- Category: Movie Reviews
- Written by Gilbert Seah
Oscar Nominated Shorts (Animated/LiveAction/Doc)
Do not the term 'shorts' put you off. Every year, the Oscar nominated shorts are available for audiences to enjoy and appreciate buddng talent. The shorts are fresh, timlely in their messages and arrive from all over the globe. The shorts come in 3 programmes - animation; documentary and live action. if you have time to watch only one group, this year's best section belngs to 'live action'.
All three programmes will be available on digital TIFF Bell Lightbox (digital.tiff.net) as of April 2. Oscar Winners are announced Sunday April 25th.
OSCAR NOMINATED SHORTS - ANIMATION
BURROW (USA 2020) ***
Directed by Madeline Sharafian
Much ado about nothing, which in this case is the rabbit’s simple architectural plan for his new dream home. A little brown rabbit has drawn a rough, childish sketch of her dream home on a piece of lined paper. When she starts to dig, two of her new neighbours, a mole and a field mouse, both eagerly offer their assistance, showing off the elaborate blueprints and floor plans of burrows they constructed for their families. Embarrassed at the simplicity and inexperience of her own drawing, the rabbit hides it from them, pretends she has somewhere to be, and starts frantically digging deeper to get away from them, leaving them confused, while accidentally burrowing into other animals’ underground homes. A funny and fast little fable from Pixar which has aired on Disney+ with the cute rabbit earning her dream home at the end.
GENIUS LOCI (France 2020) ***
Directed by Adrien Mérigeau and Amaury Ovise
In the study of law of entropy in Chemistry, “in all energy exchange, if no energy enters or leaves the system, the potential energy of the state will be less than that of the initial state. In simple terms, left to itself, everything in the universe moves toward disorder and decay; metal rusts, food rots, the body etc…” This law can be seen as figures transform and matter from one form to another in the visually dazzling GENIUS LOCI. The world of chaos is displayed with for example, a minotaur forming from the light of a passing train. GENIUS LOCI does not contain a narrative or story so it is best just to sit back and appreciate the visuals of the talented animators, though it might be quite trying for some.
IF ANYTHING HAPPENS I LOVE YOU (USA 2020) ***
Directed by Michael Govier and Will McCormack
IF ANYTHING HAPPENS I LOVE YOU is a beautifully sketched animated short film that takes the audience on a raw emotional journey of a father and mother both struggling to deal with the death of their daughter. The title comes from a note the daughter wrote before her death - a horrid school shooting. The story unfolds through shadows of the parents and daughter. The shadows represent the humans’ emotions and they try to reconcile the parents. The brutal violence of the shooting is not shown on screen but only the awful sounds of the shots are heard. The trouble with this impressive sort, however, is that it is very difficult to follow and understand. Only after one has read the entire synopsis of the film can one truly appreciate the work of the storytellers.
OPERA (USA 2020) *****
Directed by Erick Oh
This one will be hard to beat. OPERA is the only non-narrative animated short with no story nor dialogue but is so fascinating one can watch it a hundred times and still miss something. OPERA is inspired by the great Renaissance artists such as Michelangelo and Botticelli. The animation, which can be played on a continuous loop, looks at a society that exists within a pyramid structure with the camera moving slowly away then inwards shows many individuals living and dying and interacting with each action impacting another. One has to look carefully at each minute part of the image to examine what is going on. At one point, the audience sees figures being killed because they have different coloured heads (i.e. different races). Director Oh examines racism, terrorism and religion in his intricate pyramid that looks like hell on earth. I hope this one wins the Oscar, it being short of a masterpiece.
TO: GERARD (USA 2020) **** (this one was short listed but not nominated)
Directed byTaylor Mecham
TO: GERARD is a real charmer. The short is about hope and how doing a good deed pays off at the end. Gerard alas dreamt of being a magician. He has perfected the magic trick of the disappearing and appearing coins but has never found an audience. He is now older and works as a postman. A chance encounter with a little girl enables him to show off his skills and impress the little girl of his magic coin tricks. As a good deed he leaves the girl with the gold coin, ensuring her to become a famous magician as an adult. Now a hunchback old man, Gerard is given his dream come true from the good deed. This is such a charming film about old people and about hope that it will bring tears to many. And did I forget to mention that the animation (especially the 3D rendering of the humans) is really impressive. The animation with the magic is also to be commended. From Dreamworks Animation Studies.
YES-PEOPLE (Iceland 2020) ***
Directed by Gísli Darri Halldórsson
Gísli Darri Halldórsson’s animated short can be understood in any country as it is language free dialogue except for the repeated word “Yo”, which is assumed to mean ‘yes’ in Icelandic. The film tells the story of an eclectic mix of people who one morning face everyday battles such as work, school, washing the dishes and even sex. They do not interact with each other except just in passing, as many people in the world don’t. As the day progresses, their relationships, and their capacity to cope, are tested. But they survive being yes people. A generally amusing and entertaining short that is observant not only of Icelandic folk but of people in general who would live life in the same manner. The impressive animation is cute and humorously depicts Icelanders as an unfit and chubby bunch.
OSCAR NOMINATED SHORTS - DOCUMENTARY
COLETTE (France 2020) ***
Directed by Anthony Giacchino
The doc comes with a warning that many will find this depressing. And it is! Colette isColette Marin Catherine who makes a journey to the concentration camp at the age of 90 to pay tribute to her brother who died there after being arrested by the Germans. She herself was like Jean-Pierre in he French Resistance. With the help of Lucie Fouble, she is brought bak difficult memories. Colette has gone through a lot, as evident from the film and director Giacchino shows her losing it a few times, even at a former mayor’s speech in her honour. It all shows that it is still all a bit too much to take for poor Colette which affects Lucie and the audience of this short as well. A well-intentioned short that might just be too depressing to win the Oscar.
A CONCERTO IS A CONVERSATION (USA 2020) ***
Directed by Ben Proudfoot and Kris Bowers
A CONCERTO IS A CONVERSATION focuses on Bowers’ 91-year-old grandfather, Horace, and the discrimination he faced as he tried to escape the Jim Crow South. The story unfolds from the conversation with his grandson, Kris Bowers a virtuoso jazz pianist and film composer who has succeeded as a black artist. The doc is intercut with black and white archive footage relating how much prejudice exists then. Horace would not get approved of bank loans if he showed up in person because of his colour and had to get approval through the mail. But perseverance proved its worth. This doc might just win the Oscar for its timely subject and also the fact that it is an American short which helps in the Academy voting.
THE HUNGER WARD (USA 2020) ****
Directed by Skye Fitzgerald
THE HUNGER WARD begins with harsh words about man. ‘It is not God that kills children. Not fate that butchers them. Or destiny that feeds them to the dogs. It’s us! What follows is a harrowing look from inside two of the most active therapeutic feeding centers in Yemen. HUNGER WARD documents two female health care workers fighting to thwart the spread of starvation against the backdrop of a forgotten war. The film provides an unflinching portrait of Dr. Aida Alsadeeq and Nurse Mekkia Mahdi as they try to save the lives of hunger-stricken children within a population on the brink of famine. The sight of malnutritioned children on the brink of death is frightening. Ex-President Trump again rears his ugly head having supported Saudi Arabia missiles and weapons leading to the tragedy. Excellent cinematography as well depicting the streets and wards of Yemen. THE HUNGER WARD gets my bet and vote for the Winner in this shorts category.
OSCAR NOMINATED SHORTS - LIVE ACTION
FEELING THROUGH (USA 2020) ****
Directed by Doug Roland
This simple looking made short is inspirational in showing the amazing craft of making movies given a limited budget. The film is brimming with emotions with characters that audiences can root for, and filled with suspense though the short is not a thriller. Nothing is black and white and the film has a brilliant climax that proves the good in humanity. Tareek a poor street kid with nowhere to stay, is waiting for his girl to respond to his request to stay over . Tareek meets a blind and deaf man who needs help taking a bus getting home. Out of the kindness of his heart he helps the man, later known to him as Artie, while stealing $10 from his wallet. FEELING THROUGH is thoroughly engaging and this one gets my vote for BEST of the live action shorts. FEELING THROUGH, breaking barriers is the first film starring a Deaf/blind Actor to be nominated for an Oscar.
THE LETTER ROOM (USA 2020) ****
Directed by Elvira Lind
THE LETTER ROOM is the new office that ‘promoted’ corrections officer, Ricard (Oscar Isaac) works in. Richard is now the director of Prisoner Communication, but the job title is just a glorified name. At first enthusiastic, he learns that it is a menial job having to censor every single letter incoming, outgoing and internal. Richard decides to bring humanity back into his work, while taking risks at the same time. As he discoverssurprises on the way, Richard decides to make all this work, in what is a really simple yet charming moral tale of the charity that can still be offered to prisoners on death row. Despite being an angel with good intentions, Richard is also depicted as a human with temptations as he is shown in one scene jerking off, after reading one of his inmate’s love letters. Golden Globe Winner Oscar Isaac lends his hand in this short showing likely his admiration for director Lind’s work.
THE PRESENT (Palestine 2020) ***
Directed by Farah Nabulsi
THE PRESENT deals with the present undesired and absurd situation of borders that exist because two peoples that have in history never come to an agreement on anything from lands to rights to peace - the Arabs and the Israelis. Director Nabulsi takes a microscopic look at the absurdity of the situation with a father and daughter trying to make a crossing back to their house after purchasing a refrigerator. It all comes to the whims and fancy of a crossing guard who uses the excuse that he has to follow orders. Yusef (Saleh Bakri) has crossed the border many times but the guard who knows him is not present. A Kafka-is situation eventually boils down to whether he can push the fridge through a doorway too narrow for it to go through. Director Nails allows the tensions to rise above boiling point, getting audience at the edge of their seats with weapons about to go off. The film ends with the famous words of Jesus who said in the Bible: "And a child will lead them.” A touching and effective examination of racial tensions!
TWO DISTANT STRANGERS (USA 2020) ****
Directed by Martin Desmond Roe and Travon Free
It takes a while before this short takes hold, but once it does, TWO DISTANT STRANGERS surprises and captivates. It all begins with a common one night stand in which Carter James (Joey Bada$$) leaves his trick’s (Zaria Simone) condo only to be stopped by a cop outside (Andrew Howard) for smoking some weed and killed, Rodney King style, complete with the “I can’t breathe” dialogue. It is after this point that the groundhog day scenario takes effect. Carter relives the same situation, waking every morning after being killed by the cop. Carter learns from the previous incident (after reliving it a hundred times) and tries his best not to get killed and to reach home to feed his super cute dog - but to no avail. Nothing more should be revealed in this effective and powerful message comedy/drama which delivers its Rodney King message with a punch.
WHITE EYE (Israel 2019) ****
Directed by Tomer Shushan
Israeli director Tomer Shushan’s fable of the stolen bicycle, set in Tel Aviv begins when a Tel Avivian sees his stool bike locked on the street. In his attempt to get the lock broken and get his bike back, he encounters the cops who tell him to call them back when the thief shows up, unless he will get arrested himself. That he does and the cops show up with unexpected results in this unpredictable tale of morals. What the audience assumes might just not be the actual case. The amazing thing about this short is that it runs in real time and filmed in one continuous take. The short also covers current issues like class, race, prejudice and immigration. Director Shushan also delivers a solid sprite ending to boot with a message to be tolerant to everyone despite race and background.