The Academy Awards show will take place this year on Sunday, April 25th, much later in the year than usual after it was pushed back 2 months because of the pandemic. As we get ready to fill out our ballots, the shorts are always the big question. So here’s a quick run-down on all three categories: Animation, Documentary, and Live Action.
I’ll start with Animation since that’s where the films are usually actually short. This year’s nominees are as different as can be, and the question is what will the Academy voters prize? The actual animation, the story, the feeling? Or will they be swayed by the marketing campaigns from Pixar and Netflix?
Burrow is a fairly straight forward animation. It’s all about a young bunny trying to dig her dream burrow and running into other animals living underground. It’s cute and sweet and it’s from Pixar. (6 mins)
Genius Loci is the oddest of the bunch. Very French Nouvelle Vague. It’s the story of a young woman wandering in the night in an unnamed city as hallucinations and other worldly things happen to her. It’s hard to make out a story, but it’s beautiful to watch! It’s from France. (16 mins)
If Anything Happens I Love You is the gut punch of the group. It’s about a couple of parents grieving the loss of a child to a school shooting. The directors worked closely with Everytown for Gun Safety and the film was executive produced by Laura Dern. It’s on Netflix. Have your tissues ready. (13 mins)
Opera needs to be seen on a large screen. (I don’t have one) It’s unbelievably intricate animation depicting human civilization inside a pyramid type structure, showing how one action can have an effect on everything with in the society. As I said, you need a big screen, so I didn’t really get the full impact for which it has been nominated. But the press notes say, “This piece is not only a living piece of art, it is an invitation to question the mechanisms of our society and human behavior. The universality of its message will inspire new perspectives on humanity and break down conversations.” I hope to see it as intended someday, played in a loop on a big screen. It’s from South Korea. (9 Mins)
Yes-People is the funny one of this category. The entire piece has people saying just one word – já , the Icelandic word for yes. But the key is that já can mean so many things, depending on the context. The film moves around from apartment to apartment in the same building while people go about their lives, uttering já as a 60s pop song plays in the background. It’s from Iceland. (9 mins)
The Documentary Shorts are a powerful set.
Collette tells the story of a 90-year-old woman who was with the French Resistance during WWII. Her brother Jean-Pierre was captured by the Gestapo and killed in a concentration camp in 1943 and she’s never really dealt with the loss. But when Lucie, a young history student who is studying the camp where Jean-Pierre died, comes into her life, she opens herself to the past and travels to Germany and the labor camp for the first time to lay her brother to rest. (25 mins)
A Concert is a Conversation is a poignant and timely film about a grandfather born in the Jim Crow South and his successful grandson who’s still “wondering whether or not I’m supposed to be in the spaces that I’m in.” Kris Bowers is a rising star in the music world, having scored the Oscar-winning film Green Book and the hit series “Bridgerton.” His 91-year-old grandfather Horace Bowers left the South for Los Angeles as a young man, expecting to leave racist discrimination behind, but found it followed wherever he went. But despite that he built a successful business and made a name for himself and his family. His lesson for his grandson is: “Never think that you’re not supposed to be there.” This one is from New York Times Op-Docs. (13 Mins)
Do Not Split is an on the ground view of the pro-democracy protests that have rocked Hong Kong since mid-2019. It’s also the reason that viewers in China will probably be unable to watch the Oscars this year, since the Chinese government is the villain of the piece. It takes the audience into the streets with the protesters as they fight for their lives against the militant police. The film chronicles the movement as it changes day by day as the governments in Hong Kong and Beijing react to the protesters’ demands. It’s violent and frightening and amazingly well done. (35 mins)
Hunger Ward is horrifyingly aggravating and tragic. It takes a look inside the hospitals in Yemen where mothers are bringing their malnourished children to be saved. The protracted war with Saudi Arabia has pushed the country into a famine unheard of for almost a century, but the film stays mostly away from the politics, focusing on the mothers and children and two health professionals working against the clock to save a generation from starvation. (40 mins)
A Love Song for Latasha is a beautiful memorial to a girl who was shot to death in 1991 because a store clerk mistakenly believed she was stealing a bottle of orange juice. Narrated by her best friend and her cousin, it’s a powerful #sayhername ode to a life cut short, to a young woman with big dreams and a bright future. The story is told through creative imagery that follows along with the narration. Through memories and scenes of Latasha’s life, you feel her absence. It’s a sad and sobering story. (19 mins)
And the big guns are the Live Action Shorts.
Feeling Through is a sweet film about a young homeless teen who’s looking for a place to spend the night when he notices a deaf/blind man who needs help getting to the bus stop. Rather than ignoring him, the teen engages with him and helps him all the way to the bus. It’s a lovely story about small connections. It’s also the first film featuring a blind/deaf actor in a lead role. (19 mins)
The Letter Room stars Oscar Isaac as a prison guard who requests a new assignment and is assigned to read the mail coming into the prison. He becomes obsessed with a series of personal letters to a particular death row inmate from his former girlfriend (Alia Shawkat). But when she writes that she won’t be able to live without him, the guard takes it upon himself to save her. (33 mins)
The Present takes place over one day in Israel and the West Bank. A Palestinian man takes his daughter with him to buy an anniversary present for his wife but gets stopped at the border and humiliated for no reason in both directions. It’s a sad commentary on the state of the Israeli military, but thankfully has a happy ending. (25 mins)
Two Distant Strangers is the “BlackLivesMatter nominee. In it a young black man wakes up at his new girlfriend’s apartment and leaves for work only to be arrested and killed by an over zealous policeman. But then it happens again and again with slight variations in a Groundhog Day loop where he gets killed by the same cop every single day and he tries over and over to change the outcome. It’s maddening and extremely creative. (29 mins)
White Eye is another film depicting Israel. An Israeli man finds the bike that was stolen from him on the street. He finds the man who “owns” it and confronts him, eventually getting the police involved. The man, a Somali immigrant, says he bought it. But the whole thing escalates to the point that the immigrant is being deported. All for a bike. And the Israeli man tries to stop it too late. (20 mins)
All in all, it’s a great set of films well worth your time to view. Maybe not all at once though.
The Animation shorts add up to 53 mins. Documentary, 132 mins. Live Action, 126 mins.
They are currently showing in theaters and streaming.
Note: Tune in to this episode of The Cinema Clash with Charlie and Hannah to hear what Mainstream Chick had to say about the Oscar Shorts she’d watched so far, and how her potential picks for top honors compares to Charlie’s. There may even be a smidge of agreement!