Oscar-Nominated Live-Action Shorts

February 22, 2009 at 5:21 am (Movies and TV)

1. On The Line (Germany)

A man fails to intervene when he sees someone attacked on a train, which has unforeseen consequences. I enjoyed this because the casting was dead-on, and because of a sequence where the main character is upset and confused and the camera revolves around him in a way that accomplishes his disorientation perfectly. There are watchers, and there are doers. You might be a good judge of character yet completely misjudge a situation, which is exactly what happens to the main character because he has let himself become a watcher rather than a doer.

2. New Boy (Ireland)

An African boy experiences his first day in an Irish school. We know that the teacher isn’t very good at controlling her class; we know there are bullies in the class who have decided to victimize Joseph; we know that Joseph has at least one ally in the class; what we don’t know is how Joseph ended up in Ireland, though we learn that it may have something to do with his father being violently executed in Africa. Watching carefully, you will note that Joseph speaks only two words in the whole film…but he says so much more with his face and eyes. In the end, humor is the great equalizer. This was a nice film but not sure it will win an Oscar.

3.  Toyland (Germany)

In the most jarring of entries, a six-year-old boy named Heinrich in 1930’s Germany overhears his Jewish neighbors talking about going on a journey. Heinrich askes his mother where the neighbors are going and his mother, not thinking ahead very well, answers that the neighbors are going to Toyland. We know, of course, that the neighbors are going to a concentration camp. But Heinrich in his innocence misunderstands and makes plans to go to Toyland too. (I always wonder what actors feel like when they have to don Nazi uniforms for their roles…are they conflicted about this? Do some refuse to take roles for this reason?) As you’re being emotionally shredded by the boy’s misperception and what he does about it, something even more tragic happens which I will not presume to spoil, though the film ends on a bitteersweet upswing. A strong contender for the live-action short Oscar.

4. The Pig (Denmark).

An old man goes into a hospital for rectal surgery, and bonds unexpectedly with a painting of a pig hanging in his hospital room. Later, he is upset when the painting disappears after the family of the man in the room’s other bed requests it be taken down since pigs are offensive to Muslims. Viewing the situation from the outside, one could think of the old man as a cranky old man…but I found him endearing, and he’s right…the pig painting is special (and I want to try to find a print of it online). With humor and compassion, this film raises questions about how to practice tolerance in situations where parties’ differences are akin to night and day. Can you have freedom expression in a situation of absolutes? Whose view takes precedent, and who decides? This was already my favorite film of the bunch, even before my Mom reminded me about the situation in Denmark with the Muslims and the cartoon. Having now seen all the movies in this category, The Pig is now my pick for the Live-Action Short Oscar, and everyone in the theater (about 10 of us) agreed.

5. Manon on the Asphalt (France).

Hit by a car while riding her bicycle, a young woman’s life flashes before her eyes as she’s dying. This is one that’s supposed to be all arty and full of meaning but which I found pretentious and depressing.  I am unsure how it ended up in the same category with these other films, which had superior dialogue and camera-work.

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