Review: Oscar Nominated Short Films 2019

I always look forward to watching the shorts. (Short being 40 minutes or less, so some of them aren’t all that short.) This year’s crop had clear winners and losers for me in each of the categories. Some of them felt like films I’d already seen. And overall, I think there have been stronger years for shorts.  However, they’re always worth seeing.  And as I do each year, I will renew my call for theaters to start showing them before the features.

Trailers to this year’s shorts can be found here.

LIVE ACTION

4 of the 5 nominees in this category are about children in danger. Did they pick a theme or did this just happen? It’s a pretty depressing and distressing bunch, if you ask me.

Detainment

Vincent Lambe and Darren Mahon, Ireland, 30 minutes
This short has created quite a stir. It’s about the 1993 murder of a little boy at the hands of two older boys, and the family of the murdered boy was not consulted and objects to their tragedy being used for a film. The bulk of the film is taken from transcripts of the police interviews with the 10-year-old killers. It’s not an easy film to watch, but it is well done with exceptionally good child actors. My problem with it is that you never get an answer as to why, though I guess that is the limitation of using transcripts. There are moments though where the boys interact with adults on the way to commit the crime and you’re left to wonder if those things actually happened.

Fauve

Jeremy Comte and Maria Gracia Turgeon, Canada, 17 minutes
This one is also about kids in peril. Only this time it’s just a couple of best friends playing games and kidding around until things take a tragic turn. It takes place against the desolate landscape of a mining operation somewhere in Canada. Two boys try and fool each other to win points. But their game takes them into the muck and  a horrible accident changes everything.

Marguerite

Marianne Farley and Marie-Helene Panisset, Canada, 19 minutes
There is only one film in this category that is uplifting and this is it. It’s the story of a home health worker and an older woman she takes care of. The young woman reveals that she is a lesbian, and rather than shock, it sends the older woman back in time to remember when she was in love with a woman. It’s a very sweet film.

Madre (Mother)

Rodrigo Sorogoyen and Maria del Puy Alvarado, Spain, 19 minutes
Talk about tense! This one has a mother on the phone with her young son who’s been abandoned on a beach in another country by his father for unknown reasons. And the mom is desperate to find out where he is and how to help, but the battery is running down. It’s edge of your seat, and like one of my favorite films of 2018 The Guilty, you never see anything other than the mother’s apartment and have to rely on what you hear on the other end to tell the rest of the story.

Skin

Guy Nattiv and Jaime Ray Newman, USA, 20 minutes
Again with a child in danger. Only this time, it’s American gun-toting racists who are indoctrinating their son into their toxic ideology. And when a black man in a grocery story has the gall to interact with the kid, the father takes the incident as an excuse to savagely attack the man. Only two can play that game, and the father ultimately pays the price. This is the strongest film of the bunch. And would be my pick for the prize.

 

[Mainstream Chick’s take on the Live Action Shorts: I completely agree with Arty Chick’s use of the words DEPRESSING and DISTRESSING to describe all but “Marguerite.” Sheesh. I need a stiff drink after watching ’em. How do they pick these things? Seriously, I’m just spent. I, too, give Skin the slight edge, mostly because it’s the only one with a recognizable actress – Danielle Macdonald in a brief role that’s quite the departure from Patti Cake$ and Dumplin’! -hb]

 

DOCUMENTARY

The themes explored in this category are anti-semitism, racism and identity, end of life issues, refugees, and menstruation. Like the live action bunch, only one of them is uplifting.

A Night at the Garden

Marshall Curry, USA, 7 minutes
Think Triumph of the Will only in Madison Square Garden. Using existing footage, this film serves as a reminder that there were plenty of Americans who bought into the Nazi ideology and packed the house for a German-American Bund rally in February 1939, replete with anti-Semitic speeches and Nazi salutes. Outside the marquee reads “Pro America Rally,” while inside the speakers decry the Jewish-owned press. And you can’t help but see parallels to our current political landscape.

Black Sheep

Ed Perkins and Jonathan Chinn, UK, 27 minutes
This one tells the unusual story of a young black kid in England who, after being the victim of a racist attack, decides to mold himself into someone just like his attackers and become one of them. The story is told in reenactments intercut with interviews of the now adult Cornelius Walker who thought sharing the story of his youth might help others who struggle with racism and identity.

 

End Game

Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, USA, 40 minutes
End of life care and the choices we make are the subjects of this long short. The film takes takes place in the University of California San Francisco’s Zen Hospice Project, where through a number of dying people, we get to see all the things that palliative care practitioners may offer. It’s not easy to watch.

 

Lifeboat

Skye Fitzgerald and Bryn Mooser, USA, 40 minutes
This one is about the ongoing refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, specifically off the coast of Libya, where overcrowded boatloads of men, women and children are putting their lives in danger to escape horrifying conditions. The heroes are the people on rescue boats, members of German non-profit Sea-Watch. It’s a pretty straightforward look at the work these humanitarians are doing to help people who might otherwise die at sea. And it puts a face on the people who are seeking refuge in Europe and beyond.

Period. End of Sentence

Rayka Zahtabchi and Melissa Berton, India, 26 minutes
And the uplifting film of the group! This #girlpower short is about the stigma of a period and a solution for all the girls in India who leave school once they get theirs because there’s no way to take care of themselves in that setting. Enter a man with a machine to make pads who teaches the women and girls to make them. They set up a business, gain agency and respect, and girls get to move on with their education without the stigma. It’s also very telling about how men there have absolutely no clue about periods and how girls are too embarrassed to talk about it. This is my pick of the bunch! 

[Mainstream Chick’s take on the Documentary Shorts: This is quite a diverse group of docs and each has something interesting to offer, though only one moved me to tears – the Netflix doc End Game. So that’s my pick of the bunch. It’s a difficult watch, but there’s something comforting in getting a glimpse into end of life care and the choices we all have to face in some way or another. A Night at the Garden is seven minutes of cautionary-tale scary for our times; Black Sheep is another sad story about race and acceptance but isn’t as impactful as the live action short Skin; Lifeboat felt a bit too similar to other recent documentary shorts about the refugee crisis, though the stories are still important to share; and Period. End of Sentence does indeed provide a much-needed dose of uplifting inspiration. An engaging documentary about sanitary napkins (and #GirlPower)… who knew?! ‘Documentary shorts’ remains one of my favorite Oscar categories. I hope the Academy doesn’t give the ‘shorts’ short shrift this year. They deserve to be recognized on the big show. -hb]

ANIMATION

Unlike the other categories, there are no downers here. Funny, sweet, odd. But hey! It’s animation.

Animal Behaviour

Alison Snowden and David Fine, Canada, 14 minutes
This one is the funniest of the bunch. It’s a group therapy session with animals – a leech, a pig, a praying mantis, a cat, and a chicken – led by a dog, which is suddenly interrupted by the appearance of a gorilla with anger issues. You’ll need a laugh after most of the live action and documentary shorts. This one is my top pick. 

 

Bao

Domee Shi and Becky Neimann-Cobb, USA, 8 minutes
From Pixar, as usual the animation is the best of the lot. In it, a Chinese woman makes a dumpling (bao) which comes to life and she raises it like a son. It’s cute and funny and sort of strange, so I liked it.

 

Late Afternoon

Louise Bagnall and Nuria Gonzalez Blanco, Ireland, 10 minutes
This one is about a woman with dementia reliving her life through a series of objects as her daughter packs up her house. It’s simple animation, but a story beautifully told.

 

 

One Small Step

Andrew Chesworth and Bobby Pontillas, USA & China, 8 minutes
It’s the tale of a girl and her dad. He’s doting single dad and a shoemaker. She’s a kid who wants to go into space and as she grows up, she grows away from him, while pursuing her dream of becoming an astronaut. It’s a bittersweet tale.

 

Weekends

Trevor Jimenez, USA, 16 minutes
There’s always one that takes animation in a very arty direction and this is it. A kid goes back and forth between his divorced parents’ houses. There’s no dialogue, but visually it’s fabulous.

 

 

[Mainstream Chick’s take on the Animated Shorts: This is a tough category because each of the shorts is so different, visually and narratively. It’s always hard not to give the edge to a Disney-Pixar endeavor, but I wasn’t a big fan of Bao when it premiered ahead of Incredibles 2. It wasn’t the right fit and it left most of the kids and many adults somewhat confused about the take-away. However, I picked up on a lot more of the nuances on second viewing, so I guess it’s growing on me. As Arty Chick indicated, Animal Behaviour is the most entertaining of the bunch (you can’t go wrong with an animal therapy session). But in the end, the one that tugged most at my heartstrings was One Small Step. No clue which will win. It’s apples to oranges, despite a dominant theme of parent-child relationships. -hb]

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