventual outcomes for that mater are no-brainers, but more often than not it seems the bigger question is why something or someone has been nominated while another is completely overlooked.

I have never considered myself much of a barometer for the whims of the Academy. After all my track record for selecting Oscar picks was far more accurate before I joined the industry. However, I do believe I have a good eye for films and performances that are bound to become classics, and it makes me sad when such achievements are not appreciated in their own day and age. I am the first person to argue that greatness often requires the passage of time to determine its true value, but still, come on. Good is good, and current popularity tends to be forgotten over time if there is nothing of weight to sustain it.

Case in point: Jeff Bridges in “True Grit”. Bridges is undoubtedly a great actor who himself spent many years providing superb performances that went unnoticed. It was a long time coming when he finally received a Best Actor Oscar for his role in “Crazy Heart”. That aside, his work in the Coen Brothers’ remake of a John Wayne classic falls short of his previous endeavors, which makes me feel that this nomination is really the result of becoming a recent Academy darling and not a reflection on the quality of his acting. It was a strong choice Bridges made in the characterization of Rooster Cogburn, but most of the time I couldn’t understand what he was saying. Add you couldn’t tell a thing by his expressions because his face was nearly hidden by an eye patch and full beard. The performance just wasn’t there for me and I don’t think the Academy should have honored it with what I consider to be a “make up” nomination for all the times he should have received one in the past.

And why is Geoffrey Rush nominated for Best Supporting Actor instead of Best Actor? His role was just as dominate and impressive as Colin Firths in “The King’s Speech”, maybe even more so. And that’s probably the reason why. It’s the producers of films themselves that submit recommendations for Academy consideration, and most producers have learned it’s a bad idea to place two actors from a single movie in the same category of competition – it splits the vote. Submitting equally billed actors in separate categories avoids this possibility and provides the chance that they both might win. After all it looks far better in ad campaigns and pulls in far more money if a production can boast two Oscar winners rather than just two nominees. Seems a shame though to cheat Rush out of the opportunity to win as Best Actor. But seeing as he already has a golden statue for acting (“Shine”), and he’s one of the Executive Producers, he probably doesn’t mind.

And then there are the performances that have gone completely unnoticed by industry honors. Lesley Manville is absolutely magnificent in Mike Leigh’s latest film, “Another Year”. At least the script for this look into one year in the life of a happy middle-aged couple and their tight knit circle has been nominated for Best Original Screenplay. Those familiar with the work of Mike Leigh know that improve amongst the actors in rehearsals has a tremendous impact upon the final product. That act in itself merits a second look at the actors’ performances. And Manville as Mary is achingly real as a pathetic middle-aged creature that has yet to come to terms with the effects of the passage of time. She slowly begins to realize her life has changed irrevocably through the way her closest friends have changed toward her, and that her little world was never quite what she thought it was, and never will be. Mary starts out as a peripheral character but comes to dominate the story through what can only be described as a nuanced yet powerful performance by a very skilled actor who deserved to be recognized with an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Manville is far more deserving than say Helena Bonham Carter who was very good in the “King’s Speech”, but whose screen time was hardly worthy of such enviable recognition.

Of course the 2011 Academy Awards are no different than any other year and its unlikely the 2012 will be either, or the year after that, or the year after that. It’s impossible to say if the nominees for any given category will ever truly be the most deserving, let alone the eventual winners. However, I hope that the many speculations of such designations will prompt audiences to find out for themselves what the arguments are all about. Agree or disagree with the critics in the end, it is my hope that in the process people will have seen a whole bunch of worthy performances they might not have discovered otherwise. And that in the long run is far more important to any creative artist than the number of statues on their mantle. At least I hope so.