03/06/2012 10:54 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Academy Awards 2012: Live Action Shorts

Unlike last year, this year's set of live action shorts nominees is dominated by comedies, which was good news for me since I am a fan of short comedies.

Tuba Atlantic (Norway)
Oskar, a misanthropic farmer who is obsessed with killing seagulls, learns from his doctor that he has just six days to live. The next morning, Inger, an Angel of Death, arrives at his door, having been sent by the local Jesus Society to guide him through his final days of life. Actually, Inger is only an apprentice Angel of Death, hoping to qualify for full angelhood (on her third try) by completing her assignment with Oskar. She brings with her an instruction booklet with suggestions on how to cope with her client's Kübler-Ross five stages of dying: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Inger deals with the anger stage by slipping Oskar a strong sedative and forcing him to sleep for 24 hours. Tuba Atlantic has its serious side in that Oskar wants to reconcile with his brother in New Jersey with whom he has not spoken in 30 years, but even this is dealt with humorously. I found Tuba Atlantic highly entertaining, a real winner.

It's 1977 and 11 year-old Damian is a football (soccer) fanatic who can't wait to watch his favorite team, Liverpool, play in the final of the European Cup. Unfortunately, while serving as an altar boy at church he swings the incense burner a bit too gingerly and knocks over Father Hanley. His humiliated father bans him from following football for three months. But then, when the parish is blessed by a visit from the archbishop, the first string incense burner is disqualified because of a technicality (he was never baptized) and Damian is called into service with a chance to redeem himself and be allowed to watch the Cup final. Pentecost is highlighted by one great scene in which Father Quinn sits his altar boy team down on a bench and gives them a pep talk to prepare them for "the mass of your lives."

The Shore (Northern Ireland)
Many films begin as comedies and then turn serious as the plot progresses. The Shore goes in the opposite direction. During The Troubles between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland that began in the late 1960s, Joe's father, to keep him safe, put him on an airplane and sent him to the United States. He left behind his fiancé and his best friend. Eventually he met a tanned blonde with a red Mustang and stopped answering letters and calls from the two he left behind, who eventually married each other. Now, 25 years later, Joe returns for the first time to his hometown, accompanied by his adult daughter, Patricia, who knew nothing about her father's former life until they arrived in Northern Ireland. She insists that Joe make it right with his ex-fiancé and best friend. Sounds like a recipe for confrontation and the explosion of long-suppressed emotions, right? Not so fast, as the story takes a turn for the humorous.

Writer-director Terry George was previously nominated in 1994 for co-writing the screenplay of In the Name of the Father and in 2005 for co-writing the screenplay of Hotel Rwanda.

Time Freak (U.S.A.)
Stillman, the unfortunate hero of Time Freak, has long dreamed of building a time machine so that he can visit ancient Rome. Incredibly, he does manage to build a time machine. Unfortunately, he can't seem to travel back beyond... yesterday. His main obstacle is not so much technical problems, but his extreme social ineptitude. For example, it takes him dozens of tries to achieve a satisfying resolution of his conflict with a dry cleaner who doesn't have his one nice shirt ready on time.

Raju (Germany)
Raju is the only serious nominee this year. Jan and Sarah, a young German couple, travel to an orphanage in Kolkata (Calcutta) and pick up Raju, the sweet little boy they have arranged to adopt. The next morning, after spending the night in a hotel, Jan takes Raju out for a walk. But while they are watching kites flying, Raju disappears. After a long day and evening searching for the boy, Jan makes a disturbing discovery... Raju is not really an orphan.