Sunday, February 22, 2015

The 2014 Oscar-Nominated Live Action Short Films

And now for something completely different

I didn't go to see the shorts last year, just couldn't find the time for it, and yet I found I missed them. It's useful at this time of year to remember that the Doldrums too shall pass, and that there are good movies on offer even when one has no reason to suspect as much. Top that off with the fact that I have a strong suspicion that next week's venture will be godawful, and I thought I ought to take in some lighter fare before facing up to just what Hollywood has wrought this year.

And so, I offer:

The 2014 Oscar-Nominated Live Action Short Films

Parveneh: It doesn't count as having a surprising plot when you don't have one at all, guys. Parvaneh, an Iranian-Swiss offering, is about an Iranian immigrant in Zurich trying to find a way to send money home to her family without a valid ID card, and the hijinx that befall her along the way. Of course by hijinx, I don't mean a hell of a lot, as she meets a local girl and is dragged around the city all night by her to no real end. The film is interestingly-shot enough, and I suppose in a way it's nice to see movies about immigrants in Europe who aren't met with pure, distilled hostility. But even for a short subject, the whole thing just seems a bit lightweight.

Butter Lamp: By far the weirdest film on offer in the showcase, this French-Chinese collaboration (short films seem to invariably also be foreign, for some reason) consists of a traveling picture studio setting up local people from a village in what I assume is supposed to be Tibet and taking their pictures in front of enormous matte-painting-style backdrops of everything from Disneyland to the Forbidden City. Rather than have a plot, this film relies on atmosphere and the interplay between characters to paint a picture for us, and even has several moments of hilarity, particularly when an old woman begins prostrating herself to the image of the Potala. Most of those I saw this showcase with picked this film, of all of them, as their favorite of the bunch, and while I didn't quite agree, I do admit there's something intriguing about this plotless little piece.

Aya: To quote Roger Ebert, this film is like being on a long bus ride with someone who has needed a bath for a long time. Short subject or not, this lengthy Israeli film about a woman who impersonates a limousine driver and picks up a classical pianist from Denmark feels like it simply will never end, like some dark bastardized cross between Locke and Under the Skin. Boring as all hell and riven with obvious efforts on the part of the cast to ape "meaning" without ever finding any, this thing is the longest of any of the shorts on offer, and should have been the shortest.

Boogaloo and Graham: A charming, if insubstantial little piece from Northern Ireland (who always seems to have an entry in the live action shorts), this film takes as its subject Belfast during the troubles and concentrates on two boys who are given pet chickens by their father. Not much is really done with this concept, but the idea is cute, and its harmless enough, even if the movie seems to be about as consequential as a home video from the 70s.

And the award for Best Live-Action Short Film goes to...

The Phone Call: Yeah, sue me. This is the most "Hollywood" of the films, with recognizable actors in the form of Sally Hawkins and Jim Broadbent (or at least his voice). So be it. A quiet, dour piece about an old man calling a suicide hotline and talking to the woman who works there is, in my mind, the most well-done of all of them. The movie is nothing elaborate, but both of the leads, particularly Broadbent, capture the desperation of such a conversation perfectly well, all without ever getting overly "scripty". It's a close call here, but I thought this movie's capture of the way that conversations like this actually go, the awkwardness and strange asides that come with complete strangers speaking candidly to one another on their worst days, that leads me to give the award here.

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