Saturday, October 08, 2011

Six Shooter

Written and Directed by Martin McDonagh, Ireland, 2005, 27 Minutes
2005 Academy Award Winner-Best Live Action Short Film
Previously Covered on The Short Films Blog by Ashley Joyce (Post Found Here)

If you click on the link to Ms. Joyce's previous posting on "Six Shooter," you will find a wonderful summary and critique on the film's theme of death, which she eloquently and accurately tackles.  However, in following with this week's theme of award winning shorts, I'd instead like to focus on how unorthodox styles within the shorts category seem to have greater success during award season.

"Six Shooter" stars Brendan Gleason as Donnelly, a grieving widower returning home on a train from the hospital after his wife has passed away.  There he runs into a delinquent without a filter and a couple grieving the loss of their child, and Donnelly faces a sardonically funny conflict that turns tragic.  The film functions with a true dramatist's magic, infused with the dark absurdity that is trademark McDonagh; an Irish playwright behind works such as The Lieutenant of Inishmore and The Pillowman, and would go onto write and direct 2008's In Bruges.

What I find fascinating is that this movie would go onto earn an Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film, yet if its style were taken and transposed onto a feature, it's unlikely to have even earned a nomination for Best Picture.  It isn't that McDonagh's style on display here couldn't be done as a feature (hence In Bruges.)  But take 2005's Best Picture winner, the painfully preachy melodrama Crash.  Nominees in the Best Picture category included that year's upset favorite, Brokeback MountainCapote, Good Night and Good Luck, and Munich.  The latter three were all based off of historical events, and all dramatic, lacking humor, and avoiding the label of "genre film."

Then take the films up against "Six Shooter:" "Cashback," "The Runaway," "The Last Farm," and "Our Time is Up."  Admittedly, I have not seen "The Last Farm" or "The Runaway," but "Cashback" falls in the indie dramedy category while "Our Time is Up" is a suicide comedy.  This trend of unconventional genre films winning the Best Live Action Short Film category is apparent when looking over winners from the last decade: Last year's "God of Love," or 2009's "The New Tenants," a sort of homage to Tarantino and David Lynch.  Now albeit, we do see films and directors that are not traditionally "dramatic" get nominated.  However, I think it is obvious that there is a lack of seriousness (or rather, suffocating pretentiousness) absent in these nominees and winners, as opposed to the Best Picture category, which has a tendency to picking tepid, slow moving dramas over bolder, stylistic films; notable upsets include Ordinary People over Raging Bull, Forrest Gump over Pulp Fiction, or last year's The King's Speech over The Social Network.

There is almost a suggestion that the Academy views the short film as a gimmicky product; where clever situations and stylized dialogue over 10-25 minutes is rewarded.  "Six Shooter" does not have a particularly strong dramatic arc.  After spending about 22 minutes entertainingly watching some foul mouthed kid insult a mourning mother and give an anecdote about how he witnessed a cow explode, McDonagh does a good job using characterization as a means of illustrating the meaning of death, but in terms of entertainment value, of being engaging, it does so through vulgar pulpiness.  This sort of style has made, what I think, some of the best films of the last 25 years: Any of Tarantino's films, Fight Club, Drive.  But to the award givers?  They might tolerate 20 minutes of such, but not 120 apparently.


haley schattner said...

Unfortunately, I have not seen this short, nor have I seen the shorts nominated too. As true to Hollywood feature films, I have seen all of the Best Picture nominations you mention. I am curious to see this film and will have to look for it. Thank you for sharing.

Anastasia Crittenton said...

I saw this short for the first time last year and thought it was brilliant. I had a feeling I would like this short because I thought In Bruges was just absolutely incredible which I saw first.

As someone who watches the Academy Awards almost religiously and keeps up on all the news leading up to the evening, I find your thoughts extremely interesting, as well accurate. The Academy is a very political institution and they treat, as you said, the short film nominations very differently.