Oscar nominated live action shorts offer snapshots of humanity


Short films are not always, what’s the word I’m looking for here, short.

According to Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences rules, a short film Oscar nominee can be no longer than 40 minutes.

While that’s an eternity in short attention span time, it’s a full length feature film shorter than best picture nominee “Boyhood” which runs 166 minutes.

You could argue that “Boyhood” is a collection of short films collected over 12 years observing the lives of the same characters. So consider the best short film Oscar nominees in the same context.

Real life unfolds in a series of events and encounters over the course of time. And short films, the live action ones at least, are like chapters in real life stories.

Of the five live action nominees the longest is 39 minutes, and the shortest 14. Three are two character dramas, two are more expansive multiple character tales, and all of them are snapshots of humanity.

None of them, for some reason, are from the US.

The live action and animated Oscar nominated shorts programs start Friday at the Oriental Theater, and show in separate programs. Go to the theater’s website for ticket information.

The animated films will be reviewed separately.

The live action films include:

“Aya” (39 minutes) begins with a case of mistaken identity. A woman waiting for someone at the airport is mistaken for a driver hired to take a man to a classical music competition, and does not reveal the mistake to her passenger. She’s impulsive but enigmatic; he’s reserved. And their pas de deux, in the category’s longest film, reveals the personalities of each and her motives. (Directed by Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis, Israel and France, in English, Hebrew and Danish, with subtitles). ***

“Boogaloo and Graham” (14 minutes) The cheeky tone of my favorite entry, about a squab-ling but loving family during the British occupation of Northern Ireland in 1978, reminded me of Jean Shepherd’s childhood reminiscence “The Christmas Story.” The father calls himself “an occasional laborer,” the mom calls him “a lazy bastard.” Dad brings home baby chicks for his sons to raise like pets, over their mum’s objections, and the two brothers, and their chickens flourish. “Everyone has a dog,” brags one son. “No one has chickens.”(Michael Lennox and Ronan Blaney, UK/English). ***1/2

“Butter Lamp” (15 minutes) The title refers to a Tibetan Buddhist goblet with yak butter burned at traditional sites. The film chronicles a day in the life of a traveling photographer shooting portraits of nomadic families who pose in front of various backdrops. There are about eight different groups and each poses awkwardly as the photographer fusses. Yak butter makes an appearance in the final scene. Beautiful in its simplicity. (Hu Wei and Julien Féret, France and China/Tibetan with subtitles). ***

“Parvaneh” (25 minutes) A young Afghan girl travels from an immigrant center in the Alps to the city to send money to her family. Because she has no papers she needs a legal resident to send it for her and asks a young party girl for help. Although worlds apart the two are equally if differently lonely and fill a void in the other’s life. An optimistic tale about an overnight friendship. (Talkhon Hamzavi and Stefan Eichenberger, Switzerland/Dari and German, with subtitles.) ***

“The Phone Call” (21 minutes) Take the title at its word. The story involves a volunteer at a crisis center taking a call from an unseen, grief-stricken widower who has just taken an overdose. As the volunteer Sally Hawkins, an Oscar nominee for “Happy-Go-Lucky” and narrative collateral in “Godzilla,” has the patience and empathy of a hostage negotiator. Jim Broadbent is the voice at the other end of the line. (Mat Kirkby and James Lucas, UK).

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