This year, films in the three short film categories – Live Action, Animation and Documentary – have been grouped together by Magnolia Pictures and Shorts HD. They are being presented in screenings with the intention of giving audiences an opportunity to see the nominated films prior to the Academy Awards ceremony this Sunday, February 26th. One of the theatres showing them is Toronto’s TIFF Bell Lightbox, where this Spooooler was lucky enough to see the Live Action set.
Ireland is well represented in this year’s nominations having secured two of the five nominations.
The first of these is Peter McDonald’s Pentecost (★★★★★), which kicks things off with the story of Damian, a young altar server in 1970s Wicklow. He has been reprimanded for knocking over a priest with his incense thurible, but when there’s a shortage of boys for the big mass with the archbishop, he gets called back into action. If he performs well he will be allowed to watch Liverpool in the European Cup Final…
Pentecost is a spritely 11 minutes and finds the perfect balance of clerical comedy and efficiency. Well-known faces from Irish stage and screen show up in the form of Don Wycherley and Michael McElhatton and the pre-mass pep talk is one of the funniest scenes you’ll see in a film of any length this year. And it’s nice to know that Ireland didn’t stop learning to laugh with its clergy after doing it so well first time around in the 1990s with Father Ted.
Next up is Germany’s Raju (★★★), Max Zähle’s story of a couple who travel to India to adopt a young boy. All is not well when Raju goes missing after only a day in their care, with suspicions arising when they realise he is not the first child to disappear.
Zähle is clearly a very accomplished director blessed with a sizable budget which allowed him to go on location and make Calcutta look so positively vibrant on-screen. Unfortunately the story is a little implausible, relying too much on coincidence to really have its desired emotional impact.
The second Irish production on show is Terry George’s The Shore (★★★★). Aside from the priesthood, the other thing that seemed to be synonymous with successful Irish cinema through the latter part of the twentieth century is the Troubles that gripped Northen Ireland for a quarter-century starting in the early 1970s. The Shore is set in the beautiful coastal village of Killough, Co Down a mere stone’s throw from Belfast. The film aims to find a fresh angle on the troubles by telling the story of two men who re-unite after 25 years.
Spooool favourite Ciarán Hinds plays Joe, who fled to San Francisco leaving his best friend, Conleth Hill’s Paddy, to look after his girlfriend Maggie Cronin’s Mary. Lo and behold Paddy and Mary end up getting married, while Joe finds another woman and lives with the belief he has betrayed the two most important people in his life. On paper it sounds like simple melodrama but the story suits the format well, with George finding plenty of time in the half hour run-time for laughs, heartfelt moments and resolution.
George has been through the Oscar circus before having received nominations for writing In the Name of the Father and Hotel Rwanda, and it’s a pleasure to see him back in the limelight after the duds that came in the form of
Revolutionary Road Reservation Road and Whole Lotta Sole.
Next up is a snappy, wacky comedy from the good ol’ US of A – Andrew Bowler’s Time Freak (★★★★½). It tells the story of a neurotic scientist who develops a time-travelling machine. Unfortunately he wastes this new opportunity as he ends up repeatedly re-enacting yesterday, trying to get every chance encounter and happening completely right. Think of all the clever moments in Groundhog Day and add in a few of the quirkier laughs from Back to the Future and you’ve got Time Freak in a nutshell. If the population of the internet were voting then we’d have a clear Oscar front-runner here.
Last, but by no means least, we go to Norway for the truly mental Tuba Atlantic (★★★★). Seventy-year-old Oskar is told he has exactly six days to live. Because he lives alone, the government insists he receive care and attention from an “angel of death” in the shape of local school girl Inger. Only problem is Oskar hates attention and wants to keep spending his day killing sea gulls with dynamite and his machine gun.
But below the wackiness and eccentricity there lies a lot of heart as he yearns to complete the construction of a giant tuba that he began working on with his estranged brother when they were boys. His brother lives in New Jersey and he has no postal address, phone number or email for him. Sounding the horn may be the only way to make make contact.
The lead role is brilliantly performed by first-time performer Edvard Hægstad, a potato farmer currently working backstage for the Chippendales.
Tuba Atlantic somehow manages to merge heavy themes – estranged brothers, death – with well-written characters and a ginormous earth-shattering tuba. Norway douze pointe.
Trailers for the five oscar-nominated live-action shorts are included below. They’re all available for download or on-demand viewing from the shorts.tv site – hopefully irregardless of your geographical location…