Time seems to be the central theme of the animated shorts for the Oscars this year, as all of the animated shorts have some semblance of the theme of time. Most of the shorts spend their story examining the beauty of the past and the present, while others examine the tragedy of the past, the present, and the future. As with most years at the Oscars, you won’t always find typical animated entries, but this year’s crop have been quite special and incredibly thought provoking. I take a second glance at the shorts this year, and what I am voting to win come February 26th.
ACADEMY AWARD NOMINEE – It’s devastating how truly life can change from one extreme to another. One moment we’re enjoying life and soaking in an afternoon, and the next we’re facing guilt and horrific loss. “Borrowed Time” is a very on the nose description of what Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj’s narrative entails, but it still manages to be an emotional and brutally heartbreaking tale about loss and death. An aging sheriff stands on the edge of a cliff. It’s the very same cliff that has haunted him his entire life no matter how hard he has tried to forget it.
In a year where Hollywood is trying very hard to resurrect the star studded Western once more, Ti West comes along and casts Ethan Hawke in one of the most simplistic love letters to the sub-genre ever filmed. “In a Valley of Violence” doesn’t so much have a narrative as it has a string of events that coincide with one another, leading in to a chain of revenge, violence, and death. Ethan Hawke’s character isn’t a hero, and John Travolta’s character isn’t entirely villainous, they’re both pushed in to unfortunate corners. It then becomes a bunch of scoundrels striking one another down thanks to the actions of one individual who sets up a huge string of events that slam in to one another in bloody chaos. Ethan Hawke stars as enigmatic Paul, a lone drifter who has only his side arms, his horse, and his loyal dog Abbey by his side.
John Sturges’ “The Magnificent Seven” is such a pitch perfect example of how to accomplish a remake. And Sturges has his work cut out for him as “The Magnificent Seven” is a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai.” Kurosawa’s film was already considered a classic by 1960, and was a juggernaut of foreign cinema that influenced filmmakers and studios worldwide. Even today its influence over cinema is immense. So it’s no small feat that “The Magnificent Seven” is just as good as the original and can stand side by side with it as another version of the tale that is as compelling and action packed. In fact Kurosawa loved it so much he allegedly sent Sturges a ceremonial sword as a bid a token of approval for his version.
Fred Zinnemann’s classic Western is an absolute masterpiece that continues to hold its place as my favorite Western of all time. It’s a marvel of cinema, and a wonderful dramatic thriller set in the old West and ponders on the question of what happens when the helpers need help. It’s also a stunning albeit cynical glimpse at the ultimate summary of a hero and how they can sometimes be cast aside by those that they’ve protected for so many years. Gary Cooper’s role as Will Kane is absolutely pitch perfect, especially when it pertains to his role as a man desperately seeking help in staring down imminent death and settling score that will meet him at the end of his day, no matter what he does.
“Fievel Goes West” is a childhood favorite and a fitting end to the legacy of Jimmy Stewart. Not only does Stewart play an old dog who was once an old West hero, but Stewart was a man very fond of family friendly entertainment. “Fievel Goes West” is a film just as good as the original where the Mousekewitz family find themselves being exploited by a capitalist cat who wants to enslave the mouse community before eating them. Masquerading as a Southern mouse promising a new start in the old west town of Green River, the Mousekewitzes make another trek in to a new frontier after the crowded slums of New York didn’t quite work out for them.
Director Quentin Tarantino has apparently had enough of delivering fans films that are mash ups of genres he loves and instead seems to want to challenge his audience the older he gets. Any artist grows the older they become and Tarantino has grown, exploring cinema that’s gradually more polarizing and alienating as time goes on. Quentin Tarantino hasn’t lost his ability to tell a story and unfold an interesting narrative, as he’s hellbent on exploring a character piece that’s less action and call backs to past genres, and more of an implementation of certain genres to create what has been his most divisive film to date.
With “The Revenant,” Alejandro González Iñárritu pulls off a wonderful vision with amazing cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, posing the wilderness of South Dakota as something of an omnipresent force that works against every single character from the moment we step on to the snow covered woodlands. “The Revenant” works around a simple tale of revenge and enduring the elements all to convey the sheer unforgiving world that protagonist Hugh Glass has to venture across simply to avenge his own son. The weather and terrain holds no prisoners and garners zero bias, enduring the war of man and being covered in the blood of the violated while offering as much punishment as it’s dealt. Director Iñárritu’s “The Revenant” is a grueling epic that views what lengths main character Hugh Glass is willing to go through to ensure justice is served.