The most over-looked and under-appreciated portion of every Academy Awards ceremony are the Oscar-nominated Short Films, awarded in three distinct categories: Animated, Live-Action and Documentary. In recent years, these Oscar-nominated Short Films have been put together as a showcase, and shown in select movie theaters across the country.
Believe me: These films are worth seeing and in fact I'd say that they are "must-see" for any fan of the Oscars or movies in general. They are often provocative, heart-warming, and sometimes yes, heart-wrenching. On occasion, they can be downright hilarious.
Check your local listings (in Michigan, The Maple Theater will begin playing these Short Films beginning Friday, April 2nd) to see when/if this program will be playing near you, and if you haven't been tempted to go back out to a theater just yet, this year's batch of Oscar-nominated Short Films are definitely worthy of validating your first trip back.
Because the theaters want the program to be worth your time - and because the overall length of each program varies from year to year - it's sometimes common that the programs will show "extra" short films that weren't nominated but might have just missed the cut. This year's Animated Program has such films added, but only the Oscar-nominated Shorts were reviewed for this article.
With that, here is this year's batch of Short Film nominees:
SHORT FILM (ANIMATED) NOMINEES
Madeline Sharafian and Michael Capbarat
Adrien Mérigeau and Amaury Ovise
IF ANYTHING HAPPENS I LOVE YOU
Will McCormack and Michael Govier
Gísli Darri Halldórsson and Arnar Gunnarsson
Reaction/Prediction: The Animated Short Program this year offers a great mix, from cute ("Burrow," available to many on Disney+), to funny ("Yes-People"), to avant garde (the beautifully rendered, effective "Genius Loci"). "If Anything Happens I Love You" is definitely a stand-out, as it deals with two grieving parents who have lost a child in a school shooting...obviously a heavy topic that might be too much for some, but it still manages to creatively portray its message.
Even so, there was no better Animated Short this year than "Opera," a stunning achievement that is so simplistic yet complex all wrapped into one. You could literally watch it 100 times and find new things within it. If emotions are at the forefront of people's minds - and they might very well be in the year of the pandemic - then "If Anything Happens I Love You" could win...and is perhaps the front-runner. But my money is on "Opera," a short film like none other I've ever seen in the many years I've written about the Oscar Shorts program, and a film that I actually can't wait to see again. Animated Short Program Grade: A-
SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION) NOMINEES
Doug Roland and Susan Ruzenski
THE LETTER ROOM
Elvira Lind and Sofia Sondervan
Farah Nabulsi and Ossama Bawardi
TWO DISTANT STRANGERS
Travon Free and Martin Desmond Roe
Tomer Shushan and Shira Hochman
Reaction/Prediction: A few recognizable stars, Oscar Isaac and Alia Shawkat, star in the prison-set drama, "The Letter Room," which also happens to be this category's weakest entry. "White Eye" is impressive from the standpoint that it is a 21-minute film, pulled off all in one continuous shot, but its story leaves a lot to be desired. "Feeling Through" is a heart-warming story about a teenage boy who encounters a deaf and blind man and helps him find his way home. But by far there are two stand-out entries in the category: "The Present," about a Palestinian father and his daughter who are put through hell just by going into town for a wedding anniversary gift, and "Two Distant Strangers," a film that uses the "Groundhog Day" gimmick of a day repeating itself to cleverly comment on race relations between African-Americans and the police in America.
In any other year, "The Present" might have been powerful enough, but "Two Distant Strangers" is simply fantastic and the most intuitive of the bunch. Give it the gold. Live-Action Short Program Overall Grade: B+
DOCUMENTARY (SHORT SUBJECT) NOMINEES
Anthony Giacchino and Alice Doyard
A CONCERTO IS A CONVERSATION
Ben Proudfoot and Kris Bowers
DO NOT SPLIT
Anders Hammer and Charlotte Cook
Skye Fitzgerald and Michael Scheuerman
A LOVE SONG FOR LATASHA
Sophia Nahli Allison and Janice Duncan
Reaction/Prediction: Before any reaction or predictions, here's an admission: I was not able to make it through "Hunger Ward." Not for anything to do with the film itself, other than its subject matter: Two female healthcare workers fight to save the lives of hunger-stricken children facing famine in Yemen. It was simply too much. That's not to say there wasn't other extremely tough subject matter in this and other categories. Take "Colette," for example, about a 90-year-old Holocaust survivor who returns to Germany to visit the concentration camp where her brother was killed. Or "A Love Song for Latasha" about a young African-American girl who was brutally murdered in a convenience store, just for buying orange juice. The only entry that will make you smile is "A Concerto is a Conversation," a lovely tale about a Black composer and his grandfather, and how his grandfather's bravery and sacrifice connects to his own success.
But for me - again not having seen "Hunger Ward" in its entirety - the surest bet to win the Oscar is the astounding "Do Not Split," which gives viewers an up-close-and-personal look at the travesties going on in Hong Kong, following the 2019-2020 protests for democracy there. It doesn't have a happy ending, but its story continues long after the credits roll. It's harrowing, timely and eye-opening, which are all qualities that winners in this category normally possess. Documentary Short Subject Program Overall Grade: A-
The Academy Awards will be broadcast live on ABC, Sunday, April 25th, 2021. For more, visit: Oscars.org.
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