[REVIEWS] Oscar Nominated Shorts

Hello friends! Here’s something you may not know but I love watching shorts- especially groups of shorts. There’s something satisfying about watching a little morsel of storytelling whether it be animated, live action or documentary. The only problem is sometimes the Oscar nominated shorts can be tough to get a-hold of but this year they are available to stream from your neighborhood arthouse theater. For $30 you can watch all 3 slates of shorts and support your local theater, which is an awesome thing to do. Click here to find out more.

Anyway, let me give you my quick thoughts on all of the shorts and what I think should win the Oscar:

Documentary

The documentary branch was my favorite group of nominees. This is much different than the normal feature film documentary branch which is almost always disappointing (including this year with no nomination for Dick Johnson is Dead! Outrageous!).

Nevertheless, I liked all 5 of these documentary shorts and they were all so different it is difficult to rank them.

2021 Oscars Best Documentary Short Subject Predictions - Variety

  1. Hunger Ward- this follows 2 women- a doctor and a nurse- inside a hunger ward in famine stricken Yemen. What I liked about this one is how authentic it felt. There’s no sense of the director manipulating the viewer. They are following the subjects around watching things happen. There’s a particularly devastating scene where an infant dies and the doctor has to go into another room to cry. It’s devastating but very real and moving.
  2. Do Not Split– This 36 minute documentary puts you on the ground with the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests in 2019-2020. This is another documentary where you feel like a fly on the wall watching what is happening. They don’t try and tell you what to feel but just show the events and leave it at that.
  3. A Love Song for Latasha– a very sweet documentary about the family and friends looking back on the life of Latasha Harlins who’s killing set off what became the LA riots in 1991. I think this one will win and it’s not undeserving.
  4. Colette- this follows a student who is looking to learn more about the Holocaust and meets Colette Catherine a 90 year old Holocaust survivor. Their friendship is very sweet and it’s overall a moving story about a time we can’t forget
  5. A Concerto is a Conversation– Probably the most conventional of the group, this is still a sweet short about composer Kris Bowers as he looks into the history of his Grandfather and his dry cleaning business in Florida.

My favorite is Hunger Ward because it felt the most authentic and moving of the 5 but they are all good. Definitely the strongest grouping of the 3 categories.

Live Action

The live action category of Oscar nominated shorts are the most forgettable of the group. It’s only been a few days since I watched them and they have mostly left my memory but here goes:

  1. The Present– it’s a simple concept. A Palestinian man is trying to buy his wife a birthday present of a fridge but in order to do so he must cross an Israeli security crossing. He does so with his daughter and unfortunately things get tense and uncomfortable.
  2. Two Distant Strangers– with its timely topic I predict this short will win even if I prefer The Present. It tells a time loop story where a Black man is living the same 24 hours where he gets killed by a cop every day. It is a gimmick but it works as a little morality play in a short
  3. Feeling Through– a sweet short about a man who ends up helping a deafblind man to get home off the bus. This is the first film to cast a deafblind actor and the unlikely friendship between the 2 men is endearing and authentic.
  4. White Eye– this follows a man who thinks he has found his stolen bicycle and what happens when he tries to retrieve it from the immigrant who stole it to help his daughter. It was fine but I wasn’t very invested in the story or the 2 unlikable lead characters.
  5. The Letter Room- I’m afraid this short feels like one which received a nomination for its celebrity casting more than the story quality. Oscar Isaac plays a cop in a federal death row penitentiary who is charge of reading letters to the inmates. Despite being warned against it he becomes too invested in the letters and tries to get involved. This one was honestly very dull and I didn’t care about the story or what was happening.

Animated

When you purchase the animated shorts they include 3 bonus shorts with the package and honestly I preferred all 3 of those bonus shorts over any of the 5 nominated shorts. I guess that says something. I would love to ask them why they picked these 5 shorts because there were some exemplary shorts not nominated like Pixar’s Loop and Out.

Who knows? But here’s my thoughts on the nominees:

  1. Burrow– in what looks like a Beatrix Potteresque illustration Burrow tells a very cute story of rabbit who wants to find her own burrow with a bathroom disco and all. On the way she runs into many different burrows and gets offers to live in many places but it is not home.
  2. Yes People– this is a short about 6 people living in an apartment and all you get is the grunts of the highs and lows of their life. I know some of my friends hated the animation but I thought it had a charm to it. It had an every-day living quality to it that I enjoyed.
  3. If Anything Happens I Love You– I love the simple 2D pencil animation of this short and it has a touching message but it is also a bit heavy-handed for 12 minutes. The topic is a school shooting and the grief the parents feel at their great loss. I do think this short will probably win but it wasn’t my favorite even though I appreciate the style and message.
  4. Opera– If all you care about is style than this one might suffice. It takes you into a miniature world with workers making the lights go on and the water run. It was fine but just didn’t do much for me. No real story.
  5. Genius Loci– this is the short I had the most trouble remembering days later. It made no impression on me either visually or message-wise. It’s about mental illness and a young Black woman, her memories and her dog.

So there you have it for the shorts. Did you get to see any of the shorts? What did you think of them? What were your favorites and what do you think will win? Let me know in the comments sections

Sundance Log 2021 Day 1 (Shorts, FLEE)

Hello from the Sundance Film Festival…inside my house! Yes this is my 5th time attending the festival, my first time as approved press. As can be expected they are doing an all virtual festival this year and it honestly has its pluses and minuses. Gone are the long lines (especially if you don’t have the locals pass like last year) It’s also admittedly nice to be able to take breaks, tweet while watching and other such obnoxious behaviors you can’t do in a screening.

However, obviously I miss out on the group-feel of the festival. They are trying their best to mimic that with chatrooms and even gave directors and some critics (not me) VR sets to increase the realism. Still, nothing is quite the same as being there and chatting with folks, finding out what they’ve seen and going to see it. The festival is a great experience and I can’t wait until it is back in full force.

Today I saw 3 programs as part of Day 1 of the festival. This includes 2 shorts programs and my first feature film. Here are my mini reviews:

Animation Spotlight

Despite being a massive animation fan I must own I am not usually a big fan of the Animation Spotlight at Sundance. Often it has felt like a lot of Don Hertzfelt copycats and one of him is enough for me thank you very much! However, I don’t know if it is because I am interviewing all the animators for Rotoscopers but I feel like this is a better batch than normal this year.

The highlight of the 9 shorts is GNT which is very vulgar and foul-mouthed but funny short about group of catty friends trying to win points on social media and The Fourfold by Alisi Telengut which uses paint and paper with stop motion to tell a story about the earth. The rest were all good and worth watching.

8 out of 10

Smile Worhty

Shorts Program 1

Next up we have the first of 2 live action shorts programs. This a very different group of shorts with about the only thing connecting them being their length and being in live action. My favorite is called BJ’s Mobile Gift Shop which¬† is a charming short about a man who carries a red suitcase around town that is a go-to lifesaving gift shop in a bag. You spill coffee on your shirt? He’s ready to help. You lose power to your phone? He’s got a charger to help. He also challenges his stuffed suit friends to think outside their boxes in some great scenes.

However, I did not like the last short Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma. It was really long and was attempting to portray Black America but felt like scripted randomness, which I really hate in documentaries. Not for me.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Flee

My first feature film of the festival is an animated documentary about a man named Amin who tells his story to his friend director Jonas Poher Rasmussen. This is not the first animated documentary I’ve seen. Waltz with Bashir and the incredible Tower come to mind. However, it’s an uncommon enough format to feel fresh and exciting. It also is ambitious in its scope taking you from Amin’s life in Afghanistan when his father is taken away, to him fleeing to Denmark, to his coming to terms with his sexuality and getting married. That’s a lot for one film to take on!

I was particularly moved by the ending when Amin receives acceptance from someone whom he expects rejection. It is very moving. Some of the animation could be smoother but it does the job we needed it to do. I really enjoyed watching Flee.

7.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

So there you have it. Day 1 is done! Did you get to watch anything at Sundance today? Let me know in the comments section.