The Confession, Tanel Toom
The Crush, Michael Creagh
God of Love, Luke Matheny (WINNER)
Na Wewe, Ivan Goldschmidt
Wish 143, Ian Barnes and Samantha Waite
Short fiction films are often the night jobs of working actors, who make them as larks that they can send soaring without a studio's interference. Over the decades, the nominees in this category have included Jeff Goldblum, Christine Lahti, Griffin Dunne, JoBeth Williams, Peter Riegert, Peter Capaldi, Kenneth Branagh and, 26 years apart, John Astin (Gomez on The Addams Family) and his son Sean (Sam Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings).
The actor-director this year is Matheny, the semicharismatic goofball at the center of God of Love. As a Brooklyn night club's resident crooner and dart player he hits the bull's-eye while he sings Matheny directs his own sweet Cupid comedy with a nice eye for black-and-white compositions and a sure guiding hand for his fellow actors. The star comes across as a Goldblum version of Woody Allen, and if you like that combination, you might vote for his film to win.
Two other fables of obsessive love: The Crush, the tale of an Irish boy with the hots for his teacher (and a clever way of annihilating her grownup beau), and Wish 143, in which a teenage cancer patient tells the Make-a-Wish Foundation that his heart's desire is to lose his virginity. Both have winsome charm to spare, possibly charm in excess. It's always hard to calibrate the voters' saccharine level in these categories.
Live-Action Short is also a launching pad for feature-film makers: Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank), Will Speck and Josh Gordon (Blades of Glory), Aaron Schneider (Get Low) and Martin McDonagh (In Bruges) all started with shorts that won or were nominated for an Oscar. Two talented young directors with feature-film promise are fully in command of their material in Na Wewe and The Confession. Goldschmidt's Na Wewe, set in Burundi in 1994, dramatizes an incident in which Hutu soldiers stop a van, looking for Tutsi civilians to arrest or kill; it's an excellent vignette, and at 19 minutes not a frame too short or long.
The Confession pursues, to a chilling conclusion, Rasputin's maxim "Sin so ye may repent." A boy preparing for his first confession realizes he hasn't any sins of sufficient weight to tell the priest, so his friend suggests they do something a little naughty. Toom visualizes the consequences of their misdeed in stark compositions and pulls strong performances from the two child actors. For some viewers, the story piles on with its violence and penance, and that may mean that this very strong entry will lose to the raffishly ingratiating God of Love.