2015 Academy Award Nominees in Short Live-Action and Animation
(film reviews by Mark R. Leeper)

Again this year I have been given the opportunity to see the short films nominated for Academy Awards. I do not get to vote on them, of course, but I do get a chance to review them. I usually review only feature-length films, but this year I could see the short nominees. In keeping with my previous short film reviews I will rate each film A for excellent, B for good, C for acceptable or D for poor. I cannot say a lot about each film without giving too much away. These are after-all short films. But I will try to comment on them.


"Ave Maria"
Directors: Basil Khalil and Eric Dupont
Country of origin: France, Germany, and Palestine
Running Time': 15 minutes
Language: Arabic, English, and Hebrew

It is Friday afternoon on the West Bank and a car filled with a bickering Jewish family has a car accident just outside a convent. One would think it should be simple to call a taxi for the family, but the Jews cannot use a telephone on the Sabbath and the nuns in the convent are under a vow of silence. Everything they try seems to break the rules of somebody, the Jewish or Catholic restrictions. How can they resolve the problems? The film is slight, but it is amusing. It is refreshing to have a film set on the West Bank that is not being political.
Rating B

"Day One"
Directors: Henry Hughes
Country of origin: United States
Running Time: 25 minutes
Language: English, Dari

We follow a woman on her first day working with the U.S. military as an interpreter in Afghanistan. She is the first woman in this company, and she and the rest of the company are having some trouble adapting to each other. She is sent with troops to interrogate a man suspected of building bombs for use against the Americans. After a shaky start, and one that is unnerving, she discovers that in addition to people being merciless to one another, nature can also be harsh against people regardless of their politics. For a short film, this first day for the woman in Afghanistan involves some strong drama. I will be impressed if our novice translator comes back for Day Two.
Rating: A

"Everything Will Be Okay" ("Alles Wird Gut")
Directors: Patrick Vollrath
Country of origin: Germany, Austria
Running Time: 30 minutes
Language: German

Patrick Vollrath directs a nice exercise in suspense. Michael is a divorced father who has visitation rights with his young daughter Lea. He picks her up and seems particularly generous to her this day. But soon he seems to be acting strangely. Lea questions him and gets no useful answers. Michael's plans will pit Lea against her father. Many American filmmakers would exaggerate the film and that really is not necessary. In a nice compact 30 minutes this film is more than a match for a feature-length suspense film.
Rating: A

Directors: Jamie Donoughue
Country of origin: United Kingdom, Kosovo
Running Time: 21 minutes
Language: Albanian, Serbian

In a story told in flashback we meet two boys, Oki and Era, in Kosovo. The boys are close friends, who want to try their hands at being businessmen. But as the war comes home to their village they find that just staying alive may be all they can manage. Their relationship has a little bit of betrayal and a lot of danger from the gunmen infesting their village. The ending of the film is not all smoothed off like a fiction story, but it does show us the texture of life during wartime.
Rating: B

Directors: Benjamin Cleary and Serena Armitage
Country of origin: United Kingdom
Running Time: 12 minutes
Language: English

In a tale with an O Henry irony we meet Greenwood who can write beautifully, but who has a very bad stammer. In social media on the Internet he has the writing voice of a poet, but if he stands in front of a live person he can barely get his words out. For several months he has had a verbal relationship with a woman on Facebook, but he is certain that when she meets him in the flesh all his fine words will abandon him and he will be able to get out only fractions of words. His one chance with his on-line correspondent is to meet his friend and hope against hope that he will find a way to talk to her.
Rating: C


"Bear Story"
Directors: Gabriel Osorio and Pato Escala
Country of origin: Chile
Running time: 11 minutes
Language: No Dialog

The main character in this film looks he is a tin toy against a music box interior that forms a setting. The background music also seems to have a music box feel. The story is of a bear who is kidnapped by a circus and made to perform. All is shown with a clockwork background decorated with circus posters. The film is Chilean and was made undoubtedly as a political statement against Pinochet and his political machine. It is a work of genuine ingenuity and has something to say.
Rating: B

Directors': Richard Williams and Imogen Sutton
Country of origin: United Kingdom
Running time: 6 minutes
Language: No Dialog

Presented wordlessly in pencil drawing art we see first images of a flower and a bee, then shift to a small battle--two warriors against two warriors--from around 400 BC. The battle is violent and all four die, but a young girl who watched the battle runs to her mother or grandmother for comfort. Some may find that even animated blood is over-used. Presumably it is saying that fighting is bad, but fighting today is very different from what it was 24 centuries ago. It is unclear what the flower has to do with anything. The film does not seem to tell a story and probably really needs one.
Rating: C

"Sanjay's Super Team"
Directors: Sanjay Patel and Nicole Grindle
Country of origin: United States
Running time: 7 minutes
Language: English

From Disney and Pixar comes a story of the generation gap between the Indian-born and the Western-born Indian-Americans. Sanjay's father is a devout Hindu who performs the Hindu devotions in the home. His son Sanjay on the other hand is very much a product of American culture. He does not want to go through the ceremonies. He wants to be left alone to see super-heroes on television and in his action-hero toys. Neither has much interest in the other's fascinations. Then Sanjay has a vision that makes things clear for himself and his father and the two are reconciled. This could be a better story with a more satisfying conclusion. The solution really would probably work for neither Sanjay nor his father.
Rating: B

"We Can't Live Without Cosmos"
Directors: Konstantin Bronzit
Country of origin: Russia
Running time: 16 minutes
Language: No Dialog

In the days of the old Soviet space program two cosmonauts in training become very close friends, preparing for space together and getting into mischief whenever they can. Both yearn for the stars and are inspired by the same book, "We Can't Live Without The Cosmos". A flight comes up and only one can go on it. The animation is low-tech, but the story is poignant. The images are fairly two-dimensional, but the narrative is touching.
Rating: A

"World of Tomorrow"
Directors: Don Hertzfeldt
Country of origin: United States
Running time: 17 minutes
Language: English

"World Of Tomorrow" is a full science fiction story animated with line drawings. A little girl, Emily, meets and is taken on a time traveling trip by her own granddaughter looks aged enough to instead be her grandmother. Most of the art is or appears to be just line drawings. Emily visits her own future. She is told, though she is much too young to understand, that she will have her mind and personality downloaded into a clone. This process will be repeated indefinitely giving her virtually eternal life. And that is just the start of what Emily's grandmother reveals to her. One after another Emily hears about the technological wonders of her future--marvels but of dubious value.
Rating: A

					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2016 Mark R. Leeper