There isn’t a single short I can recommend in this category without some reservation, and despite what our percentages may indicate, this is probably one of this year’s tighter races. (Again, for the sake of argument, spoilers herein.) The Unicef-sponsored Binta and the Great Idea is a fiction-doc hybrid made by Spanish filmmakers in Senegal that advocates equal education for boys and girls. Like the recent Bamako, the short serves an activist function, but in spite of its good intentions, the story is meandering and the crude acting will not appeal to Oscar voters, who may be bored by the film and disappointed that it wasn’t styled in the hysterically whitewashed manner of The Constant Gardener, Blood Diamond, and The Last King of Scotland. Much better is The Saviour, about a door-to-door Mormon evangelist who falls in love with a married woman. When he discovers that he may have impregnated the woman, whose husband is infertile, the young Mormon with the missing hand stays mum and allows the husband to think that his wife’s pregnancy is a miracle. Though the short flirts with contempt for its religious characters, the implications of its open ending are interesting to fathom. From Denmark comes Helmer & Son, the idiotic story of a man who tries to talk his father out of a dresser in a rest home. In the end, director Sren Pilmark isn’t so much concerned with the frayed familial dynamics of the story’s characters as he is with flaunting old-man butt (and setting up an inane sexual punchline) in order to tickle fans of crap like The Full Monty and Calendar Girls. Almost as stupid is One Too Many, which has a troublesome opinion of men that’s impossible to get past. After a woman abandons her husband, he and his son go to a rest home to retrieve his mother-in-law so she will do their housework. When the father learns that the woman he brought into his home isn’t really his wife’s mother, he says nothing, embracing the gift of having found a slave and, by extension, having given this strange woman a family to slave over. This sketchy short has elicited favor from critics, and though there’s a sense of completeness to it that’s very attractive, I have a feeling that voters will opt for West Bank Story instead. A riff on West Side Story, Ari Sandel’s musical comedy uses the conflict between the proprietors of a Hummus Hut and the Kosher King next-door as a jumping-off point for an innocent little commentary on what it would take for Jews and Palestinians to get along. Devotees of Dreamgirls will love this one, but so will others. Sandel’s visual vocabulary is unimpressive, but he uses the ideological issues that separate his characters for sly comic relief, and before you can accuse the film of being flip or nave, it acknowledges that the only place where the love affair between its two star-crossed lovers (a worker at the Hummus Hut and an Israeli soldier) could possibly find approval is in Beverly Hills. Residents of 90210 will appreciate the amusing acknowledgement of their tolerance.
Will Win: West Bank Story
Should Win: The Saviour