‘Oscar Nominated Short Films 2015: Live Action’ Review
While audiences whip up an excitement for feature length Oscar nominees like American Sniper and Selma, this year’s short films don’t seem to be making nearly as much of a mainstream impact. This is because short films, with rare exceptions, don’t receive widespread theatrical or even home video releases, nor do they typically arrive on the art house scene with the same fervor usually relegated to films like Boyhood or Whiplash.
Fortunately, the Oscar Nominated Short Films 2015: Live Action program – now playing at select theaters – offers audiences a glimpse at some of the best short films produced over the past year, in a proper theatrical presentation. We would like to encourage those lucky enough to live near a theater screening the Oscar Nominated Short Films 2015: Live Action program, and its Animated and Documentary counterparts, to go out and discover something special.
My take on the Oscar Nominated Short Films 2015: Live Action program is as follows…
[Editor’s Note: This review originally and mistakenly included the films from the Oscar Nominated Short Films 2015: Documentary program. They now have their own, separate review. We apologize for the confusion.]
The Nominees for Best Short Film: Live Action
A woman named Aya (Sarah Adler), waiting at an airport, is asked to hold a sign for a limousine driver who needs to move his car. When the man who needs a lift arrives, the moment is awkward. So awkward, in fact, that she neglects to tell him that she’s not his driver, and winds up giving this piano player (Ulrich Thomsen) a ride all the way to Jerusalem.
Directors Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis don’t offer many twists after the set-up for Aya presents itself. The only suspense comes from whether or not Aya will admit that she has no idea what she’s doing, or explain why she’s even doing it. But for nearly 40 minutes we find these two people carefully explore their curiosity about one another, reaching for at least one moment a musical crescendo that’s both tantalizingly erotic and platonically sublime.
Boogaloo and Graham
Belfast, the late 1970s, the streets are lined with soldiers wielding high-powered weapons. But Boogaloo and Graham is a comedy, and a very funny one at that. Two young boys are given baby chickens to care for, and embrace their new responsibility with an adorable, slightly obsessed enthusiasm. But when their parents announce that the chickens might have to go, the siblings try to escape – chickens in tow – and discover that they probably didn’t think their plan through very well.
Boogaloo and Graham, named after the chickens themselves, is an almost impossibly endearing short film, capturing the innocence of youth and the frustrations of parents who accidentally bit off more than they can chew, and have frustrating difficulty putting their house back in order. A couple of cute twists make Michael Lennox’s film all the more lovable as the story concludes.
The most conceptual of the Live Action short subjects, Butter Lamp lets its entire story – what little there is of it – play out in a single angle, from the perspective of a photographer’s lens. A small crew takes portraits of the residents of an isolated Chinese community, many of whom have never had their pictures taken before. The juxtaposition of these inexperienced souls against elaborate backdrops of Disneyland, the Olympics, a tropical beach and more are good for a few chuckles, but the heart of Wei Hu’s film is revealed more quietly, in the incidental, friendly interactions between everyone who just happens to step into the frame, sometimes unexpectedly.
Butter Lamp will either delight you or leave you feeling slightly puzzled, but at a brisk 15 minutes, even those who don’t fall under its spell are likely to at least be a little intrigued by the experience.
An Afghan teenager named Parvaneh (Nissa Kashani) needs to send money home to a sick relative, but what could have been a simple trip to Western Union turns into a nearly epic journey when you don’t have the proper identification. Stranded and desperate, she befriends a young woman barely older than herself to make the transaction, but fate steps in again, and again just for good measure (and satisfying drama).
Parvaneh nearly segues into violence towards the finale, but Talkhon Amzavi’s film isn’t about persecution or emotional damage. It’s about a budding friendship and cautious steps towards connecting to unfamiliar cultures. It’s finely acted, attractively filmed, and a real joy.
The Phone Call
The only Oscar-nominated live action short with an all star cast, The Phone Call features Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine) as Heather, a Suicide Prevention operator whose latest call, from a man named Stanley (Jim Broadbent, Moulin Rouge!), may be her toughest challenge yet. Stanley’s wife has died two years prior, and he’s just taken too many anti-depressants, and the suspense mounts as Heather tries to decipher little clues from their conversation to track Stanley down and notify the paramedics, but it’s quite possible that what he really needs is a friend to hold his hand, if only figuratively speaking, as he drifts away over the phone.
Amazingly acted and filmed with absolute tension, The Phone Call is almost the best film nominated this year. The film concludes with an impossibly brilliant moment that is both satisfying and sad, wholly unexpected and also the only way this film could ever end. But then it ends again, in a fashion that may be well-intentioned (and is certainly kind), but seems almost too conclusive to properly conclude a story that otherwise excels in offering uneasy responses to life’s biggest questions.