The shorts categories are often the wild cards in any Oscar pool. With the shorts being the least seen of the Oscar categories, people often make wild guesses as to which will prevail. It’s a shame, as the short categories offer up plenty of exciting new talent. Across animation, live action and documentary filmmaking, some tremendous work is done in a fraction of the time it takes a feature film to play.
With the shorts coming to theaters on Friday, February 9th, we wanted to get a look at what could win, and also what our favorites were. Check out below for our takes on the Animated Short, Documentary Short and Live Action Short categories.
Best Animated Short
Nominees: Glen Keane and Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant writes a love letter to the sport that has given him success and infamy. Legendary animator Glen Keane translates these feelings into animation to accompany Bryant’s voiceover. The result is a wonderfully sweet short that will play well to fans of Kobe Bryant’s career. However, it feels more like an extra that would air during Kobe’s last game, rather than an Awards contender. Still, with it being a high profile short, also employing a fantastic John Williams score, it could play very well to voters.
Nominees: Victor Caire and Gabriel Grapperon
A group of toads and garden creatures invades an abandoned mansion where something fishy has gone down. Perhaps the most beautiful and stunning animation belongs here. It’s hard to tell if the setting is done by computers or filmed on location. As the frogs jump across this trashed mansion, one’s eyes are agog. The sick joke, in the end, disgusts but works in a strange way. What holds this back from being the frontrunner is how thin it is on the story. It’s one joke and one punchline. The animation is gorgeous. The content, however, is less memorable.
Nominees: Dave Mullins and Dana Murray
The Pixar brand remains intact. This short, which premiered before “Cars 3,” finds a bully named Lou taken to task by a collection of lost and found toys. The animation is eye-popping. The animators make the lost and found creature a fun anthropomorphic delight. The action captivates. The end resolution, which finds Lou playing with the kids he bullied, feels sweet. There’s little new here that Pixar brings to the table. However, this short does have the highest visibility of the group, premiering before a film. On top of that, it’s polished, cartoony and fun. It has the possibility to win Pixar another trophy.
Nominees: Max Porter and Ru Kuwahata
A son looks back on his relationship with his Dad as he heads to his Father’s funeral. Since his Father traveled so often as a child, the two would bond through packing techniques. The topic of a child burying their Father is always touching. The animation is gorgeous, particularly in how it transitions from the past to present. However, the short overdoses on its kitsch. From monologues about packing to a ham-fisted final image payoff, the central conceit doesn’t work. We end the short snickering at the artists’ intentions rather than moved by the central story.
Nominees: Jakob Schuh and Jan Lachauer
A babysitter sips on a cup of coffee while she waits for her next job. A wolf walks into the diner and regales her with the true story of Little Red Riding Hood and Snow White. His take revolves around the fact that they are responsible for his nephew’s death. We’ve seen many a revisionist fairy tale before. However, little sets this apart. The animation seems very reminiscent of “Shrek.” However, that film came out in 2001. Animation technology has grown since then. Even the storytelling department lacks the wit and humor which made other cheeky satires pop. In the end, this felt more “Hoodwinked” than “Shrek.”
WILL WIN: “Dear Basketball”
SHOULD WIN: “Garden Party”
Best Documentary Short Subject
Nominees: Laura Checkoway and Thomas Lee Wright
America’s oldest interracial couple, Edith (age 96) and Eddie (age 95), face challenges early in their marriage as fate tries to tear them apart. One of Edith’s daughters wants to take her in so she can reap the benefits of Edith and Eddie’s recent jackpot. With her age and mental state in question, the state appoints a guardian for Edith that she has never met. This guardian sides with the daughter and tries to take Edith to Florida, away from Eddie. It’s a harrowing and sad story about love being torn apart. However, other than one heated confrontation, there’s little in terms of content here. This is an interesting micro case, but the film fails to contextualize it within a larger system that needs fixing. It’s a nice, genial documentary short that pulls on the heartstrings, but rarely aspires for more.
“Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405”
Nominee: Frank Stiefel
Artist Mindy Alper turns her depression and anxiety into art in this heartfelt documentary. Always seeking her mother’s love and feeling her father’s scorn exacerbated Mindy’s fragile mental state growing up. The documentary allows Mindy the chance to recount her troubling bouts with mental illness and how she turned these feelings into art. It’s also exquisite to see how, later in life, she’s able to grapple and mend familiar bonds that have scarred her. The documentary is slow moving and covers the same ground a lot of times. However, as a subject, Mindy Alper is fascinating and her story is well deserving of a look.
Nominees: Elaine McMillion Sheldon and Kerrin Sheldon
Netflix’s documentary shines the light on West Virginia’s opioid epidemic by highlighting three women committed to stopping it. Fire Chief Jan Rader goes into the field each day to save people from overdoses. Her ability to form relationships with the people caught in the grips of addiction is quite powerful. Likewise, Judge Patricia Keller, who presides over Drug Court, deals sentences with immense empathy and stern-ness. Lastly, Necia Freeman of Brown Bag Ministry feeds the sex workers in the town to give them a lifeline away from drugs. It’s a powerful and complete documentary that outlines why the opioid epidemic is crippling our country as a whole. It’s a must watch.
Nominee: Thomas Lennon
The documentary follows the opening of Edwins restaurant in Cleveland. The restaurant employs men and women recently released from prison. They frame it as both a job and a crash course in learning the art of a restaurateur. The short moves quite a bit, as not every person in the program makes it. Once things come together, the film forms a rousing conclusion that is hard not to be touched by. For a short, the project tries to tackle too many subjects and comes off a bit muddled. This causes it to drag throughout. A tighter and more focused narrative would’ve helped this quite a bit.
Nominees: Kate Davis and David Heilbroner
The short opens with police car footage of Officer Richter approaching Breaion King after pulling her over. What follows is a horrifying look at an officer of the law misusing his power against a member of the public. Looking deeper into the life of Breaion King, the documentary shows us a well-rounded woman with dreams of getting her doctorate in teaching. She also harbors a love for dance. The documentary does a great job of showing us layers of a person beyond the horrific treatment they received from the cops. However, even Breaion’s accomplishments are overshadowed by the traumatic video, as she goes public with her lawsuit. The use of police footage only underscores the horrors more. The truth could not be more overt. The documentary tackles an important topic at a time where it could not be more relevant. This could lead it to prevail at the Dolby Theater.
“Traffic Stop” is an HBO Documentary Film. It will air February 19th on HBO, with an early preview on HBO NOW, HBO GO and HBO On Demand on February 16th.
WILL WIN: “Heroin(e)”
SHOULD WIN: “Heroin(e)”
Best Live Action Short
Nominee: Reed Van Dyk
Members of Dekalb Elementary go through a typical day at work until a man walks in with a gun. From there, he takes the woman at the front desk hostage as he tries to work out his next move. School shootings are obviously a contentious topic which inspires a lot of visceral feelings. The short instead looks into the shooter’s mental illness. Once the woman at the front desk learns he just wants mental help at the hospital, she works with him and the authorities for an appropriate capture. It’s a harrowing and tense short that builds to a satisfying conclusion.
“The Eleven O’Clock”
Nominees: Derin Seale and Josh Lawson
A psychiatrist welcomes a new patient into his office that suffers from a delusion. The patient’s delusion is he believes that he is the psychiatrist and the actual psychiatrist is his patient. The short repeats this same joke ad nauseam. It attempts to make the audience guess which is the psychiatrist and which is the patient. However, the comedy comes off as clunky. As we suffer through different variations of the same punchline, our desire to know the twist diminishes. Once we find out, the only relief we get is that the short is finally over.
“My Nephew Emmett”
Nominee: Kevin Wilson, Jr.
It’s 1955 Mississippi. The 64-year-old preacher Mose Wright welcomes his 14-year-old nephew Emmett to stay with him. However, it doesn’t take long for the excitable Emmett to get not he wrong side of the white people in the town. The short expertly builds to a heartbreaking conclusion of the famous Emmett Till case. As the postscript plays, its hard not to feel heartbroken by the material. It takes longer for the short to really pop, but once it does, it’s hard to forget. The strong subject matter and importance could lead it to a win.
“The Silent Child”
Nominees: Chris Overton and Rachel Shenton
A British family hires a private tutor for their four-year-old daughter, Libby, who is deaf. The tutor, Joanne, teaches her sign language once she realizes Libby has an aptitude for it. Libby’s parents grow frustrated that Joanne isn’t forcing lip reading on Libby, as it would make it easier for them and Libby’s school to communicate with her. The short is winning, if also predictable at every step. Every revelation is telegraphed or, in the case of Libby’s parentage, feels out of place. Still, Rachel Shenton is particularly winning as Joanne, the sign language teacher. The short’s heart is in the right place, and it has quite a big heart.
“Watu Wote/All of Us”
Nominees: Katja Benrath and Tobias Rosen
Based on a true story, “Watu Wote” takes place in the midst of a conflict between Christians and Muslims in Kenya. On a bus ride across Kenya, Jua, a Christian woman, shows disdain towards the other Muslim riders. The bus is soon stopped by Al-Shabaab, a violent terrorist group, looking to kill the Christian riders on the bus. However, the Muslim riders fail to give up Jua. One of the riders even suffers from fatal wounds. The short powerfully renders how different groups can come together to save an outsider. However, as the facts are being presented at the end, the film loses sight of its subject Jua. It would be interesting to explore more of this conflict, rather than just have this small slice of it. However, in the end, it still was a moving and affecting short film.