Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The 2012 Short Film Oscar Nominees

Here are the 2012 nominees for the short film Academy Awards. We will attempt to provide reviews for them this year as they become available for viewing:
from Raju

from The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
From The Barber of Birmingham

Monday, December 12, 2011

Quintessentials: We Found Love ft. Calvin Harris

We Found Love ft. Calvin Harris, 2011
Melina Matsoukas

The most important thing, in my opinion, when viewing any type of art is the emotional response that it creates with the viewer. In terms of this Rihanna's "We Found love", I do not find myself incredibly attached to the lyrics but more so the idea that is portrayed in the video. Being a huge fan of electronic music, Calvin Harris is notable for his lyrics and the emotionality of his songs. This music video juxtaposes two things: drugs and love. Both of these things I am very familiar with especially the ones involved in the video. What is portrayed in the video is "rolling" or the use of molly or ecstasy; this is illustrated with the giant dilated pupil and seemingly inexplicable urge for everyone to dance. When on such drugs, it is very easy to develop feelings of closeness with others very quickly and apparently no reason. I believe that is what is happening in this video. The two fall in love because of their drug use and quickly realize that their relationship is not even real when they are sober.

This idea of "falling in love on drugs", is not something I have ever personally experienced but something I have seen several of my friends experience. Perhaps its their personalities or their own loneliness that causes them to create false relationships with people. In one particular instance, my friend and I were attending a three day music festival called "Bonnaroo" in which there is quite a bit of drug abuse over the three day span. On the first day, my friend, while under the influence, found himself "falling in love" with a girl we had met. By the end of the weekend he had convinced himself that they were in love and that he had never had feelings like that before. Following the festival, the girl made it clear that she did not feel the same way. My friend was crushed. I believe the same thing is happening in this video. The drugs create somewhat of an alternate universe for the user in which things are to good to be true. Often they are.

Though I agree with the original posting on the cinematographic value of this video, being emotionally connected to the events in the video make it that much more powerful for me. Yes, I understand its a Rihanna video and that according to society I shouldn't like it, but well drugs are crazy.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Quintessentials -- Thriller

Michael Jackson

This was my first time ever watching the “Thriller” music video.  I will start off by saying that 1983 Michael Jackson is super creepy; perhaps even more so than Neverland Michael Jackson.  I don’t think that many music videos qualify as short films, but this one certainly does in my book.  Morgan outlines the reasons why: there is a narrative and storyline that the viewer can follow, which is why I consider it a short film.

On the other hand, many other much videos don’t meet that same criteria.  There may be a general story told that matches the words of the song, but not enough that warrants the music video receiving the label of short film.  Most music videos are jumpy, sporadic, and cut back-and-forth between the band members and other characters acting out the story.  A storyline is often created to match the lyrics but doesn’t make sense (think Taylor Swift).   That is why I don’t consider many music videos to be short films.

In the case of “Thriller,” all of the elements of a short film are there for me.

Quintessentials: We Were Once A Fairytale

Directed by Spike Jonze, USA

What you need to know: Kanye West is at a club. He's surrounded by adoring, arguably begrudging, "fans" (loose term). He's drunk. He sounds like the cartoon of himself. In the previous post Emily quotes, '"It's my song!" he tells a pair of unimpressed women. "I made all the notes!" Proclamations like these play off the stereotype of West as a puerile, out of control egomaniac. It would seem West is in on the joke, and the tension the self-consciousness creates is a great example of star power importing extra meaning to a film. West's celebrity makes the film something of an inside joke we all feel privy to." In the end West ends up alone, in some sort of dark, twisted, fantasy (album title, I think). It would behoove the audience to view the film at this point.


I've been stewing over the details of this film all morning. How shall I approach the icon, the ego, the narcissist himself? The beginning of the film plays out to me as fantasy; a very master- slave dynamic or daddy- son, whichever you prefer. West like a dom top. His adoring fans sub bottoms. All of which, seemingly, taking a turn in the circle jerk of his ego. What's worse, his own song is playing in the background. Jonze roots us in the fantasy - this is what it's like to be Kanye West. Or is it? I think it's important to take note of the joke. However, unlike Emily who says, "It would seem West is in on the joke" I'd argue that the joke is on West. I'd be a liar if I didn't say that he makes fantasy look good. To be Kanye for five minutes might fill the coffers of ones ego for years.


In the case of West, dark is not dichotomous. It's not so black and white. West actually appears to be in a dark place emotionally. He pummels the audience with his ego. It's a relentless repetition that gets old quick. Throughout the entire film his ego only isolates him from others. People are unsure of how to approach him. He's unsure of how to approach people. He dances alone. In his darkness he's consoled by a woman that he has sex with (an exercise of his ego, further isolating himself), but ultimately he ends up alone. Jonze takes the audience on a ride to a deep dark place that West occupies in an expensive tuxedo jacket and trademark sneakers.


This is where Jonze gives birth to the films metaphor. A drunk, sick West spews pink goo. It's a spectacle and again, he's alone. Out comes something less of a gremlin, something smaller, but with equal parts hair and animation. My interpretation is that this monster represents the monster (West's ego) living inside of West. In a standoff, West acknowledges his dark passenger (thank you, Dexter) and the monster kills himself. The end of West? An end to West's cartoon-like, oversized ego? I doubt it. Just a lot of melodrama and a fascinating short film experience in the way of the id, the ego, and superego (Dark, Twisted, Fantasy) from the brilliant Spike Jonze.

Friday, December 09, 2011

The Quintessentials- She Was The One

She Was The One
Directed by: The Rauch Brothers, USA, 2011.
Source: StoryCorps on YouTube

Ever since I saw this video that Kate posted on the blog a couple months ago, I continue to find myself thinking about it from time to time. The cartoon tells the true story of the relationship between Richie and Karen. In Richie's voice we can hear the raw emotion in every second of the video. From him telling us all about how Karen changed his life for the better to the painful details of how he lost her in the September 11th attacks.

As Kate points out, the animated style of the short really does contrast with the emotional and heavy story. Which actually turned out to be a huge reason why I loved the short so much. Since by this point, we have all seen hundreds of videos and heard the millions of stories of that fateful day and I think this short does a wonderful job of setting itself apart from the rest. While we could've seen the montage of pictures set to Richie's voice with the sad music playing in the background, the lighthearted animation brings a different layer to the sad story and causes it to stand out in our minds. Kate also mentioned that there were parts that reminded her of an old Scooby-Doo cartoon and I think that's the exact light-hearted style the short was trying to accomplish and did quiet well.

Kate also originally posted that the film had a total of 92,718 views on YouTube and when I looked that number had jumped to 408,744 views. For the amount of content that is out there about September 11th, I think this short has really made an impressive impact and gained a lot of buzz for being just under 3 minutes long. With it's simple style but powerful message, this short remains very dear to my heart and I am so glad Kate shared it at the beginning of the year.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

The Quintessentials: Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?

Why Do You Let Me Stay Here (Version 2)
Directed by Marc Webb, United States, 2009, 4 Minutes.
Source: YouTube
Originally Posted by Haley Schattner (http://shortfilmsblog.blogspot.com/2011/11/she-and-hims-why-do-you-let-me-stay.html#links)

This is a story about a boy and a girl.  They dance in banks.

Haley's original post tries very hard to add some narrative, character interpretation, and purpose to this music video (Is this technically a music video?  A promo bit for 500 Days of Summer?  Both?)  And I say there is nothing here. It is Joseph Gordon-Levitt being his same old dapper self and the always stunning Zooey Deschanel just being a little hipster temptress and shaking her hips.  It is an obvious throwback to the 50s musical, and falls in line with JGL's obsession with being the next Fred Astaire or Donald O'Connor around this time (See his opening monologue when he hosted Saturday Night Live.)  It's shot very wide, with very few cuts, allowing the actors to show off their moves.  It's set design is even 50s, incorporating existing, old school LA architecture from the 30s that still rests in its downtown district (This, too, is an incorporated aspect to 500 Days of Summer.)

I'll lead the topic into this: This isn't a short film.  This is a set piece; something to grab your attention.  Just because it meets the time parameters of a short film, or has an "ending" (he successfully robs the banks in the final 5 seconds, no questions asked.)  This is a test in style from director Marc Webb.  Unless we're just going to go back to the basic definition of a short film, which in the U.S. is any moving image under, what, 45 minutes?  60?

We talked in class about Chapter 2 of Inglourious Basterds; the scene introducing the basterds.  Many in class argued it was a short film, and I argued otherwise.  Something that can simply stand by itself and be short does not qualify it as a short film.  No one goes to the theatre to watch the first act of Glengarry Glen Ross, and if they were to only see that, they'd then think it was a A Death of a Salesman all over again--a statement on the plight of the everyday salesman--and not a story that turns into a mystery.  As filmmakers, critics, historians, or audiences, we have to be critical of this difference between the arc of a scene, and the beginning, middle, and end of an actual story.

The Quintissentials: Bugcrush

Directed by Carter Smith
Jury Selection Winner - Sundance Film Festival 2006
(originally posted by Tyler Christiansen)

As I was perusing the wonderful world of instant netflix awhile ago, I happen across this short in the midst of one the 'Boys Life' compilations. I was astounded. I chose this film because my favorite aspect of film (feature and short alike) is cinematography, and I think this film does brilliantly in that respect. As the main character walks back to the barn in the last part of the film, the dark shadows and moments of blackness spell foreboding. The slow paced shots between the main character and his love interest build the tension and the fear, and the audience knows something is going to happen and waits anxiously. The green ambiance of the background and the tall dark spaces in the intimate shots of the boys faced show us their trepidation, and desire. As the scene begins to go south for the main character the fractured unevenly paced shots of his face show us the 'trippy' experience he is having and he simultaneous relaxation and fear. During the rape ( I think so?) scene, the violence isn't explicit but certainly present. By simply implying the rape with the jangled shots of the creepy crawlers we can sense the main characters confusion and lapsing consciousness. The films abrupt end does nothing to end the tension, and leaves the viewer frustrated but fascinated. Overall the pacing and the shots combine to display a disturbing and chillingly eerie scene, while still showing the main characters emotions throughout.

This film was so interesting to watch because it built the tension so effectively. The innocent beginning to the sinister the viewer can see the main character is walking into a trap, but we see how the trap is so strangely enticing that the film is gripping and raises the hairs on the back of your neck.

Quintessentials: Terry Tate Office Linebacker

Terry Tate Office Linebacker

Dir. Rawson Marshall Thurber

United States, 2003, 3 Minutes

Throughout the course of the semester, our class has continually attempted to try and define what is and isn’t and short film. And although it can generally be stated that MOST youtube videos are not shorts, and MOST TV shows are not shorts, and MOST music videos are not necessarily short films (although this one is a little tougher), commercials like Terry Tate Office Linebacker are what make these sweeping generalizations a very subjective and partially inaccurate statements.

Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber, the Reebok commercial documents in mockumentary style the hiring of an office ‘enforcer’ named Terry Tate (an enormous ex-NFL linebacker played by Lester Speight) to increase productivity and eliminate minor problems. Throughout the short, Tate roams the office, solving stereotypical office problems, including drinking the last coffee from the coffee pot, taking too long on breaks, not recycling, etc. He acclimates to the office environment, making office friends, and giving presentations during meetings. Although the commercial doesn’t necessarily provide anything but a snapshot of this strange office reality (the classic short film ‘slice of life formula’), the short is not only a fantastic advertisement, but it served as a precursor for the rise of the hilarious digital short.

The commercials greatest strength lies in the hilarious juxtaposition between football culture and office life, and what happens when those two worlds collide. Terry Tate’s stereotypical football machismo takes the oblivious office (for lack of a better term) douche bags to task, tackling pen-stealers, intimidating wrong-doers, and hurtling obscenities and his victims. Thurber, who also directed the 2004 comedy Dodgeball, expertly inserts the Reebok logo onto the powerful Tate, but leaves out any other unnecessary pandering and advertising that would distract/detract from the short. And like any successful film, Terry Tate is a brilliant and well rounded character who grows to become a part of the office lifestyle. An actual wide range of his emotions are explored in a little more than three minutes, which draws the audience in and helps us easily root for him.

A brilliant commercial, and ultimately one of the reasons why the lines between mediums can be blended and extremely subjective.

Quintessentials: Best Coast 'Our Deal'

Crazy For You

Dir. Drew Barrymore

United States, 2011 11 Minutes

The announcement of a Drew Barrymore-directed Best Coast video was greeted by the ‘greater indie blogosphere’ (or whatever) with sigh-inducing speculation and, in some cases, outright disgust. Bands such as Best Coast (who have oftentimes started out as blog-darlings and, upon receiving greater popularity, been rejected by trendier ‘authentic’ types), can come under more criticism than may be necessary simply because their image has become more co-opted by the more ‘mainstream audiences.’ That being said, they certainly aren’t helping themselves here with the extended cut of the video for the song ‘Our Deal’ (originally posted by Haley Schattner).

In a strange take on West Side Story (not really Romeo and Juliet; there’s a lot of references to ‘rumbling’), Chloe Moretz appropriately of 500 Days of Summer plays the ‘Juliet’ (Veronica) from the Night Creepers gang; Tyler Posey plays Romeo (Lucky) from the Day Trotters. The two gangs duke it out in typical Romeo & Juliet fashion, this time with strange up-dos and tacky denim jackets in an LA aqueduct. Predictably, the blossoming romance between Victoria and Lucky goes terribly wrong when he refuses to run away with her. And during the ensuing gang war, he attempts to hug her and she punches him over the side of the aqueduct, killing him. The end.

There are several glaringly obvious flaws with the video. Admittedly, it’s clear who the target demographic for the ‘Crazy For You’ short is, and I am not it. However, the cuteso dialogue that all takes place via middle-school-esque notes on scrawled on hands, when combined with the pseudo-dramatic acting and a playfully stereotypical cinematic style comes off much less as genre-bending and far more as genre-confused. And while only a minor annoyance, the casting of sensitive-teen-friendly actress Moretz and sensitive-teen-friendly rapper/actor Childish Gambino/Donald Glover comes off as gimmicky and manipulative. ‘Crazy For You’ is a strange hybrid of West Side Story, Grease, and the Step-Up movie franchise, featuring stylized dance-fighting, greaser-haircuts, and poor overdramatic acting that begs the question: how much of this is meant to be taken seriously?

Finally, the music rarely fits the mood or atmosphere of the video. I understand where the regular cut of the video is supposed to end, but even at that point it comes off as forced, as if it were simply an excuse for Barrymore to make this bizarre adaptation of West Side Story.

‘When I’m With You’ was a fairly perfect Best Coast video. The colors were grainy and over-saturated, the cuts were lazy and slow, there were the appropriate doses of California homages and sunshine, and it appropriately utilized Bethany Cosentino’s charm. And while I hate to be a music fan who disassociates a band not only because of a decline in the music (Best Coast’s debut was admittedly good but bland), but because of public image, I can’t help but wonder if Best Coast has begun to dig it’s own grave and embrace a demographic with the attention span and memory the size of a pin.

Quintessential: Prop 8 - The Musical

Directed by: Adam Shankman
United States, 3 minutes

Proposition 8 was a ballot proposition that eliminated rights for gay couples to marry. It passed in 2008 and was a personal event for me which I think skews my viewing of this video (in a positive way). I remember protesting in my town for people to vote No and getting bumper stickers for my car, etc etc. I couldn't vote at the time but I was doing all that I could in order to encourage people to read more about the Proposition and think about the vote. Gay rights are something that I've always been passionate about and I remember when I first saw this musical, I was amused by it but it also had this underlying tone of sadness, especially once the Proposition passed.

The musical makes a lot of sense for me. As much as this musical is about Proposition 8, I always found its religious message to be one of the most interesting aspects of the video. As an Atheist, I find its blatant calling out of hypocrisy and hyperbolic tendencies rather refreshing.

However, this short really is driven by its stars. It is one of the most star-studded internet-based videos out there. One of the most interesting theories I think this video speaks about is the Liberal Hollywood. There's a lot of generalization that Hollywood is full of liberals and people who live these fanciful lives doing scandalous and liberal things. To an extent this may be true as every star in this musical consciously knows what the musical is expressing and the point it's getting across. Not to mention speaking of who stars are and what their personal lives mean once they're on screen. The director of this musical, Adam Shankman, is openly gay, as is Neil Patrick Harris who appears near the end of the musical.

Allison Janney's role in the video is rather enlightening for West Wing fans when you realize the musical recalls a specific scene from the show where Jed Bartlet calls out some of the language in the Bible.

Besides some of the names that are openly gay, you have stars like Rashida Jones who's known for philanthropic work and Maya Rudolph who's gotten her name known in the world of comedy. As someone who agrees entirely with what the musical is trying to express, its politics are very clear to me and therefore a little less interesting than what the stars mean in the context of the film. I think that's a really fascinating subject to discuss in regards to this video.

Quintessentials: Hotel Chevalier

Hotel Chevalier, 2007, 13 minutes
Directed by Wes Anderson

Hotel Chevalier depicts Jason Schwartzman's character obviously still not over his ex-girlfriend, played by Natalie Portman. She insists on visiting him in the hotel, which does not help his attempt at getting over her.

I had heard about this short awhile ago, but I only just saw it at the end of Summer. I love Anderson's features, and I thought this short captured the character's emotions much like his other features do. I thought the colors of the sets made the short aesthetically pleasing to the audience, and made me appreciate the detail that went into creating the set. I thought the chemistry between Schwartzman and Portman was believable and they did a great job acting in this short. (If only I'd known about the iTunes free download!)

As Kelly predicted about other viewers, I, too, was interested in watching this mainly because I was on a Natalie Portman binge and was attempting to watch her filmography. While this film was posted during the Potpourri week, I think it would've worked as a film for the week on star-driven shorts. It's true, most people do want to watch this either because they love Anderson, Portman, Schwartzman, or all three. (I'm assuming if you like Anderson you're probably used to seeing Schwartzman's face.)

Earlier in this post I mentioned the set. To me, I don't think the class has really focused on the aesthetics of the shorts we've looked at very much. While the acting, cinematography, etc. of a short are important. I find it very interesting to look at the tiny details within a movie's atmosphere. Granted, we don't have all the time in the world to examine things that most viewers would miss, I think looking at set design is also important in getting something from a film.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The Quintessentials: THE CRUSH

Directed and written by Michael Creagh
Ireland, 2010, 15 minutes

"The Crush" is a short about an elementary school (or "primm'ry school lad," as this is an Irish film) boy named Ardal who has a crush on his teacher. He buys her a ring, which she accepts, patronizing him kindly enough that he doesn't realize it. Later, we discover that Ardal's teacher has become engaged to her boyfriend who is something of a deadbeat who mistreats her (or at least doesn't treat her as well as Ardal thinks he could). Ardal pulls a gun on him and lets the teacher see her fiance's true colors, at which point the teacher thanks Ardal and Ardal decides he is over his crush.

Like Anastasia, who wrote the original post for "The Crush" on September 7, I first saw the film as part of a collection of Oscar nominated shorts at the E Street Cinema. I liked it at the time because I wasn't too impressed with the other four shorts. I liked two but disliked the others; this short was sandwiched between the two that I didn't like, and anything with some charm was going to win me over in that context. If you don't believe in the power of a well thought out curated sequence, watch shorts you've seen in a festival setting on their own.

I don't like it as much this time because the short is too invested in me agreeing with Ardal. I can't-- he pulls a real-looking weapon on a man because he doesn't deem him worthy of dating Ardal's teacher. And the teacher loves him for it. The short endorses Ardal. In this class we've watched one or two movies where the protagonist engages in questionable activities (i.e. Talk To Her), but the movie doesn't endorse the protagonist. In "The Crush," I can't help but feel like I'm being manipulated into liking it's young, psychopathic center, and for that reason I'm hesitant to like it.