Oscar Nominated Short Films – Live Action

By Geoffrey King

While feature-length films tend to garner the most attention year-round, Oscar season gives us all an excuse to take a look at those paragons of visual brevity, the short films. Currently being screened as a single collection at Amherst Cinema are the Oscar nominees for best live action short films. Online at the official website of the Oscar nominated short films, viewers  vote for which short film they think will take home the Oscar on Sunday the 26th.

Courtesy of fromthefrontrow.net

Pentecost (Ireland, 11 minutes)

“Pentecost,” which is written and directed by Peter McDonald, is a comedy about a young boy who is forced to be an altar boy by his family. After royally screwing up at a Sunday mass, the boy’s father punishes him by taking away his one passion in life: Football. That is, until the fateful day when the boy is given a chance to redeem himself.

This is a good little film. Even though some of the actors play it a little over the top, the performance of Scott Graham, who plays Damian, the young protagonist of the film, is superb. There can be a tendency for children to act very sarcastically when attempting comedy, but Graham did not succumb to this stereotype.

While aspects of the film like the cinematography and sound design are quite impressive, it lacks a tonal continuity. It seems that it cannot decide whether it wants to be a drama or a comedy. Usually, with films in between (“dramedies,” if you will), the drama is slightly restrained, and the humor is somewhat muted, so that a harmonious tone can be achieved for the entire film. With “Pentecost,” however, the drama is right where it should be, but the comedy is much too over-the-top.

Even in such a short film, there are otherwise unnecessary moments seemingly tossed in just to get a laugh.

Despite this lapse of judgment on the part of writer/director Peter McDonald, the film is extremely well made and a pleasure to watch. While only a paltry 4 percent of voters believe that “Pentecost” could win the Oscar, it is not even close to being the worst film of the bunch.

Tuba Atlantic (Norway, 25 minutes)

“Tuba Atlantic,” directed by Halivar Witzø, is a dark comedy about a man, Oskar, with a terminal illness, who is trying to reconnect with his estranged brother before passing away. Oskar, who lives in Norway and spends all of his time creatively killing seagulls, attempts to contact his brother by using a giant tuba constructed long ago by his brother and himself. The magical tuba is designed to make a noise so loud as to be heard in America (which, coincidentally, is where Oskar’s brother lives now).

The acting of the entire cast is very good, but the writing and directing of “Tuba Atlantic” leaves much to be desired. Most of the film is disappointingly predictable, save for a few moments of gull-slaying shock-humor. We learn in the first scene that Oskar is going to die, and we also learn quickly that he is trying to contact his brother. While both plot elements are accomplished magnificently, it leaves the viewer needing more.

The cinematography of the film, however, is really quite stunning. The film uses a very pale, muted pallet to reflect the frigid Norwegian landscape, and the lighting is nothing less than superb. Although 20 percent of viewers believe Oskar will win the Oscar, it is clearly not the most deserving of it.

Time Freak (United States, 11 minutes)

“Time Freak,” written and directed by Andrew Bowler, is a film about a scientist who creates a time machine and gets stuck traveling to yesterday, trying to right his wrongs. In doing so, he spends a year and a half of his own life trying to do things like not get angry at the incompetent man at the dry cleaners and have a conversation with a beautiful woman that doesn’t end awkwardly. If only the director could have utilized this time machine to prevent his film from ending awkwardly, then “Time Freak” might have had a chance at winning the Oscar.

There seem to be no redeeming qualities to this film. The lighting is horrible and looks like it was done with 60-watt, Home Depot sale items. The acting is also horrendous, with the actors truly looking confused and completely unsure of themselves or their characters on the screen. There are a few funny lines, but “Time Freak” ends up looking like a poorly done student production that should not even deserve to be watched by members of the Academy, never mind actually get a nomination for the Academy Award.

What is worse is that “Time Freak” is the only American contribution to the Live Action Short Films category at this year’s Oscars. Garnering only 7 percent of the online Oscar community vote, it is quite upsetting to see America’s film industry represented by such an abhorrent creation. It only reinforces the worldwide stereotype that the American film industry is out to make money, not make the viewer think. Yet it turns out that there is one redeeming quality to this film, after all: It ensures that any movie – yes, any movie – can be nominated for an Academy Award.

The Shore (Northern Ireland, 30 minutes)

“The Shore,” directed by Terry George, is a heartwarming tale of two childhood friends reunited after spending 25 years apart from one another.

Joe, played by Cirián Hinds (“Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”) worries that he has betrayed those who truly cared for him when he abandoned his fiancée and best friend in Northern Ireland and took off for San Francisco. Now, 25 years later, Joe attempts to salvage these relationships and make amends.

“The Shore” is an impressive film that will definitely carry its own weight at Sunday’s Oscars. The acting is understated and very good, which can be expected of such a seasoned actor as Hinds. Set in Northern Ireland, the production design as well as the production value of the film really makes it worth seeing. While bearing the weight of a serious story, “The Shore” contains just the right amount of comic lightness to make it a well-rounded film. It is successful enough, with 27 percent of the online Oscar community vote, to be one of two serious contenders for the Oscar.

Raju (Germany/India, 24 minutes)

“Raju,” directed by Max Zähle, is a thriller about a German couple who adopts a young Indian boy named Raju. After spending a few days in Kolkata, Jan (Wotan Wilke Möhring) takes his newly adopted son to a market, where the boy promptly disappears. After searching tirelessly around the city, Jan realizes that he may be looking in the wrong places.

“Raju” is quite possibly the best live action short film that has been produced in a very long time. Everything about it is stunning and puts the other nominees to shame. While not a comedy like most of the rest of the bunch, “Raju” is an emotional thriller that will leave you with your mouth agape and your eyes wide in astonishment.

The characters in the film are so fleshed out that spending 24 minutes with them feels like spending an hour and a half with them. The editing, lighting, acting, directing, production design and pacing are all masterfully crafted in such a way that they fade into the background to support the central story. Consequently, viewers are easily able to become completely engrossed in the story.

If there is one reason to go see the Oscar nominated live action short films at Amherst Cinema, it is “Raju.” It is rightfully towering over the other nominees in the online polls at a whopping 60 percent. If there is any justice in this world, “Raju” will win this year’s Oscar for best live action short.

Geoff King can be reached at [email protected]