This year's crop of live action short nominees is made up of three serious, issue-oriented stories, a Coen Brothers knock-off and a funny Swedish entry about a would-be magician.
The Door (Ireland/Ukraine)
Filmed on location in Ukraine, The Door is based on the painfully true story of a family victimized by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster. Forced to evacuate quickly, the father later sneaks back to their old apartment in order to steal a door for a sad but important purpose.
Miracle Fish (Australia)
Teased at school on his eighth birthday because his family is poor, Joe slips into the sick bay and falls asleep. When he awakens, the entire school building is empty, with signs pointing to a sudden mass departure. Joe imagines that his classmates and teachers have been abducted by aliens, but the truth turns out to be more down-to-earth and more sinister. The title, Miracle Fish, refers to the old-fashioned fortune telling plastic fish that squiggles when you put it on your hand.
The winner of the 2009 Student Academy Award, Kavi is written and directed by USC's Gregg Helvey. Kavi and his parents are modern-day indentured servants who are forced to work at a brick-making kiln. Kavi dreams of going to school and playing cricket, but that life is closed to him. The film is a direct plea for the world to pay attention to the fact that, even in the 21th century, slavery still exists.
The New Tenants (Denmark/USA)
A gay couple, played by Vincent D'Onifrio and Jamie Harrold, moves into a new apartment only to discover that the previous tenant was a drug dealer who was murdered. As it turns out, this is the least of the unpleasant surprises they encounter before they even have time to unpack their boxes. The New Tenants is based on a story by Anders Thomas Jensen, who himself won the 1999 Live Action Short Oscar for Election Night. With something of the mood of a Coen Brothers film, The New Tenants has promise, but it stalls and ends up with nowhere to go.
Instead of Abracadabra (Sweden)
I'm glad that people are making shorts about modern-day slavery and the threat of radiation from nuclear power plants, but honestly, I prefer this refreshing, straightforward comedy. Tomas, the hero of Instead of Abracadabra, is 25 years old and lives with his parents. This doesn't bother his father as much as the fact that Tomas refuses to get a job, insisting on becoming a magician instead. While practicing a new trick, The Cube of Mirin Dajo, he stabs his mother. At the emergency room, Tomas meets the beautiful single mother who has just moved in next door, and he lands his first magician gig performing at her son's birthday party. He follows this with a performance at his father's 60th birthday celebration, where Tomas insists on using The Cube of Mirin Dajo again.