Here’s a look at this year’s crop of Oscar nominated live-action short films. Remember these will be playing in theaters (alongside the animated shorts in a separate program) beginning Friday, February 19th. They will also be available through iTunes and VOD. For more information about the films themselves and where you can see them, check out the Shorts International website.

There is nothing as sublime in either program as last year’s animated winner La Maison en petits cubes and this year overall the animated selections outclass the live action, but there is stuff here well worth your support and interest.

Click here for a rundown of the animated shorts or read on for the live action nominees listed in order of likelihood I think they’ll win the Oscar with a star rating reflecting my own like or dislike.

The Door (Ireland 17 mins) ****
This is the best of an unspectacular bunch and, as the only one of the five with the combination of skill, style and emotional gravity needed to make it special, it’s my pick for the most likely Oscar winner. It begins with a man sneaking across an almost post-apocalyptic looking urban landscape and breaking into an abandoned apartment in order to steal a door. The moving and haunting fragment that follows reveals the circumstances surrounding this strange crime as well as the sad reasons for its commission. The less said about it the better so if you haven’t read anything else about The Door, I’d recommend staying in the dark. It’s not that there’s a big shocking reveal, but the pleasures are modest, subtle and easily spoiled.

Instead of Abracadabra (Sweden 22 mins) *** 1/2
The kind of off-kilter, demented comedy that seems to be a specialty of the Scandinavian countries, Abracadabra tells the story of a 25-year-old magician wannabe still living at home with his two parents. They’d very much like to see him get a real job, but he begs them to let him perform one last show at the father’s 60th birthday party where he hopes to impress the pretty nurse who has moved in next door. Abracadabra is the most openly entertaining of the bunch, thanks in large part to the goofy charm of lead Simon J. Berger, but it doesn’t quite pay off with the zing it promises. I expect the Oscar voters will go for something with a little more heft and resonance, but if they feel like rewarding pure entertainment, they might turn this way.

Kavi (USA/India 19 mins) ** 1/2
This story of a little boy working slave labor in India is earnest and well intended but completely airless. It’s competently done and fine to the extent it casts light on a real worldwide problem, but as a work of art it never gets off the ground. Kavi‘s good intentions might be enough to put it over with Oscar voters, but I doubt it.

The New Tenants (Denmark/USA 20 mins) *** 1/2
The only short with faces I recognized, namely Kevin Corrigan (Big Fan) and Vincent D’Onofrio (Full Metal Jacket, TV’s Law and Order: Criminal Intent). Two bickering roommates find themselves caught up in a comically macabre cycle of violence and misunderstanding stemming from the fate of the previous resident of their apartment. Thematically it hinges on an extended opening dialogue about smoking that comes across a little film schooly, but it kicks in to amusing effect once stuff starts happening. I ultimately enjoyed it but don’t see it swaying Oscar voters.

Miracle Fish (Australia 17 mins) **
A little boy sneaks into the school nurse’s office and falls asleep on a cot. When he awakes a couple of hours later, he finds the school mysteriously and hastily abandoned. Sets up a nicely dreamy and mysterious tone, but utterly fails to pay off. In the end it takes a narrative turn that’s supposed to be shocking, but the only real surprise will be if this one takes the Oscar.

7 Responses to “Review: Oscar Nominated Live-Action Shorts (2010)”

  1. Thanks for this Craig. This helps a lot with my prognostication, which in the Short categories, is a real pain.

    I’m learning towards The Door (as are many) but you never can now with this branch can you?

  2. At first I rather liked Miracle Fish, but it soured on me. Thematically unsophisticated and borderline exploitive. I’ve been hearing lots of raves for it online, more than for the others, so what do I know.

  3. Andy, this is always a particularly hard one to pick. I could be flat wrong, but The Door just feels right. It was also my personal fav so maybe I’m having a hard time seeing beyond that.

    Miracle Fish was intriguing as hell, so all the more annoying when the big reveal happened. Disliked it immensely.

    Watch it win now.

  4. Seems to me these and the animated shorts are available online. Sasha at AD provided links awhile back.

    All these films are opening here Friday, so I’ll be seeing them over the weekend and will report back my findings.

  5. I saw these today. The two I most enjoyed were Instead of Abracadabra and The New Tenants.

    Because of its serious subject, The Door certainly clears the hurdle into typical Academy fare, but I don’t know whether it’s well-developed enough to win. I’d say more but don’t want to reveal any spoilers.

    The New Tenants is entertaining for sure, but possibly a little too edgy for Academy voters despite its upbeat ending that’s spiced with life-affirming meaning. Casting and acting play important roles in this film. One of the “tenants” is at the heart of the film’s success. However, the other tenant (the quieter one) doesn’t seem quite convincing enough. D’Onofrio is quite good, creating a strong initial impact and making important emotional transitions quite quickly and very believably. The opening scene is one of the funniest and most sardonic-but-true in recent memory.

    I suspect that Instead of Abracadabra has enough humor and charm — and just enough gravitas — that it may take the Oscar. Certainly many qualifying Academy voters have been parents of young adults and easily could identify with the parents in the film. Also, the young lead actor is gangly, self-assured and just reckless enough to appeal to younger voters. The romantic aspect of the plot could help the film’s chances, as well.

    The remaining two — Miracle Fish and Kavi — seem either too downbeat or harsh to win over enough voters.

    My pick: Instead of Abracadabra.

  6. I like your take on these Pierre and I won’t be surprised if your prediction comes true.

    I liked Abracadabra quite a bit (“Chimay!”), but the timing of the pay off gag seemed off somehow and it wasn’t quite as funny to me as it probably was on paper. For sheer entertainment value, this one wins hands down.

  7. Thanks, Craig. To me, the somewhat funny final moment of Instead of Abracadabra is superseded by its summoning up of the thruline of the film — that gut-churning feeling of dread that something is going to wrong. In a film that brief, that’s about the best one can hope for, I think.

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