Of the five live-action entries in this year's Oscar-nominated shorts, the most insufferable is Aya, an Israeli import about a woman who, while waiting at the airport, is asked to temporarily hold a limo driver's sign, and then decides to impersonate said driver and pick up his customer (Ulrich Thomsen), who's on his way to judge a music competition. What ensues is a torpid car ride between two severely uninteresting characters who've been brought together by laughably unbelievable circumstances. Similarly aimless, but manipulatively mushy to boot, is British directors Mat Kirkby and James Lucas's The Phone Call, in which Sally Hawkins's crisis phone center operator stays on the line with a suicidal man as he weeps his way through his final minutes. The maudlin short's self-consciously deliberate camerawork heightens the ponderousness, whereas the static compositions of The Butter Lamp clearly elucidate modern-traditional tensions felt in rural China, where families are snapped by a visiting photographer in front of various custom backdrops.
While The Butter Lamp elegantly suggests tectonic culture shifts through recurring scenarios, Parvaneh resorts to ho-hum melodrama in tackling the plight of immigrants in foreign lands -- an Afghan teen living in Zurich who enlists a Swiss girl to help her send money home to her ailing father. Far more moving is Boogaloo and Graham, a charmingly low-key story about two boys who are given pet chickens by their father (much to their mother's chagrin), and are then faced with the scary prospect of having to give them up. Assuredly shot and edited, Michael Lennox and Ronan Blaney's short is a witty depiction of parental devotion and sacrifice that, like the best live-action shorts, refuses to overstay its welcome.