The short film category at the Oscars is a fascinating cinematic examination. In some sense, they are the pure films, not worried about commercial success, and in other ways, they are the minor leagues, a place to see the up-and-coming talent. But they also are a fascinating insight into the mind of the Academy's collective mindset de jour. Although culled from literally hundreds of short films, the final selections often communicate some sort of theme. One year it will be a number of LGBT films, while the next will focus on the horrors of war and the next will be surviving abuse. This year, the judges seem to be most worried about flinging yourself out into the world looking for connections either with strangers or animals, or somewhere inbetween. Aya (Israel; Dir. Oded Binnun & Mihal Brezis)
Aya follows an impulsive and slightly strange woman, who through a self-imposed mix-up, gives a man a ride into Jerusalem from the airport. She is not his driver, but pretends to be in order to spend a few moments doing something unexpected in her life. The film (40 minutes in length, making it the longest of the nominees) exists in the intimate moments between words, painting a beautiful portrait of two people at odds with their relatively comfortable lot in life and the choices they make to feel connected.
Boogaloo and Graham (Northern Ireland; Dir. Michael Lennox)
Set in Belfast during the late 1970s, Boogaloo and Graham is a crowd-pleaser on the highest level. The short follows two young boys who are given a pair of chicks for pets by their soft-hearted father who wants to try and bring a little wonder to their lives. Even as armed British soldiers patrol the streets and the chickens grow older, the boys are set on being vegetarian (except for sausages and hamburgers), and going into chicken farming when they grow up. Touching, hilarious and bittersweet, this film beautifully captures the images of innocence growing strong in the midst of war.
"La Lampe Au Beurre De Yak" (Butter Lamp) (Tibet, Dir. Wei Hu)
An absolutely mesmerizing short of unexpected power. Some traveling photographers have set up a rolling background of different images in order to take and then sell photos to local Tibetan villagers. Every frame of this tiny masterpiece is filled with detail, visual and unspoken with a final image so powerful I was left blinking in stunned silence. Uncommonly powerful for only clocking in at 14 minutes and boasting some of the finest cinematography of any film on the Oscar list. Brilliant, beautiful and absolutely perfect.
"Parvaneh" (Switzerland; Dir. Talkhon Hamzavi)
A lovely little story about a young Afghan immigrant who has just arrived in the Swiss Alps. She works for a few weeks, saving money to send back to her family, only she does not have a valid form of ID in order to use Western Union. She meets another young woman who might be able to help her and experiences a night of culture shock, homesickness and simple friendship. Films like this are what the short film medium is for, giving viewers a very specific slice of life that lets us fill in the details of the world ourselves. We get to know Parvaneh well in our 20 minutes with her, but by only giving us a very small and simple look into her life, we can imagine any future for her we wish.
"The Phone Call" (UK; Dir. Mat Kirkby)
The brilliant Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky) plays a crisis center operator who receives a call from a suicidal man who has just taken a boatload of pills and wants someone to talk to him while he dies. The man (voiced by the always welcome Jim Broadbent) lost his wife two years earlier and just can't bear to live another day without her. Their conversation takes up most of the running time of this powerful and heartbreaking look at loneliness, self-imposed and otherwise. Things got awfully dusty around my house by the time the closing credits hit.
Should Win: Butter Lamp
Will Win: Butter Lamp
Oscar Shorts: Live Action
Plays Tin Pan Theater, 869 NW Tin Pan Alley
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