Big Screen Berkeley: Oscar-nominated short subjects; SF Indiefest

Landmark Shattuck Cinemas will once again show the shorts in contention for an Oscar. SF IndieFest has a number of films it is worth crossing the bay for.

From Memorable. Photo: Shorts TV

It’s Oscar season, which means it’s also time for me to make bad predictions about this year’s animated and live-action short subject categories (opening Friday, Jan. 31 at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas). So without further ado, let the misguided guessing commence!

The clear standout in this year’s animated category is Memorable, a haunting meditation on dementia from France. Using a visual technique akin to the aural one taken by the avant-garde musician known as The Caretaker, director Bruno Collet depicts the stripping away of memory and blurring of reality to stunning effect.

Competition comes from Daughter, a maudlin stop-motion tale of family reconciliation from the Czech Republic; Hair Love, a cute but pointed tale of a father negotiating his daughter’s voluminous locks; Kitbull, an adorable story of animal friendship that will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy; and Sister, an anti-abortion cartoon from Japan that surely won’t win favor with liberal Academy voters.

The films in the live-action category are more evenly matched, but I’ll settle on Saria, a wrenching depiction of orphans imprisoned in a Guatemalan detention center. Saria’s chilling conclusion is rendered all the more powerful by its basis in fact, and its topicality certainly won’t hurt its chances. Close on Saria‘s heels comes Brotherhood, a superb Tunisian film about the return of an ISIS fighter to his family, while likely also-rans include A Sister, a Belgian film that borrows its plot from the 2018 Danish feature The Guilty; NEFTA Football Club, a rather awkward comedy-drama from France; and The Neighbor’s Window, an over-baked tale of life in a Manhattan high rise.


SF Indie Fest

Go Don’t Go. Photo: Courtesy SF IndieFest

It’s also time for this year’s SF Indiefest – yes, festival season is already upon us! Taking place annually over two weeks, Indiefest was where I encountered my second favorite film of 2019, The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot, which you’re probably all tired of hearing about at this point. All films referenced below screen at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater.

The highlight of Indiefest 2020’s first week is Go Don’t Go (7:15 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 1 and 9:15 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 6), an elegiac examination of the hermetic existence of the (apparently) last man on Earth. Socially awkward Adam (writer/director Alex Knapp) has finally developed a serious relationship with K (Olivia Luccardi), but when she – along with the other seven and a half billion of us – suddenly disappear, Adam is left alone with his thoughts, a pitching machine, and a bowling alley, which provides perhaps the best big-screen bowling scene since The Big Lebowski.

Achingly melancholic, Go Don’t Go follows Adam from the top of a mountain – where he desperately hopes to find answers to his unexpected predicament – to a baseball diamond, where he hits ball after ball ‘thrown’ to him by the aforementioned pitching machine. Bolstered by a terrific Evan Joseph and Luke Schwartz score, this wonderful, many-layered feature doesn’t insult its audience with easy explanations or a zombie apocalypse.

The curiously titled Effigy – Poison and the City (7:15 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 31 and 9:15 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 4) is a handsomely mounted historical drama from Germany. Relating the story of a serial poisoner in 1828 Bremen – a city on the cusp of the Industrial Revolution – Effigy looks lovely but suffers somewhat from an utter lack of suspense. Wild Goose Lake (9:30 p,m. on Sunday, Feb, 2 and 9:15 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 11) is a gritty Chinese gangster pic highlighted by cinematographer Jingsong Dong’s (Long Day’s Journey into Night) impressive visual flair but is a tad overlong at 110 minutes.

Things I Do for Money (7:15 p.m. on Feb. 1 and 9:15 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 6) is an unusual Canadian effort about two cello-playing brothers mixed up in drug-dealing: it can’t quite decide whether it’s an uplifting family drama or a north-of-the-border Tarantino knock-off. Finally, Frances Ferguson (Jan. 31 at 9:30 p.m.) is the sort of ultra-arch comedy I really dislike; it’s only saving grace is Kaley Wheless’s relentless performance as an unhappy substitute school teacher with a serious personal problem.