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Oscar Shorts 2015

a/Arts & Entertainment/Film and TV by
Even the more informed moviegoers among the masses will often reach the short film portion of their Academy Awards ballots and have no idea where to start in terms of picking the two winners. The critical buzz that accompanies Oscar season largely ignores these compressed works—and the Tribune is here to rectify that. Without further ado, here are the Arts & Entertainment section’s second annual live action and animated short film reviews and picks. 

Click each perspective to read more and learn about who our picks are for this year's Oscar shorts

Animated

Eric Noble-Marks

Me and My Moulton

Set in Norway in the mid-1960s, Me and My Moulton is a charming short about the innocence of early childhood. It describes the lives of a seven-year-old narrator and her sisters as they slowly begin to understand the world. The film’s minimalistic animation style gives it a quaint and cozy feel, perfectly complementing its nostalgic narrative. Unfortunately, that narrative is also quite sparse at times, making the film seem much longer than its 14-minute runtime.

Feast

Feast is the big studio contribution to this year’s nominees and it shows. It features the cutesy, lighthearted narrative and sophisticated animation that have become staples in Disney/Pixar shorts. The film chronicles the trials and tribulations of a relationship through the eyes of a very hungry dog. What’s not to like? Feast is in many ways the perfect children’s short, boasting an adorable protagonist, simple but effective humour, and a tone that’s just sentimental enough. Though perhaps not the most unique or revolutionary of the shorts, Feast is definitely the most heartwarming. 

A Single Life

Clocking in at a breakneck two minutes, A Single Life is by far the shortest film nominated. However, it makes good use of an inventive and excellently executed premise: The film’s only character uses a magical record to fast forward and rewind her life, blending animation and music perfectly. Despite it’s brevity, this is a thoroughly enjoyable short. It makes one wonder how this exciting premise could be further explored with a longer runtime.

The Bigger Picture

The Bigger Picture is easily the most daring film nominated in this category. It tells the heartbreaking story of two brothers tasked with caring for their old and infirm mother. The film’s interesting mixture of 2D and 3D stop motion and austere colour palette perfectly reflect its themes of death and degradation. Unfortunately, it seems slightly rushed at a relatively short runtime of eight minutes. 

The Dam Keeper

Of the films nominated for best animated short, The Dam Keeper is the most puzzling. Telling the tale of an insecure pig forced to protect a city from a sinister smoke cloud, this short manages to waste a decent premise. Instead, it offers the viewer nothing more than a barrage of cliches and a poorly fleshed-out narrative. It’s too long, yet somehow fails to produce any meaningful characters. This one won’t—or shouldn’t—win.

 

Animated Short Prediction: Feast

Though it lacks the daring of The Bigger Picture or the inventiveness of A Single Life, Feast deserves the prize. It didn’t overreach the confines of the medium but still managed to tell its story in a creative and entertaining way. It’s the safe choice, but the right one.

 

 

 

 

Live Action

Alex Bullis

Boogaloo and Graham

Irish director Michael Lennox’s Boogaloo and Graham, set in conflict-torn 1970s Belfast, is a quirky yet socially conscious story of two boys and their pet chickens. The true strength of the piece is its impressive ability to act as an endearing and lighthearted tale of family while addressing the heaviness of an issue such as The Troubles (the name of this turbulent period) in the same breath. The children are undeniably likable, and their energy and exuberance truly makes the film. At times, it feels overly sentimental and almost tacky, but it easily stands out as the comedic highlight of the nominees.

The Phone Call

Matt Kirkby’s The Phone Call is an emotionally intense drama following Heather, an employee at a suicide help-line, as she answers the most difficult call she has ever faced—from a man who has already intentionally overdosed and simply wants company in his last moments. The harrowing, extended close-up shots of Heather’s growing distress and emotional struggle are as cinematographically tasteful as they are powerful. Kirkby’s poignant exploration of the themes of death, fear, and compassion through the eyes of a man on his deathbed form an unforgettable statement on the fragility of life and love. 

Parvaneh

Parvaneh, by Talkhon Hamzavi, tells the story of teenage Afghani migrant worker Parvaneh and her unlikely friendship with an affluent and rebellious local young woman in Switzerland. Parvaneh, while attempting to send her earnings back to aid her sick father in Afghanistan, experiences the vastly different world in which her companion resides. While earnest and heartwarming, the relationship between the women feels forced and the emotional experiences the two bond over seem eclipsed by the far more interesting backstory of the titular character.

Aya

Oded Binnun’s Aya follows an Israeli legal clerk as she is mistaken for a chauffeur, who opts to drive the passenger instead of correcting him. It has the classic feel of an eccentric indie short, but as the film progresses, it becomes a more nuanced analysis of our perceptions of strangers and the desire to connect with others. The film, though often comedic, is full of discomfort as the relationship between the woman and her passenger develops. The depth of each character slowly becomes apparent, and the awkward interactions between the two lend insight into their contrasting social natures.  

Butter Lamp

Butter Lamp, from director Hu Wei, is a subtle commentary on the influence of modernization on traditional Tibetan ways of life. It revolves around a young Chinese photographer and his efforts to photograph groups of villagers in rural Tibet. The entire short is filmed through the perspective of the photographer’s stationary camera, facing cloth backdrops that change at each scene. Each subject photographed further expands the portrayal of life in the village, and clarifies the contrast between the worlds of the photographers and the subjects. In terms of sociopolitical commentary, it is easily the most effective of the nominees. 

 

Live Action Short Prediction: The Phone Call

The stand-out nominee is definitively The Phone Call. Between its carefully crafted dialogue and the exceptional performance from lead actress Sally Hawkins, the work is as believable as it is profound. Heather’s teary-eyed and distraught face as she speaks on the phone is nothing short of chilling and is easily the most memorable image from any of the nominees. Already a resounding success in the international film circuit, it is a strong contender for the Oscar.

 

 

 

 

 

(Photos courtesy of ign.com, film.com)

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