Live action beats animated in 2015 Oscar-nominated shorts

By Barry Paris / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

In Oscar categories as well as men’s underwear, there are shorts — and then there are briefs. Some of the live-action and animated mini movies nominated for this year’s Academy Awards are REALLY brief: One of the best runs a grand total of 2 minutes.

Long or short of it, how wonderful that we have a chance to see them, starting today at the Regent Square Theater, and pick our own winners even before the Academy does on Feb. 22.

Let’s begin with the terrific live-action entries, which are (atypically) better than the animated ones this time around.

“The Phone Call” (UK, 21 min., directed by Mat Kirkby and James Lucas): A painfully shy volunteer (Sally Hawkins) at a crisis hotline center takes a shattering call from a man (Jim Broadbent) who keeps saying, tearfully, “It’s already done ....” What, exactly? She watches the clock. A tragedy need not have three acts. Sometimes one will do perfectly — as here.

“Aya” (Israel, 39 min., Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis): In an airport mix-up, the uptight arriving passenger — juror for a music competition — takes Aya for his greeter-driver. Calm and mysterious, she doesn’t rush to disabuse him of the notion, and a lot transpires on their strange 30-minute ride in from the airport. A whimsically wicked ending awaits (in a weird trio of languages — English, Hebrew and Danish).

"Butter Lamp” (France and China, 15 min., Hu Wei and Julien Feret): An itinerant photographer photographs a family of Tibetan nomads in front of an assortment of absurdly grand backdrops: Mao’s mausoleum, Disneyland, a Malibu mansion with palm trees .... Some of them keep swinging their prayer wheels from Lhasa. Grandma prostrates herself to the photo of sacred Potala Palace and insists her yak butter be taken there as an offering. It is all gloriously incongruous.

“Boogaloo and Graham” (UK, 14 min., Michael Lennox and Ronan Blaney): Two boys are thrilled when their dad gives them a pair of baby chicks to care for. They’re less thrilled, after loving and raising the birds (and declaring themselves vegetarians), to learn their parents’ plans for the critters.

“Parvaneh” (Switzerland, 25 min., Talkhon Hamzavi and Stefan Eichenberger): A young Afghan immigrant in Zurich asks the help of a local punker, Emily, to wire money home to her family. Her desperate state is juxtaposed with that of the upscale Swiss girl, with a surprisingly sweet resolution.

In the Animation category, weaker this year, there’s less fantasy than reality:

“A Single Life” (Netherlands, 2 min., directed by Marieke Blaauw, Joris Oprins and Job Roggeveen): Upon discovering a mysterious old 45 rpm single record, Pia plays it and finds herself able to travel back and forth through her life, depending on where she drops the needle. This hilariously black comedy says it all — in two minutes!

“Feast” (USA, 6 min., Patrick Osborne): Stray puppy Winston lucked out when he adopted master James, especially in the chow dept. Is there any more important canine dept.? He stuffs himself with french fries, stringy cheese pizza, sizzling tidbits straight out of James’ frying pan. It’s doggie heaven, until SHE — the girlfriend — arrives and comes between them. Disney’s new short is polished, shot from winsome Winston’s low-angle POV in warm colors and tugs at your heartstrings all the while.

“The Bigger Picture” (UK, 7 min., Daisy Jacobs): “You want to put her in a home? YOU tell her!” yells the slacker brother to the professional one. Mama doesn’t wanna go, and the sons’ own dysfunctional lives decline, along with hers. Innovative minimalist drawing renders the bittersweet burden of caring for an elderly parent.

“The Dam Keeper” (USA, 18 min., Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi): Pity the poor piggy — charged with keeping up the old windmill that keeps up the old dam that protects the old town from disaster. And enduring the scorn and torment of his fellow animals at school, until a foxy new classmate shows up.

“Me and My Moulton” (Canada, 14 min., Torill Kove): A Scandinavian girl asks her parents if she and her sisters can have a bicycle while struggling with the fact that they are embarrassingly out of sync with “Norway normal.”

The Oscar-Nominated Shorts Animated and Live Action programs open today at the Regent Square Theater.  The programs are screened consecutively, and audiences may stay to see both, but separate admission is required.

Post-Gazette film critic Barry Paris: at

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