Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Habitat Tajikistan - the final push!

I'm back from the keyboard-dead, just in time to talk about my Habitat for Humanity trip to Tajikistan!

It's the last day to donate online to my Habitat Tajikistan trip!
Well, that is, you have about 24 hours remaining to donate online. There is still a way to donate after that by check, but isn't it SO much easier to just click that link, whip out the credit/debit card, and be done with it? I have raised well over half the money, but I need to raise $739 more by tomorrow. This isn't as impossible as it may sound. A few people have expressed interest or promised to donate a small sum, so assuming they do so, I am closer than I feel right now. Still, I need a little bit more. Any amount whatsoever is appreciated, of course!

Why should you donate to this Habitat trip?

I can think of a million reasons, of course, not the least of which is what a great organization Habitat is. You can read more about that, and more about Tajikistan, here. But I also am a big believer that many small actions make one big difference.

What exactly am I going to do in Tajikistan?
A Habitat for Humanity Global Village trip is basically a group of volunteers who pay their own way to travel to a destination, usually one facing major poverty and housing needs, to work on building a house(s). Habitat has affiliates in many countries around the globe. The cost of going to Tajikistan is around $1900 + airfare. The cost includes lodging, food, and in-country transportation for the volunteer, plus materials and a donation to the local Habitat affiliate, perpetuating the work. We will be working with the Tajikistan affiliate while we are there. We will build all day, five days a week, like a full-time job.

We come prepared with sturdy shoes and clothes, hat & bandana, work gloves, and other accessories. The volunteer team often brings supplies in coordination with the local Habitat office. We mostly come ready to roll up our sleeves and work.

I have done one previous Habitat trip, in Honduras in 2008. We were able to work closely with the representatives from the local affiliate, a local mason who supervised the site construction, and the family who will own the home. Part of Habitat's requirements are that the homeowners put in "sweat equity" so the team of a half dozen to a dozen volunteers works alongside the family to build. Sometimes a volunteer team comes in at the beginning to lay the foundation; sometimes they arrive in the middle and lay lots of bricks; sometimes they raise the roof or finish the job. By showing up to build for a week or two or three, we can greatly speed up the work, helping the mason and local affiliates to move on to the next house, and so on and on.

What I learned working with Habitat in Honduras
  • Construction is hard work. (duh!) And not just because I have spent the majority of the last three years+ sitting at a computer, for law school and for writing & freelancing. Luckily I am also training for a 25K run right now, so I hope to be in shape enough to be able to work hard. Hydrating is important, of course! So is persistence.
  • Building a house is important, but so is building a home. I think Habitat works so well as an organization because it is a melding of the totally physical labor/materials and the totally emotional spirit of family that will live in the home. Habitat also welcomes people of any faith -- or of no faith (that's me!) -- who believe that everyone deserves a decent place to live. Many, many factors have contributed to difficult situations in many places in the world, from civil wars and corrupt leaders to reconfiguring of national boundaries and natural disasters. By putting my time and money toward this cause, I do a small thing, but many small things together equal big results.
  • The learning! The growth! Everyone who has traveled or worked on a big project knows that there is intangible satisfaction and deep personal education that comes along with those things, and it's hard to describe precisely what happens in these situations. For example, in Honduras I got to use my fairly rusty Spanish every day and really brush up on it, but I learned more about communicating by working with the amazing "Maestro," our local mason, and my amazing fellow volunteers, who were all so much better than me at both construction and communication. They had also overcome some really profound struggles in their lives, and they were out there helping others, and it was really inspiring.
Feel free to ask me if you have any questions whatsoever about Habitat, the fundraising, Tajikistan, my trip, or anything else. I highly recommend that you, too, consider volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, whether in your local community or on a Global Village build. And I will be incredibly grateful for your support for my journey in whatever form it takes. How well I know that not all support is financial; the contributions just pave the way for so much more.

A fully functional keyboard is heavenly!

Did you miss me? It's been only 8 or 9 days but it felt longer because I couldn't blog--seven of my keyboard's keys died, necessitating ordering a new one, then taking it to the Geek Squad to install. (Thanks, geeks!) It was hard to write without the comma and period, let alone 'd' and other letters. I had actual writing work to do, though, so I wrote my rough, "typo"-laden drafts on my computer and then would edit them and send them off on Brian's computer. Five days of this has felt like five weeks! But now all is well.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

My Personal Flash Sideways

A funny thing happened today on the ol' Facebook. (Which, if you're reading this on FB as an imported note, you should click on the hyperlinked title to read the original Linda Without Borders blog post instead, for authenticity's sake.) I came across my first grade class photo. Most of you adoring fans know I grew up in Phoenix, but before we moved to Phoenix I actually lived in a tiny, tiny, tiny, TINY town in northern Arizona called Joseph City. I cannot emphasize enough the smallness of this town. I have been to many, many small towns across these United States in my day, and I am here to tell you that Joseph City is smaller. Seriously. SERiously.

Your small town has one stoplight? Joseph City has none. Your small town has one supermarket? Nope. We had to go to Holbrook, ten minutes down the interstate highway, to go to Safeway. You know where we went for things like doctors and other civilization? Winslow. That's right, Winslow, Arizona, where you may or may not find yourself standing on a corner. You thought Winslow was small, but that's because you blinked and you missed Joseph City. The "City" part of the name is a lofty unmet aspiration, or perhaps just a joke, sort of like the "Christian Right," which is usually neither.

The one thing that is in Joseph City - well, "in" in the sense that it's there within the same general several square miles area - is a power plant, where my dad the electrical engineer worked for a few years before joining the power company's offices in civilization/Phoenix, only making supervisory side trips to Joseph City once a in a while. There's pretty much not a whole lot of other reason for Joseph City to exist: there's the power plant, and the schools (power plant children), and the school teachers. And their children. And a church.

Anyhow, Joseph City is where I lived from age 2 to age 6, and I have many a fond memory of things like learning to ride a bike! And swimming lessons (in the high school pool)! And piano lessons, which I cried until my mom let me quit. And the wallpaper in my room, and the family room fireplace, and the playroom, and the carpet, all in the house that seems so huge in my memory but I know is really small, having checked it out when I did a Joseph City drive-by as an adult. And perhaps most memorable of all, attending first grade.

So you can imagine how strange it was today on Facebook to stumble upon the Mrs. Dare class photo. I have a copy of this photo somewhere, in the albums and archives in my parents' Arizona abodes, but I'm not sure exactly where, and I haven't looked at it in years. Stumbling across the photo was not the weirdest part, however. What was weird was seeing the tagged classmates. There were the girls who were my "best friends" in first grade, as I recall. There were the boys whose parents were friends with my parents, whose siblings were in my sister's class, and so on. There were the familiar litany of last names because it was, after all, a very small town, and most families' names were pretty well known to most of us other families.

Because I moved away, I moved into a new world. I wrote to people for a while, I think - maybe a letter or two to Charity, and Jenny, but really, think about it. I was in second grade when I left. I grew up elsewhere, without them. More to the point, they grew up without me.

So what was weird about seeing the photo was not so much just seeing the names and profiles of my first grade classmates from the tiniest town in the universe who have now become adults, but rather, seeing them as Facebook friends with one another, and seeing their comments on the 1st grade class photo that Norene had posted, comments about their memories, and comments identifying some of the unknowns in the photo, and comments such as Jenny's "It is so fun to see those old pics of everyone. I really enjoyed growing up with all of you." What was weird was seeing that before I came across it today, the people with Facebook profiles were tagged, and the others were for the most part named, but with a few uncertainties, and I (being the shortest person in my elementary school classes- always!) was the first one in the first row listed as "Linda Napakowski????"

I guess now I am no longer a question mark - I added the picture poster as a friend, as well as a couple of others, and commented on the photo, and extended my Facebook greetings. I am genuinely excited to hear what happened to these 1st grade classmates of mine. But seeing "Joseph City High School" in their profile info, and seeing a 1992 Sea World trip photo posted alongside the 1st and 2nd grade class photos, it really hit me that when we moved away, I moved out of one life place and timeline and into another.

What if my dad had kept working at the power plant instead of becoming a senior electrical engineer in Phoenix? (I'm not actually clear on the hierarchy of these things--maybe that would have been undesirable if not impossible in his career track.) What if we had stayed there? What if I had attended that high school which in my mind is associated solely with swimming lessons during the summer? What if I had not spent my teen years galavanting around the malls of Phoenix and eating at Valle Luna and cruising under the "gothic" lights of Glendale? What would I have been doing with these Joseph City classmates if I had stayed there? Would I have been on the JCHS volleyball team? (Is there a volleyball team? I think there is.) Would I have been active in youth group at the church? Would I have gone joy riding into Winslow, in a flatbed Ford or otherwise?

Maybe I've just been watching too much the perfect amount of Lost lately, but the notion of an alternate life timeline hit me hard, in finding my 1st grade Joseph City cohorts on Facebook. And it was nice to contemplate. And it made me happy to think that I can sort of see, now, what they have been up to, and we can all see what we have become.

"Getting close, still it seems so far away
Moving close, things still seem so far away..."
--from 'These Days' by The Jesus and Mary Chain'
to which I am listening right now, and which seemed perfectly fitting

Monday, March 15, 2010

Winners and Statues and Thoughts

Oh adoring fans, I know, you are sad: sad that I did not give a morning-after Oscars recap, sad that I have yet again gone a week without blogging, sad that you have no idea what is happening to prevent me from telling you about my triumphant Oscar night. Well, uh, I'm sorry? Just got a little busy and preoccupied, again, a recurring theme of late. We'll discuss. But first! No, for your information, I did NOT win my Oscar pool. After going back and forth and back and forth and back and forth I went with Avatar, largely because the people to whom EW talked for their anonymous-Academy-members-tell-us-whom-they-voted-for feature all picked Avatar. Once The Hurt Locker started winning - screenplay AND editing, for god's sake! - I saw the error of my ways, but it was too late.

However, I was a winner of a different sort that night because Brian and I went to our neighborhood pub to play Oscar-themed trivia and watch the big event on ten HD screens with dozens of our closest strangers. We won second place. Those guys - damn them! - another team were total Oscar-knowledge nerds, too, and they beat us by half a dozen points or so. Anyway it was all great fun and we won a gift certificate and a little Oscar trophy. (The first place winners got cash and a bigger Oscar trophy.)

So, did I like the Oscars this year, you are breathlessly wondering? Why yes, yes I did! I thought it was a fantastic ceremony! Well done, and it hit all its marks. I was worried going in because I had the impression the producers were going to be catering to youngsters who somehow mistakenly believe Twilight is a good movie, but I don't think they really did. If they need to have Kristen and Taylor present an award to keep a few people tuned in, I can totally deal, especially if shuts up the commentators who fret and wring their hands about the Oscar ratings. I get tired of the Oscar-ratings-fretting. I get tired of ratings fretting in general; it's all a game. The Oscars are awesome and any network would be stupid to pass up the chance to air them; end of story.

Now, back to The Hurt Locker. I believe I have mentioned this here before: I did not love, swoon at, or adore The Hurt Locker. I liked it all right. I think the directing was well done, and can get behind Kathryn Bigelow's win, even though Spike Jonze' direction of Where the Wild Things Are was the perfect directing vision realized this past year, as far as I'm concerned. But Kathryn's was precise and really well done, plus hurrah! for a woman winning. I loved that they had Barbra Streisand open up that envelope, although one might ask oneself "What if Kathryn hadn't won?" It just makes you think that they knew she was going to. Am I insinuating that the show's producers found out something from the Price Waterhouse accountants? Not necessarily, but seriously, think about it: to produce that moment so well, much like when in 2007 the crew all together finally! gave Marty his directing Oscar, you have to just kind of know what is about to happen. Chalk it up to Hollywood buzz if you must -- maybe the producers have a better sampling for their anonymous-Academy-members-tell-us-whom-they-voted-for than EW has.

I did notice early on (like, with the first award) that they returned to saying "And the winner is..." instead of "And the Oscar goes to..." Interesting. Is this a rejection of the touchy-feely Generation Y "we're all winners" Baby Mozart philosophy of life? Who knows? Either way, Kate Winslet didn't get the memo, and stuck with "the Oscar goes to." Oh well.

I guess a few things about the show were "controversial" (I hesitate to use that word because it implies that I value the dissenters' opinions more/differently than I do) so I'll comment on them:

  • Interpretive Dance: Sure, why not? Honestly, the whole Oscar-nominated music conundrum is generally doomed to fail. This is probably partly because the music has just been nominated for being written for a movie, so the very act of taking the music out of the movie to perform it is like a rejection of why it is even noted and great. Different years have tried different things, but none of it really makes that much of a difference either way, and yet they don't just play clips of the song in the movie like with all the other awards, so they have to do something. So why not interpretive dance? There were a LOT of dancers, but they were kind of cool.
  • Neil Patrick Harrris: Pointless, but hey, like I said, if people stay tuned so the "experts" can shut up about the ratings fretting, then I'm in.
  • Ben Stiller dressed as Na'vi: I love it. I. Love. It. Avatar was by its very existence begging for a visual gag at the Oscars, and it won the big visual awards, so it's all perfect. And Ben Stiller just stood there being all self-deprecating and yet wryly trying to get James Cameron's goat a little bit too. I love it!
  • Mo'Nique looked beautiful...
  • ...but seriously, ladies, all of you: ENOUGH with the asymmetrical and one-shoulder dresses! Stop! Stop it!!! Stop it now! God gave you two shoulders; use them.
  • Sandy Powell, most misunderstood costume designer: Everyone heard her say she "already has two of these" and stopped listening, like the good little ADHD-generation they are. She went on to dedicate it to designers who don't clothe old monarchs, pointing out what we all know anyway, which is that the Costume Oscar always goes to a British royalty drama and nobody loses that category on their Oscar pool. But you, you in the audience who know exactly what she means, played dumb for her sardonic approach to speech. Oh well for you, but I was on her beam and I get it.
  • The John Hughes tribute: This was the "Gen-X, you stay tuned, too, please, not just the 'tweens!" portion and I was OK with it. Mostly I like that it was a giant "Sorry, MJ, you were so not the death from this past year to which we will devote the most time!" Oh, that and seeing Judd Nelson - whoa, Judd. How ya doin' there buddy?
  • I like the set, I liked the hosts, and I wish there had been more personal and interesting speeches. Apparently they really drummed it into the nominees' heads that they were limited to 45 seconds. Boo! That's the one flaw of these producers; they need to get over that part. We like to hear speeches - especially interesting ones that mention a unique life moment and celebrate art, not the laundry list of names. If I produced the Oscars (first of all, how awesome would that be!) that would be my rule: nobody gets played off if they are talking about something personal, or really talking about someone they are thanking (think Tom Hanks and his high-school drama teacher) but the minute someone says three names in a row with no verbs other than "thank," cue the orchestra.
  • On that note, Sandra Bullock probably did give one of the best speeches. Did I want her to win? Not particularly (UGH Blind Side UGH) and I even put Meryl in my Oscar pool - sigh! I really, really liked Julie & Julia. But her speech and her Sandra-ness are fine with me. Just good god, people, why this awful movie? Why does The Blind Side get to go down in history as an Oscar winner while An Education and Inglourious Basterds are just honored to be nominated?
  • Speaking of An Education, I love Nick Hornby anyway and have for years, but reading his blog about this Oscar season has been great fun.
  • Does anyone else think T-Bone Burnett and James Cameron could be long lost brothers?
  • I love writers (duh!) and I was so intrigued by how flummoxed Precious' Geoffrey Fletcher was by his adapted screenplay win. I certainly didn't expect that (I put my fave In the Loop in my Oscar pool, sealing my fate, while stil fully expecting Up in the Air to be the one to seize the trophy from In the Loop, the best movie of 2009).
  • I still do not understand why people think Up was amazing and unique, but none of you will explain it to me, so I have given Up! And I will say that Ed Asner was easily the best part of the red carpet. The two E! online clowns who were "interviewing" celebs on the carpet, were trying their best to show him appropriate respect even though you could see the wheels turning in their little heads like, "Have I actually seen him in anything? Do I know what he did before Up? I think he might be like really important, but what has he done? Something...I'm drawing a blank here..." but he didn't even need it, he was just totally bad ass about the Oscars, Pixar, Facebook, and whatever.
Now that the 2009 Cinematic Year is really over, I will share in my next entry my top ten films of the year. Cinematic years are kind of like fiscal years, no? They don't follow the actual calendar but kind of do their own thing, in this case going from Oscar to Oscar.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Today! TheAvaHurtLoctarker wins!

Well, the big day has arrived. Brian and I are actually going to watch the Oscars in our local neighborhood pub. This particular pub, which I am quickly starting to adore, has trivia on Sunday nights and today the guy is doing Oscar-themed trivia while also broadcasting the Academy Awards on the screens around the bar. So, it should be fun. I totally grilled him though, a couple weeks ago when he first announced it: "You're only doing trivia during commercials, right? I mean, you're not, like, going to talk during any of the show or anything, right? Right?!!"

I love Oscars day! But I will confess that I am torn even as the last minute approaches about which movie is going to win Best Picture. I have been thinking The Hurt Locker for a while, but just in the last few days I have started to think that Kathryn Bigelow will win for Directing but Avatar will actually take Best Picture. But then you cannot discount the possibility of a third-party upset due to the ranking system of voting. Which, by the way, I am actually starting to like. I have already changed my Oscar pool vote a few times, and still might change it again in the hour or so I have left.

If In the Loop somehow wins for Best Adapted Screenplay, listen carefully because you might hear me screaming for joy all the way from Chicago. I do like Up in the Air and An Education, though, so I won't be angry if that doesn't happen, just thoroughly delighted if it does.

Even though the Supporting Acting categories are widely considered the surest bets, it is interesting to consider the prospect of an upset. There is the slightest of chances that Christopher Plummer could triumph, having finally earned an Oscar nomination after years of amazing work. Christoph Waltz, who of course was nothing short of brilliant, is younger with just practically speaking more years of chances ahead of him. It would be interesting to see the upset; I wish no ill will to either of them and am not taking a stance. I thought all the acting in The Last Station was great, and I was moved to tears by that film and by the actual archival footage of Tolstoy in the end credits.

My latest flick was Un Prohete (A Prophet), a Foreign Language nominee, which we watched at our cinema around the corner on Friday night. It is really, really good and could definitely give The White Ribbon a run for its money in my book. I liked Ajami, but not as much as those two. Unfortunately, I have not seen El Secreto de Sus Ojos or The Milk of Sorrow, so I can't speak to their chances, but I hear they are both really good, which makes this a hard category to predict.

Well, it's nearly time to start watching Red Carpet coverage. Happy Oscars, everyone! I need to go switch my pick back and forth between Avatar and The Hurt Locker a few more times.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

I've Reached That Point

Every year Most years Some years, I reach a point with the Oscars when I finally decide I've done all that I can do, and I just accept that a few movies will remain unseen. Note: This does not mean that I am done watching nominated films, but it does mean that I am done going to great lengths to watch nominated films. Only short lengths from here on out.

Some years, I have been known to carry on to the bitter end. And I mean bitter: years such as 2004 that had me watching both Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Spider-Man 2 on DVD during Oscar weekend because they were multiple nominees. (That's right, multiple: HP for Score and Visual Effects, and S-M for Sound 1, Sound 2, and Visual Effects - which it won! Good thing I watched it. I fell asleep sort of near the end of Azkaban, though.) (The other Visual Effects nominee that year, if you care, was I, Robot, which is an underrated film in my opinion.)

Then there was 2000. I lived in L.A. but had somehow missed seeing a bunch of nominees, probably because of a terrible work schedule of like entirely evenings and weekends, meaning I was desperately either attending random 11:30 a.m.s at the Sunset 5 before rushing to a closing shift, or driving to all sorts of random far-flung theaters on my days off, wherever had the nominees I needed. I remember that in the last few days before Oscar, I still needed to see both Cast Away (Actor-Tom Hanks, Sound) and Requiem for a Dream (Actress-Ellen Burstyn), and I found them both playing at some Orange County megaplex. Off I went. It was only like a half hour drive, and I was never afraid of hitting the freeways; no one in L.A. is.

I ask you to imagine, if you will, the experience of spending roughly six hours of your day driving, then sitting in a dark theater alone with your thoughts and Cast Away for 143 minutes, then having only a brief pause before you plunge into Requiem for a Dream, then walking outside into the night which was day when you left it, and finally driving home.

I do a lot for the Oscars. Yay, Oscars! But at some point, I am done with my extreme behavior. (There are those who would argue that posting multiple blog entries about the Oscars actually qualifies as extreme behavior. Those people will lose to me in the Oscar pool.) This year my extremes ended last night, when I looked at my Netflix envelope that I knew held Coco Before Chanel, nominated for Costumes, and I thought about how I needed to watch it last night and mail it back today to have a chance of getting another disc -- Harry Potter and the Whatever We're On Now, for Cinematography -- before the ceremony. But Brian and I had to watch this week's Lost from the night before. Sorry, Coco, and sorry Oscars -- I will have to miss a few.

I will watch Coco, before Sunday. And I will see Un Prophete, which opens tomorrow at the theater AROUND THE CORNER, either tomorrow or Saturday. I might even finish watching the Documentary Short China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province online, which I found there, all legitmately on You Tube. But what I won't do is spend an evening with either Harry Potter or Coraline. As far as I'm concerned, two spaces just opened up in my (very full) Netflix queue.

So excited about the Oscars! We're so close. Who's going to win? Is the show going to have all sorts of 'tween-focused Twilight garbage, god forbid? Have you seen the photo of the nominees from their luncheon on the Academy's web site, tagged like a Facebook photo?

Until tomorrow, Oscar-lovin' friends. I am going to drink a beer tonight at a special $3 frenzy hootenanny. Coco may just have to wait another little while.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Shortly - Animated

I didn't enjoy the short animated films that much this year. IT IS NOT BECAUSE OF MY BIAS against animated film in general. Some years, I have enjoyed the animated shorts more than the live-action shorts! This year is not one of them.

It doesn't help - me, at least - that the people who put together the Oscar Shorts Showcase feel the need to pad the Animated when the five nominees are all really short. I've noticed this in the past -- they throw in a few other short animated films when everything is like ten minutes, so that you don't pay around ten bucks and then sit there in the theater all pissed off that you had less than an hour of filmage. Could they just charge less for the Oscar shorts? Why yes, yes they could. But I digress. So in this case we had nominee, nominee, nominee, nominee, then a "Highly Commended" (translation: you didn't get nominated), another Highly Commended (those are their words not mine), a third Highly Commended (are we quite finished yet), and then finally the fifth nominee.

Careful readers will note that they make you watch the highly commendeds before getting around to the final nominated short film. Which tells me they know no one cares. Just get on with it already, and if anyone feels they have not got their precious money's worth, then they can stay for the highly commendeds after the nominees.

With no further ado:

French Roast
- It was cute. Charming, even. Not special or wondrous, but it was cute. Short and sweet and clever, and all visual story with no spoken dialogue. A few characters in and out of a French cafe, with a bit of mystery about who's what, and so forth. I'd be OK with it winning.

The Lady and the Reaper - It was cute. Charming, even. Not special ... wow, notice a theme here? Maybe this one was a bit more wondrous. It had cleverness. The Reaper of the title is the Grim one, trying to take the soul of an old woman as she dies in a hospital, but having to fight the heroic doctor for it. The struggle is a frenzy, and it's pretty well done. I'd be OK with it winning.

A Matter of Loaf and Death - I know there are people out there who just DIE at the mere mention of Wallace and Gromit. Sigh. Well, congratulations, because you get thirty minutes of them if you go to see the Animated Shorts, whereas all the other films are, like, eight minutes. It was cute. I'd be OK with it winning, and it's likely going to.

Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty
- Eh. I mean, I suppose it was clever enough of an idea but it didn't really do it for me. Scary old lady grandma terrifies a child with a bedtime story that is her totally twisted elderly-people-are-wronged version of Sleeping Beauty. I'm not really into this one winning.

Logorama - Not half bad! I hope this one wins. To the extent that I care. It's a totally irreverent story where everything but everything is corporate logos, and Ronald McDonald commits a heist of sorts. I laughed out loud!

No, I will not be reviewing the three highly commendeds - this is a blog entry for Oscar nominees. You can watch most of these online, actually. Isn't that fun. Five days until the Awards !!!

Monday, March 01, 2010

Shortly - Live

One enjoyable part of Oscar season is heading to the local theater to watch the nominated short films. Yes, I am painfully aware that you can't catch them at megaplexes everywhere, but I think they are more widely available in more places every year. I thank the select-cities gods that Chicago is among those places! I don't generally decide which to watch first out of animated shorts or live action shorts based on anything other than the showtimes at the local theater (which in this case is AROUND THE CORNER from me! hurrah!) and so this year I happened to first see the Oscar-nominated live action short films. I liked them all and thoroughly enjoyed three out of the five. In the order I saw them:

Kavi - Modern-slavery at a brick-making kiln job in India, and the scrappy young boy who wants to escape from it to do normal things like go to school and play cricket with the other boys. Human rightsy themed, so obviously it's up my alley, but it's also well done and enjoyable. I've heard some predict it to win, and I could see that happening and be OK with it. Plus it was made by USC film school people, so it must be great! Fight on.

The New Tenants - I wouldn't mind seeing this win, either. It was hilarious and dark. Two guys and a variety of people who come to the door of their new apartment, with all sorts of shady goings-on. Kind of Coen-brothers esque, with a particularly funny opening exchange between the two of them.

Miracle Fish - My favorite! Oh, I so want this one to win. An 8-year-old boy who is bullied and alone, and a dark, sad day at school that goes in a completely surprising direction. I absolutely loved it. Every bit of it was so wonderful and real. Writer/director Luke Doolan is my new hero. And the Australian child actor Karl Beattie is definitely one to watch. Miracle Fish!!!

The Door - This was my least favorite of the five, although some are predicting it will win. Probably because it's got the serious subject matter of Chernobyl, tragedy, a family, shots of a vast wintry landscape, etc. I shouldn't be too harsh, as it has a successful subtlety to it. But I was left kind of "whatever" instead of gripped.

Instead of Abracadabra - This one was weird. It probably won't win, partially because it's funny and kind of haphazardly odd, but it's actually pretty well done. The guy who plays the magician who lives at home with his parents instead of getting a real job pulls off quite a performance.

So there you have it! Remember, more and more cities are giving the Oscar-nominated shorts a chance in theaters. Check out your metropolitan area - and if the short films aren't playing where you live, dash off an email to a local cinema or two. They just need to know there's interest, and you will get to have an interesting and enjoyable cinema experience that supports filmmakers and never drags on for hours.