Oscar Shorts: Best Short Film and Best Live Action

Every year around Oscar season, the major award contenders are shown in theaters around the nation. But, a few of the nominees slip between the cracks and go practically unnoticed by the general public. This year, Shorts International teamed up with iTunes to bring the Oscar nominated short films to the people. Extraordinarily powerful, this year’s films prove that you don’t need the length of a feature film to tell a compelling story. Here’s my take on the live action nominees. Spielzeugland (Toyland) The Oscar winner “Spielzeugland” takes place in 1942 Nazi Germany. When a German boy thinks that his Jewish neighbors are being taken to Toyland, he packs his bags and plans on making the train trip with them. The boy disappears and his mother, fearing that the boy followed the neighbors to the German concentration camps, frantically tries to find her little boy. Sparse in dialogue, “Spielzeugland” tells its story through some terrific camera work. The great set locations and costumes also add to the mood tremendously. “Spielzeugland’s” plotline really propels it forward, even giving an incredible twist ending. While “Spielzeugland” might not boast the best acting or terrific flow, it manages to be very compelling and quite powerful. Plus, its subject matter practically guaranteed it the Oscar. Interesting and universally touching, “Spielzeugland” manages to be more affecting, thought provoking and intense than most full-length films out today. Grade: 5 Auf der Strecke (On the Line) With security cameras and electronic zoom, a department store security guard spends all day watching a beautiful bookstore clerk. While the officer rarely has the courage to speak to the clerk, he admires her from afar, wishing that they could be together. One evening, the officer takes the local train home and witnesses a group of rowdy teenagers physically harassing a stranger. Avoiding conflict, the officer leaves the train at the next stop, running from the escalating fight. The next morning, a local news report reveals that the man on the train was beaten to death. Overcome with guilt, the officer’s meticulously crafted world comes crashing down around him when he realizes the dead man is none other than the clerk’s brother. Filled with beautiful cinematography and nuanced acting, “Auf der Strecke” is one of the best short films of the year. In a mere half hour, this German film packs in a range of powerful emotions. It’s an artfully crafted story that really shines in the short film format. Grade: 5+ Grisen (The Pig) In this twenty-three minute long film, an old man goes to a hospital to have a blister removed from his colon. Scared for his life, the man seeks comfort in a picture of a pig hanging in his hospital room. But when the family of the other patient in his room requests that the picture be taken down, the old man struggles to get his “guardian angel” pig back. At the center of this Danish film is the wonderful acting of the old man. Cranky and impatient, the old man is heart-warming, quickly gaining the audience’s sympathy. Unfortunately, the rest of the acting is a bit subpar. The other characters come across as mere caricatures, a problem that mostly likely stems from an underdeveloped story. The film certainly asks an important question: should religious freedom trample upon personal freedom? But ultimately, the story fails in answering much. It ends with little conclusion. Good, but not great, this is the weakest of the nominees. Grade 4 – Manon sur le Bitume (Manon on the Asphalt) My favorite of the films, “Manon sur le Bitume” recounts the moments before, during and after the death of a Parisian woman, Manon, in a car accident. As she lies on the asphalt and experiences her final moments, she reflects on her life and the lives of her friends, gaining new insight on the past. Manon doesn’t wallow in her fate. Rather, she finally appreciates her life, giving this film an interesting tone. It would have been easy and cliché to give this film a mournful atmosphere. But, ironically, it celebrates life, making this a deeply affecting tale. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s beautifully shot. In the course of a quick 15 minutes, it’s easy to fall in love with Manon and her friends. When it ends, you find yourself wishing that both the movie and Manon’s short life had more time. That, my friends, is terrific filmmaking. Grade: 6 New Boy Ireland’s nominee of the year, “New Boy,” follows Joseph, a nine -year-old African boy, in his first day at an Irish school. Both humorous and dramatic, “New Boy” captures the obvious struggles of an outsider trying to fit in. While Joseph is bullied by two of the other kids in his class, he has flashbacks to his schooling in Africa. 11 minutes in length, “New Boy” is the shortest of the nominees and struggles because of this. The story of Joseph’s first day of school is fleshed out and quite interesting, through the flashbacks prove to be far too underdeveloped. They could have significantly added to the story by giving depth to Joseph’s struggles, but the flashbacks end up being almost an afterthought. While the child actors liven this short film up, the story surely could have benefitted from a few more minutes of footage and exposition. Grade: 4+