PALM SPRINGS SHORTFEST 2011: Dominic Mercurio's Top 10 Countdown

[Once again, we'd like to thank Evening Class intern Dominic Mercurio for being our eyes and ears at the 17th edition of the Palm Springs International Shortfest. Here are his recommendations. Short synopses courtesy of the festival.]

10. The Coldest Caller (United Kingdom), Joe Tucker, 2011, 4min--"The Grim Reaper meets his match when he pays an unexpected visit to a little old lady who's one step ahead of him."

This very short short packs a whole lot of style and entertainment. Its lean and quick storytelling ends up effectively playing off the audience's expectations. Quirky and fun.

PS Shortfest 2011_logo.jpg9. The Kiss (Australia), Ashlee Page, 2010, 15min--"Two girls riding their bikes through the woods on a sultry summer night come upon a fire reservoir tank and decide to take a swim, but learn once they are in the tank that getting out is not as easy as getting in." Winner: Best Short Fiction Film, Best Cinematography, at the Australian Film Industry Awards. [Official website.]

This intense short had me glued to the screen. Its suspenseful build takes a cue from Hitchcock, eschewing dependence on an overdramatic score to manipulate scares. Though not a scary movie in the traditional sense, its incredibly suspenseful and claustrophobic cinematography gives this story the feel of a disturbing cautionary tale.

8. The Strange Ones (USA), Lauren Wolkstein, Christopher Radcliff, 2010, 14min--"From the director of ShortFest 2009's Cigarette Candy comes this enigmatic tale of two 'brothers' on a road trip who stop at a motel pool for a swim, encountering a young woman who becomes enmeshed in their mysterious odyssey." [Official website.]

It's hard to discuss this film without giving away what makes it so intriguing, but it's clear collaborators Wolkstein and Radcliff understand their audience. With a clever script, they convincingly guide their audience along with a story that just doesn't quite feel right. Until of course you realize why things are so strange...

7. Car Park Babylon (United Kingdom), Bill Bailey, Joe Magee, 2010, 12min--"Desperate to get a gift on Christmas Eve, a man rushes to the mall, only to have everything that can go wrong, go wrong."

The UK knows comedy. This short is further proof, and is also an example of masterful filmmaking. The classic "everything keeps going wrong" movie can sometimes feel a bit forced, but the set-ups and payoffs in this film keep the filmmakers one step in front of the audience. By keeping people laughing, it's hard to anticipate some of the off-the-wall humor this comedy produces out of left field. A wonderfully shot story with hilarious characters.

6. The Candidate (USA), David Karlak, 2010, 19min--"An obnoxious businessman is intrigued by a proposition from a mysterious stranger representing an unusual secret society."

This felt like an amazing first act of an incredible film. Not to say it doesn't stand on its own, but I certainly came away wishing it would have kept going. Again, suspense and an extremely well-crafted script kept this film from being at all predictable, and you're sure to feel a chill down your spine with this short's clever twists. Incredible performances have been elicited from the two lead actors who convincingly portray people you feel you've known in your own life. Undoubtedly, Karlak will go on to make quite the splash when he begins his feature film work.

5. Interview (Germany), Sebastian Marka, 2011, 20min--"This great little German thriller captures an investigative reporter who is interviewing a possible serial killer who may or may not have just killed someone the interviewer is very close to..."

It's extremely difficult to fool audiences familiar with thrillers. Accustomed to twists and turns in a tale, informed audiences will predict narrative devices if they're set up too traditionally. This is exactly what feeds this astute thriller. I felt a strong nod to David Fincher's Seven in this short, right down to a mysterious square box and its secret contents. Interview boasted some of the more stunning cinematography I saw at the festival.

4. The Hours' Home (A Casa das Horas) (Brazil), Heraldo Cavalcanti--"While the employees of a phone sales company think they've hooked a sucker in the form of a lonely little old lady who's interested in their sales pitch, they soon learn that she can work the phone even better than they do..." Winner: Best Live Action Short Over 15 Minutes, 2011 Palm Springs ShortFest.

A hilarious set-up leads to a poignant drama held together by the touching performance of its lead actress, immediately likeable and memorable, which makes her social critique of impatience over the loss of time all that more powerful.

3. Zoltan: The Hungarian Ganster of Love (USA), Justin Reardon, 2010, 14min--"A Hungarian lothario is forced to participate in a dance-off showdown in order to win the hand--and other parts--of a beautiful vixen he desires in this amusing tale of vice and a distinct lack of virture."

Describing Zoltan is nearly impossible. This film will either make your eyes roll out of complete disgust or keep you in hysterics with its out-of-this-world and raunchy sense of humor. At one point, when a boom box runs out of batteries, our hero Zoltan finds two large sausage links and inserts them into his battery pack to continue fueling a heated dance-off that features King Crimson's 1969 prog-fusion single "21st Century Schizoid Man". Based on that, you should know if this film is for you.

2. All American Tooles (USA), M. David Melvin, 2010, 22min--"Todd and Cindy Toole are daunted by the ever present modern day threats posed to their new baby boy, Trigger. When they buy the BabyCam 9000 SC (the most advanced surveillance system on the market), the Tooles are finally convinced they can relax..." [Official website.]

This twisted satire of the fear-fueled American suburban dream is both sick and hilarious. The mother character, Cindy Toole, steals the show as a paranoiac far too obsessed with her infant's safety. What this film grows into from its already outrageous set-up will surprise you. The film feels like a feature film with all the fat trimmed. An excellent display of how a short film can provide fleshed-out characters and a story filled to the brim with personality.

1. Clear Blue (Canada), Lindsay Mackay, 2010, 21min--"On his first day as a lifeguard at a community pool, Simon notices Flova, an older woman with an exceptional capacity to stay submerged under water. Intrigued, Simon follows Flova into the pool, where he discovers a startling secret and an impossible love." [Official site.]

The synopsis up there is just about all that can be mentioned about this wonderfully crafted story without giving away what makes this film such a standout. The mysterious set-up will have you wondering where the film is headed as it could branch many different ways. Like our main character, we are curious to find out more, and as the riveting story unravels we only become more intrigued. Shot on 35mm with tons of breathtaking underwater footage, Clear Blue's naturalism adds much to the film's magical latter half (reminiscent of the fresh approach to a familiar genre taken by Let The Right One In). An admirable filmmaking achievement from the young Lindsay Mackay who is sure to find a large audience for her thoughtful and poignant work.

Cross-published on The Evening Class.
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