Easily the most mainstream lineup in this category in years, which should boost the program's theatrical potential.

Most years, Oscar’s live-action shorts lineup is the show’s second most internationally eclectic mix (after the ever-controversial foreign-language film category), representing an impressively diverse cross-section of nations and genres. Not this year: Of 2010’s final five, all but one was shot in English, and three feature alarmingly similar, Academy-friendly tales of young people learning poignant life lessons. The other two include an amusing NYU student short and an uneasy Belgian-made look at African racial politics. It’s easily the most mainstream set of finalists in this category in years, which should boost the program’s theatrical potential.

Commercials director Tanel Toom’s 26-minute “The Confession” is set in rural England, where a pair of boys fret that they won’t have anything significant to unload during their first confession. Impressionable Sam (Lewis Howlett) lets his bad-seed best friend, Jacob (Joe Eales), convince him that the sensible thing would be to commit a worthy sin or two, and things quickly escalate from there. Toom shows an impressive grasp of filmmaking, such that the entire episode brims with childhood guilt and unfolds with a chilling, understated fatalism — the sort of vignette that would tickle Stephen King and Alfred Hitchcock alike.

Brit TV helmer Ian Barnes follows with the extremely satisfying emotional entry “Wish 143,” centered on a teenage cancer patient whose dying desire is to lose his virginity. Working from Tom Bidwell’s sharp script while anchoring the whole enterprise with a perfectly unsentimental performance from you-saw-him-here-first young thesp Sam Holland, Barnes defies every bad-taste trapping such a story might suggest to deliver a warm, witty and wonderfully lived-in portrait of a boy dealing with premature mortality in the most understandably human way imaginable. Expect everyone involved to parlay this treasure into feature-length industry work.

More taxing is director Ivan Goldschmidt’s 20-minute “Na Wewe,” set in Burundi circa 1994, as a tactless Belgian traveler observes the racial conflict between Hutus and Tutsis firsthand. Pitched somewhere between absurd satire and pointed political statement, the short concerns a deserving enough issue — after all, the Belgians carry a heavy burden of responsibility for the cruel in-fighting that resulted after they withdrew from their Congo territory. But it does so in a way likely to conjure a strange mix of reactions. Slick production values and topicality clearly account for its place in the five.

Irish grade-school comedy “The Crush” stars director Michael Creagh’s son Oran as an 8-year-old boy who sincerely believes he belongs with pretty Miss Purdy (Olga Wehrly) at school, going so far as to challenge her undeserving boyfriend to a duel. Said rival patronizingly agrees to show up for the standoff, leading to the sort of one-joke payoff better served by a 60-second TV spot than a 15-minute short. Still, Oran Creagh’s wide-eyed perf makes the short likable enough.

An odd-looking bird with a big nose, soft chin and crazy head of hair, helmer Luke Matheny is perfectly suited to play the awkwardly lovesick chap at the center of his black-and-white NYU graduate thesis project, “God of Love.” In this contempo Cupid story, an everyday New Yorker discovers a box of magic darts capable of making whomever he chooses fall madly in love for six hours. However modest, Matheny’s endearing entry delivers what a good short should, demonstrating enormous creative potential while leaving its aud wanting more.

An odd-looking bird with a big nose, soft chin and crazy head of hair, helmer Luke Matheny is perfectly suited to play the awkwardly lovesick chap at the center of his black-and-white NYU graduate thesis project, “God of Love.” In this contempo Cupid story, an everyday New Yorker discovers a box of magic darts capable of making whomever he chooses fall madly in love for six hours. However modest, Matheny’s endearing entry delivers what a good short should, demonstrating enormous creative potential while leaving its aud wanting more.

The Oscar-Nominated Short Films 2011: Live Action

Production

A Magnolia Pictures release of a Shorts Intl. presentation. Reviewed on DVD, Los Angeles, Feb. 3, 2011. Running time: 106 MIN.

Crew

The Confession
(U.K.)
A National Film and Television School presentation. Produced by Emily Williams.
Directed by Tanel Toom. Screenplay, Caroline Bruckner; story, Toom. Camera (color, widescreen), Davide Cinzi; editor, Marianne Kuopanportti; Paul Lambert; production designer, Luke Hull; sound (Dolby Digital), Jo Vale; sound designer, Jussi Honka; visual effects supervisor, Giacomo Matteucci. Running time: 25 MIN.
With: Lewis Howlett, Joe Eales, James Simmons, Gemma Atkins, Peter "Rooster" John Mossford.

Wish 143
(U.K.)
A Union Pictures & Swing and Shift production in association with BBC Film Network and Lighthouse Arts and Training. Produced by Samatha Waite. Executive producers, Claire Spencer Cook, Gerard O'Malley, Emily Kyriakides. Co-producer, Ian Barnes.
Directed by Ian Barnes. Screenplay, Tom Bidwell. Camera (color), Maggie Chappelhow; editor, Sam Williams; music, Norwell and Green; production designer, Tim Overson; art director, Nicola Scott; costume designer, Maggie Chappelhow; sound, Richard Brooks; assistant director, Richard Lynn; casting, Margaret Crawford. Running time: 23 MIN.
With: Sam Holland, Rory Kinnear, Kieran Hardcastle, Lizzie Roper, Jodie Whittaker.

Na Wewe
(Belgium)
A Cut! and A Private View presentation of a Cut!-A Private View-RTBF-Menya Media co-production with the support of the Flemish Audiovisual Fund, Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Unesco.
Directed, edited by Ivan Goldschmidt. Screenplay, Jean-Luc Pening, Goldschmidt. Camera (color, widescreen), Guy Maezelle; sound (Dolby Digital), Philippe Vandendriessche. Running time: 20 MIN.
With: Floris Kudwimana, Renaud Rutten, Ciza Muhirwa, Ismail Kaposho.
(Belgian dialogue)

The Crush
(Ireland)
A Purdy Picture production. Produced by Damon Quinn. Executive producer, James A. Creagh.
Directed, written by Michael Creagh. Camera, Jim Creagh; editor, Ciara Brophy; music, David Geraghty; sound, Garret Farrell; assistant director, Quinn; associate producer, Denise Creagh; casting, Thyrza Ging. Running time: 15 MIN.
With: Olga Wehrly, Rory Keenan, Oran Creagh, Charlie Bonner, Neili Conroy.

God of Love
Produced by Gigi Dement, Stefanie Walmsley, Ryan Silbert.
Directed, written by Luke Matheny. Camera (B&W), Bobby Webster; production designer, Casey Smith; costume designer, Becky Lasky; sound, Ian Harnarine, Rob Meyer; sound designer, Arjun Sheth; assistant director, Nick Ordway; casting, Stephanie Walmsley. Running time: 18 MIN.
With: Luke Matheny, Marian Brock, Christopher Hirsh, Emily Young, Miguel Rosales.

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more