The Academy Award-Nominated Short Films (2008)

The 2008 Academy Award-Nominated Short Films

Film review by: Witney Seibold




            Bless the Academy for the recent practice of distributing the Academy Award-nominated short films every year a few weeks before the Oscar telecast. I long for the days when short films will be shown in front of features again. Until then, we have this annual chance to see the talents of filmmakers who are making short films out of passion, and not commercial fare for a paycheck.


            When compared to last year, the offerings were a bit trim in 2008, but there were still many films of note. If you can get a chance to, see these films.




            Of the five films nominated for live-action short, my favorite was Tivi Magnusson’s “The Pig,” a film from Denmark. Most short films are constructed either around a tragic coda or a comic twist; either way, they are big “punchline heavy,” if you will. “The Pig” manages to tell an entire story, show a man struggling for something he believes in, maintaining his dignity, and reconciling with his daughter, all with a subtext of race and equality. A man checks into a hospital with GI ailments. Across from his bed is a painting of a pig. A happy pig diving into a pond. Its ineffable smile rivals the mystery and bliss of the Mona Lisa. The man feels this pig is his guardian angel. A rivalry soon starts over the pig with his Muslim roommate. It is a delightful film. It is funny and sweet.




            Not so sweet was the film from Switzerland, Reto Caffi’s “Auf Der Strecke.” An efficient security guard secretly spies on the co-worker he has a crush on. When he sees her in a subway with another man, he begins to seethe. When young punks beset upon the other man and beat him savagely, he does nothing to help. It turns out the other man was his crush’s brother. Now he is wracked by guilt. The ending was a bittersweet and ambivalent stare. It’s a depressing film, and may have benefitted from more or less.




            Elisabeth Marre’s “Manon on the Asphalt” is from France, and feels typically French. i.e. wracked with melancholic ennui, and the bittersweet mixture of love and death. It shows the dying thoughts of a young woman who is dying on the asphalt after a car accident. It feels like all of the college-age death fantasies from “Rent” condensed into six minutes.




            “New Boy,” from Ireland, tells the story of a black boy’s first day in an all-white Irish classroom. He gets into instant rivalries and crushes with classmates. The film would be fine had it stuck to the classroom, but the filmmakers, Steph Green and Tamara Anghie, decided to include a flashback to the boy’s recent past where his father was taken away by some nondescript soldiers for a nondescript reason in an unnamed country. The topicality of these flashbacks made the film seem manipulative.




            The ultimate winner of the Academy Award was, in typical Academy Award fashion, about the Holocaust. Jochen Alexander Freydank’s “Toyland” shows a gentile woman racing about town looking for her missing son. She fears he has boarded a train for Auschwitz, under the impression that Jews are being taken to Toyland. She uses her status as a gentile – one that is frequently questioned by the Nazi soldiers – to commit an act of mercy. It’s a good film.


            The five films nominated for animated short were so short, that the Academy actually had to include five other films just to fill an entire 90-minute program.




            The winner of the Academy Award, and the best of the films was a Japanese film called “Les Maison en Petit Cubes” by Kunio Kato. It’s an evocative fantasy about an old man living in a tower that is constantly filling with water. When the water gets too deep, he builds another story atop the existing one. When he gets his hands on a deep-sea diving suit, he swims to the ocean floor, experiencing each other the memories he had on each of the underwater floors. It’s the only film that exhibited true imagination and originality.




            Pixar was sure to have a nomination this year, and Doug Sweetland’s film “Presto,” about a magician rabbit doing comically vengeful things to his master, shows the company’s usual brio. Ultimately, “Presto” was more ripoff than homage to the Tex Avery and Chuck Jones shorts it was clearly inspired by, but it’s still a funny film.




            The Ukrainian entry was “Lavatory-Lovestory” by Konstantin Bronzit. It’s a simply-designed film without dialogue about a bathroom attendant who is besieged by mysterious deliveries of flowers. Someone is romancing this dumpy-looking woman, but who could it be? This film was a bit twee for my tastes, but it was technically a minimalist beauty.




            From France was Emud Mokhberi and Thierry Marchand’s “Oktopodi.” This film was only about two minutes long, and was nothing more than a fast-paced chase sequence clearly inspired by the climax of a Pixar film in both design and in coloring. I liked the way the octopi moved, but it was ultimately a trifle.




            My favorite of the animated films was one I had seen earlier in the year as part of Mike Judge’s “Animation Show, volume 4.” It was a British film called “This Way Up” by Adam Smith and Alan Foulkes, and it followed the trials of a father-son undertaker team who were beset by obstacles preventing them from burying their current charge. They eventually even travel to the land of the dead to make sure they do things correctly. It’s a little too fast-paced, but I liked the film’s Tim Burton-like fascination with death.


            Shorts are the best way to see up-and-coming talent on display, or a way to see a new film form that we, the public, are largely unfamiliar with. If the Academy continues this tradition of releasing the shorts in theaters, be sure to become part of it.

Published in: on February 27, 2009 at 10:35 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] The Academy Award-Nominated Short Films (2008) В« Three Cheers for … Feb 27, 2009 … The Academy Award-Nominated Short Films (2008). The 2008 Academy Award-Nominated Short Films … […]

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