20 February, 2015

The Short Circuit: Live Action Oscar Nominees

With only two days to go before the Oscars grace our screens, you're running out of time to see what you haven't already. Worry not, dear reader—as far as the less circulated, harder-to-find short films are concerned, we've got your back. The Academy assembles the nominated shorts according to category and distributes them to certain theaters nationwide, typically those driven by independent film; only four in the Atlanta Metro area have screenings. I saw all five at Lefont this evening and will now rank them from least favorite to favorite. Fair warning: as I have little interest in Academy politics, this list points not to an official prediction but to an official preference. Check those little boxes at your own risk!

Ulrich Thomsen and Sarah Adler in "Aya"
5. "Aya"
Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis
39 minutes

This Israeli film from 2012 stars Sarah Adler ["Marie Antoinette," "Jellyfish," "Self Made"—2015 Atlanta Jewish Film Festival selection] as Aya and Ulrich Thomsen ["The International," "Duplicity," "Mortdecai"] as Mr. Overby. When Mr. Overby arrives in the Tel Aviv airport, he sees Aya with his welcome sign. What he doesn't know is that she isn't actually his driver. What she doesn't know is how far she's willing to go to maintain the charade. As their strangerhood becomes a friendship—or something like it, at least—each explores, rather reluctantly at times, their comfort zones and desires. Marked by vulnerability cloaked in uncertainty, this selection is well-written and performed; but poor communication for the sake of drama rarely translates to a commendation. 

Nissa Kashani is Parvaneh
4. "Parvaneh"
Talkhon Hamzavi and Stefan Eichenberger
25 minutes

Newcomer Nissa Kashani stars as Parvaneh in this Swiss film about an Afghan immigrant finding her way in the rural transit center for asylum seekers. When she travels to Zurich in order to send money back home for her sick father, she enlists help from a local girl and is thrust into the Swiss teen scene. Whether the two will be friends or foes is cause for suspense, and the beautifully shot story unfolds as an exploration of contrast and custom. It's this cross-cultural theme that I suspect will give a relevant edge to its chances at the top prize.

Sally Hawkins stars in "The Phone Call"
3. "The Phone Call"
Mat Kirkby and James Lucas
19 minutes

Filmed in the UK in 2013, "The Phone Call," starring Sally Hawkins and Jim Broadbent, has the topmost-billed cast of the five. Sally Hawkins is Heather, a crisis call center employee. Jim Broadbent lends his voice (but never his face) to the man who calls one day. Nineteen minutes then feels like a lifetime because, in a way, it is. The most riveting of the nominees, this short explores how the depths of love intersect with the fragility and brevity of life. Sally Hawkins positively shines, but I could have done without the screenplay's attempt to outshine her with a (subjectively) happy ending.

Newcomers Riley Hamilton and Aaron Lynch
2. "Boogaloo and Graham"
Michael Lennox and Ronan Blaney
14 minutes

This laugh-out-loud short takes place in 1978 Ireland. Two brothers, Jamesy (Riley Hamilton) and Malachy (Aaron Lynch), are thrilled when their "occasionally farming" father brings home two baby chicks that they promptly name—you guessed it—Boogaloo and Graham. The boys are as inseparable from their beloved pets as they are from each other, but a big family change puts the chickens at risk. A delightfully sharp look at the world through a young boy's eyes, at the love a father has for his sons, and at an ultimately "fine demonstration of love," this selection is the one I'd watch over and over again.

Genden Punstock as the photographer in "Butter Lamp"
1. "Butter Lamp" (La Lampe au Beurre de Yak)
Hu Wei and Julien FĂ©ret
15 minutes

Shot entirely within one frame, "Butter Lamp" is the story of a traveling photographer who takes pictures of various families of Tibetan nomads in front of any number of majestic backdrops, ranging from the 2008 Beijing Olympics to Disneyland to the revered Potala Palace. The scenes are punctuated by his camera shutter, and each new group contributes a level of transparency to the medley of local characters. Though the most understated of the five, "Butter Lamp" is the film that most clearly establishes and achieves its vision. Simply a joy to watch. ("Butter Lamp" screened at the 2014 Atlanta Film Festival.)


And there you have it! Lights. Camera. Live action shorts. Stay tuned for my take on the Documentary Shorts, coming later today!

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