Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Oscar Nominated Shorts: Animation, Documentary, Live Action

I know most of you need a helping hand with the shorts categories for your Oscar pool. I'm here for you, with my only (fairly confident) predictions of the year. I'll also tell you who should win in each category.


"The Bigger Picture" combines 2D hand-painted sets with 3D stop-motion animation inventively, but its oblique portrayal of two quarrelsome brothers caring for their terminal mother is unlikely to be the favorite of many. The porcine lead of the brushstroke "The Dam Keeper" and his vulpine only friend are adorable, but its message about bullying and keeping the darkness out is too on-the-nose and, more fundamentally, you don't need a dam keeper; a dam keeps things out all by itself. "Feast" tells of the hyper-energetic mutt Winston, who reluctantly subordinates his boundless love for food to his desire for his master to be happy, even if it's with a woman who insists on healthy eating. It's a charmer. The line-rendered "Me and My Moulton" depicts a Norwegian middle daughter's psychosomatic pain at her modernist-architect parents' eccentricity and her sisters' desire for a bicycle and some normality. In the two-minute "A Single Life," a woman finds that by moving the needle on her new record, she can see what she'll look like twenty, forty, sixty years down the line, complete with skips. It's a clever conceit. 

Should Win: Torill Kove's highly witty "Me and My Moulton," the most richly imagined and realized of the five.
Will Win: Disney's "Feast," my second favorite, probably in a (dog-)walk. It has the enormous advantage of having screened theatrically before "Big Hero 6."
Unless by chance… Kove, a winner for 2007's "The Danish Poet," repeats.


Most years, the Academy will include one or two optimistic offerings in this category, often the winners, such as 2008's "Smile Pinki," 2010's "Music by Prudence," and 2012's "Saving Face." This year, the five nominees are almost unremittingly bleak.

"Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1" takes us to Canandaigua, New York, where a staff of trained mental health professionals fields 22,000 calls a month from veterans on the precipice of suicide. "Joanna" is a cancer-stricken Polish mother during her last few months with her husband and five-year-old son. It's beautiful in both its matter-of-factness and director Aneta Kopacz's admirable restraint. She mutes the sound at a couple of key moments, allowing us to observe the family as through a window. "Our Curse," also from Poland, is two parents' video diary of their first few months with baby Leo, who suffers from the extremely rare disorder Ondine's Curse, which causes his breathing to stop (and necessitates attachment to a ventilator) whenever he sleeps. "White Earth" depicts life in the booming North Dakota oil industry through the eyes of three children of parents who've moved to follow the dollars. It's an odd choice, and an unsuccessful one; the kids' rambling commentaries lack insight. I ducked out during "The Reaper (La Parka)," about a Mexican slaughterhouse worker who's killed 500 bulls a day for 25 years, but if it wins, I shall eat my hat.

Should Win: Ellen Goosenberg Kent's "Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1," by far the most compelling of the five, with its true and unsung heroes who save lives every day.
Will Win: "Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1," which has the backing of HBO Films and is the only nominee to offer a ray of hope. I also think some voters, recognizing the popularity of "American Sniper" and anticipating a high number of military viewers, will look for a way to show their support.
Unless by chance…"Our Curse's" message of finding the beauty in all life - the blessing in every curse - resonates.

Live Action

In Israel's "Aya," a young woman waiting at an airport is asked to hold a chauffeur's placard while he moves his car to avoid being towed. Naturally, his client - in town to judge a classical music competition - arrives before the person she's waiting for, and on a whim she decides to drive him to his hotel. The quality of the filmmaking is high, and "Aya" captures that curious feeling of nostalgia for the moment we're in, but the story doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Northern Ireland's charming comedy "Boogaloo and Graham" involves brothers Jamesy and Malachy and the odd pets their da gives them: two chickens, whom their mum would prefer Extra Crispy. In "Butter Lamp," Tibetan nomads pose for a traveling photographer before backdrops ranging from Disneyland to the Beijing Olympics. "Parvaneh" is an Afghan girl in Zurich who enlists a local teenager to help her wire money home. It's a mildly sweet story of cross-culture friendship, best when wordless. In "The Phone Call," a helpline worker (Sally Hawkins) tries to talk an elderly pensioner (Jim Broadbent, heard but not seen) out of overdosing on pills. Afterward, apropos of nothing, she goes on a dinner date with a colleague. Especially coming the same year as "Crisis Hotline," the phony "Phone Call" is by far my least favorite. It's an obvious case of someone saying, "This would make a good scenario for a short film."

Should Win: The 16-minute, brevity-is-the-soul-of-wit "Butter Lamp," the only short to convey the feeling of having stumbled across real life. It's also the most accomplished and interesting on a cinematic level.
Will Win: Unfortunately, "The Phone Call" takes it, probably comfortably. It's the only one with recognizable names as stars, and Broadbent and Hawkins are well liked.
Unless by chance…"Boogaloo and Graham," fifth in the program, leaves enough voters laughing.

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