Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Oscar-Nominated Documentary Features

With "Gasland,"easily the most important of the nominees, director Josh Fox sounds a clarion call on the horrific human health consequences of the practice of hydraulic fracturing by the natural gas industry.

Either his picture or the hugely entertaining "Exit Through the Gift Shop," which has really captured the zeitgeist, would make a worthy winner.
Honorable mention goes to Lucy Walker's "Waste Land," about the Brazilian artist Vic Muniz's yearlong project involving pickers from the largest dump in Rio. A step down from there to the war movie "Restrepo," but still better than the cheap-shot tactics of "Inside Job."

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Oscar-Nominated Documentary Shorts

  • "Strangers No More"
  • "Killing in the Name"
draw the stark contrast between Israel and radical Islam - the former, representing the best of humanity; the latter, incompatible with civilized society. The standout 
  • "Strangers,"
the one feel-great short in an otherwise endless litany of woe, introduces us to the Bialik-Rogozin school in Tel Aviv, where students from 48 countries, many of them poor immigrants, are welcomed with open arms and nurtured to become color-blind friends and academic achievers.
  • "Killing"
focuses on the groom whose 2005 wedding was bombed by an Al-Qaeda operative, killing his father and 26 family members. The man, Ashraf Al-Khaled, has become a crusader against terrorism, and we watch him argue in vain with young jihadist disciples. But his argument is not so much against killing per se; rather, it's against killing that happens to imperil Muslim bystanders, as though it would be hunky-dory otherwise. Also in the program: 
  • "Sun Come Up,"
the touching story of Carteret Islanders who must travel to neighboring Bougainville, hat in hand, to beg for land to resettle to as their island sinks slowly into the sea; 
  • "The Warriors of Qiugang,"
about the victimized villagers leading the embryonic environmentalist movement in China; and a possible upset winner, 
  • "Poster Girl,"
about Robynn Murray, an all-American cheerleader turned Army poster girl turned antiwar activist with PTSD. Murray is a rarely eloquent and reflective subject, and might just make the Oscar stage next Sunday night.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Oscar-Nominated Live Action Shorts

With his fully developed concept realized in lush black and white, Luke Matheny, the director and star of 

  • "God of Love,"
announces his arrival as one to watch. His short is the best of the bunch, but may lose out to 
  • "Wish 143,"
the smart comic story of an adolescent cancer patient who gets to "Make a Wish" and asks to have sex with a beautiful girl. 
  • "The Crush,"
the story of an Irish second-grader's crush on his teacher, starts brilliantly (he asks his parents how old he has to be to get married; they tell him sixteen and ask, "Why, do you have some news for us?"; "No," he responds, "well, not at the moment"), but takes an abrupt turn toward incongruous violence and profanity that doesn't fit the characters. 
  • "Na Wewe"
might have been a fascinating tale of a tour bus stopped by machete-wielding child soldiers in Burundi in the early 90s, but ends up going for a bad joke that trivializes the whole thing. Worst of all is 
  • "The Confession,"
which begins interestingly with a young Catholic boy trying to find something good to confess to his priest, but falls back on the overly coincidental plotting that marks most bad short stories.

The Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts

The cream of this year's crop of Oscar-nominated animated shorts is
  • "The Gruffalo,"
with Helena Bonham Carter leading a star-studded cast in a beautiful, fully realized telling of a delightful, classic children's story. I also had a soft spot for 
  • "The Lost Thing,"
about an eccentric young man who finds and takes home a huge, mysterious lost object with limbs, tendrils, and bells extending out of its amorphous form. Also worthwhile is 
  • "Madagascar, Carnet de Voyage,"
a picture scrapbook of the director's trip to Madagascar come to life. 
  • "Day & Night,"
the Pixar production that screened with "Toy Story 3" last year, is the least interesting offering, but still better than "Let's Pollute," a self-congratulatory and ham-handed winky "educational film" about the merits of pollution.