Short And Sweet...

I almost feel like it's becoming a bit clichéd to begin my posts with, "One of the nice things about living in a major metropolis like Chicago is..." but, once again, I just can't help myself. There are just so many interesting opportunities to take advantage of in the big city! Today, for instance, I headed to one of the city's numerous art house movie theaters to catch a screening of the Academy Award-nominated short films. I had a choice between the live-action films and the animated selections, and if I had done any research on them in advance, and learned that the new Wallace and Gromit offering was among the animated nominees, my decision would have been clear. Thankfully, I arbitrarily chose the animated offerings anyway, so I was treated to the unique delights of claymation, among the other outstanding contenders.

Although A Matter of Loaf And Death, the Wallace and Gromit short, was my favorite among the bunch, I'm not sure that it will ultimately win the Oscar. Everything that made it so great also made it predictable. There was the inevitably wacky sequence of Wallace's Rube Goldberg-inspired wake-up apparatus, obligatory intertextual references (most notably an allusion to the iconic "Sometimes you just can't get rid of a bomb!" scene from the original 1966 Batman movie), and a plot that you could see coming a mile away. It delivered everything I've come to love and expect from Wallace and Gromit, but I felt like it didn't push the envelope or bring anything new to the table.

My pick for the win goes to a French film, Logorama, which created an anarchic, perverse vision of Los Angeles in which every person, animal, object, and building is created from a corporate logo or mascot. In the short, the Michelin Men police are pursuing a deranged, weapons smuggling Ronald McDonald through the streets of L.A., until an apocalyptic earthquake releases a tsunami of oil that washes through the city, toppling the symbols of capitalism left and right, and severing a Nike Swoosh shaped fragment of California off the coast of the remaining United States. Hard to explain though it may be, Logorama was brutal, dark, and profoundly experimental castigation of American values. It was so densely packed with cultural references, I think I'd need to watch it a half dozen times to pick up on all of them. I might just have to consider downloading it from the Apple Store when it goes on sale next month, and no, the irony of that statement is not lost upon me.

Depending on the mood of the Academy, I think the contest is largely between Logorama and A Matter of Loaf and Death. That is not to diminish the quality of the other nominees, however. There was a heartwarming second French entry, French Roast, in which a homeless man comes to the aid of a businessman who had previously rebuffed the vagrant's request for money; a delightful Spanish film, The Lady and the Reaper, in which an ambitious doctor and the Grim Reaper engage in an epic battle for the soul of an elderly woman who is tired of carrying on with life; and a deliciously offbeat Irish short, Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty, in which a twisted grandmother terrifies her granddaughter with tales of the indignities of old age. All three of them were funny and charming in their own right, but they lacked the substance of the longer pieces.

Ultimately, I'm proud to be able to say that I have seen all the nominees for at least one category at the Academy Awards, and to have an informed opinion on who ought to win. I think it makes the telecast more interesting when you have some sort of investment in the selections. Plus, I am always curious when the short film categories are announced, because there is usually no opportunity for the lay audience to see them. This year, I can pretend I'm a Hollywood insider, if just for a few minutes...

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