Every year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awards Oscars in three categories dedicated to short films. Every year, viewers at home use the giving of these awards as a good time to get a snack or go to the bathroom. It’s ironic that people don’t care that much about shorts, given that we live in the YouTube age. But we at Movie Mezzanine care, and we’ve seen all of this year’s Oscar-nominated live-action shorts. We might not be able to tell you which ones will win (though you can usually count on the most heartwarming one), but we can tell you what’s good and what isn’t.
An Israeli woman pretends to be an airport chauffeur on a whim and gives an upscale professor a ride. A good concept for a short that’s executed capably, though without frills. Sarah Adler is good as the title character, Ulrich Thomsen (the ex-Amish mob boss from Banshee!) is all right as the passenger. Perfectly serviceable, yet rather baffling as an Oscar nominee. Propelled by a mild sense of “what could happen next?” but otherwise nothing exceptional.
Boogaloo and Graham
Two young Irish boys living through The Troubles deal with an unusual pair of pets: chickens. Cute little Irish accents and cuter baby chickens make this endearing enough. It’s built on a very simple “aww” / “oh no, the chickens are in danger!” / “phew, glad that worked out” framework. Shallow as a kiddie pool. Again, I have no idea how this is an Oscar nominee. If this was one of the five best shorts shown to the Academy voters, they need better shorts (or more of them).
Easily the best of the lot. A Tibetan photographer takes a variety of photos staged for the denizens of a small village. The frame never shifts, nor does the camera move — there is simply one combination of subjects after another, each with a different backdrop set up behind them. Then the backdrops are pulled away for a terrific reveal that recontextualizes all that comes before. A simple but brilliant look at tradition giving way to progress, executed through a conceit that could have been a gimmick but is instead essential.
A young Afghan woman who’s immigrated to Switzerland seeks help in wiring money home to her mother, and finds it in a fellow teen, who takes her out for a night on the town. Another perfectly all right entry, though this really felt like unfulfilled potential. The two girls at its center don’t have that much special chemistry as friends. Still, a solid piece of work.
The Phone Call
Sally Hawkins plays a suicide hotline operator who finds herself talking to a caller (Jim Broadbent) who’s done more than just think about killing himself. Fairly harrowing subject matter and Hawkins being solid as usual can’t elevate a weak script. I’d recommend just listening to this instead.