I finally gave up on my tradition when the Academy decided (in what I think is a money-grab scheme) to increase the number of Best Picture candidates from 5 to 10. In my opinion, this just diminishes the prestige of being selected and 10 movies are just too many to watch in the short period of time between the nomination announcement and the actual televised show.
This year has been surprising and unusual in that there are not 5 and not 10, but 9 nominated Best Pictures. Apparently there is a criteria for being chosen after all. Each candidate needs to receive at least a certain percentage of first place votes, and not enough movies filled the bill. Not only that but this year there has been a unusual proportion of feel good movies meant solely to entertain and not necessarily to weigh you down with its deep dark message. Of the movies I've selected to watch before the Oscars, here are my favourites in order of preference, selected purely based on how much I personally enjoyed them.
- The Artist
- Midnight in Paris
- Incredibly Close and Extremely Loud
- The Help
Another quick way to cover multiple movies within a couple of lessor known categories is to watch the Oscar nominated Live and Animated Shorts, again shown at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. Canada is represented in 2 of the 5 animated shorts. Unfortunately I found them both to be slow and dull, both in terms of animation and plot. Dimanche is about a boy's Sunday activities in small town Quebec, consisting of going to Church, playing at the railroad tracks, and Sunday dinner at relatives. Wild Life is about a "ne're-do-well" Englishman, sent off to the Canadian Prairies in the early 1900s to make a life for himself as a rancher. Although he writes letters home pretending otherwise, he finds the life harsh and isolating and finally succumbs to the bitter winter climate.
My opinion of these two films was possibly influenced by the fact that they were the first 2 shorts shown, at a time when I was still full from dinner and sleepy. Or possibly I am so indoctrinated to expect the whimsical animations of Pixar and Disney with their wide-eyed characters and vibrant colours that I just can't appreciate the sophistication of these simpler, more intimate National Film Board offerings. Regardless, I enjoyed the next three animated shorts much more.
The Morning Stroll is a quirky film that shows three similar sequences from different times - the past, the present and the future. In each case a chicken waddles down the street, passes a pedestrian who does a double-take, then proceeds up a flight of stairs, knocks (pecks) on a door and enters. This charming film with its cool jazzy score brings new context to the age-old question "Why did the chicken cross the road?".
La Luna, by Pixar, tells the tale of a young boy out for the first time with his father and grandfather to help out with their very unusual job. They clean the shooting stars off the moon. The initial few seconds show the boy in the boat, emulating the stance and gestures of his two role models. Once on the moon, the two men with different work styles each try to influence the boy, who eventually finds his own method. This is a beautifully drawn, heart warming tale with the perfect money shot at the end.
Finally, the unanimous crowd favourite at our viewing was The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore, which is a celebration of books and the those who love them. Avid reader Morris is tossed in the air by a tornado (ala Wizard of Oz) and blown away into a world of flying, dancing books. One book in particular is personified by its Humpty Dumpty diagrams, which cleverly convey its emotions and communications with Morris through the use of "flip-book animation".
Morris becomes friend and custodian to the books, tenderly caring for them, "feeding and dressing them", mending them when they are "ill", giving them purpose by reading their stories, and finding them good homes with other book lovers. The film switches to black and white during the tornado scene and later to depict the people before they are paired with books, after which they light up in vibrant colours. This wonderful animated short's tribute to the power of books and stories reminds me of another one called "The Joy of Books" which was filmed at Toronto's own Type Books.
As good as the animated shorts were this year, I enjoyed the live action shorts even more. Each one was a complete movie in its own right, with rich interesting plots that sucked you in for the brief period of time that it lasted. Again surprisingly, there were four comedies and only one drama. This must be the year for light-hearted movies!
Pentacost is about a mischevious altar boy in a Catholic parish in Ireland who is banned from watching his beloved soccer team play after he pulls a prank during a service. Given one chance to redeem himself for an important mass led by the archbishop, the pressure is on .. will he come through? The final scene makes you gasp and laugh at the same time.
Time Freak is hilarious from start to finish. A nerdy scientist has invented a time machine (shown with extremely low tech special effects which just adds to the humour). He uses it to repeatedly go back into his recent past in order to finally come up with the perfect retorts to win an argument with a dry cleaner, to properly woo a love interest, and hide his invention from a nosy friend.
Tuba Atlantic is a weird Norwegian film about an eccentric old man diagnosed with cancer and given 6 days left to live. Living alone in his ocean side shack, he battles seagulls with a machine gun and is estranged from his brother. A teenaged girl training to be an "Angel of Death" arrives to support him in his final days. She helps him fulfill his last wish, which is to reconcile with his brother. They do this by resurrecting and fixing a giant tuba built by the two brothers as children, that is supposed to make a sound vibration so loud it will be heard across the ocean where his brother lives.
The Shore is an Irish movie and the only one starring a known actor, Ciarán Hinds who has been in many mainstream American movies. He plays Joe, returning to his childhood town after many years to face the girl that he left behind, and the best friend who ended up marrying her. Misunderstandings ensue until the final reunion. This is a sweet gentle comedy that holds more chuckles than roaring laughter.
Raju is the only drama of the nominees and unexpectedly, it was my favourite even though I usually prefer comedies. This tense film is a German/India collaboration which seems like a strange combination. A German couple travel to India to "adopt" a boy who then disappears a couple of days after they receive him. A frantic search results in some dark revelations and a moral dilemma.
Didn't get a chance to watch any documentaries, but I think I'm ready for the 2012 Oscars. Can't wait for Billy Crystal's return as host.