OSCAR NOMINATED SHORTS
"Everybody gets nominated for an Academy Award eventually," pooh-poohs interview subject Ryan Larkin in Chris Landreth's Ryan, one of eight short subjects featured in DMAC's showcase of 2004 Oscar nominees. What's funny about Larkin's declaration is that it arrives in the midst of one of the few Academy-honored shorts (of this or any other year) that clearly deserve their kudos. Everybody may end up nominated for an Oscar sooner or later, but seldom is the commendation so richly justified.
Matching breathtaking visuals to moving subject matter, Landreth tells how fellow animator Larkin an Oscar contender for his Walking in 1968 subsequently succumbed to creative block and substance addiction that strangled his career in its crib. Landreth's genius move is to illustrate that atrophy by rendering Larkin as literally half a man a walking, talking freak show of stripped-away features and undernourished limbs that's less human than anything in the waiting-room scenes in Beetlejuice. In a spirit of fairness, a similar incompletion is exhibited by most of the other characters in this true-life tale of woe, including Larkin's former sweetheart, his ex-boss and even the sympathetic Landreth himself. In Ryan, we're all former wholes reduced to grotesquerie by our habits, experiences and choices a point its creator drives home with one eye-popping character treatment after another. Even before it's over, you'll find yourself bellowing, "Give that thing an Oscar!" (And the judges did at the Feb. 28 ceremony.)
The other seven shorts range from "interesting but sketchy" to "cute but inconsequential." Among the remaining animations are Gopher Broke, a visit with an endearingly larcenous critter whose highly textured fur is the film's most obvious accomplishment; and Birthday Boy, a 1950s period piece in which a Korean child plays war games amid looming reminders of the real thing. (There's also the 2004 Student Academy Award winner, Rex Steele: Nazi Smasher, whose tongue-in-cheek dialogue and Liquid TV-like modeling overstay their welcome.)
The live-action entries are highlighted by 7:35 in the Morning, a Spanish-language musical that sees director and star Nacho Vigalondo bringing a normally sedate coffee shop to momentary life. The British unfit-motherhood parable Wasp flirts too liberally with sensationalism (though the film was declared the Oscar-winner), while New Zealand's 2 Cars, 1 Night uses time-lapse photography and other unnecessary accoutrements to gussy up a funny flirtation between school kids left to fend for themselves in parked autos. The Pakistani nominee Little Terrorist, finally, is the sort of endeavor Oscar loves, sending an innocent boy over the border into India to learn a lesson about cross-cultural cooperation.
The program is worth seeing for Ryan alone; otherwise, expect more fleeting diversion than authentic revelation. Because, y'know, everybody gets nominated for these things nowadays.