Movie News & Reviews

At the Crest: Short films up for Oscars are a varied bunch

“Feast,” from director Patrick Osborne, is among the Oscar-nominated animated short films.
“Feast,” from director Patrick Osborne, is among the Oscar-nominated animated short films. Disney

Starting Sunday, Sacramento’s Crest Theatre will show the short films that will vie for Oscars at the Feb. 22 Academy Awards.

Watching these nominated films on the Crest’s big screen will let viewers fully appreciate how filmmakers from around the world tell complete stories in 20, 15 or even two minutes.

The Crest will offer individual live-action, animation and documentary programs on different days on its February calendar. Below is a rundown of the initial programs, animation and live action.

Animation

There’s not a lot of talking in this year’s animated shorts. Three of them – “Feast,” “A Single Life” and “The Dam Keeper” – tell stories through gesture and context but without dialogue.

The lovely “Feast” will be familiar to many, since it runs in theaters before each showing of Disney’s “Big Hero 6.” “Feast” takes a dog’s-eye view of his owner’s life and emotional status through the food the pet receives, starting with the french fry that begins their relationship.

Lasting a compact two minutes, “Single Life,” from the Netherlands, rests on one terrific conceit that I will not give away. Explaining the premise would take longer than the film’s run time, anyway.

Of the dialogue-free films, “Dam Keeper” tells the most complete story. The showpiece of the animated program, the luminous, dreamlike and painterly (via digital painting) short comes from Pixar Animation Studios veterans Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi. It follows the character Pig as he performs a job he inherited from his father – maintaining a windmill that keeps toxic gas out of his village. Pig also attends school, where the other animal/kids bully him for the soot near his snout, and just because he’s a pig. Pig finds a pal in the new kid at school, the bushy-tailed Fox.

English director Daisy Jacobs used life-size physical paintings in making “The Bigger Picture,” in which you see literal brush strokes. While they are broad, Jacobs’ storytelling is subtle. Jacobs uses some dialogue but also artfully employs shadow and light to impart the story of two adult brothers caring for their ailing mother.

The chatty narrator of “Me and My Moulton” offers a play-by-play account of the activities of three girls and their modern-architect parents. One of the daughters narrates, and like many children before her, thinks hers are the weirdest parents around. Her dad sports her town’s lone mustache, and the mother dresses the girls in geometric patterns that make them stand out too much.

Canadian filmmaker Torvill Kove’s depiction of the specific experience of being the child of artists evokes the Lena Dunham memoir “Not That Kind of Girl.”

Live action

Limited visual perspectives yield larger truths in three of the nominated live-action films, “The Phone Call,” “Aya” and “Butter Lamp.”

England’s “Phone Call” is a 21-minute showcase for the great actress Sally Hawkins, a supporting-actress Oscar nominee last year for her work in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine.”

For most of “Call,” it’s just Hawkins on camera, phone in hand, as her counselor character tries to keep a sad man who has called the crisis hotline (Jim Broadbent voices the role) on the line.

There’s never been much of an emotional barrier between Hawkins and the audience. Here, it is even thinner than usual, as Hawkins offers insight into her character’s thought process and deep well of empathy.

The French-Israeli co-production “Aya” is a two-person show set almost entirely inside a car in motion (this film and “Phone Call” both bring to mind the 2014 guy-on-the-phone-in-a-car Tom Hardy film “Locke”). Sarah Adler, who was in the Sofia Coppola film “Marie Antoinette,” plays a woman who’s waiting for someone at the airport when a professional driver who’s also waiting but needs to step away asks her to hold a sign up to welcome an arriving passenger. Once the woman meets the passenger (Danish actor Ulrich Thomsen), she decides to drive him herself.

Adler is delightful as a woman whose truth-telling nature means her ruse will last only so long. She has great chemistry with the stately Thomsen, who has been in everything from the Dogma film “The Celebration” to the current Hollywood stinker “Mortdecai.”

The production design of the French-Chinese co-production “Butter Lamp” consists entirely of cloth backdrops – of Disneyland, the beach, upscale homes – before which a traveling photographer poses the Tibetan nomads he is photographing. This setup offers more drama that one might think, as the photographic subjects debate such topics as how to pose their animals in the photos. Director Hu Wei does a lot with a single location, subtly injecting reminders of the China-Tibet conflict into seemingly innocuous scenarios.

Political strife also is implied in the other two live-action nominees, “Parvaneh” and “Boogaloo and Graham.” In the former, an Afghan teenager (Nissa Kashani), newly arrived to the Swiss Alps and seeking asylum, tries to earn money to send to family members. Kashani’s expressive face registers the girl’s new experiences as director Talkhon Hamzavi sends Parvaneh on an unexpected odyssey.

“Boogaloo,” a Northern Irish film, is set in 1978 Belfast and shows how, for most people at the time, domestic issues outweighed political troubles. Issues like how to keep two brothers’ pet chickens from making a mess, and a mother who shouts too much.

The yelling does not obscures the parents’ clear affection for each other. The pair seem to have reached a tacit agreement in which the wife’s criticism of her husband counts as encouragement rather than hen-pecking.

Call The Bee’s Carla Meyer, (916) 321-1118. Follow her on Twitter @CarlaMeyerSB.

2015 OSCAR-NOMINATED SHORTS

What: Four programs of Oscar-nominated short films – animated, live action and documentary A and B (the program was split in two due to length). The animation program, which includes four other shorts in addition to the nominees, is rated PG. Live action is rated PG-13, and the documentaries R. Some films are in foreign languages with English subtitles.

When: The animation program’s first screening is 7:30 p.m. Sunday. The live-action program debuts at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. Documentary program A debuts at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 7 and part B at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 8.

Cost: $12 per program; $16 for documentary A and B

Information: www.crestsacramento.com, (916) 476-3356

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