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Short Reviews of Short Movies 2016

we can't live without cosmos

ANIMATED SHORT NOMINEES (from best to worst)

World of Tomorrow (Don Herzfeldt; USA)

We Can’t Live Without Cosmos (Konstantin Bronzit; Russia)

I already raved about both of these films last October in my review of the 17th Annual Animation Show of Shows, so it’s no surprise that they’re far and away the class of this field.  Herzfeldt’s bleakly hopeful World of Tomorrow is unique among the nominees in its verbosity and wide-ranging ideas – the rest of them are basically one-track-minded silent films.  We Can’t Live Without Cosmos, a clever, heartbreaking and efficiently told story of best friends and possible lovers training to become cosmonauts, is easily the best of these silents, all clean visual and narrative lines.

Bear Story (Gabriel Osorio Vargas; Chile)

Mythic and bittersweet, this one is about an aging bear who shares his life story through an impossibly intricate mechanical diorama.  We see the bear ripped away from his family by evil circus masters (an obvious but effective symbol for the dictatorial oppression of Pinochet) and forced to perform increasingly dangerous and demeaning stunts.  Slight and sweet.

Prologue (Richard Williams; UK)

An interesting use of space here, as the frame swoops around and over a few menacing figures, seemingly uncertain whether they’re fighting each other or some unseen, off-page enemy.  The comic book-style pencil drawings look like something my friend Tim would have passed me in a high school math class, so it’s got that going for it, but mostly this feels like a half-realized exercise.  A last-second twinge of conscience hurts more than it helps, especially since it arrives right after someone gets stabbed in the asshole.

Sanjay’s Super Team (Sanjay Patel; USA)

The obligatory Pixar entry, this one played before The Good Dinosaur during its theatrical run, so you probably didn’t see it (domestic box office zing!).  It’s a heartfelt, colorful, semi-autobiographical story about bridging cultural and generational gaps…so why didn’t I like it very much?  Probably because the intersection of religious fervor and comic book fandom sits about as far away from my own heartstrings as you can get.

Live-Action Short Nominees (ranked from best to worst)

Everything Will Be Okay (Patrick Vollrath; Germany/Austria)

Clocking in at exactly 30 minutes, this is the longest of the shorts, and also the best.  A mini-Dardenne slice of banal desperation, fully realized from innocuous start to devastating finish.  It stars Simon Schwarz as a divorced father spoiling his young daughter over their joint custody weekend, although it doesn’t take long to realize that his goals are far scarier.  Only 30 years old, writer-director Patrick Vollrath is already a prolific director of short films (according to his IMDB page, this is his seventh), and he’s a filmmaker I plan to keep an eye on.

Ave Maria (Basil Khalil; Palestine/France/Germany)

In a largely grim field, an irresistible morsel of irreverent levity.  An Israeli family crashes their car outside of a convent on the Palestine border, setting off a series of events that causes both Jews and Catholics to abandon their religious convictions.  Ave Maria offers 15 minutes of nonstop sight gags (a beheaded Virgin Mary statue bleeding oil; holy water poured into a carburetor) and relentless energy without ever breaking a sweat.  It’s a blast.

Shok (Jamie Donoughue; UK/Kosovo)

An emotionally resonant but weirdly impersonal memory piece about an abandoned bicycle that inspires a flashback to a charged childhood memory.  Most of the film takes place in Kosovo during the 1990s, when ethnic tensions between Albanians and Serbs escalated into war, but the story revolves around the severely tested friendship of two Albanian boys caught in the middle.  A good story, well-acted and directed, but the script is a mess, simultaneously underwritten and overwritten.

Stutterer (Benjamin Cleary; UK)

A likable but uneven romantic comedy about a lonely young man with a speech impediment, and the  anxiety he feels over meeting his online girlfriend for the first time.  At times a funny and observant character study, at others an insufferably narcissistic shoegazer.  Maybe it’s just weird to me that anyone would want to become the next Richard Curtis, as Cleary clearly does.

Day One (Henry Hughes; USA)

The only film of the ten that I would call “bad,” a grossly slick war movie about a female military interpreter’s hellish first day on the job.  There are some impressive shots, but it feels like Hughes only made this to prove that he could direct the films that Marc Forster and James Mangold reject.

Read more of Daniel’s reviews at Dare Daniel and Rotten Tomatoes, and listen to Daniel on the Dare Daniel podcast.