Review: 2008 Oscar-nominated Live Action Short Films

Once again, Magnolia Pictures has done film buffs the favor of releasing programs with the live action and animated Oscar-nominated short films (one program for each category). I caught them both at the Landmark’s Century Centre Cinemas in Chicago over the past weekend; you can read my reviews of the animated short films here.

The live action program is comprised of all five nominated shorts and runs 137 minutes total.

Tanghi Argentini

Directed by Guido Thys. Produced by Anja Daelemans.
13 minutes.

Tanghi Argentini centers around a man who has wooed a woman on the internet by pretending to know how to tango and enlists a co-worker to give him a two-week crash course in the dance before he meets her. Some of the early humor reminded me a bit too strongly of the wonderful Japanese film, Shall We Dance? Even so, a couple of hilariously heart-warming twists at the end provide all the originality the film needs. As with the animated shorts, I’m torn between two of the films: certainly The Mozart of Pickpockets and Tanghi Argentini both deserve to be discovered by audiences, but for me, I think Tanghi wins out overall.

Tanghi Argentini is available for purchase from iTunes for $1.99.

Om natten (At Night) 

Directed by Christian E. Christiansen. Produced by Louise Vesth.
40 minutes.

At Night, or In the Night, according to the film’s subtitles, starts off incredibly strong, contrasting a powerfully sober, warm introduction to three women spending their holidays in a cancer ward with the film’s cold, muted palette and an entrancing ambient score. Unfortunately, the film begins to wear out its welcome quickly as it broadcasts where every character arc is going very early on and, disappointingly, offers no real surprises along the way, ultimately degrading to a fairly standard, if technically well-made, would-be tearjerker.

At Night is available for purchase from iTunes for $1.99.

Il Supplente (The Substitute)

Directed by Andrea Jublin. 
17 minutes.

Before seeing The Substitute, I had yet to see an Italian comedy that I didn’t find incredibly annoying and, unfortunately, that’s still the case. While the story itself is a joke that I enjoyed just enough to not want to spoil, it’s too drawn out for its smile-inducing payoff, and the cast — especially the title character, a bizarre substitute teacher in a junior high classroom (or the Italian equivalent, anyway) — all play everything incredibly broadly, mugging and overacting almost as bad as a dozen Roberto Benignis.

The Substitute is available for purchase from iTunes for $1.99.

The Tonto Woman

Directed by Daniel Barber. Produced by Matthew Brown.
36 minutes.

The Tonto Woman centers around a cattle thief who happens upon a woman who had been held captive by Mojave Indians for eleven years and is now kept by her rancher husband as if she were a cow herself! And the cattle rustler decides he wants to steal her, too, not just her husband’s cows! As you could probably guess from that description, it’s all very obvious and heavy-handed, and we’re not given any compelling reason why the cattle thief would fall in love with the woman, save that she’s the film’s other main character and that he’s seen her breasts. The stiff acting and rote execution make me wonder how this film got a nomination in the first place, but I suspect the fact that it’s an adaptation of an Elmore Leonard short story had a lot to do with that.

The Tonto Woman is available for purchase from iTunes for $1.99.

Le Mozart des Pickpockets (The Mozart of Pickpockets)

Directed by Philippe Pollet-Villard.
31 minutes.

At this point in the program, each short had gotten progressively less and less enjoyable, overall, so The Mozart of Pickpockets was a welcome turnaround. This French short centers on two petty thieves — accomplices in a pickpocketing gang of sorts — who hit a bit of hard luck, until they take in a deaf, homeless boy who turns out to be (you guessed it) The Mozart of Pickpockets. Very funny, endearing, and briskly paced, this story could easily be expanded into an effective crowd-pleasing comedy feature, but perhaps the short’s smaller scope serves the premise better.

The Mozart of Pickpockets is available for purchase from iTunes for $1.99.

Magnolia Pictures’ 2008 Oscar-nominated Short Films programs hit limited release on February 15, 2008. Check the Magnolia site for release dates/theaters in your area.

Posted on February 19, 2008 at 00:00 by Gordon@MovieMakeout · Permalink
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