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Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024
The Observer

Oscar shorts

This past Thursday and Friday, the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center's Browning Cinema screened this year's slate of Oscar-nominated short films, which included documentaries, animated and live action shortsAhead of the 87th Academy Awards, which will air on ABC on Sunday, I reviewed the nominees for Best Live Action Short Film.


With a running time of just over 40 minutes, "Aya" is by far the longest of the nominated shorts. Written and directed by Israeli filmmakers Mihal Brezis and Oded Binnum, the short follows Aya (Sarah Adler), a woman waiting at an airport who impulsively pretends to be a driver for a Danish music researcher (Thomas Overby). The car ride from the airport to Jerusalem that follows is often funny and at times uncomfortable, as Aya tries to admit that she's not really his driver. "I feel closer to people I don't know than my family and friends," she finally explains to him. Yet, even with its lengthy running time, "Aya" never fully delves into the psychology of its titular character's life and why she would be compelled to pick up a total stranger.

Boogaloo and Graham

"Boogaloo and Graham" is a charming short about Jamesy and Malechy (Riley Hamilton and Aaron Lynch), two brothers growing up in 1970s Belfast. The film derives its name from the two chickens their father (Martin McCann) gives them as pets. When their mother (Charlene McKenna) becomes pregnant and wants to get rid of the chickens, the boys are forced to grapple with killing their beloved pets. The film is an endearing and nostalgic reflection on childhood and the sacrifices parents make for their children's happiness.

Butter Lamp

By far the most formally experimental of the five, "Butter Lamp" is made up of a series of vignettes documenting a photographer shooting families from a small Tibetan village. Each family is shot against a background of a different landmark, from Hong Kong Disneyland to the Lhasa's Potala Palace, that hides the mountainous setting of their village. Director Hu Wei used Tibetan locals as actors, and the film's mix of documentary and narrative aesthetics makes for an unconventional short that comments on globalization's impact on rural populations.


"Parvaneh" revolves around a young Afghan immigrant in rural Switzerland (Nissa Kashani) who travels to Zurich to wire her savings to her ill father back home. When Western Union refuses to allow an underage girl to wire money, she befriends a slighter older girl (Cheryl Graf). Swiss-Iranian director Talkhon Hamzavi's beautiful cinematography depicts a bleak, snowy Zurich that complements a sweet, if slight, story of friendship.

The Phone Call

This short from British director Matt Kirby stars Sally Hawkins as a crisis-hotline counselor on the phone with a suicidal man (the voice of Jim Broadbent), who never appears on screen. Hawkins gives an excellent performance, managing to make a conversation with an unseen caller urgently riveting. With each second that passes, she becomes increasingly desperate as she fears that the caller, who has admitted to swallowing a handful of pills and refuses to give her his information so she can call an ambulance, will die. Despite Hawkins' performance, the film's cloyingly sentimental ending prevents it from achieving the emotional resonance it attempts to inspire.

Will Win: "The Phone Call," which already won Best Narrative Short at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival. With excellent performances from two high-profile actors who have been recognized before by the Academy — Hawkins was nominated for Best Supporting Actress in 2013 for "Blue Jasmine," while Broadbent won Best Supporting Actor in 2001 for his role "Iris" — "Phone Call" seems like a shoo-in for the Oscar.

Should Win: "Butter Lamp," which brilliantly experiments with the conventions of short film to offer its commentary on cultural identity.