My Top Ten Films of 2020

2020 will go down in history as the year of COVID, BLM and the rejection (by many) of fascism. 2020 also saw massive lockdowns in many states in the US. And with that, many businesses where forced to shut down and/or modify how they functioned during a pandemic. This was also true for the film industry and the movie theater industry. Many big budget features have been pushed to late 2021 or placed on a streaming service. But that doesn’t mean there were fewer quality movies released this past year. In fact, some excellent and quite relevant movies were released on VoD and streaming services. So, with that said, here are my top ten films of 2020: 

10. Ava: From director Tate Taylor, who’s last film “Ma” was majorly flawed, but highly entertaining, comes a movie about an assassin who has a bounty on her head. Starring Jessica Chastain, John Malkovich, Common, Geena Davis and Colin Farrell, this is a curious pick for sure, only because I wouldn’t say this is a “good movie” on a technical level. In fact, the acting is shockingly average. The plot is not anything new and (in fact) is filled with clichés. Even the fight choreography is clunky at times. So why is this one my list? Thanks to Taylor’s direction, “Ava”, while flawed, is non-stop entertainment. I don’t really know why I enjoyed it as much as I did, but I did. I enjoyed this more than any John Wick film, more than “Hanna”, or the “Taken” films; all of which “Ava” would be considered in the same category as, but on the B-side. A highly rewatchable and easily digestible movie, this may be an instance of right place/right time, arriving just when I needed some mindless entertainment.  

9. Never Rarely Sometimes Always: This independent film focuses on an American teenager who must travel to obtain a legal abortion. The point of this movie is to recreate an accurate depiction of what a teenager must go through in certain areas of the country, in order to have a safe abortion without parental consent. As viewers, we go through this process with her. Writer/director Eliza Hittman really takes her time with this journey, forcing us to look on as this girl meets with a financial advisor, has multiple sonograms, sees a counselor and on the way navigates a large city full of lecherous men. Reminding me of 2003’s “Thirteen”, “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” is a not so gentle reminder of how dangerous it is to be a teenage girl.  

8. Red, White and Blue: John Boyega gives a performance rivaling his own in “Detroit”, in this the third in a series of five Steve McQueen feature length films to come out in 2020. “Red, White and Blue” is the true story of Logan Leroy, a young Black forensic scientist in London who wants to become a cop after his father is assaulted by two police officers. Exploring both sides of what we would now call the “Defund the Police” argument and also the dichotomy of being a Black cop, this isn’t itself a pro-cop or anti-cop film, but more a fascinating character study of two opposing Black viewpoints and how they each see the purpose of police in their communities.   

7. The Forty-Year-Old Version: Filmed in black and white on what looked to be a shoe-string budget, Redha Blank, writes, directs and stars in this film about a struggling Black female New York playwright, who may or may not be having a “mid-life” crisis when one day she decides to pursue a career as a rapper.  This is a film that drips with love for the culture, feeling like early Spike Lee, but with a more comedically awkward tone. Blank puts it all out there with a character who works in a field run by white gate-keepers, attempting to tell a story of Harlem as she sees it, the whole-time hurtling sexism, ageism and the pressure to write “poverty porn”. It does take about twenty minutes to get going, but once it does “The Forty-Year-Old Version” is hilarious, personal and profound in a way that really caught me off guard.  

6. Possessor: Uncut: Set in an alternate universe where assassins take control of (inhabit) unsuspecting people’s bodies using brain-implant technology, in order to execute targets without it being traced back to them. “Possessor” sets a high bar conceptually. And it not only delivers, but will age as a sci-fi achievement on the same level as “Blade Runner”. That’s right. I said it. Starring the brilliantly eccentric Andrea Riseborough and Christopher Abbott giving dueling performances, while technically never actually being in the same room, and directed by Brandon Cronenberg, there is a ton of mind-bending goodness to feast on. It is also the most explicit movie on this list, in every aspect. But what else would you expect from a Cronenberg?

5. Sound of Metal: A profoundly emotional journey following the life of a young metal drummer who suddenly loses his hearing. Director and co-writer Darius Marder does a spectacular job of putting the audience into the shoes of a person struggling with sudden deafness, by focusing not only on how the world feels to someone who is deaf, but also how deafening the world truly can be. The sound mix is superb and Riz Ahmed gives one of the best performances I’ve seen all year. The only real flaw (if I had to find one) is that I wish it was longer.  “Sound of Metal” is tragic (not a spoiler) even in its happiest most redemptive moments. Most of the things I loved about a movie such as “Whiplash” or “The Place Beyond the Pines”, are things I loved about this.

4. The Devil All the Time: Just to be upfront, this form of woefully depressing, life is meaningless storytelling is right up my alley; if you couldn’t tell by a list rife with downers. Adapted from Donald Ray Pollock’s acclaimed debut novel by writer/director Antonio Campos, and set between World War II and the onset of the Vietnam War, this “Hillbilly Gothic” tale follows the lives of three groups of people, a war vet and his son, a couple of evangelical preachers and a couple of serial killers, all seemingly trapped in a hyper-religious area within the Bible Belt, whose lives intersect in random and vicious biblical ways. With tons of moving parts, Campos does a superb job of methodically maintaining this ever changing two hours plus story of relentless despair, while teasing us with unattainable hope. Sounds like a blast, right?   

3. The Assistant: A snapshot of one day in the life of a young female assistant working for a powerful (but never physically depicted) executive. Written and directed by Kitty Green in a way that really emphasizes the silent suffering of one female employee trapped in an abusive workspace, in order to amplify the voices of many women who work in equally abusive environments. “The Assistant” showcases what an everyday hostile work environment looks like. We watch a mounting drip, drip, drip of uncomfortable and abusive actions made against this woman, as she absorbs every blow for the good of her career. “The Assistant” is a film where, if you relate to the protagonist at all, it will leave you absolutely decimated. 

2. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom: Based on a play by August Wilson, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is quite a simple concept on the surface. Set in 1920’s Chicago, we follow Ma Rainey (the “Mother of the Blues”) and her band during a single recording session. Like any great piece of art, there are layers. These layers tell a generational tale of the Black experience in the United States. “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is less a biopic, than it is a movie about trauma; Black trauma. Much like “A Raisin in the Sun” we are forced into a dingy claustrophobic environment and made to witness multiple generations of black people struggle to make sense of things, as the world around them continues to take and take. Also, the performances for Viola Davis who plays the titular Ma Rainey and the late Chadwick Boseman who plays a young trumpet player with big dreams and a whole lot of unresolved anger, will both garner award considerations, if not victories.

1. Da 5 Bloods: Great war movies look to not only humanize, but to tell all sides of the story. This is Spike Lee’s most award worthy Joint since “Malcolm X”.  Following four Black Vietnam vets, who travel back to current day Vietnam in order to recover the remains of their fallen squad leader and also a secret chest full of buried gold bars they’d hidden during the war, Lee makes the forgotten casualties of war (dead or alive) his main focus. With a cast that includes Delroy Lindo and the late Chadwick Boseman, it takes no time for the dialogue to become deep, critical and cutting towards a society which has always used poor Black labor to advance and conquer. The movie soon becomes less about a quest and more about the systemic long-term effects of colonialism on all victimized persons in that war, American and Vietnamese. A companion piece to something as prolific as “Apocalypse Now”, “Da 5 Bloods” tops my list most of all because it is unapologetically Black Lives Matter.

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Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Based on a play by August Wilson, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is quite a simple concept on the surface. Set in 1920’s Chicago, we follow Ma Rainey (the “Mother of the Blues”) and her band during a single recording session.  

But with any great piece of art, there are layers. These layers tell a generational tale of the Black experience in the United States. “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is less a biopic or a snapshot of Black music, than it is a movie about trauma; Black trauma. Much like “A Raisin in the Sun” we are forced into a dingy claustrophobic environment and made to witness multiple generations of black people struggle to make sense of things, as the world around them continues to take and take.

With themes regarding a Black man’s place in society, the exploitation of Black people in general and how a black woman with power must conduct herself in order to survive, Wilson’s story (specifically the dialogue) is a symphony in and of itself. Sure, this was adapted to the screen by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, but how could I not give all credit to Wilson, who is still the beating heart of this piece?

Most definitely the performances by Viola Davis (Widows) who plays the titular Ma Rainey and Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther) who plays a young trumpet player with big dreams and a whole lot of unresolved anger, are spectacular. They should not and will not be an afterthought in any credible critique.

Davis orders white men around, takes up space and contorts her body to play this imposing co-lead, having full control of the room as a black woman in the 1920’s. And Chadwick (RIP) gives an award worthy performance which rivals Sidney Poitier in “A Raisin in the Sun”. It’s impossible for me to find a more accurate description of this, his final performance.

The direction from George C. Wolfe (Lackawanna Blues) while not an afterthought, is the least spectacular aspect of this film. But it really doesn’t need to be anything more than a stage to showcase the talent on screen.   

Final Thought: While I praise the more recent display of “Black love” in Hollywood (showing Black affection and sex on screen) I do admire the display of Black rage showcased here. “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” gives us something we only really get to see (en masse) in Spike Lee films. It validates and humanizes Black rage.

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Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Crude, sexist and “inadvertently” making fun of people, Borat is back! This time on a quest by his government to travel to the United States and bring a monkey (and subsequently, his daughter) to Mike Pence as a gift…you heard me. OK, this was either going to work or it wasn’t. And to Sacha Baron Cohen’s credit, it works “very nice”-ly.

Of course, this sequel will be compared to the previous movie, “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakstan”. And while it may not resonate as a fresh idea, this is an anti-Trump, anti-Trump supporter, anti-Qanon sequel, which is a perfect example of the right place at the right time. Coming out just weeks before the election, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” (at this point in time) is the better of the two films.

Nearly every hidden camera prank is well choreographed and executed. At the very least, it’s fascinating to witness what Cohen (who plays the Borat character) gets unsuspecting Americans to go along with. For example: Borat gets a feed shop owner to sell him a cage for his daughter to live in, he goes to a debutante ball and asks how much his daughter would be worth and gets a response, and yeah, there is that now infamous Rudy Giuliani “shirt tucking” scene.

As we should all understand by now, the point of this is to again put the Borat character into ridiculous and borderline illegal situations and see if ignorant Americans play along; and also, to showcase the worst that American capitalist/misogynist society has to offer.

Cohen’s previous satirical films (The Dictator, Bruno and “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan) were directed by acclaimed comedic director Larry Charles. In my opinion, director Jason Woliner does a fine job of maintaining Cohen’s Andy Kaufman-esque vision. The “How did he pull this off?” reaction is still definitely there, you’ll still be surprised at how much he gets away with, and the shock value of it all is still entertaining and quite impressive.

While nearly every bit hits its mark, the addition of the Borat’s daughter storyline (played by Maria Bakalova) may bring the only real lulls in the film. Not to say that her storyline doesn’t work. The estranged daughter character actually is the glue that holds this thing together. Also, pushing this character to the forefront of many of the comedy bits, allows the Borat character to sneak around the background unrecognized. That said, in the final act things do slowdown in order to focus on the scripted material. During these moments my mind did wonder a tad, as I awaited the next prank.  

Final Thought: Cohen’s political satire television series “Who is America?” is better than this movie, mostly because the humor is streamlined, as there is no story to maintain. But “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” still displays what Cohen does best. Is the humor mean-spirited? Sure. But most of the people he makes fun of are Trump supporters, so it’s OK.  

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Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Opening quite effectively, we follow a little white girl in a colorful dress skipping along a “Gone with the Wind” inspired plantation in the antebellum South. The camera then begins to explore the grounds, exposing the hidden horrors.  

In this directorial debut from writer/directors Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz (and trailers give it away, so calm down) a black woman (Janelle Monae) living in modern times, finds herself a slave trapped on a plantation. I won’t give anymore away than that, since the movie brings little more to the table than a strong premise and final twist. 

Everything I found disappointing about “Antebellum”, I found in its direction.

It’s not for lack for trying. First, there are sequences here which engage on a suspenseful level. And the depiction of this radicalized “Make America Great” inspired group of bad guy characters throughout, seemed current and eccentrically familiar.


Although this is an R-rated slavery film, Bush and Renz’s depiction is tame. While one or two people are stabbed or shot, the lack of violence is startling. While I never seek out a movie clamoring to hear the N-word, the lack of realistic language used in this was noticeable.  Again, the directors placed more importance on the premise than visceral authenticity. Story aside, this is an emotionless vision of slavery, which doesn’t stand up to movies such as “12 Years a Slave” or “Django Unchained”. This is only an issue because it feels as though the intent of the filmmakers was to visually get close to these modern genre masterpieces.      

The protagonist is painfully one-dimensional. She is given one speech in the middle of the movie, regarding progressing feminism and racial inclusion. From that speech we are to assume everything else about her personality, since for the rest of the film she doesn’t seem to have one.  Does Monae do a good job in this lead role? Sure. She’s good in everything she does. She does the most she can with this cookie-cutter depiction of a successful Black woman.

Final Thought: Seems as though the filmmakers were content with a strong premise and promise of a twist ending being the thing which carried audiences through the hour and forty-five minute runtime. It does not. It’s a slavery thriller, with little gravity. There are stakes, but it’s all surface. Bush and Renz come off as either scared or unable to push this film to its limits. A better director would have handled things with more nuance and creativity and not allowed “Antebellum” to fall so flat. It’s not a horrible movie, just mishandled. Although, this may contain the best use of yoga in a movie, ever.

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The Devil All the Time

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

“The Devil All the Time” is the nihilistic movie we deserve right now. Just to be upfront, this form of woefully depressing, life is meaningless storytelling is right up my alley.  

Adapted from Donald Ray Pollock’s acclaimed debut novel of the same name (he also serves as the narrator in this movie, oddly enough) by writer/director Antonio Campos, and set between World War II and the onset of the Vietnam War, this “Hillbilly Gothic” tale follows the lives of three groups of people, a war vet and his son, a couple of evangelical preachers and a couple of serial killers, all seemingly trapped in a hyper-religious area within the Bible Belt, whose lives intersect in random and vicious biblical ways.

To some, the things in this movie may come off as violent and random, but every action and event that happens to these characters has divine meaning to them. This is the key thing to understanding how these characters interact with one another and the dichotomy at play. These are characters who live in a closed off world crawling with random acts of violence and predatory preachers. It’s our job to watch them squirm. So, if that sounds like a painful experience, then “The Devil All the Time” will be a tough watch.

That said, with tons of moving parts Campos does a superb job of methodically maintaining this ever changing two hours plus story of relentless despair and making it engaging while teasing us with hope and a plethora of fantastic characters. 

The movie also stars Robert Pattinson, Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgard, Riley Keough, Eliza Scanlen, Mia Wasikowska and Jason Clarke. I just made the runtime seem so much more tolerable, didn’t it? And the performances do not disappoint; especially from Pattinson, who is only in this for all of twenty minutes, but really shows why his willingness to take chances will eventually lead to an Oscar. Also, Jason Clarke does the best southern accent of any non-American, or even American actor working today. Someone had to say it.

Final Thought: If “A Serious Man” and “The Place Beyond the Pines” had a child, “The Devil All the Time” would be it and have a similar score.

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I’m Thinking of Ending Things

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

Based on Iain Reid’s acclaimed 2016 book (which I’ve heard is fantastic and filled with tension), “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” the movie, is unfortunately very (cough cough) Charlie Kaufman. Kaufman is one of the best screenwriters working today, I’m not denying that. But his directorial endeavors are at times, treacherous.

Beginning on a relatively entertaining foot, we follow a woman (Jessie Buckley) who is “thinking of ending things”, as she takes a trip with her new boyfriend (Jesse Plemons) to meet his parents. Right from the get-go we see that these are two people who don’t belong together. As their personalities begin to clash, a breakup seems imminent. And all the while, throughout this unusually long car ride, the woman continues to internally repeat the phrase “I’m thinking of ending things”.

And then they get to their destination and we meet his parents (the parents played by Toni Collette and David Thewlis). And then time begins to alter. And then characters begin to push the term “acting peculiar” to its very limits. And then visuals attempt to approach the levels of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” or “Adaptation”, but just can’t quite get there because Kaufman is not a director who seems to care about making sense. It’s at this point that the movie seemed to slip through Kaufman’s fingers, like a small child losing a balloon his parents just purchased for him not fifteen minutes prior.

The final hour is a hodgepodge of things nobody asked for. There are multiple sequences of characters referencing the musical “Oklahoma”, a diatribe concerning John Cassavetes’ “A Woman Under the Influence”, a talking pig, a random dance sequence which goes on so long it seems as though Kaufman is making fun of his audience for staying with this, and more!  

“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” really bangs you over the head with its stream of consciousness narrative, while trapping us in a car with these two characters who seem more confused about where this story is going than I was.

The acting here, while overshadowed by the bonkers story, is led by two strong performances from Plemons and Buckley. Both are such enjoyable actors to watch, that your heart wants to stay with them long after your mind has checked out. Also, it’s a real shame that Jessie Buckley’s character is treated as an afterthought as the story progresses, since she is the most entertaining character of the film. Just saying.  

Final Thought: Sure, the visuals pop, Kaufman’s dry sense of humor works at times and the randomness is unsettling. It just simply all becomes so dreadfully unentertaining. “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is the equivalent of being forced into a conversation with a long-winded individual that you’ve been seated next to at a party. You might be able to tolerate the conversation for a while. You may even be entertained by a story or two along the way. But in the end, the entire exercise will become excruciating. I would rather watch any of Adam Sandler’s original Netflix movies, than sit through “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” again.

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She Dies Tomorrow

Rating: 2 out of 5.

An experimental movie with a great Twilight Zone synopsis, “She Dies Tomorrow” comes at us with the question: What if the mere mention of death was contagious, like a cold?

But does the movie itself work?

Advertised as a dark comedy about a woman (Kate Lyn Shel) who believes with all of her being that she is going to die tomorrow, it sounds like it should work. Sad to say, it doesn’t work as much more than a mood piece. Think “Melancholia”, just not as profound (and that’s saying a lot). 

Is it funny? Sure. There’s ONE section of awkward comedy which is done well. But again, as intriguing as the concept is, even with a short runtime of only an hour and twenty-five minutes, it’s simply too long. And due to some definitive visual choices made by writer/director, Amy Seimetz, it’s too incoherent.

These visual choices translate into large pockets of meandering, which seem only to exist in this film for the sake of having extended sequences ripe with multi-colored filters. This aspect, while technically sound (I guess) happen repeatedly, adds nothing to the story, while also giving audiences zero hope that in the end “She Dies Tomorrow” will be anything more than a concept in its first draft.

The performances from the likes of Jane Adams (Happiness), Chris Messina (Devil) and Katie Aselton (The League) are good. In fact, they are damn good considering the emotions asked of all characters throughout only range from dreary to sullen.  

Final Thought: Seeing “She Dies Tomorrow” as an allegory for anxiety, relating to the idea of one spiraling into an anxiety attack as a speck of dread grows into a monster, makes this film a bit more digestible. But watching the movie, it’s hard not to realize that there’s just too much added ponderous nonsense injected to be watchable.

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First Cow

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Truthfully, I spent much of this movie waiting for the cow to come back on-screen.

“First Cow” opens with a rather long sequence of digging, followed by another long sequence that just so happened to be the movie itself. In all actuality the opening shot of this film does something very important, it sets up the pace of this movie; a pace that is very much content with simply taking inventory of the scenery. Meaning, this movie may be too slow for some (renter beware). At times the movie stops just so we can listen to the sound of wood being chopped or so characters can survey their surroundings in real time. But if you are familiar with writer/director Kelly Reichardt’s work (Wendy and Lucy, Certain Women) she’s known for these types of beautifully blocked visual sequences that are deliberately “meditative”.

Synopsis: A cook (John Magaro) traveling through the forest with a group of fur traders in 1820’s Oregon, crosses paths with a Chinese immigrant (Orion Lee). They become friends and together come up with a risky business venture involving the arrival of the first cow to be shipped into the area.

Reichardt and Jon Raymond adapt Raymond’s own novel (The Half-Life), developing a script where the dialogue is riddled with lines which on the surface seem quite simplistic, but in context speak bitingly to the themes of greed, colonialism and capitalism. It’s just a shame that Raymond’s work was paired up with Reichardt’s pacing.

So, the entire movie isn’t slow. Just the first hour…and the final thirty minutes. I have no problem with movies that take their time or “mood pieces” that are all about establishing the moment by forcing audiences to feel every second of time that ticks by. But if it’s so slow that I cease to care about characters or plot, then how much can you really expect me to endure?

There are movies where the less you know going in, the better the viewing experience will be. “First Cow” is not that movie. It’s a film I struggled to get through due to the initial hour, partially because I didn’t know the story would eventually pick-up.

Final Thought: I get it, “First Cow” is supposed to be “Midnight Cowboy” A24 style. And I am not at all surprised that this film has garnered such critical praise. It’s just my belief that “First Cow” gets this praise solely based on some beautiful cinematography, well written dialogue, the performances from the two leads and a folksy score. For the most part this is a boring movie, with a somewhat intriguing if not playful premise when it finally gets to it. “First Cow” could have been a short film. It should have been a short film.

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Markus Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 Stars

Twenty minutes in you might get the feeling that at its peak “Vivarium” is about to be something akin to a decent episode of “The Twilight Zone”. And by the twenty-first minute you’ll realize that you were right. It’s simply a decent episode of “The Twilight Zone”.

Synopsis: A young couple (Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg) looking to buy their first home, find themselves being guided through a new housing development by an oddly mannered real estate agent. Inside this community all the houses look identical, the grass, dirt and clouds don’t seem to be real, there’s nobody else living in any of the other homes and (oh yeah) this young couple can’t seem to find their way out, no matter how hard they try. And then there’s the appearance of a child in a cardboard box. And from there, things just get weird.

Sure, this could have been a short film, but with a runtime of a little over ninety minutes, director Lorcan Finnegan really keeps the entertainment value high; first, by using an underlying level of dark humor and second, by presenting his nightmarish dreamlike take on the Lynchian suburb. Actually, much like “Eraserhead” (David Lynch’s surrealist nightmare concerning his anxiety over the birth of his child) “Vivarium” seems like Finnegan’s and screenwriter Garrett Shanley’s anxiety driven fever dream concerning buying a home in the suburbs and starting a family.

Final Thought: The ending. The ending may leave some feeling hollow, especially for those expecting a grand “tie up all the loose ends” finale. But for those who enjoy a sci-fi/horror which asks you to suspend belief, sit back and watch a quick little social experiment, this may be your jam. “Vivarium’ is an interesting concept to say the least, with a final ten minutes that acts as the satisfyingly nihilistic cherry on top.

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Oscar Nominated Shorts

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:

Dcera (Daughter):daughter-daria-kashceeva

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.

Hair Love:  hair-love-700x295

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:runwalk

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:IntheAbsence

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: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):how to

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:Life Overtakes Me - Still 3

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:nefta_football_club2

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:the neighbor

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.

A Sister:a sister

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”


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