And another year ends. Below are links to my usual year-end content:
Monthly Archives: February 2023
Home Video Round-Up 2/8/2023
The Oscar Nominated Live Action Shorts – 2022 (2/17/2023)
I’m not really sure why I started at this point for seven years running I’ve gone to the theatrical releases of the Oscar Nominated live action shorts when ShortsTV tours them in the days leading up Oscars. Well, I had to stream them leading into the 2021 ceremony for obvious reasons, but still. Honestly I must say I was a bit less excited for it this year as it’s really extended out the 2022 movie year for me a bit longer than I’d like right as I’m finally starting to be ready to just move on to 2023, but I wasn’t about to cut the tradition of just yet.
Also, please note that when talking about movies with running times like this even talking about small plot points can be bigger spoilers than they would be when talking about longer works, so if you’re interested in actually watching these maybe be careful about reading. So, without further ado…
Our first movie is Ivalu which is officially labeled as a film from Denmark, but more specifically it’s a film set in the Danish constituent country of Greenland and is in the Kalaallisut language spoken by the Greenlandic Inuit population. The film follows a young Inuit girl named Pipaluk, and “Ivalu” is the name of her older sister, who has gone missing without a trace. The film is about Pipaluk looking through the Greenland landscapes while reading what is essentially a letter to this sister via voiceover. Not to be too much of a spoiler but there isn’t a happy ending here for Ivalu, so this is meant to be something of an elegy for this missing person both in terms of the voice over while also having the wide openness of the natural landscapes sort of acting as an expression of just how much a person missing in this place can really be lost. These landscapes make this one of the more visually stimulating of the five films here but the subject matter probably makes it the darkest of the offerings here. I’d also say that of the five this one is probably the least comfortable with its running time as it kind of feels like we should have more information about this family and this situation in general but we’re only seeing the “tip of the iceberg” so to speak.
My Grade: B-
Its Oscar Chances: Slim to nil. The movie is a downer, and not necessarily a downer in a sentimental way. It also doesn’t really have a filmmaking gimmick at its center or really much of a novelty to its story that will really make it stand out. The film does have one thing in its corner however and that’s that it’s director, Anders Walter, actually won in this category in 2013 for the short film Helium so maybe he’s got more going for him in the industry than I’m giving him credit for but still I would be very surprised if this walked away with the award.
For our next short we move on to another Nordic country, Norway in this case, for Night Ride. This short begins with a woman with dwarfism trying to get on a light rail train at nigh only to be told that it won’t be leaving for half an hour and since the driver is going on break she can’t wait on the rain and must stay out in the cold. Rather than do this she waits until the driver has left, gets on board the (apparently unlocked) train and starts pressing buttons to try to close the door behind her but to her surprise the train starts moving. Realizing that the driver is about to chase after her she ops to just keep the train rolling rather than try to move it back, and this will lead her on a bit of a wild adventure. The short starts off rather comedically but in its second half a tense situation rooted in social issues arises that does take this in a bit of a more serious direction before circling back to a certain degree of lightness at the end. That’s an interesting mix of tones and director Eirik Tveiten’s handling of that is probably the film’s biggest asset. It’s biggest drawback is probably its handling of the social issue in the twist, which is something I could see people taking in a couple different ways, though I think most would agree that the film’s heart is in the right place with regard to it.
My Grade: B
Its Oscar Chances: Low. These kinds of low key quirky “two disparate people meet in the night” shorts are not uncommon in this category but they don’t tend to win. That combined with the fact that this isn’t in English (which I’ve come to learn is a huge disadvantage here) probably don’t bode very well for this one winning.
Over in the Animated Short category we have, for the second year in a row, managed to have a year in which none of the nominees were made by Disney or their sibling studio Pixar. However, the mouse did surprisingly show up in the live action short category this year, and in surprising fashion with this forty minute Italian film from the world famous director Alice Rohrwacher which premiered at Cannes. The film also boasts a star producer in Alfonso Cuarón of all people, whose nomination here ties him with Kenneth Branagh for having gotten Oscar nominations in the most different categories. So, what’s Disney doing funding this? Well, the short is indeed ostensibly light hearted and family friendly, so it’s not completely out of place on Disney+ (where it’s currently streaming) and it is a film about children, specifically little orphan girls living at a boarding school in Northern Italy during World War II where they have to deal with this really overbearing and strict nun who’s overseeing them. One could imagine a more serious take on the lives of orphans living under a fascist dictatorship, and there probably is some sort of allegory intended between this dictatorial nun and Mussolini, but the short aggressively avoids being heavy handed about this and instead plays out as an A Christmas Story style “funny memoir of youth” kind of way (and yes, the movie actually is set during Christmas). I’m not sure there’s a particularly deep or specific message behind it all, in fact it basically ends with a “What did we learn here? Probably nothing” type of line, but it’s a pretty fun ride along the way.
My Grade: A-
Its Oscar Chances: It’s not a total lock but it’s obviously the frontrunner. Having high profile filmmakers involved in your short certainly doesn’t hurt (just ask Riz Ahmed) but it’s not a guarantee either (just ask Oscar Isaac), and I’m not sure how big of a name Alice Rohrwacher is among voters. But even without that this has a lot of advantages like the Disney brand, the fact that it’s quite a bit longer than its competitors, and the fact that it’s populated by cute kids. The only thing really working against this is that it’s not in English, which has proven to a bigger barrier than I would have thought over the years in this category.
The Red Suitcase
Our next film takes us to everyone’s favorite European microstate: Luxembourg. In fact the entire film is set at the Luxembourg International Airport and follows a sixteen year old girl who arrives there from Iran with a red suitcase. Shortly after arrival she has an uncomfortable encounter with airport security and you’re not sure what’s going on with her as she’s behaving kind of erratically. It all becomes a bit more clear once you realize what’s going on: she’s been sent to Europe by a controlling father, who’s made an arrangement for her to marry a much older rich man there, something the girl with the red suitcase has no desire to do. From there this becomes a suspense driven short film in which the girl tries to evade her “fiancé.” I’m not really sure how authentic this is as a depiction of arranged marriage and sex trafficking but it has a number of nice touches like how the contents of the suitcase tells a story about this girl and her ambitions, and the movie is willing to end on a bit of a question mark rather than a tidy ending. I wouldn’t call this the most innovative or formally inventive of short films but it does do an efficient job of telling the story it wants to tell.
My Grade: B
Its Oscar Chances: Very small. Whatever the film’s merits, it has “also ran” written all over it. Winning shorts need to have something of a novelty to them which makes them stand out and this doesn’t really have that. I’ve also found in general that suspense driven shorts are usually at a disadvantage here with similar films like “Mother” and “A Sister” having fallen short in the past.
An Irish Goodbye
As the title would imply, our last short this year brings us to Ireland for the one English language short of the bunch. This one is something of a dark-ish comedy about two brothers meeting after their mother’s funeral. One of the brothers has been living in England while the other appears to have some sort of mental disability and it’s unclear who he’s going to live with now that their mother is gone. These two brothers are not particularly meek people, they fight and bicker with each other as brothers do even though one of them has a mental disability, and generally have that irascible Irish demeanor. That demeanor between the two of them is where much of the film’s humor comes from, that and a set of gags in its second half where they set out to complete a list of things their mother wanted to do before she died by doing those things with her urn of ashes. Whatever dark edge the film had because of the grief theme is largely dissipated by the end and it’s ultimately a story about the bonds of familial love and all that bullshit. I wouldn’t say it’s a short that’s entirely to my tastes but it does do a good job of fitting a lot of storytelling into twenty three minutes. I think a lot of people are going to like this one.
My Grade: C+
Its Oscar Chances: I’d say this is clearly the dark horse, and a strong one at that. I cannot understate how much of an advantage being in English is here. When given an English language option the Oscar voters have gone for it every time since 2013, which is a pretty strong trend. This is also an appealing short that will likely charm people and it’s setting will likely appeal to people looking for more Irish shenanigans after The Banshees of Inisherin.
Final Thoughts: I would say that this assortment of shorts, with the exception of Le Pupille, are very much in line with what I’ve come to expect from this category year in and year out. Le Pupille stands out for being the work of a noted stylist who’s done work in live action, which is something that the voters in this branch tend to gate keep out of the nominations for various reasons (just ask Pedro Almodóvar). I will probably be predicting that film to win as it has too many advantages (including the support of the mouse) to ignore, but on some level I feel like a fool for doing it because there have been one too many times when the voters just reflexively pick the one that’s in English and it’s a trend I think I ignore at my peril, so don’t underestimate An Irish Goodbye.
Home Video Round-Up 1/27/2023
January Round-Up 2023 – Part 2
It’s become kind of difficult to keep up with the output of the filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda, who was seemingly putting out a movie every year before the pandemic slowed things down a bit. These days he seems to be on a bit of a run making movies outside of his native Japan as his last movie The Truth was made in France with an international cast and for his newest movie he has traveled across the Sea of Japan to work in South Korea, a decision I’m assuming was made because of that country’s history of overseas adoptions and seeming excess of orphaned children. The movie follows a pair of “brokers” in abandoned children who acquire children who’ve been left in “baby boxes” and try to find domestic adopted parents for them under the table. They are doing this for profit but also do view this as a calling and that they’re saving these children from being sent to overcrowded orphanages or foreign adopters. The most recent baby they’ve acquired proves more problematic for them as the baby’s mother re-emerges after having left her child in one of those boxes and finds her way to the brokers, at which point the three of them decide to go on something of a road trip to find adoptive parents for the baby, but unbeknownst to all of them, the police are on to their operation and are surveilling their actions this time around.
If there’s a major complaint to be made about Broker is that it sort of sees Kore-eda treading familiar ground. The film’s focus on marginalized people forming a chosen family of sorts around a low stakes criminal enterprise is very similar to Kore-eda’s Palme D’or winning Shoplifters and even has structural similarities with that film. Additionally the film’s focus on questions of what constitutes a family and how important genetic bonds really are is classic Kore-eda almost to the point of repetition. That having been said, Kore-eda remains a strong dramatist and has once again assembled a pretty interesting cast of characters to build his latest humanist slice of life around. Song Kang-ho remains a pretty strong actor and other characters like Lee Ji-eun as the mother of the soon to be handed off child are also well rendered and the film comes up with interesting ways to bond all these characters and build drama between them. The plot does take a bit of a turn for the melodramatic in the third act and the whole subplot with the detectives following them through this whole situation doesn’t quite ring true to me (seems like an odd allocation of resources) but otherwise this is a good if familiar exercise by Kore-eda, who I do hope comes to switch things up a little going forward.
***1/2 out of Five
I’m going to be honest, I did not go into Living planning to be charitable. This is a remake of the 1952 film Ikiru, from the master filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, and as a hardcore Kurosawa stan I really had no interest in seeing his work remade by pretty much anyone. Of course the obvious rejoinder to that attitude was to remember that A Fistful of Dollars and The Magnificent Seven were remakes of Kurosawa classics and they are pretty much bona fide classics, which is fair enough but those movies were at least trying to turn samurai movies into westerns which is a kind of translation effort that seemed interesting, but what’s the point of turning a movie about a dying Japanese bureaucrat in the 1950s into a movie about a dying English Bureaucrats in the 1950s? Honestly I’m still not sure what the answer to that is, but I must admit, Living does a more dignified job of trying than I anticipated. I actually didn’t know much about this movie before going and I don’t think I even saw a trailer so I was a bit surprised to find that the movie was actually to some extent trying to replicate the look and feel of a 1950s technicolor film; it’s in the Academy ratio and largely uses classical film style and has old fashioned opening credits, though the film’s dedication to this style kind of dissipates as it goes on. The film’s screenplay was written by Kazuo Ishiguro, the Nobel winning Japanese-English novelist responsible for such works as The Remains of the Day and someone who is perhaps uniquely suited to translating the face-saving ways of Japan into the “stiff upper lip” ways of England. Bill Nighy does a decent job of stepping into Takashi Shimura’s shoes in the film’s lead and the supporting cast does some solid work as well. So, I ended up respecting this movie for the most part but at the end of the day it is standing on the shoulders of a giant and by the time it started replicating that scene on the swings (you know the one) the sheer impossibility of matching what came before became pretty apparent.
***1/2 out of Five
The Quiet Girl(1/29/2023)
The only movie from this year’s Best International Feature category I hadn’t seen before nomination announcement day was this one, a film from Ireland that’s in the Irish language. I think this is the first time I’ve seen an Irish language film, I don’t know how much of a market there is for them, and there’s not necessarily anything intrinsically Irish about this story. The film concerns a young girl of about nine who lives in a rather chaotic home who is sent to live for a summer with her middle aged cousins she doesn’t know very well in order to free up time for her parents while they are expecting a new baby. While at this new home she experiences a different and perhaps new lifestyle that may prove to be difficult to leave behind once the summer ends. This movie is, nice. I’m not sure I’m going to say it’s much more than that though. The girl in it isn’t the only quiet part of it, the whole movie is kind of low key and understated, a real toned down slice of life and it does go for a pretty emotional catharsis at the end if that’s what you’re looking for. Personally, I was perhaps less moved than a lot of audiences and apparently a lot of Academy voters were, though possibly through no fault of its own. The movie beat out a lot of competition in that Best International Feature shortlist that I would say are bigger accomplishments and that is perhaps giving me a bit of an unfair bias against the film. It’s also entirely possible that this might have hit me a bit differently on a different day an under different circumstances but as it was I mostly only thought it was okay.
*** out of Five