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MOVIE REVIEW

2009 Sundance Shorts

Sundance shorts hit the mark confidently

Andrea Riseborough and Harry Treadaway are the bored teenagers in Sam Taylor-Wood’s short, “Love You More.’’ Andrea Riseborough and Harry Treadaway are the bored teenagers in Sam Taylor-Wood’s short, “Love You More.’’
By Ty Burr
Globe Staff / January 15, 2010

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As the 2010 Sundance Film Festival gears up in Utah, the “2009 Sundance Shorts’’ program lands at the Coolidge. Weird timing, but whatever. Shorts is shorts, and the best ones are timeless; in this era of viral videos and cellphone cinema, it’s always refreshing to see filmmakers thinking bigger than the “Top Favorited’’ section of YouTube.

A judicious if shallow scoop of the better short-film offerings from last year’s fest, the evening has a ridiculously high hit-to-miss ratio. Among the sharp little visions here is the opener, “Next Floor,’’ from Canada’s Denis Villeneuve: It’s a surrealistic satire worthy of Buñuel in which a dinner party of upper-class twits plunges through the decaying floors of an industrial warehouse all the way, presumably, to hell.

Short films have to use shorthand - atmosphere, music, the telling camera angle - to suggest what feature films can expound upon at length. The delightfully randy “Love You More’’ (written by Patrick Marber of “Closer’’) employs the Buzzcocks song of the title and details of hair (bleached) and clothing (post-punk) to tell the story of two bored British teenagers discovering sex after school one afternoon in 1978. Sometimes less is less: The animated five-minute “John and Karen,’’ about a polar bear and a penguin making up after a tiff, is cute but awfully slight, a funny-animal version of a minor Mike Leigh movie.

The big draw in the package is “I Am So Proud of You,’’ the second chapter in animator Don Hertzfeldt’s trilogy about growing up dysfunctional. (The first, “Everything Will Be OK,’’ came out in 2006; “Wisdom Teeth’’ should be completed this year.) Hertzfeldt mixes stick-figure cartooning and stop-motion collage to build poetic sagas of multigenerational suffering. “Proud’’ is creative, brave, and arguably overlong, like a brilliant autobiographical graphic novel that doesn’t know when to quit.

Not every film in “Sundance Shorts 2009’’ works. “Countertransference,’’ a deadpan comedy about a middle-aged woman (Deb Margolin) dealing with a lunatic therapist (Susan Ziegler) takes 16 minutes to tell its one wan joke. The lone documentary in the package, though, is quite good. Eva Weber’s “Steel Homes’’ probes the way we use self-storage units as private museums for our pasts and the associated emotions we can’t let go.

The best may be saved for last: “Short Term 12,’’ a 22-minute drama written and directed by Destin Cretton based on his experiences working in a home for troubled teenagers. It casts Brad William Henke (“Choke,’’ TV’s “Lost’’) as a young supervisor nearly as messed-up as his charges; the actor’s daughter, Phoenix Henke, turns in a harrowing performance as one of the kids.

Compact, subtle, resonant, and assured, “Short Term 12’’ never overplays its hand and lets the viewer connect the emotional dots - exactly what a good narrative short should do. The film has made it to the short list (as it were) for the 2010 Oscar live-action short category. At least half of the Coolidge bill could sit comfortably next to it.

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@globe.com. For more on movies, go to www.boston.com/movie nation.

2009 SUNDANCE SHORTS

At: Coolidge Corner

Running time: 115 minutes

Unrated (as R: violent images, nudity, sex, cussing)

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