It’s Oscar Sunday! And today I will be giving you a very brief rundown of the Oscar Nominated Shorts for each Animated, Documentary and Live Action category. After summarizing, I will be telling you which was my favorite and also which film I have my money on to win.
Here we go:
Short Film (Animated) Nominees:
The only one of this group that had any “real flaw”; the flaw in question being how the plot of a little girl coming to grips with her father’s illness was actually told. In reality, the structure was a bit confusing. That said, what “Dcera” lacks in story telling ability, it more than makes up for in jarring direction, it’s Laika-esque animation (but more papier mache looking) and some absolutely grade-A sound mixing. Honestly, this short contains the best sound mixing of any film nominated at the Oscars.
My favorite of the bunch, “Hair Love” tell the story of an African American little girl who attempts a new hair style by way of online tutorial. And while it all becomes visually quite comical and creative, what it transforms into is a genuinely moving story about family bonds, which delivers on all levels. Also, it stars Issa Rae.
A stray black kitten befriends a Pitbull that has been used for dog fighting. Why this was so effective has really nothing to do with the animation, but more so the story, the violent turns it takes (people in the audience were gasping by how brutal this cartoon actually became) and how well the filmmakers do of making us root for two of the most stigmatized breeds of animals in America.
Simulating what it must be like for someone going through Dementia or Alzheimer’s through claymation seems like it would be a stroke of genius, as there are many sequences of life pealing away and objects morphing before our very eyes. And in the final two minutes the film really does work. But for the most part “Memorable” comes off as a director putting way more emphasis on the surreal imagery, rather than telling a particular story.
The animation reminded me of something Wes Anderson would do…or has done. From writer/director Siqi Song, “Sister” tells a tale of a younger sister, narrated by an older brother, through humorous anecdotes growing up in 1990’s China. There is a twist that might make people uncomfortable, but this may also be the reason it is a front-runner to win an Academy Award.
Who I think will win: “Hair Love”
My favorite short in this category: “Hair Love”
Documentary (Short Subject) Nominees:
Walk Run Cha-Cha:
The simple but powerful immigration story of a Vietnamese couple and their enduring love, seen as they practice for a ballroom dance tournament. Why this works as well as it does, has to be because of how lovingly filmmakers Laura Nix and Colette Sandstedt portray this couple, creating an overwhelming sense of relatability. “Walk Run Cha-Cha” gave me the same feelings as I had when watching “The Farewell”.
In the Absence:
Containing actual footage as well as accounts, “In the Absence” documents the sinking of a South Korean ferry in 2014 and the subsequent coverup of the over three hundred people who drowned that day. It’s the hardest watch when you realize what you are actually seeing and how pathetic the rescue attempt was. It won’t win, but is a great example of how documentary filmmaking can be used as a tool to shine a spotlight on atrocities happening in the world that we may not be aware of.
St. Louis Superman:
For me this was the least impressive of the lot. We follow activist/public servant/battle rapper, Bruce Franks Jr. as he attempts to pass a bill critical to his community. While it does have a strong subject matter, as it is set against the backdrop of the violence in Ferguson, Missouri, it comes across as just another MTV “True Life” episode. It just could’ve been better.
Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl):
Inspiring and a great would-be companion piece to last year’s winner “Period. End of Sentence”, “Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (It You’re a Girl)” follows a school for girls in Kabul, where they also learn to skateboard as a means to build confidence. Living in an area where women don’t have many rights, we see the teachers at this school attempt to give these girls independence. We really root for these girls to make it, to stay strong in this environment, as well as stay on the skateboard. Also, the structure of this documentary pretty ingeniously ties the stages of learning how to ride a skateboard in with life lessons.
Life Overtakes Me:
A Netflix original, this was my second favorite short in the category, primarily because it was something I had never seen before; Resignation Syndrome. In Sweden hundreds of refugee children seeking asylum, have fallen into a coma-like state over fears of deportation. It may sound bizarre at first, but once you see what this actually looks like (these children so riddled with fear that their bodies literally shut down for years, in some cases) it’s devastating. “Life Overakes Me” shows the effects of childhood trauma better than any documentary I can remember.
Who I think will win: “Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)”:
My favorite Short in this category: “Walk Run Cha-Cha”
Short Film (Live Action) Nominees:
The heartbreaking story set in Tunisia, about a father and his estranged eldest son who returns home with a child bride, after being suspected of joining Isis. Pride plays a big role in this politically relevant drama. Also, the cinematography of this film is gorgeous. And for that, it was my third favorite of the group.
Nefta Football Club:
The sometimes-comedic story of two kid brothers (one who really loves soccer) who discover a mule by the side of the road, on the border of Algeria. And the mule is carrying something very valuable and pretty obvious. For me, this was the most engaging of the tales, as the direction (it’s the best directed of the bunch; Yves Piat is the director) and the two lead child actors will have you invested in the story almost immediately. This also contains a really well thought out twist ending that had me smiling.
The Neighbors’ Window:
This comedy sees a couple (probably in their mid to late thirties) living in a high-rise apartment building with their three children, becoming infatuated with the lives of a beautiful young couple in the apartment across the way. This is probably the most easily digestible short of the group, but the moral of this story is pretty lackluster. Anyway, the direction is solid and the acting is pretty good.
Based on a true story of an escape attempt organized by a group of girls from a Guatemalan orphanage. These girls have dreams of getting to the United States; dreams which ended in the tragic loss of 41 lives. The direction from Bryan Buckley is absolutely fantastic, the story is undeniably strong, but the truth of the matter is, the film is just too relevant not to win the Oscar.
Late night, riding in a car with a man, a woman uses her cell phone to call her sister. Moments later we come to find out who she’s really calling is Emergency Services (or 9-1-1). This is a short which reminded me a lot of a film from Denmark called “The Guilty”, but with more straight forward direction. The thing “A Sister” has going for it is the tension it provides throughout, as the female dispatcher attempts to help the female passenger, who seems to be getting kidnapped.
Who I think will win: “Saria”
My favorite Short in this category: “Nefta Football Club”
Follow me on Twitter @moviesmarkus