Thursday, February 12, 2015

OSCAR'S 2015 LIVE ACTION SHORT NOMINEES ARE TAUT YET SWEET

Sally Hawkins in THE PHONE CALL
The Academy Awards air Sunday night, February 22, and plenty of the nominated films are still playing in theaters. Landmark Theaters and other art-house destinations are currently showcasing the nominees for the Live Action Shorts across the country. And even though the shorts categories tend to be of lower interest to most of the audience of the annual Oscar telecast, these mini-movies are worth seeking out. They’re packed with a lot of drama in precious little time.

The favorite to win the Oscar is a UK short called THE PHONE CALL. In 21 deft minutes, the story of a suicidal man’s phone call to a crisis hotline operator is rendered tense as well as sentimental. Sally Hawkins is virtually onscreen the whole time all to herself and she does wonderful work acting with her eyes, hands and posture to convey a modest woman who finds herself, quite literally, holding a man’s life on the line. Jim Broadbent is the frazzled and woozy caller who’s downed a bottle of anti-depressants. This one is rather depressing, but its denouement is life-affirming if narratively unconventional.


PARVANEH is from Switzerland and tells the tale of a female Afghan refugee who is working in that country and attempts to send money back home to her family. Of course, that seemingly simple task is fraught with all kinds of obstacles, from government red tape to con artists wanting to part her from her stash of cash. Nissa Kashani shines as the earnest but naïve title character in this 24-minute character study that renders an edge-of-your-seat sense of dread up until its final moments.


BUTTER LAMP, a combined effort from France and China, is easily the strangest short that has come down the Oscar pike in some time. It’s a strange and rather static observing of two photographers shooting portraits of various Tibetan families posing in Western clothing and placed in front of a series of unusual backdrops – everything from a tropical beach setting to a welcoming line at Disney World. The audience’s POV is that of the camera with the only edits coming from the click of the camera. It’s too odd by half with its strange juxtaposition of Old World families buttressed up against the modernity of cheap portrait photography, but it is certainly a unique short.


The dark horse candidate this season that could usurp the favorite could be BOOGALOO AND GRAHAM. This UK entry is about a couple of boys in Northern Ireland who try to take care of the two chicks their father has brought home. It's both the funniest entry  and the shortest – only 14 minutes long. The Belfast boys are both sweet and surly in their attempts at parenting. There is tension added to their task too by the threat of the battle between the IRA and the British government in their community. As bad as that is, their main nemesis is their imposing mother whose favorite expression is a disapproving frown. Despite the tension though, this tale is a funny fable with the boys (Riley Hamilton and Aaron Lynch) making for quite the comic pairing, loving one minute and cursing like hooligans the next. 


Perhaps the most compelling of this year's short is the delicate character study that is AYA, a French-Israel production. Aya, an Israeli woman (Sarah Adler) waits at the Tel Aviv airport and is mistaken by a Danish man named Mr. Overby (Ulrich Thomsen) for a limo driver. She decides to go along for the ride, literally and figuratively, as she drives him to his hotel destination. As they make the journey, their back and forth goes from civil to confidential to strangely intimate. The two actors are great together, and you'll likely wish this was a full-length film. All in all, AYA is a thoughtfully observed essay on loneliness, and at 40 minutes, it’s also this year’s longest Live Action Short.


The Academy usually tends to honor those films that move their heart more than their head, and that’s always been true of the voting in this category too. Four of the five here, with the exception of BUTTER LAMP, pack an emotional wallop so it could be a real contest this year. We will find out which moved voters the most come February 22. And in case you can't get to see these in time, they all become available on VOD the day after the Oscars are handed out.

This weekend, if you're into elicit love stories, you can check out FIFTY SHADES OF GREY which is opening. Or if you're a big lover of action, THE KINGSMEN also debuts. However, if you adore unusual fare at the Cineplex, show some love for Oscar's Live Action Shorts while they're still in theaters.  

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