Movie a Day Blog has posted on the Academy Award nominated categories of Best Animated Short and Best Documentary Short. Now it’s the turn of the Live Action shorts (2015, Theatrical), and I must admit that I found the field in this category inferior to its short film siblings.
It’s east to predict what will win this time out. THE PHONE CALL (2013) features two star performances by Mike Leigh veteran Sally Hawkins and the voice, if not the person, of the great British actor Jim Broadbent.
Surprisingly, it’s set in the same world inhabited by the leading Documentary Short contender, CRISIS HOTLINE: VETERANS PRESS ONE (2013, Movie a Day 2/12/15). Both are focused on the respondents to men’s suicidal ramblings over the telephone, and in both films, the callers are never seen.
Unlike CRISIS HOTLINE, PHONE CALL seemed predictable, and Hawkins’ performance a bit mawkish, if I’m honest, and on this blog, I am. Still, it’s difficult to beat star power now that all Academy voters can cast a ballot in this category.
My personal preference was for BOOGALOO AND GRAHAM (2014), a British short set in Northern Ireland and based on the writer’s own childhood about the pet chickens he and his brother defended and befriended. The dialect isn’t easy to decipher, but the Motown music seems perfectly suited to the slight but satisfying domestic story.
A simple short film is usually a good short film, and BOOGALOO AND GRAHAM dispenses with melodrama for easy gentle humor and a wonderful payoff to the opening setup. Director Michael Lennox does a good job of realizing authentic performances from his two young actors, but it’s Ronan Blaney’s script, narrated by Jonathan Harden, that really shines.
I had problems with all the remaining Live Action Shorts. I found AYA, a well-acted but overlong (40 minutes!) story of a strange encounter between a young married Israeli woman and a Danish businessman she mistakenly picks up at the airport. One implausibility is stacked atop another until the entire arc of the story comes tumbling down. The final reveal is meaningful, but the film squandered any believability far before then.
BUTTER LAMP (2013) was unusual and interesting to watch, but it felt more like a documentary than several of this year’s Documentary Shorts did. A photographer and his assistant pose large Tibetan families, often it seems from rural areas, in front of ever-changing backdrops.
The collection of backdrops, one wheeled down like a stage curtain after another, is hilarious: there’s Mao and Tienanmen Square, followed by an American McMansion, the Great Wall of China, Disneyland with every Disney and Dreamworks character, and a dreamy Romantic Palace in the Italian villa tradition. You never know what’s coming next.
The difficulty with BUTTER LAMP is figuring out the point being made by writer-director Wei Hu. It’s as if he wanted to find this kind of itinerant photographer, and rather than looking for one to document, he just invented his own. It left the tone of his film feeling slightly queasy.
PARVENEH (2012) is a Swiss student film, very impressively mounted, that tells the story of a young illegal Afghani immigrant in Germany, who slowly begins to sample the freedom of the West. It’s the feel-good short of this year’s Oscar Live Action Short nominees, complete with a happy ending of friendship and assimilation.
If only it were so easy. Unlike the Documentary Shorts this year, the Live Action nominees seem purposefully trying to avoid the darker side of the contemporary world, and focus instead on little snapshots of “cute” behavior or situations. Only BOOGALOO AND GRAHAM put me in the realistic world of its characters, and made me care about them.
But this may be the year for crisis hotline movies, so get your handkerchiefs ready.