The Oscar nominated Live Action and Animated short films are screening at the Ritz at the Bourse for the next two weeks, giving viewers a chance to see some fantastic films (and get a leg up in their Oscar pool).
The trick with short films is that the best ones hook you right away, and carry you through the story before they finish with a nice payoff. They are snippets of a larger life, but give you a brief, intense moment of drama or humor.
In the Animated category, among the five nominees are several sprightly, brightly colored films.
A Single Life clocks in as the shortest—under three minutes—but it chronicles a life in the time it takes to play a vinyl single. The film is cute, but slight, and not likely to take home the trophy.
Better is Me and My Moulton, a slice of life film from Torill Kove, narrated by a seven year-old girl who lives in 1965 Norway with her family. Her parents decorate their house with modernist architecture, which causes some comedic moments, and she has pain brought on by the fact that her father is the only man in the town who has a mustache. She dreams of getting a bicycle to ride with her two sisters. Kove’s film is charming, but it lacks a strong emotional payoff.
More dramatic is the beautifully rendered, mostly wordless short, The Dam Keeper, by Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi. The story concerns a young pig who manages the dam in town. The other animals at school bully him, until one day he befriends a fox, who sketches cartoons. The charcoal splashes from the sketchbook are artfully done, and many of the images in the film look like a watercolor come to life. Equally vivid is the use of light and darkness, and the detail of the town where the story takes place. This film could win the Oscar in a surprise upset.
The Bigger Picture is arguably the best of the bunch. In under ten minutes, the filmmakers Daisy Jacobs and Christopher Hees use marvelous stop-motion animation to depict a dying mother and her two sons, one of whom is the chief caregiver. If the story sounds grim, it is dazzlingly rendered with inventive visuals such as a vacuum that sucks up people, furniture, and even artwork, or water that escapes through the showerhead. There is also some real emotion on display. It’s not likely that The Bigger Picture will win, but if there was any justice, it would.
The odds-makers are predicting Feast will be victorious in this category and it is a shoo-in. A sweet and funny Disney film, this story of a man and his dog Winston, who likes to eat people food, is absolutely delightful. There are some wonderful visual motifs and emotions packed into this six-minute short that is bright and engaging right up to the final twist.
Note: because of the length of the nominated films, additional animated shorts will be included in this program.
In the Live-Action category, Butter Lamp is easily the best of the contenders. A group of Tibetans are photographed in front of various backdrops. The expressions, dress and props are remarkable to behold, but the short, which captures the magic of photography (and by extension, moving pictures) climaxes not when the oldest nomad sits for a portrait, but with a splendid reveal.
Butter Lamp, is a longshot for the Oscar. The Academy is likely going to honor The Phone Call, a sentimental short with star power. This film chronicles the title call between Heather (Oscar-nominee Sally Hawkins) and Stan (Oscar-winner Jim Broadbent), a desperate man who calls the crisis center where she works. Their conversation, which unfolds slowly, creates the drama in this entry that goes in some unexpected directions.
The other nominated shorts are a mixed bag. The shortest and weakest is Bugaloo and Graham, a modest film that concerns two young brothers getting pet chickens in 1978 Belfast. Their parents soon want to get them dog instead, but a situation arises that changes everything. To minor to have much impact, the film is competently made, but not especially compelling.
At 40 minutes, the longest nominee, Aya from Israel, has the title character (Sarah Adler) putting herself in an unusual position: she meets a stranger (Ulrich Thomsen) at the airport and pretends to be his driver. As the couple travel to Jerusalem, she considers how and when to reveal her deception. Their exchange, which addresses issues of honesty, and intimacy, is fascinating. The acting by the two leads is terrific, and this short deservedly won the Israeli Film Academy’s Best Short Film Prize.
The final candidate, Parvaneh also concerns two strangers who meet under unusual circumstances. The title character here (Nissa Kashani) is an Afghan in Switzerland who wants to send money to her family via Western Union. Unable to complete this task, she enlists the assistance of a young girl (Cheryl Graf), who exposes her to a world that is far beyond her experience. Parvaneh is a bit slow to get started, but the bond between these two young women is ultimately affecting.
Both Oscar Shorts programs open in Philly theaters today.
Author: Gary M. Kramer
Gary M. Kramer is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer and film critic. He is the co-editor of the forthcoming book, Directory of World Cinema: Argentina. Follow him on twitter @garymkramer.