2014 Academy Award Nominees in Short Live-Action and Animation
(film reviews by Mark R. Leeper)

I usually review only feature-length films. However, this year I have been given an opportunity to see the complete set of live- action and animation shorts that have been nominated for Academy Awards.

I will rate each film A for excellent, B for good, C for acceptable and D for poor.


Directors: Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis
Countries of origin: France, Israel
Running time: 39:50
Language: English, Hebrew

Aya (played by Sarah Adler) is at an airport to give a ride to someone arriving when she is asked by a limousine driver to hold a greeting sign for a moment. When the passenger intended for that driver comes looking for his limo driver, he thinks it is Ava. Mr. Overby (Ulrich Thomsen) is a distinguished looking Dane. Aya is fascinated by him at first sight and on a whim decides that she will not admit that she is really not his intended limo driver. She instead drives him from Tel Aviv Airport to his hotel in Jerusalem. Most of the film is just their conversation on the drive. The Danish musicologist intrigues Ava. Overby goes through a gamut of emotions as he guesses that something is wrong, but also he finds he is fascinated by the impulsive and funny Aya. Thomsen looks on the events with obvious uneasiness but never loses his dignity. Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis who wrote the screenplay together with Tom Shoval direct the film. They did well not to stretch the material to feature length without more material, but at 40 minutes this material still has some charm enough to keep the viewer involved. Rating: B

"Boogaloo and Graham"
Directors: Michael Lennox and Ronan Blaney
Country of origin: UK
Running time: 14:00
Language: English

The film is set in a tense Belfast, Northern Ireland, in the year 1978. British soldiers are patrolling the alleyways with automatic weapons. We see a local man carrying a large sinister-looking box and placing it on the ground. He calls to two boys to the box. Reaching down he pulls out two baby chicks. This is Father (Martin McCann), and he has a chicken for each of his sons to raise as pets. The boys are instantly captivated and look at the chickens with a fascination as if Father had pulled out a flying saucer. The boys are smitten with the chicks, but their mother is not sure she wants her house messed up with such unconventional pets. And raising children in a war zone like Belfast is neither safe nor easy. Rating: A

"Butter Lamp" ("La Lampe au Beurre de Yak")
Directors: Hu Wei and Julien Feret
Countries of origin: France, China
Running time: 15:54
Language: Tibetan

We are looking at Tiananmen Square, but it is perfectly empty. A family comes and poses in front of us and we realize we are looking through a photographer's camera. In a remote village of Tibet a photographer is taking family portraits of local families. For background scenery we see the photographer has many rolled murals, each from a different place that the people of this village will probably never see. It is clear that many of the people being photographed have never seen a camera before and do not really understand the process. One woman turns her back to the camera because she only wants to look at the Potala on the background. Multiple older men have prayer spinners. Children are always uncooperative. Some of the backgrounds are ironic. One is a picture of Disneyland. The film is just a pleasant look at a slice of life. Rating: C

Directors: Talkhon Hamzavi and Stefan Eichenberger
Country of origin: Switzerland
Running time: 24:26
Language: German

A young woman from Afghanistan, working in Switzerland, needs to send money to her sick father back at home. She is exploited and cheated at every turn and not having much success in her efforts. She overhears someone say that if she goes to a modern city (Geneva?) she can send the money through Western Union. So she decides to visit the city. Urban life is as bad as her rural life was for her until she finds a punk rocker who will help her ... for a fee. We see two different cultures that clash, yet there are still decent people in either culture. Rating: B

"The Phone Call"
Directors: Mat Kirkby and James Lucas
Country of origin: UK
Running time: 20:56
Language: English

For a small short film, this film has some major talent in front of the camera. Sally Hawkins (GODZILLA, HAPPY-GO-LUCKY) is working at a crisis center and gets a phone call from a suicidal older man (Jim Broadbent). She works desperately to get information about the man so she can get help to him. "The Phone Call" has been nominated for an Academy Award the same year as the documentary "Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1," a film on much the same subject "
but that completely overpowers this one. Rating: C


"The Bigger Picture"
Directors: Daisy Jacobs and Christopher Hees
Country of origin: UK
Running time: 7:27
Language: English

Filmed as if painted on wallpaper with some papier-mache, "The Bigger Picture" tells of two brothers, quite different from each other, who compete for their elderly mother's love and face her approaching death as well as their own. Mother is getting to where she has to be cared for and that brings a new crisis. The story is downbeat and the animation does not lighten things up at all. Rating: C

"The Dam Keeper"
Directors: Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi
Country of origin: US
Running time: 18:08
Language: English

A town has large windmills that stand between the town and disaster in some way not explained. A little pig has inherited the responsibility of maintaining the windmills and keeping the town alive. The townspeople, all animals, either do not know the pig is protecting them or do not care or have not a speck of gratitude. They make the pig's life a misery by bullying him and making fun. The pig should have been a town hero, but nobody stands up for him or even wants to be friends. Then a new animal comes to town, a foxy fox. She decides she likes the pig and makes a friend of him. But is she really a friend? Rating: B

Directors: Patrick Osborne and Kristina Reed
Country of origin: US
Running time: 7:00
Language: English

A homeless stray puppy is desperate to find food scraps left by the humans. One of the humans takes pity on him, adopting him and naming him Winston. As he goes through life Winston finds living with humans is frequently a flood of tempting human-food of all kinds of delicious varieties. But when the food supply is not a satisfying, he decides to take matters into his own hands ... or paws. This film from Disney has plenty of cute, but not enough real story. And the animation does not always explain what is going on. The film is endearing, but it could say more. Rating: B

"Me and My Moulton"
Director: Torill Kove
Country of origin: Canada
Running time: 13:08
Language: English

This is an autobiographical story of three sisters growing up in Norway, getting along with their artistically oriented parents. The parents know what they want for their daughters, which is frequently not what the daughters want. The storyteller wants a very common sort of bicycle that will be the same model as a neighbor's bike, but the parents have their own ideas of what bicycle to get. The animation and art is colorful, but not very innovative. Rating: C

"A Single Life"
Director: Joris Oprins
Country of origin: Netherlands
Running time: 2:18
Language: English

Using three-dimensional animation, we have a woman deciding that a song on a record tells the story of her life. Skipping around on the record she jumps backward and forward in time seeing her past, her present, and her future. But there are some scenes of our lives it is better not to see. For such a short animated film it tells a reasonably good science fiction story with allusions to George Pal's THE TIME MACHINE. Rating: A

It looks like the films I would pick for Academy Awards on February 22 would be

Best Live Action Short:
"Boogaloo and Graham"
Directors: Michael Lennox and Ronan Blaney

Best Animated Short "A Single Life"
Director: Joris Oprins

					Mark R. Leeper
Copyright 2015 Mark R. Leeper