The 2015 theatrical release of Oscar-nominated short films has some unusually strong offerings this year, at least in the live-action category. (Separate programs of animated and documentary shorts are also being screened, but are not reviewed here.)
There’s a tie, in my opinion, for the best of the category, and they are the first two movies listed below.
Aya. (39 minutes, Israel and France. In English, Hebrew and Danish, with English subtitles.): This is a fine two-hander with Sarah Adler as a young woman waiting for someone at the airport and mistaken for a chauffeur. She plays along, providing a ride into Jerusalem for a Danish man (Ulrich Thomsen) in town for a musical competition. Their conversation hints at issues far more interesting than regular car chat. When the film was shown at the 2013 S.F. Jewish Film Festival, my colleague Mick LaSalle wrote: “This is a wonderful movie. How wonderful? I saw this on DVD and kept looking at the timer, hoping there would be more left, not less.”
The Phone Call. (21 minutes, United Kingdom.) Here’s another movie that’s mostly two people talking, but it wears its emotions more on its sleeve than Aya. The inimitable Sally Hawkins plays a worker at a crisis center, who takes a call from a man (voice of Jim Broadbent) at the end of his rope. His wife has died, and he is on the verge of doing something rash, but Hawkins’ charachter offers him empathy and friendship. It’s a simple film that gets you to thinking about what makes life worthwhile.
Boogaloo and Graham (14 minutes, United Kingdom): It’s hard to imagine a humorous and touching film set during Northern Ireland’s Troubles, but this is it. An affable Belfast man, with a somewhat ill-tempered wife, offers their two young sons a pair of chicks (as in chickens) for pets. As armed troops patrol the streets, the boys take a real shine to their charges, bringing them on walks and constantly fretting about their welfare. The youngsters even vow to become vegetarians (with a few dietary exceptions). The film is amusing, but slight.
Butter Lamp (15 minutes, France and China. In Tibetan with English subtitles.): A culture-clash exercise, with asburdist comic overtones, about Tibetan villagers who are posed by an itinerant photographer in front of an array of incongruous backdrops – among them the Forbidden City, a sunny beach and Disneyland. There may well be a commentary here on the Chinese occupation of Tibet, but it’s buried pretty deep.
Parvaneh (25 minutes, Switzerland. In Dari and German with English subtitles.): Parvaneh, a young Afghan migrant working in a remote Swiss mountain location, travels to Zurich to send money home to her mother. She reaches out to strangers in her broken German, but all ignore her except for one punk girl, who offers to help for a fee. The movie is a sympathetic portrayal of a bond between outsiders. It’s not bad, but never quite overcomes a certain flatness.
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Oscar Nominated Short Films