MOVIES | Oscar-nominated short live action films: The best and the worst

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One of my favorite Oscar categories is the often overlooked and underappreciated short film nominees. So much great storytelling comes in these small packages, and successful careers can be created overnight for the directors of these films. The Lagoon Cinema is exclusively screening both the live action and animated short film nominees in a collection distributed by Shorts International. I always go in to these collective screenings with the hope I might discover the next big name in filmmaking, or at least see something interesting—you never know.

the oscar nominated short films: live action, now playing at the lagoon cinema, 1320 lagoon ave., minneapolis. for tickets and information, see landmarktheatres.com.

Auf Der Strecke (On the Line). (Dir. Reto Caffi, Germany/Switzerland, 30 min.)

A department store security guard is secretly infatuated with a clerk in the store’s bookshop. When he witnesses a rival for the clerk’s affections being attacked on a train, the guard abandons him, a decision that carries devastating consequences. The guard, who has the voyeuristic job of a man who looks at video screens all day, makes for an engaging and cinematic lead character. The film is a well-made rumination on just how difficult it can be to tell someone how you feel.

Raised in Bern, Reto Caffi studied English and Communications at the University of Bern and Fribourg. After graduating, he worked as a cultural journalist for Swiss Radio International and for Swiss National Television, as well as for various print media. Caffi then undertook post-graduate studies at the Academy of Media Arts in Cologne. Auf der Strecke is his sixth film as director.

New Boy (Dir. Steph Green, Ireland, 11 min.)

Based on a Roddy Doyle short story, a young African immigrant struggles to find a place for himself during his first day at an Irish school in what turns out to be a touching vision of adolescent acceptance.

Director Steph Green is an Irish-American writer/director. Her short films and commercials have been featured in the Cannes Lions Young Director’s showcase, the Young Guns Advertising Awards, and noted film festivals around the world. New Boy has won over 20 international festivals. Green has had the privilege of working with mentors such as Spike Jonze, Vincent Landay, Fredrik Bond, and Alan Poul. She is a graduate of Northwestern University and University College Dublin and splits her time between Los Angeles and Dublin. Green is currently developing feature film projects in Ireland and the US.

Spielzeugland (Toyland) (Dir. Jochen Freydank, Germany, 14 min.)

Germany, 1942. A mother convinces her son that the Jewish neighbors are going on a journey to “Toyland” in a ploy a la Life is Beautiful to shelter her son from the horrific realities of the holocaust. A good ending for sure, but the film is yet another WWII/Holocaust story in a long line of them, and it’s not particularly distinguished. At least this was actually made by Germans and in the German language (unlike, say, Valkyrie).

Director Jochen Alexander Freydank was born in 1969 in East Berlin. He directed fringe theater, commercials, and short films. He started his film career as a first assistant director and editor before becoming a screenwriter for TV and film. At present he works as a producer of a TV series called Endlich Samstag! while preparing for his first feature film as a director.

Grisen (The Pig) (Dirs. Tivi Magnusson and Dorte Høgh, Denmark, 22 min.)

When Asbjorn is admitted to hospital, he finds comfort in a painting of a whimsical pig—until it is removed at the request of another patient. A very funny (when asked where he is having surgery, the man replies “in the butt”) story that acts as a metaphor for cultural acceptance and the need for people to blindly want what is best for themselves, regardless of others.

After a decade working in television and radio, Dorte Høgh attended the National Film School of Denmark, where she graduated as a screenwriter in 1999. Since then she has written scripts for television and film such as the short film Herretoilettet, the popular dramatic series Nikolaj & Julie, and the feature films The Inheritance and Manslaughter, the former of which won Best Screenplay at the San Sebastian International Film Festival in 2003. The Pig is Dorte’s directorial debut.

Manon Sur Le Bitume (Manon on the Asphalt) Dirs. Elizabeth Marre and Olivier Pont, France, 15 min.

What really flashes before your eyes at the end? It’s a lovely spring day and Manon is on her way to a rendezvous with her boyfriend when an unexpected bump in the road makes her see life from an entirely fresh perspective. Manon does everything a great short film can do, using images and sounds to tell a story perfect for cinema. A gem of a film: heartbreaking, realistic, beautiful.

After completing a Master’s Law Degree at the University Paris II, Elizabeth Marre successfully passed the French bar exam. At the same time, she pursued acting classes and worked as a First Assistant Director on feature films. Olivier Pont grew up in the French Riviera. He passed a Scientific Baccalauréat and then graduated from the CFT Gobelins, the French National Animation School. He worked as an animator for three years at Steven Spielberg’s Amblimation Studio in London. Searching for independence and personal creativity, he decided to develop his own stories and became a comic strip artist. Olivier edited eight comic books, including the diptych Où le Regard ne porte pas…, which met with great critical and public acclaim.
Marre and Pont have written and directed two short films together: That Little Spark (La Petite Flamme) in 2005 and Manon sur le Bitume in 2007. They are now working on their first feature film.

This collection is a great way to get a glimpse of new world cinema filmmakers. My favorite of the five nominees is definitely Manon on the Ashpalt—those damn French really know how to make films, don’t they? The Academy would be nuts to not reward that one. Second place goes to The Pig. The weakest of five was easily Toyland.

Editor’s note: This article was written before the Academy Award winners were announced. The Oscar for best short live action film went to Toyland.


Erik McClanahan is a freelance film journalist and critic in Minneapolis. He is also co-host of KFAI’s Movie Talk.

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