The 2015 Oscar Nominated Short Films (Live Action, Documentary and Animation)

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Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
Boogaloo and Graham

The Reaper (La Parka)

The Bigger Picture
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

Live Action:

Aya “Aya” is a “Brief Encounter” kind of film about a young woman, waiting for someone at the airport, is asked to hold a sign by a limo driver. She agrees but, instead of telling the client to wait for the driver, she pretends to be the chauffeur. The two drive off together and what transpires is a lovely tale of ships passing in the night.  Grade:  A-

“Boogaloo and Graham” is an unexpected charmer about two young brothers living in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Their easygoing dad had given the boys two pet chicks (of the title) and it was love at first sight. But when their parents announce a change in the family’s fabric, they are told the chickens must go. The strong willed youngster will not let that happen and the lengths they go to are impressive. It is a wonderful and uplifting little film.  Grade:

A photographer and his assistant set up shop in the remote spot in Tibet. Using a variety of backdrops – the Great Wall, the Dali Lama’s palace, a sandy beach with palm tree and more – to get the local folk to pose for picture in front of the setting of their choice. “Butter Lamp” is shot with a stationary camera and the filmmakers use this to good effect by changing the background and the subjects. It seems more like a documentary than live action but it definitely brought a smile to my face.  Grade:  B

A young Afghan woman, "Pavaneh" (Nissa Kashani), is a refugee seeking asylum in Switzerland. She needs to send money home to her struggling family but runs into a roadblock – she needs a valid ID to send the cash. She asks strangers for help but all refuse her, except for one girl (Cheryl Graf) who agrees to send the money. This should be a risky decision for the Pavaneh but the story is about friendship, however fleeting, and the kindness of a stranger.  Grade:  B-The Phone Call

In "The Phone Call," Heather (Sally Hawkins) volunteers at a crisis center, manning the phone to help those in need. She takes a call from a troubled man, Stanley (Jim Broadbent), who is thinking of suicide. The story is always from Heather’s point of view, with Stanley a disembodied voice. This little film packs a lot of emotion as Heather must reach out through the phone line to save a man from his inner demons.  Grade:  B


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Two brothers argue about putting their mother in a nursing home and mom refuses to go. “The Bigger Picture” explores the issue of dealing with aging parents and decisions that will impact their lives. Director and co-writer Daisy Jacobs puts an imaginative spin on the modern dilemma of aging and the pressure it puts on the entire family and uses life size drawings and stop motion photography to bring the point home.  B+

Feast "Feast," Disney’s entry for Best Animation, is about a little dog, Winston, and his bachelor owner who spoils his pet by feeding him guy food – bacon and eggs, spaghetti (homage to “Lady and the Tramp”?) and everything else bad for the pooch. That changes when the man starts dating and their diet goes through dramatic (and nowhere near as tasty) change. I am not sure of the point of the film – is the appearance of a woman in a man’s life a good thing or a bad thing? To Winston, it is probably bad from a full and happy tummy point of view.  B

A little pig must wind the windmill every eight hours to keep the flood waters from inundating the town. At school he is bullied by others until a new student, foxy Fox, arrives and befriends Pig. But, a misunderstanding by Pig puts the town in peril. “The Dam Keeper” is a cautionary tale of environmental tragedy and responsibility.  B-A Single Life

"A Single Life" is a simple but effective animation about a woman playing her favorite 45 record. It inadvertently skips forward and so does time. Life is a finite commodity and this little film brings that to home, especially as we get on in years. If we could only turn back the clock or, in this case, put the needle on at the beginning again….B+

Three sisters, living with their progressive parents (dad is the only man in town with a moustache), want just one thing, a bicycle, in "Me and My Moulton.". Their parents promise to get them one but time goes by and no bike. Finally, one day, dad brings home a bike, though it is not what the girls want. He bought them a Moulton, a fancy collapsing bicycle, and it is not what the girls expected. In the end, they get their bike and live happily ever after.  B

Live Action:

The five nominees for live action short are the least doom laded of the three categories, although death's specter hangs over two of them.  Those would be England's "Boogaloo and Graham," a charmer about two young boys, Jamesy and Malachy, during the height of Northern Ireland's troubles. Boogaloo and Graham are their pet chickens, grown from the fluffy chicks their dad picked up for them.  Now their mum has decided that her third pregnancy means the dirty birds are destined for dinner and it's the innocents against a harsh grown-up world.  B+

The second is this category's starriest entry, also from England. "The Phone Call" stars "Blue Jasmine's" Sally Hawkins as a shy crisis center worker who is rescued from a life of loneliness by the depressed widower (Jim Broadbent, strongly felt although never seen) whose call she takes.  As she anxiously watches the minute hand progressing on her office wall clock, we see Stan's perspective, matched against the dainty clock between two Lladro figures on a shelf on his wall in a glowing, white interior.  A "Silence of the Lambs"-style fake out edit at the film's finale is profoundly moving.  (Coincidentally, one of the documentary shorts is about a crisis call center for U.S. veterans.)  B+

The French/Chinese entry, "Butter Lamp," shows a traveling photographer placing groups of Tibetan villagers in front of various backdrops.  At first we think they really are at Butter Lamp the Forbidden City, until a scene of the Great Wall is rolled down.  An old man and family are placed in front of a busy street scene, which ripples in the wind (the winds of change?).  A wedding couple stand in front of a manor home from warmer climes as the mayor pulls up on a motorbike to make announcements (a yak has been stolen, his Honda is appropriated for the picture).  Kids pretend to be medal winners at the Beijing Olympics, but when Shanghai Disneyland is deemed inappropriate for a grandmother who's never been photographed before and the Dalai Lama's former Potala Palace is deemed perfect, she prostates herself in front of the photo, refusing to face the camera.  A young man who refused to change his traditional garb for modern wear returns to give the Chinese photographer a lamp of yak butter, to be left in Lhasa in honor of his mother.  Hu Wei's film is funny and warm while commenting upon Tibet's relationship with China.  B+

Israel's "Aya" shows what can happen when people take a chance on connecting.  Asked to temporarily hold a sign for a Mr. Overby (Ulrich Thomsen, "The Celebration") at airport arrivals, Aya (Sarah Adler, "Jellyfish") goes one step further, accepting the assumption the man makes.  As she begins to drive him to his destination, she tells him she has a confession to make, but it's not the one we expect. Eventually, when she panics after missing a turn on the highway, it becomes clear Aya is not Overby's real driver, but the two are so engaged, they make an erotic connection as Overby 'plays piano' on Aya's leg as she drives.  The destination brings another surprise.  In a strange way, "Aya" is like a drive-by "Belle du Jour."  B+
Talkhon Hamzavi's Swiss entry "Parvaneh" charts the titular young Afghani refugee's arrival at a transit center in the Swiss Alps.  Desperate and scared, Parvaneh needs help getting some cash back to her mother but meets only indifference until a tough street girl recognizes a financial opportunity.  But when they don't make it to the money exchange in time, Parvaneh's invited to stay and attend a party.  A clash of culture segues into finding what unites us, a lovely reverie on getting past first impressions.  "Parvaneh" puts a human face on immigration.  B


Here's the category where death stares us in the face, beginning with two outstanding Polish shorts.  Aneta Kopacz's "Joanna" is an intimate portrait of a young wife and mother.  She's raising her son admirably, encouraging thought, values and an appreciation of nature.  Gradually, though, we realize this woman is dying of cancer and her biggest fear is leaving her son and supportive husband behind.  Shot in soft pastels, this is a poetic look at the meaning of life and a graceful acceptance of its end.  A

Our Curse Turning from poetry to horror, "Our Curse" is like David Lynch's "Eraserhead" come to life as a young, exhausted couple (the writer/director Tomasz Sliwinski and his wife) deal with a child with the rare Congenital Central Hypoventilation Syndrome or Ondine's curse, a condition which causes the sufferer to stop breathing when they fall asleep.  If you think the "Eraserhead" comparison is flip, the couple only seem to survive with black humor.  Sliwinski alternates between static shots of himself and Magda on the couch, at least one always with drink in hand, as an off screen ventilator seems to suck the life from the room, with caring for their baby, an otherwise normal, sweet looking child whose medical needs make for some harrowing scenes.  Terrific use of music. A

And then there's "The Reaper (La Parka)" where Gabriel Serra shows how one Mexican laborer has killed 500 bulls a day, 6 days a week, for the past 25 years to support a large family.  The bulls look terrified going to their fate and the man who slaughters them has hopeless eyes.  This one is a tough watch, but Serra has created a thought-provoking, artfully crafted work.  A-

I'm guessing HBO's "Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1" wins the statuette.  Here we watch paired teams battle to save U.S. veterans from committing suicide in the only existing crisis center in a country(!) where 22 veterans take their lives every day.  There are 250 employed here handling 22,000 calls a month, but the film follows a few choice subjects like one who imagines 'You're 17 years old, scared out of your mind and told to shoot anything that moves, you want to fit in with your group and you do and it's a family.  What's that *like*?'  The responders, as they're called, need their own support,  usually a supervisor who comes in to talk them down before they head into their next call.  A sobering piece of work.  A-
White Earth
"White Earth" looks at the changes brought to a small North Dakota town by the demand for workers in the oil fields.  Where the full length documentary "The Overnighters" also looked at this phenomenon, here we see through the perspective of a few kids, some new inhabitants, others long term residents.  Christian Jensen intersperses stark, stunning images with the reflections of these resilient kids.  B


This year's collection is a real hodge-podge of stories and styles.  Perennial favorite Disney's in the race with "Feast," the short which accompanied "Big Hero 6" in theaters.  While it's a charming little ditty in which a man lures a starving puppy with a french fry to a blissful life of fattening foods before a romance interferes with diet, it's also a bit disturbing in its depiction of gluttony.  Still it's hard not to fall in love with the spirited pup and director Patrick Osborne tips his hat to Disney's past with a "Lady and the Tramp" reference.  B

I'm completely over the moon for Daisy Jacobs's hugely inventive work, "The Bigger Picture," which charts family dynamics in dealing with an aging parent (again with the death theme).  Working with almost life size figures painted on walls, limbs extending outwards in a '3D' feel, this painstakingly animated short constantly awes with changing textures and odd perspective.  Two sons, one devoted, the other favored yet more removed, cope in different ways with their failing mother - at one point, one son vacuums up the contents of the room, including his beloved mum.  The film's strange tone reminded me of a bleak British film, Simon Rumley's "The Living and the Dead," but Jacobs's work is based on more everyday occurrences (she based the film on her own family's reactions to her declining grandmother, although her film's senior is a bit more prickly).  A
Me and My Moulton
Denmark's Torill Kove receives her third nomination in this category (she won with 2006's "The Danish Poet") for "Me and My Moulton" which tells the tale of two sisters putting up with the oddities of living with their modern architect parents.  Kove continues with her simple animation style livened with bright color as the girls' desire for a bicycle is funneled through their parents' idea of what constitutes a great bike.  B

This category usually contains one bright, brief, burst of a short that leaves one laughing and this year's is Marieke Blaauw's "A Single Life" from The Netherlands.  When a woman attempts to eat her evening meal of pizza while playing a record, a jolt to the turntable makes it skip with surprising results.  The title's aThe Dam Keeper double entendre, the whole 3 minute film is accompanied by the jaunty single playing and while a certain theme is once again evident, "A Single Life" is far from a downer.  A-

In "The Dam Keeper," a young pig with a highly responsible job is shunned and bullied by those he protects until a sympathetic fox brightens his days.  Robert Kondo and Daisuke 'Dice' Tsutsumi teach a simple tale of friendship and trust with an animation style which accentuates brushstrokes and painting knives.  B
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