“Eeny, meeny, miny, moe” is as good a strategy as any for predicting the winners in the live action short and animated short categories on your Academy Award ballot. The 10 nominees are rarely screened outside specialized and indie film festivals. Without “big” names behind them and with limited budgets, it’s hard for them to generate any buzz, and it is difficult, if not impossible, to gauge which films will have caught the attention of the voters.
Academy rules state that a film is considered “short” if it is under 40 minutes in length. A great short film won’t try to pack as much emotional punch in its limited run-time as its feature-length counterpart. Instead, in 40 minutes or less, it will masterfully tell a great tale that won’t leave the audience feeling shortchanged.
Live action short film
In Ireland’s Pentecost, altar boy Damian is relieved from his duties when he accidentally makes the church’s priest fall down a few stairs during mass. The boy gets a chance to redeem himself, undo the punishment his father dealt (no watching or listening to Liverpool’s finals game!) and save face in front of his other Father when he is called upon to replace an altar boy who was ejected from the church after it was discovered that he was never baptised.
Time Freak is the shortest and most inventive entry in the category. Stillman has invented a time machine, but he is stuck going back just a few hours in time to perfect interactions he has with the woman of his dreams and the man who runs his dry cleaner’s. Stillman’s friend Evan concocts a plan to get him out of his rut.
In The Shore, a man returns to Northern Ireland after 25 years in the United States to make amends with a childhood friend. Written, directed and produced by Oscar-nominated screenwriter Terry George (Hotel Rwanda, In the Name of the Father), The Shore is sweet, and surprisingly touching.
In Raju, Jan and Sarah Fischer are a German couple traveling to Calcutta to adopt an orphan boy. Before the paperwork even goes through, the boy, Raju, goes missing. The most heart-wrenching short in the bunch, Raju features an amazing performance by Wotan Wilke Möhring.
The short that I think will take home the hardware come Oscar night is Norway’s Tuba Atlantic. With just six days to live, a grumpy man with a disdain for seagulls (he shoots them out of the sky and stomps on their eggs) wants to reconnect with the brother he lost touch with decades ago. With the help of a young girl, he rediscovers his youthful energy and zest.
Animated short film
If you needed proof that not all animation is for children, look no further than U.K. nominee A Morning Stroll. At just seven minutes, the gory film starts with a man in 1959 strolling down a New York City block and noticing a chicken doing the same. Later, it’s 2009 and the times have changed. Fifty years after that, the same block is unrecognizable.
Canada is well-represented in the animated short film category with two entries, Dimanche/Sunday and Wild Life. Quebec’s Patrick Doyon directs the former, about a boy who imagines a more fun Sunday for himself than the one in which his family forces him to take part. The latter is directed by the Alberta duo Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby and tells the story of an Englishman who moves to Canada at the beginning of the 20th century and sends letters back home. The life he writes about is much rosier than the one he is experiencing.
As much as I would love to root for the Canadian films come Oscar night, they are up against some stiff competition. Pixar-backed La Luna was not available for screening by press time*. It tells the story of a boy’s lunar adventure with his father and grandfather.
My pick for the win in the live action short category is The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. After a natural disaster ravages his city, Lessmore finds solace in a library where books and music give him and his townspeople culture and hope. Flying Books is incredibly animated and is a true feast for the eyes, mind and heart.
* After viewing La Luna, I still think The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is the better animated short, but with Pixar not in the running in the animated feature category, voters may give the studio a win here as a consolation prize. La Luna was good, not great, and it was missing a little bit of heart.
* * * *
The nominees for best documentary, short subjects, are:
The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement: Robin Fryday, Gail Dolgin
God Is the Bigger Elvis: Rebecca Cammisa, Julie Anderson
Incident in New Baghdad: James Spione
Saving Face: Daniel Junge, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom: Lucy Walker, Kira Carstensen
My guesses here would be totally speculative because I have been unable to watch any. I feel like The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom would be incredibly emotional, and that Saving Face, about women in Pakistan who get attacked with acid, would seriously make me hate humankind. My guess is as good as yours, but I’d go with Incident in New Baghdad because it’s about journalists who were killed in Iraq.