A rare treat is on tap for film fans as the Art Theater will run the full slate of this year's Oscar-nominated shorts Friday and Saturday.
Both the live-action and animated nominees, 10 movies in total, will be screened — and they are an eclectic bunch.
The subjects range from the very first bonding between dog and man to a love story that benefits from some divine intervention, as well as a touching look at the effects of Alzheimer's disease and a genuinely creepy story about one man's effort to regain his soul.
The skill displayed in each film is considerable and distinctive. They all contain a distinctive point of view that's been rendered without compromise.
Many simply get glimpses of these movies from the brief clips shown during the Oscar ceremony, and these small previews are the cruelest sort of a tease, giving us hints to the delights these small gems hold.
In making them more available through these programs, Magnolia Pictures has done a great favor for those seeking progressive, offbeat cinema.
What follows are brief reviews of each film in both programs, arranged alphabetically. Consult the Art Theater's website (http://www.thecuart.com) for information on showtimes:
"Adam and Dog" — How did the eternal bond between man and canine start? Director Minkyu Lee suggests it began in the Garden of Eden, when a curious pup encounters the first man, sparking a mutually beneficial relationship that helps soothe the pain of loneliness each is feeling. Of course, when Eve shows up, it puts a bit of a crimp in things, but eventually Adam finds that when the chips are down, a dog really is your best friend. Going from whimsical to wondrous to dire, this gorgeous film is a visual and narrative delight. Lee's use of colors creates a vibrant world that is eventually sullied by weakness, all conveyed through tones and shades. The film's final moment adds a sense of poignancy to an already powerful tale.
"Fresh Guacamole" — This "how-to" film is the shortest movie in the program and the most curious. Director Adam Perapane only shows us the hands of his protagonist, who's busy making a batch of guacamole. Sounds simple enough — except he digs the avocado meat out of a grenade, chops up old baseballs instead of onions and squeezes lime juice from green golf balls. These aren't the only odd food sources, and while there's no deeper meaning at play, this is a visual treat and a nice little piece of surrealism.
"Head over Heel" — The disconnect that forms between longtime marrieds has become a common theme in film and literature, but director Timothy Reckart finds a fresh approach by creating a single house in which the husband lives on the first floor while his wife and all of her belongings are on the ceiling above him. The film starts off as a clever little exercise as we see them going about their day, separate but in the same house, having learned how to share common appliances and the like in a unique way. However, an artifact from the early days of their marriage is found by the husband, prompting him to reach out to his wife in an effort to reconnect. The way this all plays out is initially tragic and ultimately touching.
"The Longest Daycare" — This short "Simpsons" episode focuses on the most neglected member of the family, Maggie, and her trials at the Ayn Rand School for Tots. As you might imagine, it's not the usual crayon and construction paper driven day care center as the children are immediately tested, dubbed "gifted" or "nothing special," and the self-fulfilling prophecy that will define the tykes' lives is put into motion. Maggie defies expectations when she has to help save a budding cocoon from a tiny abstract artist who smashes insects with his mallet, then draws crayon frames around them. As you would expect, the film is brimming with the sort of razor-sharp, ironic humor that's made "The Simpsons" the classic it is.
"Paperman" — Attached to the beginning of the Disney feature "Wreck-it-Ralph," this whimsical love story concerns a brief encounter between a young man and woman on the subway and his efforts to reconnect with her when he spots her in a neighboring office building. You have to love the protagonist's rebellious streak as he uses the sheets from the massive piles of paperwork heaped on his desk to make airplanes that he lofts across a busy street, from 20 stories up, in an effort to make himself known. Like any good love story, disappointment and despair rear their ugly heads before a slick piece of divine intervention literally takes hold of the lovers and brings them together.
"Asad" — Powerful and haunting, this film from South African director Bryan Buckley concerns a boy (Harun Mohammed in the title role) at a crossroads. While he has been fortunate enough to be taken under the wing of a veteran fisherman (Ibrahim Moallim Hussein), he sees the young men of his village following a different path as they've taken on the role of pirates, abducting ships on the open seas and robbing their passengers. The importance of adhering to a sound moral code in the face of overwhelming temptation and poverty is the focal point here, and Mohammed is able to subtly convey his character's turmoil and resolve. This is an eye-opening film that speaks to the international disconnect that exists between nations.
"Buzkashi Boys" — Taking place in modern Afghanistan, Sam French's bracing movie focuses on two boys forced to grow up too quickly as they must struggle each day to help provide for their families and survive the many perils that surround them. Ahmad (Jawanmard Paiz) and Rafi (Fawad Mohammadi) are best friends who each long to leave their circumstances behind. However, the odds are stacked against them as death is common in their country and life has a way of crushing foolish dreams. The film is a revelation in the way it portrays the daily life of Afghani children, and you can't help but feel your heart break a bit after witnessing the daily injustices.
"Curfew" — Director Shawn Christensen attempts to inject new life into an old conceit with mixed results. He plays an unreliable uncle whose sister calls him in as a sitter because she's in a jam. That she is interrupting his suicide attempt is the first sign that Christensen is trying a bit too hard to generate sympathy and circumstance. He's saddled with his precocious niece for the night, ends up taking her to party that no 12-year-old should attend and, of course, forms a bond with her before the night's over, having made a connection over some crudely drawn flipbooks. The film threatens to take off when an imaginary song-and-dance routine breaks out at a bowling alley, but it winds up being a little too pat in its resolution.
"Death of a Shadow" — This sci-fi time travel tale reminded me of Alex Proyas' "Dark City" and "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," with its warm yet oppressive visual pallet, as well as the protagonist's ability to control his destiny. Nathan Rijckx (Matthias Schoenaerts) is a World War I soldier who has died but is now in the employ of a dark figure who promises he can return to the land of the living if he captures the shadows of 10,000 people at the point of their death in 10,000 days. A nifty little camera allows him to do so, and the extensive gallery when these portraits are displayed is cryptic and haunting. I wouldn't dream of revealing the multiple twists that occur at the end, but our hero comes to realize that while things do not work out as he hoped, his efforts are not in vain.
"Henry" — This Canadian movie from Yan England is an appropriate companion piece for this year's best picture nominee "Amour." The title character (Gerard Poirier) is a concert pianist who is preparing to play a duet with his wife of more than 40 years, Maria (Louise Laprade), who's a violinist of equal skill. However, while meeting a younger woman for coffee, he's abducted, drugged and taken away only to wake up in a prison-like building where he recognizes no one. Time seems to bend in on itself as the past and present collide, and it becomes apparent that Henry is suffering from Alzheimer's, leaving him angry, confused and vacant. This is a powerful piece that speaks to how fragile our identities can become — and how precious our memories are.