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13. The 2006 Academy Award Nominated Live-Action Short Films
The five films that were up for Best Live-Action Short. Added up they were long enough not to require any padding by short-listed titles, so it’s just these five.

The Saviour
I expected a movie about a Mormon missionary having an affair with a married woman to be funnier than this one was, but it was still a good film. Did a very interesting job of having people learn moral lessons and find faith in unexpected but natural (i.e. not forced) ways.

Helmer & Søn
Work-obssesed son is called in when his father locks himself in a closet. Hilarity and personal growth ensue. Not bad, but not great either; a couple good laughs but for the most part predictable and trite.

Eramos Pocos (One Too Many)
A woman leaves her slovenly husband and son, so they get her mother to move in with them. Good dry humor throughout, but it’s the ending that really makes this one work.

Binta and the Great Idea
This would have been my pick for the Oscar. Wonderful story about a small village in Africa that manages to touch on issues of sexism, adapting to cultural change, the effects of technology, differences between “civilized” and “developing” nations, and the trend of Westerners “saving” African or Asian babies by adopting them - all without being the least bit preachy and keeping the audience entertained. Some of the acting is uneven, but not enough to diminish the enjoyment of the movie. It ended up being 30 solid minutes of happiness for me - one of those movies that just leaves a smile on your face.

West Bank Story
For a musical spoof it was entertaining, even if everything was done in a heavy-handed way. It delivers everything you would expect from a West Side Story parody about dueling falafel stands owned by Israelis and Palestinians.

On a side note, As the first film was starting about half a dozes pre-teen girls came in and sat down behind me, or at least I thought they were all around twelve years old, considering how they reacted to nudity (”ewwww”) and their apparent unfamiliarity with one of the more famous movie musicals around (”hey, they just ripped off Romeo and Juliet, no wonder it won”). Sadly as I got up to leave I saw they were all at least in their 30s - a fact that made my head hurt.
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12. The 2006 Academy Award Nominated Animated Short Films
One of two short film collections playing this week at the Ken (and various other places); the other being the nominated live-action shorts. Because the longest nominated short in the animation category is 15 minutes (none of the other four reach the 10 minute mark), the bill is filled out with five films that were short-listed but didn’t make the cut. So it was 10 movies total, but one trip to the theater and one ticket, so I’m counting it as one on the 07 movie list.

nominees

No Time For Nuts
If the Ice Age movies were noting but Scrat, I would have enjoyed them a lot more. Going back to the original teaser trailer for Ice Age, Scrat has embodied the manic energy and visual humor of Warner Brother cartoons, never failing to make me laugh. Thankfully in this short none of his celebrity-voiced costars but in to distract from the simple and elegant humor of a squirrel with a time machine.

The Danish Poet
The only nominated film in the category with any sort of dialogue, and most of that is narration. The story about the series of coincidences that lead to the narrator’s parents meeting is sweet and funny, but the animation itself is the weakest of the five selections.

Maestro
A mechanical arm prepares a bird for its big performance. There is a lot of good humor building up to the big punch line (which got the biggest laugh of the entire show), but what really sets this one apart is the cinematography. It’s done in a single shot that rotates around the action in one-second intervals - something that takes a little getting used to, but sets a great rhythm for the film.

The Little Matchgirl
An incredibly beautiful telling of the Hans Christian Anderson story, it also marks a welcome return by Disney to its 2D roots. This one will likely win tomorrow night, and deservedly so.

Lifted
Very funny Pixar short, which I’m sure will be well received if (or when) it’s attached to Ratatouille next year.

short-listed

One Rat Short
Great animation used to tell the story of a street rat who finds itself in an animal testing lab. Some of the better action sequences of the year, animated or otherwise.

The Passenger
Amusing horror/comedy short. A lot of laughs, but needed a little more in the story department.

Wraith of Cobble Hill
By far the weakest of the lot. It’s a student film that looks and feels like a student film: bad claymation in pretentious black and white, poorly-written dialogue, a moral that hits you over the head, and all the pacing of a tranquilized snail.

Guide Dog
This one goes on the short list of Plympton shorts where his animation style didn’t bother me. Very funny story of a would-be guide dog failing to properly guide his blind charges. Apparently it’s the sequel to Guard Dog, which I haven’t seen but may need to check out.

A Gentleman’s Duel
Amusing steampunk battle between a Brit and a Frenchman over a well-endowed woman. Lots of frantic violence and some sexual humor (a rarity in American animation - cartoons are for kids, ya know), but it could have used a stronger ending. Impressive animation though, so between that and the high laugh content it was a good choice to end the show.

I highly recommend seeing this collection if you get the chance, or checking out some of the shorts online (I think iTunes has most of them available for download, although at $2 a pop it’s more economical to see them in the theater).
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11. The Lives of Others
Set in late 1984 (an obvious but appropriate allusion), this one provides an interesting look into the monitoring practices of the East German state police. It moves a little slow, but all the build-up pays off in the film’s climax and denouement. Especially interesting are the visual differences between East and West Berlin (what few glimpses we get of the later, anyway), and the almost universal acceptance of the way things are, despite the knowledge that life is better almost anywhere else in Europe.

I don’t think this one will take the Oscar on Sunday night, but it’s definitely worth checking out. There aren’t a lot of post-Cold War movies about life in East Germany, and this one is easily at the top of that short list.
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10. The Pursuit of Happyness

I can see why Will Smith got an Oscar nomination for this role. He did a good job making an otherwise uninteresting movie at least watchable.

Not that there’s anything inherently bad about the movie, there’s just not anything really good about it either. There needed to be more than constantly watching the world throw obstacles at Chris Gardner as he tried to gain happiness through a better-paying job. And when he does get that job (don’t talk to me about spoilers; it’s one of the most predictable endings since Free Willy), it’s one of the most anti-climactic endings I’ve ever seen. I was still waiting for the actual emotional climax after all the suffering he’d gone through when the credits started rolling. Good acting, but not a very good movie.

And I have to agree with my sister that the marketing department made a huge mistake naming the movie after a scene they couldn’t show in the trailers.
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9. Venus
The story was a little trite, but the performances were excellent and there was enough smart and funny dialogue to more than make up for that. Besides, if you want to see Peter O’Toole in a modern movie, you could do a lot worse.
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7. Borat
I avoided this one because it seemed over-hyped and not my cup of tea. I was right on both counts. There’s some mild shock value at the beginning, but after 15 or 20 minutes I became numb to it and the rest of the movie was just the title character making people uncomfortable in an attempt at humor. Some of it was interesting, in the sense of seeing what people will say when they don’t think anyone in their country will see it, but I failed to see why it was such a big deal when it opened last year.

I also fail to see why the screenplay is up for an Oscar. If anything, the parts that were scripted (and quite a few clearly were) hurt the movie by casting doubt on the authenticity of the bits that were presented as spontaneous.

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