Mar 8, 2006

Eat My Shorts

I saw the live action Academy Award nominees for Best Short.
The winner, playwright Martin McDonagh's Six Shooter, is way better than the rest and deserves to win. It is superbly written, a pitch black comedy with extraordinary dialogue and acting. I can't get it out of my head. I won't attempt to try to explain it to you, except to say that it starts out with an extremely dramatic moment and continues escalating until one doesn't think it's possible to do so anymore. The premise is almost ludicrous. Four strangers meet on a train; they've all had a very recent death in the family. From there all hell breaks loose, thanks to a funny psycopath who chooses to engage his fellow travelers in conversation.
This short is a master class in condensed dramatic writing. Every person who wants to direct or write a short should consider watching this one homework. Maybe it's unfair for the other nominees to have to compete against a major living playwright (and boy, does it make a difference). Still, it's his first film.
The other shorts kind of pale by comparison, so it's a good thing that Six Shooter is screened last. The first one, Our Time is Up, is a frivolous, mildly amusing short from the U.S., about a bored shrink who is suddenly told he only has 6 months to live and, as expected, starts telling off his patients. It's conventional and predictable, and nobody in it is a real human being.
The Last Farm, hailing from a Scandinavian country (I couldn't tell which and there were no end credits) is about an old guy who lives in a remote farm with his old wife, who's just died. He buries her and himself in a little plot next to the house. The piece is beautifully shot, but I didn't buy it. Death is the worst cliche in the movies and the worst lie. In real life, dead people start leaking and stinking after like five minutes, about twelve if you live in cold weather. They do not retain the beatific composure they show you in the movies. Their faces become distorted, unrecognizable, all their expression is sucked out of them. It is an ugly affair. And so, the fact that this old guy lays down to sleep next to his very dead wife, who's been dead for at least a day, seems to me bogus. It's a powerful short, morbid and humorless, and the second best of the lot, but I didn't like it.
Cash Back, from England, is a very amusing, if rambling story about a slightly smarmy art student who works the late shift at a supermarket. It is quite funny, but tonally all over the place, veering between philosophical musings about art and beauty and sheer slapstick (I was much entertained by the slapstick, less thrilled with the musings). The short has an advertisingy feel to it, relying on Matrix-like fx, the sort that are routinely abused in car commercials. Also, this artist kid expostulates about the beauty of women yet all the naked women they show are leggy models in poses that remind you more of Axe ads than of the concept of female beauty in art (you know, unshaved armpits, tubbiness). They are too perfect, too thin, too tall, too creamy. Ergo: bogus.
Ausreisser, from Germany, is a whimsical story about a child that appears at a guy's doorstep, a sort of annunciation. It's well done, but I don't like sugary whimsy.
So then Six Shooter, the most outrageous, over the top of the shorts, seems the most human to me. And it's all in the writing. Sharp, complex, funny, vicious, real.

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