The Oscar nominated animated, live action and doc shorts begin their runs

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BRIEFLY SPEAKING | A great February tradition, the short films — animated (like ‘A Single Life,’ above), live action (‘Boogaloo and Graham, below) and documentaries — run at the Magnolia and Texas Theatre.

There’s never been much of a commercial market for short films, unless you count the cartoons lucky enough to claim a spot before certain animated films or documentaries that HBO picks up for later broadcast. But shorts are some of the most interesting films being made, which is why the motion picture academy continues to bestow three awards each year for shorts — animated, documentary and live action, all of which you can begin seeing this week in Dallas.
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The animated and live action programs — now playing at the Magnolia with alternating screenings of under two hours each — are, as always, a diverse assortment. Shorts are one of the rare chances to see hand-drawn cels and other inventive, non-CGI forms of animation. Consider the stop-motion magic of A Single Life, pictured, in which a mysterious record player takes a young woman through all the stages of her life in the course of a single song, or the mixed-media renderings of The Bigger Picture, a poignant tale of an aging parent. And of course there’s Feast, old-school Disney about a dog’s food-based relationship with his master that is observant, charming and surprising as only Disney can do. (It’s much better than Paperman, which won the Oscar two years ago but don’t be surprised to see The Bigger Picture win.)

The live action films range from small but star-driven pieces like The Phone Call (with Sally Hawkins and Jim Broadbent, about a worker in a crisis center who received a disturbing but oddly familiar call from a distraught widower) to the tender coming-of-age take Boogaloo and Graham, about two Irish boys who befriend a pair of chickens. But the frontrunner for the prize on Oscar Sunday is probably Butter Lamp, in which a young photographer attempts to capture a group of Tibetan nomads in snapshots in front of false backgrounds from DisneyWorld to the Beijing Olympics, even as their lives are being forever disrupted by the harsh realities of cultural and political upheaval.
(The documentary short subjects — which were not screened in advance — play in two programs, the first of which shows at the Texas Theatre on Feb. 5, the second on Feb. 8.)

— A.W.J.

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All about Steve: Xavier Dolan, Canada’s hot queer filmmaker,  has ‘Mommy’ issues

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FACE OF A SOCIOPATH | How far does a mother’s love go?

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Executive Editor

Xavier Dolan is barely old enough to rent a car, yet he already has five feature films under his belt. At 25, he’s one of Canada’s most impressive young filmmakers, bringing an unnerving maturity of topics and an aggressively ballsy style to his films. He’s best known for his 2012 drama Laurence Anyways, an intimate epic about a transgender woman’s relationship with her lover, but it’s likely his latest film, Mommy, will eclipse that one … at least until his next film comes along.

Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) is a beautiful, tow-headed, blue-eyed 15-year-old, the apple of his mother Diane’s (Anne Dorval) eye. That is, when he’s not unpredictably violent, nearly strangling Diane to death or setting fire to his reformatory or yelling racist threats against a cab driver.

Steve isn’t just “a handful,” an example of “boy-will-be-boys” in the extreme. He’s a downright sociopath, a proto-serial killer masquerading behind hormones and the love of a single mother who’s trying to do what’s right but can’t bring herself to confront the reality facing her.

If Mommy were a Hollywood film, Steve would channel his energies into superpowers, or have a tearful but definitive self-actualization scene full of hope and promise of recovery as he goes on Ritalin.
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Dolan’s worldview is darker. Generationally, he’s much closer in age to Steve than to Diane, but it’s difficult to fathom where his sympathies lie as a writer-director. Diane is indulgent and volatile herself, and also largely careless in how she deals with her clearly disturbed child. (He’s never seen taking any prescriptions to control his diagnosed impulse-control problems, and Diane frequently puts Steve in provocative situations that anyone could see would exacerbate his fits.)

Despite its flaws, though, Mommy is a compelling artistic effort. Dolan shoots virtually the entire film in a 1:1 aspect ratio, meaning the film is exactly as wide as it is tall. (It appears taller, but trust me: It’s an exact square.) Who does that — who, indeed, has ever done it? The effect is arresting, making us observe these lives as if through a window, literally making up voyeurs into the private lives of ordinary people. Only on two brief occasions does Dolan resort to wide screen — once during a moment of joyous release, once during a fantasy flash-forward — but they just highlight the claustrophobia of the remaining scenes. Mommy is dour and puzzling and unrelenting, but it’s also a breath of fresh air.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 30, 2015.