Saturday, April 16, 2016

OVP: Live Action Short Film (2015)

OVP: Best Live Action Short Film (2015)

The Nominees Were...

Basil Khalil and Eric Dupont, Ave Maria
Henry Hughes, Day One
Patrick Vallrath, Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut)
Jamie Donoughue, Shok
Benjamin Cleary and Serena Armitage, Stutterer

My Thoughts: We're going to take a short break from the 2014 OVP to do one more entry in the 2015 OVP.  I don't normally write articles for a different year than what we're chronicling, but since the Short Films aren't officially part of the OVP (what-you're new to the blog and don't know what the OVP is?-click here to find out), I thought it was appropriate to get the final list of the short films out into the world before all of this past season's Oscar races have become a part of history.

The films of this category are pretty marked by being extremely depressing.  In a short film, it's frequently the case where you can only showcase maybe one or two emotions, and when it comes to Oscar there's no better bet than sadness in terms of gaining some points in order to win a nomination or trophy.  That is clearly most evident in the film Shok, which is about the harrowing nightmare of the War in Kosovo in the 1990's.  The film is deeply depressing, about two childhood best friends who, while one of them is trying to establish himself as cool to a gang of soldiers, gets the other's bicycle stolen.  The film is a series of horrifying incidents, including an off-hand murder late in the movie that is devastating, but sadly predictable.  The film perhaps needed to focus slightly more on the adult version of the main boy Petrit, as I felt we are relying too much on "eye-acting" and not enough on actually establishing him as an adult, but overall it's neither bad nor particularly great, but just undeniably sad.

The same can be said for Everything Will Be Okay, but here you can actually get frustrated with the film.  The movie is about a man who is essentially trying to kidnap his young daughter after his divorce has left him bereft of anything good (you can tell he's kind of a failure romantically and economically while his wife lives in a good part of town with a new husband that gets to spend more time with his daughter than he does).  It's a sad movie, one that you can see the ending coming from in advance a mile away (this is true of most of these pictures), but it's also slightly infuriating.  You get the sense that the main dad, Michael, thinks what he's doing is for the best interest of his child and perhaps is doing this more out of a deep depression, but the film doesn't give enough credit to that argument so that by the end of the picture you realize that he has vastly traumatized his daughter, broken several laws, ruined his chances of ever being in her life, and generally is kind of a self-centered jerk.  I'm not claiming that films need to center around particularly good people (I watch Girls-I know the deal), but at least somehow acknowledge that what the man is doing is wrong-the film plays like a sympathy play for Michael, and I was having none of it by about halfway through the picture.

Day One is the last of the trio of unequivocally dour pictures.  This one, about a woman who is working as an interpreter with the US Army, starts out at least with a comic moment (a woman, on her first day, runs into a completely naked man who doesn't realize until she speaks that she is, of course, a woman because she's behind a shower curtain).  The film goes dark from there, with a bomb going off killing a biker and then the woman being forced to interpret and intersect religious boundaries as another woman gives birth to a child while dying in the process.  The film is a harrowing look at war, and was directed by a veteran paratrooper (the first time a veteran has been nominated for an Academy Award since 9/11, for the record), but the film's authenticity is challenged by the fact that the story feels like a relatively tired retread.  The main actress in the film (Layla Alizada) is quite good, but the film feels like the sort of western vs. eastern filmography that we've seen in this category for the past twenty years-there has to be something newer to say about war than just "we're all different...we're all the same...war is stupid," right?

Ave Maria is the most comical of the five films, though it too relies heavily on the challenges posed by two different cultures colliding.  The film follows a group of nuns who have to help a group of Israeli settlers when their car breaks down.  The settlers are concerned about the nuns' intentions and the safety of any help that they provide, while the nuns (who appear cloistered and silent) have to find a balance between their vow of silence and helping the family.  The film falls into expected and anticipated patterns, with the nuns eventually showing a savvy that was unexpected (one of them is a mechanic) and the two groups getting along.  It's the sort of film we've seen for decades in the foreign film categories of the Oscars, but is probably still warmly received by certain older chapters of the Academy who like a happy ending in a sea of depressing ones.

By far the most modern of the films nominated this year was Sturrerer.  The film recounts a man who has an extreme speech impediment, and who spends most of his life avoiding in-person human interactions, save for with his father.  We hear much of his life through narrative, where his speech impediment doesn't stand in the way of communication, and we learn that he has fallen in love with a woman whom he is writing on a daily basis but wants to meet (she, of course, has never met him before).  The film's premise is hardly new, but the approach is wonderful-the main actor (Matthew Needham) is excellent as someone trying to deal with this disability, and unlike several of the films up-top, the movie never drags-it was the only one of the films nominated, in fact, where I left genuinely wanting more time with the characters and it could have been a feature-length film and I would have seen it, no questions asked.

Other Precursor Contenders: The Academy releases a shortlist of the films eligible for this award so we know that Bad Hunter, Bis Gleich, Contrapelo, The Free Man, and Winter Light were all relatively close to being on this list.  The BAFTA Awards went with an entirely different lineup (as is their typical prerogative) with Operator triumphing over Elephant, Mining Poems or Odes, Over, and Samuel-613.
Films I Would Have Nominated: Sadly they don't put short films before films with regularity anymore (don't you wish they did?) and so I don't get to see enough nominees to complain.
Oscar’s Choice: In a bit of a surprise (I was expecting Shok), the Academy went with Sturrerer.
My Choice: An easy victory for Sturrerer, the only one of the films I genuinely adored.  The rest of the lineup is only separated by a small margin, but I'd go with Shok, Everything Will Be Okay, Day One, and Ave Maria.

Those are my thoughts-what are yours?  Did you see these films, and if so, who did you cheer for?  Share in the comments!

Past Live Action Short Film Contests: 20122013, 2014

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