I love me some good short films! Must be my ADHD (then again, I sat through all 245 minutes of Mariano Llinas’ “Extraordinary Stories” some years back and loved every second, so…). This year’s batch of Live Action nominees is actually quite watchable. Three of the five are even exceptional, and the other two aren’t horrible, just not on the same level. But before I get to the films…a word about the eventual winners…
::RANT BEGINS HERE::
I have to give the Nominating Committee credit. Each year they sift though thousands of shorts and end up with a pretty good percentage of quality films. Alas, when the Academy votes they don’t have quite the same eye, as year after year, the winner is almost always the simplest, or the funniest, or the most star-laden:
2006: The hokie “West Bank Story“ beat the wonderful “The Saviour“
2008: The manipulative “Toy Land“ beat one of the Top Five shorts ever made, “On the Line“
2009: In the greatest calamity of Live Action voting injustice, “The New Tenant“, a star-filled, HIGHLY stylized. Mamet-esque mess, beat what I consider to be the single greatest short film I’ve yet to see, “The Door“
2010: I can’t understand how “God of Love“ beat ANYTHING it was up against that year
2015: One word…“Aya“
(the above are all linked to either full movies or trailers)
…okay, I feel better now. Here are your five nominees…
“Ave Maria” (Palestine/France/Germany)
Directed by Basil Khalil
The least effective of the five entries, “Ave Maria” is the kind of hokie fish-out-of-water comedy that usually beats MUCH better films every year. A car filled with a Jewish family finds themselves without transport on the Arab side of the West Bank outside a Catholic nunnery…on SHABBAT! Let the hilarity ensue. There are one or two really good laughs, but this is an SNL skit. What could have had great meaning AND laughs, just goes for quirk. Again, that doesn’t mean it won’t win..less “heavy” often wins…and the rest are “HEAVY”!
“Shok (Friend)” (Kosovo/UK)
Directed by Jamie Donoughue
My favorite, this coming of age story set in Albania during the last Balkan War is proof of how complete a short film can be. The setting is disturbing, the performances by the children (Andi Bajgora & Eni Cani) are extraordinary, and it is incredibly affecting without being maudlin or predictable. A wonderful, wonderful film. Well, worth the time and ticket price.
“Everything Will Be OK” (Germany/Austria)
Directed by Patrick Vollrath
In terms of pace and style, this is an almost note for note remake of the wonderful “Avant que de tout perdre” (“Just Before Losing Everything”), which should have won in 2013. However, “Everything…” comes at the subject from a slightly different perspective. Alas, we see the payoff a little too early, and the allusion to the title is a bit wonky. Regardless, another terrific film.
Directed by Benjamin Cleary
This is a VERY close second to “Shok” and a fantastic film. No need to discuss anything about the plot since the title is enough to set it all up. As I’m sure you know, romantic films in the shorts world are ubiquitous. But making them have real stake is EXTREMELY rare. This manages to do in about fifteen minutes what entire films regularly fail to do. And the lead actor, Matthew Needham, has a FACE that makes this film go! This is THE tissue box short of the group. I wouldn’t be surprised if it won, and I’d be happy if it did.
“Day One” (U.S.A.)
Directed by Henry Hughes
NOT to be confused with the “Project Greenlight” finalist of the same name, this film held a lot of promise from it’s setup. A woman (the terrific Layla Alizada) is starting a new job as an interpreter for a US division in Pakistan. GREAT premise. But the plot quickly becomes SO over the top in its awfulness, that it throws you out of the head of the protagonist, which IS the story here. Apparently based on a true story, I suppose I should just have gone with it…but I was not alone when I mouthed “oh come ON!” at a particular moment. But if you can get past that, there is a wonderful character study here that deserves attention, if not the gold.
Written on 2/7/2016