Unless you live in a major city and watch the arthouse/festival circuit very
closely, it's probable that you've seen none of the films nominated for best
live action or animated shorts at the Oscars. You may have seen a few snippets
during the ceremony itself, but these truly are the unsung heroes of the
international film community. Well, after a successful run last year, Magnolia
Home Entertainment is back with another set of little gems for you to enjoy
without going to a film festival in Norway. Here's the lineup for this year:
• Binta and the Great Idea
Poverty in the third world and the hopefulness of humanity are blended in this
heartwarming tale. Binta is a seven year old girl who counts herself lucky
because she gets to go to school. She's sad, though, to see her cousin Soda
trapped at home, doing housework because her father won't allow her to go to
school. The community wants to give Soda the opportunity to succeed, though, and
they have a plan. Meanwhile, Binta's father also has a plan, a big idea that
could change the world. He just needs to find the right person to tell it to.
Binta and the Great Idea is a cute little story, but there are a few
awkward moments and a lack of clarity between the two story lines. Still, it
makes an interesting proposition that might not be a bad idea.
• Helmer & Son
Jess, who has recently taken over
the family business, is called to his father's nursing home. It seems the old
man has locked himself in the closet, and refuses to come out. Jess and his
sister Vibeke try to coax their father out, but he seems to be waiting for
something. This is a delightful tale, that reminds us that we can be surprised
by the elderly, and need to be careful not to forget out relatives. It's a fun,
good natured little tale from Denmark.
• One Too Many
Hailing from Spain, One Too
Many shows us that lazy guys are the same everywhere. When Joaquin's wife
leaves him and his son, they freeze up on the household duties. They have no
idea how to cook or clean, and need to sort out the problem before they starve.
Desperate, they kidnap Joaquin's mother-in-law, who happily discards the nursing
home for her old role as housewife. She cooks and cleans for them, and they once
again return to their lives of sloth. This is a gleefully dark fable, and comes
highly recommended. It has a pleasant, understated humor that hits the right
• The Saviour
This Aussie drama features Malcolm as
a Mormon evangelist who has been secretly having an affair with a married woman.
He needs to hide this shame from numerous people, including his pastor and his
enthusiastic new partner. When Malcolm is confronted with the woman's husband,
though, his sense of morality is in for an even greater blow. The Saviour
is a fascinating and challenging film that isn't afraid to really explore issues
• West Bank Story
The live action winner of 2006 is
a gutsy a blast. A parody of West
Side Story featuring competing Jewish and Palestinian fast food restaurants
on the West Bank, this musical is fat-paced and hilarious, with film references
and stereotypes flying by thick and hard. It would probably be offensive if it
didn't dole out the jokes so even-handedly. I wish I could say this kind of film
could change the world, it can't. Still, it is an absolute blast to watch.
• The Danish Poet
of this year's best animated short is this delicately heartfelt Canadian-Danish
co-production. Narrated by Liv Ullman (The Serpent's Egg), it tells the
story of a young Danish poet who falls in love with a farm girl who can't marry
him. The Danish Poet explores coincidence and the power of literature in
our lives, all delivered with a simplistic but spunky animation style. It's an
adorable love story, one that rings true despite its ridiculous twists and
A bird gets the aid of a robotic friend in
preparation for a performance. This simple, 3D animated tale is less flashy than
most of the CGI we see on the disc, but it has some of the most impressive
camera angles I've seen in this type of film. That said, it just doesn't have
the same depth and creativity shown by the other offerings.
As with last year's collection, several of the animated nominees couldn't be
included for legal reasons. To make up for the gaps, Magnolia Entertainment has
included six additional short films:
• A Gentleman's
• Guide Dog
• One Rat
• The Passenger
• Surviving the Rush
• Wraith of Cobble
Most of these are excellent as well, and a few are just as strong as any of
the nominees. I laughed hard through The Passenger, Guide Dog and
A Gentleman's Duel. One Rat Short is a surprisingly touching love
story about a subway rat and a lab rat. It has remarkable animation, as well, by
far the best on the disc. The only real disappointments are Surviving the
Rush, which is way too long, sloppy, and not funny enough, and Wraith of
Cobble Hill, which I don't think I understand.
As with the 2005 disc, the films here have different levels of technical
quality. The good news is that each has been given its own title, so all look as
good as Magnolia could make them. Most are acceptable, even though many are not
anamorphic. There is only stereo sound on all the titles, but it's likely that
most of the films (if not all) were mastered in stereo. Really, this disc isn't
designed to be a home theater reference disc anyway.
The collection is designed to be a showcase of last year's best short films,
and in that regard it knocks the ball out of the park. This is an awesome
collection of films, overall a bit stronger than the ones I reviewed last year.
If you are a fan of films and follow the awards season, this is one disc that
you don't want to pass up. It fills a major hole in the home video industry, and
offers up three hours of spectacular entertainment on a single DVD. I'm already
looking forward to next year's collection.
Bravo to Magnolia for giving these talented filmmakers some much needed
attention and respect. Not Guilty all around.