During the lead up to this year’s Oscar’s on February 22nd I will be covering a lot of the nominees for the upcoming Academy Awards. This will not be your usual Oscar primer, but in fact more of a “catching up to speed” series. I will be dissecting a few films in each instalment. I will be going over what the nominees are, and what chances it stands to win. In the last instalment HERE I covered “American Sniper”, “Mr. Turner” and “Virunga”. This time I will be talking about the Live Action Shorts and the Animated Shorts.

The Live Actions Shorts nominees are as follows:

  • “Aya”- Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis
  • “Boogaloo and Graham”- Michael Lennox and Ronan Blaney
  • “Butter Lamp (La Lamp au Beurre de Yak)”- Hu Wei and Julien Feret
  • “Parvaneh”- Talkhon Hamzavi and Stefan Eichenberger
  • “The Phone Call” Mat Kirkby and James Lucas

Every year some of the most original and imaginative films are ones most people never see, that of the Live Action Shorts category. This year as a whole the five nominees are a bit weaker but there is still quality work and none of the nominees are outright bad. 

“Aya” is the longest running of the group at a shade over 40 minutes, but the story went so quickly it seemed like only 15. Aya is a woman who is at the airport waiting to pick someone up when a limo driver asks her to hold his sign while he goes to move his car. When Mr. Overby sees the sign, Aya lets him think she is his driver. What follows is a very interesting car ride throughout Israel towards Mr. Overby’s destination to judge a music competition. Sometimes in life people have an extremely intense connection even though they only know each other for a brief moment in time. This film captures a raw energy of flirtation, confusion and lust all rolled into one. The two leads are great together and the short is shot great, but it lacks an extra punch to kick it up a level. The film will most likely not win with its long running time and little action going on.

“Boogaloo and Graham” is the story about two young boys living in Belfast in the 70’s when there was much political strife throughout the lives of people in Northern Ireland. Their father gifts the boys a baby chick each and they become inseparable from them. The film is mostly comedic about the boys being proud of walking around the neighbourhood with roosters, but around every corner there is a moment that anything can go wrong any second. When the boy’s mother tells them they have to get rid of the roosters the boys try to run away at night with them, inadvertently running into British army nationalists taking down a man. Their pushover father ends up humourously tricking the boys and convincing their mother for the animals to be kept. This film has to be one of the front-runners to win with its English language dialogue, funny yet intense story, mild political implications and a heartfelt ending. 

“Butter Lamp” is probably the most original film of the group. It revolves around some photographers taking pictures of local village people in Tibet. Every short scene has a different family lining up to get their pictures taken while an assistant cycles through backdrops ranging from Disneyland to a Chinese Palace. You don’t get much backstory of anyone, but you see a glimpse of the lives of these people. At one point the mayor shows up and he lends his scooter to a couple getting wedding shots done. One angry young man that didn’t want his picture taken gives a jar of butter to the crew to leave as an offering to a palace they will be passing by. The film ends with the backdrops being rolled up and you finally get to see where the crew was at to take pictures, a beautiful mountain. The film while being the most original doesn’t have much plot or development, it could be considered a dark horse with its slight humor and stark beauty but since it is all in Chinese it would probably come in third. 

“Parvaneh” tells the story of a young Afghan girl living in Switzerland who tries to travel to the big city to wire her sick father money back home. She is living alone in a run down apartment in the countryside working illegally and being taken advantage of with low payments. When she arrives in the city the Western Union employee will not allow her to make a wire transfer, as she is not 18 yet. After asking around a bit she finds another young girl who appears to be homeless and is willing to do the transfer at quite the cost to Parvaneh’s meagre sum of money already. The girl just has to go and pick up her ID to do so. While Parvaneh can’t stand being apart from her family this other young girl lives in quite the upscale neighbourhood and seemingly doesn’t get along with her mother when she arrives back to get her ID. While they are too late to make the transfer that night the two of them spend the night together both teaching each other lessons. This film has a great feel to it with its gritty naturalism and strong story. The acting isn’t as strong and drags it down a bit along with the over sentimentality of the ending. This film is probably a frontrunner to win with its coming of age story, and heart warming tale learning about other cultures. 

“The Phone Call” is the only short that features recognizable faces with the lead played by the Oscar nominated Sally Hawkins (“Blue Jasmine”) who works as a crisis phone councillor when an elderly man voiced by Jim Broadbent calls in about how he has taken a bottle of pills that will kill him. He called in to talk to someone about why he decided to kill himself, not to receive help. The film is entirely of Hawkins face reacting to the weight of the man’s words. This is the only film that gets a genuine audience reaction, eliciting tears from people. This film has star power and a strong easy to understand story with a choked up ending, which makes this film one of the frontrunners to win the award. 

Ranking of the shorts from most likely to win to least likely.

  1. “The Phone Call”
  2. “Boogaloo and Graham”
  3. “Parvaneh”
  4. “Butter Lamp”
  5. “Aya”

This year’s animated films are all quite spectacular, each with their own unique ways of telling a story both with the script and with the visual cues. It’s hard to grade Animated Shorts as you have to choose between putting more weight on the animation or on the story itself. Obviously if there was a clear frontrunner in both it would be a slam dunk, but life isn’t like that. Below are the nominees.

  • “The Bigger Picture”- Daisy Jacobs and Christopher Hees
  • “The Dam Keeper”- Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi
  • “Feast”- Patrick Osborne and Kristina Reed
  • “Me and My Moulton”- Torill Kove
  • “A Single Life”- Joris Oprins

“The Bigger Picture” is a fascinating blend of half of the scenery being oil painted and the other half of the characters and scenes being stop motion. It is hard to explain without seeing images of it, but it was by far the best and most unique animation of the group. The story is of two British men taking care of their sick mother. One brother lives at home with the mother taking care of all of her needs to little appreciation, while the other sporadically shows up as the prodigal son to have love heaped on him for showing up once in a blue moon. It is a simple story of suffering, illness and sibling rivalry that is easy to understand with plenty of metaphors manifesting itself in the animation like when it appears to rain inside the house on top of the beleaguered sibling. This film could be a strong contender for dark horse status, but its mostly quiet nature may keep it from winning.

“The Dam Keeper” is both the darkest film and the most overt with its message. Former Pixar employees made the film and it has similar charm to it. The animation style makes the film look like it was painted with charcoals in a hand drawn style. The story is about a young pig that has to wind up a windmill to keep the dam running that protects the town form black smoke that can cover the town and make it uninhabitable. He must wind the windmill early in the morning and again at night, so whenever he goes to school he is covered in dust and dirt and the other children make fun of him. The pig gets bullied to the point where he lets his duties slip and black smoke covers the entire town. When he finally realized that he wasn’t actually being made fun of by the new kid (a fox) he rushes to try to save the town. This film could win even if it is a bit heavy handed due to the pedigree of the filmmakers and the great hand drawn art. 

“Feast” tells the story of a puppy that gets adopted by a man because he fed him on the street. What follows is life seen from the dog through eating meals that his new owner gives him, in all its unhealthy fried food glory. When the owner meets a woman who takes an immature boy and turns him into a man by introducing him to fine dining and yoga, the dog’s life suffers as he is only allowed to eat sprigs of parsley and the like. When the couple breaks up the dog is very happy that he gets to go back to eating ice cream (don’t feed your dog that by the way!) he sees that his owner is actually quite depressed. The dog realizes his happiness isn’t the only thing that matters so he tries to reunite the couple. This film will be the most widely seen of all the nominees because it was made by Disney and screened before another nominated film “Big Hero 6”. The animation is typical great Disney CGI where they keep pushing forward what computers can do, but when you are comparing it to mostly hand drawn or animated films in the category it almost feels like cheating. This film is an obvious frontrunner to win but it wouldn’t be surprising at all if it loses.

“Me and My Moulton” is a joint Norwegian and Canadian film and it certainly has plenty of influence from both countries. The animation seems like something that the National Film Board would produce, with its simplistic style and rough around the edges look. The story is about the middle child of three girls who live in Norway with their hippie parents. All the girls want is to fit in like the rest of their normal friends and fitting in would mean having a bike for them to use to get around. The story bounces around a bit and has a hard time staying on point even if the kids complaining about their parents are funny moments. The animation is cute but it isn’t enough to make up for a weak ending and a conflicting narrator who can’t decide on telling them they love their family or hate them. This film is not a contender to win.

“A Single Life” is the other most unique film of the group, taking the term short very literally as it is only three minutes in length, by far the quickest of them all. The animated is nothing spectacular as it looks like low budget animation, but the strength is in the story. A young woman receives a mysterious record at her door and when she put it on her turntable she learns she can control time. The song plays and the woman lifts the needle to move it forward and finds that she has aged, she moves the needle back and she is a child again. She moves the needle back and forth and each time the result is humourous. With a dark yet very funny ending it is hard not to be amused and burst out into laughter and wonder what you have just watched. The simple nature of the film makes for a very exciting little short, proving that you don’t need a lot of time to tell an interesting story. This film is probably too short to win, as you don’t need to look to far back to remember that the very creative and viral “Fresh Guacamole” didn’t win when it was up. 

Ranking of the shorts from most likely to win to least likely.

  1. “The Bigger Picture”
  2. “Feast”
  3. “The Dam Keeper”
  4. “A Single Life”
  5. “Me and My Moulton”