The 2014 Oscar Nominated Documentary Shorts


The Academy Award nominations can drive you crazy between the snubs and the needless accolades. Some years are so bad, you may think you’ll never forgive them. But every year, however misguided their big ticket nominations, the academy does at least one wonderful thing. They draw attention to short films that would otherwise go unnoticed. Do yourself a favor and head to the Gateway Film Center to catch all fifteen of these magnificent short subject works of art, including these 5 fascinating documentaries.


Facing Fear

A reformed skinhead who spent years addicted to violence, and the gay man he beat nearly to death, form an unlikely bond in an ironic setting.


Cave Digger

The title sells short the elaborate caves excavated by sculptor Ra Paulette. He’s driven to the point of defying his own patrons, and you simply won’t believe the structures that come from this one man’s obsession.


Karama Has No Walls

A tragic day of protest in Yemen is chronicled through heart-wrenching interviews and breathtaking first-hand video. Simply stunning.


The Lady in Number 6

You will never forget 109-year-old Alice Sommer, the world’s oldest Holocaust survivor who continues to entertain on the piano. Her relentless optimism, even in the face of the most tragic consequences, will reduce you to mush. If this film tied for the Oscar with Karama Has No Walls, we’d be happy.


Prison Terminal: the Last Days of Private Jack Hall

Debuting March 31st on HBO, this is an intimate look inside a prison hospice system, and the final days of a convicted murderer. Director Edgar Barens succeeds in finding both hope and humanity within a stark, unforgiving subject.

The 2014 Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts

The Academy Award nominations can drive you crazy between the snubs and the needless accolades. Some years are so bad, you may think you’ll never forgive them. But every year, however misguided their big ticket nominations, the academy does at least one wonderful thing. They draw attention to short films that would otherwise go unnoticed. Do yourself a favor and head to the Gateway Film Center to catch all fifteen of these magnificent short subject works of art, starting with five brilliant and varied animated features.

The nominations this year net a variety of styles and tones. The clear frontrunner for the Oscar is Disney’s Get a Horse, the 3-D short that accompanied their popular (and prescient!) Frozen. Director Lauren MacMullen’s six minute ‘toon is a joyous ode to animation history, bridging Disney’s past with its future by mixing archival Mickey Mouse animation with modern cinematic storytelling.

At the other end of the spectrum is Ferel, a shadowy, impressionistic tale of a wild boy found by a hunter and introduced to society. Smokey images in shades of grey underscore the story’s haunting nature.

Equally haunted, though in a more literal and offbeat manner, is Shuhei Morita’s Possessions. A fix-it man travels, wares on his back, through a terrible storm. He takes shelter in an abandoned shack to witness the discarded items there come to life. It’s a lively, entertaining piece on a consume-and-discard culture.

Room on the Broom is a longer, stop-action style film aimed at a younger crowd. Simon Pegg voices the narration for the tale of a good hearted witch who never met a new friend she didn’t want to make, regardless of her cat’s preferences. It’s a sweet image of acceptance and family.

The best of the bunch, though likely not to be the winner, is the appealing Mr. Hublot. In a clattery, mechanical future world, idiosyncratic Mr. Hublot lives alone with his OCD. His days are full – straightening picture frames, turning the lights on and off, on and off, on and off. Back to straightening frames – though he can’t help but hear that abandoned, barking puppy out there in the weather. Writer Laurent Witz, along with his co-director Alexandre Espigares, creates an endearing image of familial love and acceptance with this charmer.

Every one’s a winner regardless of the final vote. Catch them while you can.

The 2014 Oscar Nominated Live Action Shorts


The Academy Award nominations can drive you crazy between the snubs and the needless accolades. Some years are so bad, you may think you’ll never forgive them. But every year, however misguided their big ticket nominations, the academy does at least one wonderful thing. They draw attention to short films that would otherwise go unnoticed. Do yourself a favor and head to the Gateway Film Center to catch all fifteen of these magnificent short subject works of art, including these 5 wildly different live action gems.



A hospital janitor befriends a dying boy, and begins entertaining him with tales about a magical land called “Helium.” As  the boy gets closer to death, it becomes clear the storytelling sessions are something the janitor needs just as much as his young friend.


The Voorman Problem

Martin Freeman (The Hobbit) stars in this brisk, clever tale of a psychologist questioning a new patient who believes himself to be a God.


Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?

From Finland, this 7 minute entry is the shortest of the lot, bu it packs plenty of whimsy into the tale of a harried mom trying to get her husband and kids ready to leave for a wedding.


Just Before Losing Everything

In French with subtitles, this would be our pick to win. It is the subtle, yet stirring look at a woman in the midst of a desperate attempt to leave her abusive husband. Director Xavier Legrand’s spare style keeps details to a minimum, and that makes all the difference.


That Wasn’t Me

This Spanish import follows aid workers in Africa who become pawns in a violent civil war. Alejandra Lorente delivers a compelling lead performance in a film that searches for hope amid savagery.



What Gives?


by George Wolf

Walking out of the preview screening for Labor Day, a woman behind me remarked, “I don’t know..I need action, a hook in the back or something!”

So, while the film won’t please the “hook in back” demographic, it will also let down fans of writer/director Jason Reitman, who makes a curious left turn into overcooked melodrama.

Adapted from the source novel by Joyce Maynard, it is a story told in flashback narration by Henry (Tobey Maquire), recalling one memorable Labor Day weekend from his youth.

While shopping with his mother Adele (Kate Winslet), young Henry is approached by Frank (Josh Brolin), an escaped convict on the run.  Quietly forcing his will upon them, Frank takes refuge in their New Hampshire home, nursing the wounds from his jailbreak and slowly becoming a savior to both mother and son.

The breakdown of her marriage has left Adele constantly depressed, and left Henry without a strong male role model. How fortunate that Frank cooks, fixes most anything, knows baseball, swears he’s not the monster the papers say he is, and oh, yeah, simmers with sexuality.

As does most of the film, juxtaposing Adele’s clear ache for a man with young Henry’s exploding hormones. It’s all very earnest and obvious, miles away from the brilliant edge Reitman brought to every other feature he’s done (Thank You for Smoking, Juno, Up in the Air, Young Adult).

It makes you wonder just what inspired Reitman to film this story, one that is equal parts Douglas Sirk and Nicholas Sparks. Perhaps it was just the challenge of elevating it, to see if his talents, combined with those of strong actors, could give it resonance.

While Labor Day is indeed better for all of their efforts, the air of disappointment lingers.






Trading his Wings for Some Wheels

12 O’clock Boys

by Hope Madden

A coming of age story set in poverty stricken, crime riddled West Baltimore sounds like an episode of the Wire gone sentimental. That’s not 12 O’clock Boys, though. 

We follow Pug, a savvy and funny preteen on the verge of adult decisions that will impact his life’s trajectory. And length.

What is absolutely fascinating about Lofty Nathan’s documentary, though, is that gangs and drugs and time spent on the corner are the furthest things from Pug’s consciousness. This is not to say that his goals are legal, exactly. And they certainly aren’t safe.

No, Pug wants desperately to join the dirt bikers who overrun West Baltimore streets each Sunday night, weaving in and out of traffic, through red lights, onto sidewalks – anywhere they like. Hundreds of zig-zagging, wheelie-popping maniacs have a blast while terrorizing and amazing onlookers, and Pug has no more passionate wish than to become one of them.

Filmed over three years, the doc chronicles Pug’s burgeoning adolescence as well as the societal, cultural and economic landmines between him and manhood. The fact that Pug is adorable – very small with a cherubic face and sly smile – only makes his struggle, his innocence that much more poignant.

But Nathan unveils more than just one boy’s journey. The footage of the Baltimore biking phenomenon is mind boggling, and the freedom and power the sport offers its riders does not skip by without mention. You might even applaud these young men of West Baltimore for avoiding, at least on Sunday evenings, much of the lawbreaking commonly found in their neighborhoods. But the 12 O’clock Boys – named for their ability to pull their bikes so far into a wheelie that they look like the hand of a clock striking 12 – can hardly be considered law-abiding.

And as thousands of traffic laws are beaten to submission each weekend, Baltimore police find themselves in a tough situation. The law forbids chasing the bikers because of the danger a chase poses to the riders and to bystanders, but they’re all in danger enough with or without a cop chase.

Wisely, Nathan’s position is not to judge the riders, the cops, the environment or Pug. Rather, he opens up an unseen world of skill, bravado and hellish traffic, and lets us watch it through the eyes of a budding young man still weighing his limited options.





For Your Queue: Two that are…”Hemsworth” a look!


The needlessly underseen Rush – one of director Ron Howard’s very best films – gets a second chance at an audience today as it’s released to DVD and BluRay. So do yourself a favor and see it. Character driven without sacrificing sport spectacle, the film proves an engrossing drama and boasts an award-worthy performance by Daniel Bruhl. Plus you get to look at Chris Hemsworth, which is never a bad thing.

Speaking of non-Thor Hemsworth, we’d recommend pairing this with a fun and surprisingly well written if little seen 2009 thriller A Perfect Getaway. The film follows Steve Zahn and Milla Jovovich on their Hawaiian honeymoon, where tourists are being murdered. It’s a slick, well-paced and fun flick with great turns from Zahn,  Hemsworth, and the always reliable Timothy Olyphant.

Countdown: Movies that Know How to Embrace the White Death

We’re buckling under blustery weather and offensive temperatures. I require more degrees! Why not just embrace the White Death? These five films certainly do, so snuggle in with a big blanket and look at how much worse you could have it in this wintery weather.

6. Frozen

No, not the Disney film. In this skiing mishap, three friends hit the slopes one afternoon. They con their way onto the lift for one last run up the hill. But they didn’t really have a ticket to ride, you see, and the guy who let them take that last lift gets called away and asks a less reliable colleague to take over. That colleague has to pee. One thing leads to another. So, three college kids get left on a ski lift. It’s Sunday night, and the resort won’t reopen until Friday. Wolves come out at night. This is a brisk and usually believable flick. Sure, it’s Open Water at a ski resort, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.


5. 30 Days of Night

If vampires can only come out at night, wouldn’t it make sense for them to head to the parts of the globe that remain under cover of darkness for weeks on end? Like the Arctic circle? The first potential downfall here is that Josh Hartnett plays our lead, the small town sheriff whose ‘burg goes haywire just after the last flight for a month leaves town. A drifter blows into town. Dogs die viciously. Vehicles are disabled. Power is disrupted. You know what that means…the hunt’s begun. Much of the film’s his success is due to the always spectacular Danny Huston as the leader of the bloodsuckers. His whole gang takes a novel, unwholesome approach to the idea of vampire, and it works marvelously.


4. Let the Right One In

Honestly, you can’t go wrong with either the 2008 Swedish original or its 2010 American reboot Let Me In. We’re leaning toward the original here only because director Tomas Alfredson made such effective use of the Swedish winter. Young social misfit befriends the mysterious new girl in his apartment complex. A sweet yet bloody romance blossoms. Whether you choose the original or the remake, a brilliantly told, often genuinely scary vampire flick emerges.


3. Dead Snow

You had us at “Nazi zombies.” A fun twist on cabin-in-the-woods horror, this film sees a handful of college kids heading into a remote mountain cabin for some winter sport fun and maybe a little lovin’. Dead Snow boasts some of the tongue-in-cheek referential comedy of the outstanding flick Cabin in the Woods, but with a great deal more actual horror. It’s grisly, bloody, hilarious fun.


2. The Thing

For our money, this is John Carpenter’s best film – isolated, claustrophobic, beardtastic, and you can get frostbite just watching. A group of Arctic scientists take in a dog, but he’s not a dog at all. And soon, most of the scientists are not scientists, either, but which ones?! The FX still hold up and so does the chilly terror.


1. The Shining

Because that’s what could happen if you wander outside right now. You might find yourself lost in a maze, icicles hanging from your eyebrows, your bloody axe frozen to your cold, dead hand. Not that anyone inside is much better off. Enjoy Stanly Kubrick’s masterpiece of family dysfunction, Gatsby-style partying, Big Wheel love and bad carpeting. It’s never a bad time to watch The Shining.

Look Out, Little Red Riding Hood

Big Bad Wolves

by Hope Madden

If you watched the film Prisoners and thought, wow, this could only be better if it were more graphic and a little funnier, then have I got the movie for you! (Also, get some psychiatric help.)

A mixture of disturbing fairy tale and ugly reality, Israel’s Big Bad Wolves takes you places you really don’t want to go, but damn if it doesn’t keep you mesmerized every minute.

The particularly vulgar slaughter of several little girls sets events in motion. One teacher is suspected. One cop is driven. One father suffers from grief-stricken mania. It’s going to get really ugly.

Filmmakers Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado implicate everyone, audience included. They create intentional parallels among the three men, pointing to the hypocrisy of the chase and making accusations all around of a taste for the intoxicating bloodlust that comes from dominating a weaker person.

Their taut and twisty script keeps surprises coming, but it’s the humor that’s most unexpected. Handled with dark, dry grace by Lior Ashkenazi (the cop) and Tzahi Grad (the father) – not to mention Doval’e Glickman (the grandfather) – this script elicits shamefaced but magnetic interest. You cannot look away, even when the blowtorch comes out. And God help you, it’s hard not to laugh now and again.

The violence is not shot to amuse. It is jarring and awful. But the subdued lunacy of the perpetrators allows a complicated kind of respite from the ugliness in the basement. Complicated because it pulls you back over to the side of men torturing another who – for all we, the audience, know – is as innocent as he claims to be.

Clearly the filmmakers are interested in the toxic ineffectiveness of torture as a method of interrogation, but the film never feels preachy. The characters are too well drawn, the performances too compelling, and the writing too full of misdirection.

The duo abandon the dark and dreamy camerawork that gave the early reels its menacingly hypnotic feel, and while the straightforward grit of later material suits the content, it’s hard not to miss the Goth poetry of Act I. But these two know how to develop dread, punctuate the darkness with almost absurdly beautiful images, and deliver a punishing blow. Big Bad Wolves will haunt your sleep.

Tattoos & Scars


by George Wolf


Love, loss, spirituality, tattoos and music – indeed some of the very bedrocks of life -take on a sublime urgency in The Broken Circle Breakdown, a 2014 Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film.

No matter how effectively a story may work onstage, a successful transition to the screen is far from guaranteed (i.e. August: Osage County). Though TBCB began as a stage play, the filmmakers recognize the different challenges a film adaptation creates, and they rise to the occasion with an achingly beautiful film.

The setting is Belgium, where Didier (Johan Heidenbergh, star and co-writer of the play) showcases his love for American bluegrass music by leading a popular local band. Though he’s pragmatic, technical, and verbose, he falls hard for the emotional, quietly intense Elise (Veerle Baetens), a tattoo artist who just happens to have a pretty sweet singing voice.

They begin a passionate relationship, she joins the band, and the couple soon welcomes daughter Maybelle.

When Maybelle is diagnosed with cancer, the differing world views held by Didier and Elise begin to clash. Didier’s atheism and Elise’s spirituality personify the ongoing debate over science and religion, and the couple soon question themselves and each other.

Director/co-writer Felix Van Groeningen presents the relationship as a graceful circle. The story cross-cuts between different stages in Didier and Elise’s life together, letting emotion trump chronology as a connective device, a strategy that pays off wonderfully.

That emotion often resonates through the music they both love. In the way its songs are deftly woven into the very fabric of the story arc, TBCB recalls both Once and Inside Llewyn Davis. The most obvious difference is that TBCB utilizes English lyrics even though the dialog is in Flemish, which is a tad jarring at first but soon serves to underscore the effect that America has on these characters, and indeed the rest of the world.

Both Heidenbergh (who will very much remind country music fans of singer Ronnie Dunn) and Baetens handle their own vocal duties, which seems only fitting, as there isn’t a false note in either performance.

Awash in authenticity, The Broken Circle Breakdown soars on joy and heartache, tenderness and defiance, ultimately leaving you tearful, but inspired.