Latest posts by makeitsnowondem (see all)
- Commentist Beer Barrel: Brut Strength – August 22, 2018
- Oscar Night 2018 Open Thread – March 4, 2018
- Oscar Preview 2018: Prestige Award Lightning Round – March 1, 2018
The Oscars are almost upon us, with all their unpredictability. You don’t need an oracle to tell you what will happen. You don’t even need a film critic. You need someone who sees into the very souls of the Academy voters. You need a Straight White Man.
The short film categories are some of my favorites every year, because they point me to things I’d otherwise never think to watch, and also because I can watch any one of them and formulate a hot take about it in less than an hour. Unfortunately, the short films are also where my quest to watch every Oscar-nominated movie hit a brick wall this year. The live action shorts were all released on streaming services, and so were three of the animated shorts. The other two animated shorts I managed to track down elsewhere. But the documentaries, well… I’d been counting on them getting an online release as well, and it didn’t happen. Two are on Netflix. There’s one theater in town showing the whole set, but I think I’m out of time to get there before awards night. Oh well. They’ll all be releasing on HBO starting in March, so maybe I’ll catch up then.
One of the things I love most about these films is the way they manage to tell their stories within a very tight space. In that spirit, I’m going to keep my own commentary as concise as possible.
ANIMATED SHORT FILM
Bear Story – When I sat down to watch the animated shorts, I was not expecting to get a thinly veiled allegory about the Pinochet regime right off the bat. Sad, beautifully animated with a charming clockwork motif, and apparently loosely based on the true story of the filmmaker’s grandfather, who was exiled from Chile for ten years.
Prologue – If the award goes to the film with the most impressive animation, Prologue will be your winner for its incredible hand-drawn scenes of brutal hand-to-hand combat. Not to spoil the action but for once, the one film in this category where someone’s anus is bleeding is not the one by Don Hertzfeldt. Prologue is also one of two reasons I’m declaring 2015 the Year of the Animated Dong, so those of you with kids, please exercise parental discretion.
Sanjay’s Super Team – A positively adorable story about an Indian father and son that will resonate with anyone raised in any sort of religious household, and this Pixar joint doubles as a superhero cartoon!
We Can’t Live Without Cosmos – A Russian cartoon with a more traditional cartoon animation style than the other entries and entirely without dialogue. Cosmos is a very touching short story of two inseparable best friends experiencing cosmonaut training, their mission, and its aftermath. Inside Out did the best job of any film this year of making grief and loneliness funny, but Cosmos isn’t a bad second.
World of Tomorrow – I know for certain we’ve got at least one Don Hertzfeldt fan here at DFO, and probably a lot more than that. Hertzfeldt was nominated for an Oscar in 2000 for the legendary Rejected. World of Tomorrow retains Rejected‘s minimalist character design, but it’s a much more visually dense and thematically philosophical film about a future where people’s consciousnesses are copied into new bodies after their deaths, and nostalgia has become the world’s most popular pastime, framed around a third-generation clone trying to explain that future to her four-year-old self/great-great-grandparent. It’s also really, really, really funny. The ending had me absolutely dying.
Will/Should Win: World of Tomorrow. As a story, it’s miles ahead of the rest, and its hyperactive visual style makes great use of color and shape to bring its surreal future world to life. Anything else would be a huge letdown.
Second Choice: We Can’t Live Without Cosmos.
Upset Special: Prologue. It’s a pretty thin film, but this wouldn’t be the first time the Academy has interpreted “Best Animated Short” as “Best-Animated Short.”
LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM
Ave Maria – A great, inventive little comedy featuring a Jewish family who crash their car outside a Palestinian Christian convent on the Sabbath, in which the two groups must help each other navigate their various religious proscriptions in order to get the family safely home again.
Day One – This one follows a U.S. Army translator’s first day on the job in Afghanistan, and wastes no time throwing her into the deep end. A very compelling portrayal of the tension and chaos that I imagine must be at least some part of every military interaction with local residents. Day One is probably the most technically impressive of this group,
Alles Wird Gut (Everything Will Be Okay) – Two years ago, a French film titled Avant que de tout perdre (Just Before Losing Everything) was nominated in this category. At 29 minutes, it may be the tensest thriller I’ve ever seen, depicting a woman who’s enlisted the help of her co-workers to leave her abusive husband. The film never outright tells you what’s happening, instead letting you put together the pieces yourself. Alles Wird Gut works very similarly (over just 12 minutes, this time) and so I won’t spoil any of the plot points here, but I’m a big fan of this sort of storytelling-by-incremental-revelation. It’d probably be too exhausting over the course of a feature film, but it works in a a short.
Shok – Shok doesn’t draw attention to its climax, which happens in the literal background of a shot, and happens so quickly that you can blink and miss it completely. That’s fitting for a movie set in the middle of the widely ignored Kosovo War. Unfortunately a lot of other things about this movie didn’t work for me at all, like the frame story, the first half of which has its main character acting in ways that seem contrived for dramatic effect even after the movie provides the context.
Stutterer – A sweet but predictable—but still very sweet!—film about a man with a stuttering problem who’s agreed to meet his Internet girlfriend in person for the first time. Stutterer reminds me a bit of David O. Russell’s work in the way it uses a disorder as a starting point to look at experiences common to everyone.
Will Win: I think Day One has an advantage here because of the story behind the film; it was made by a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, based on real experiences with his Pashtun-American translator.
Should Win: Alles Wird Gut.
Upset Special: Ugh, Shok.
DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT
Body Team 12 – This short documentary, which I didn’t see, is about the work of a body removal team during the Liberian ebola epidemic. Olivia Wilde produced the film.
Chau, Beyond the Lines – Chau started out as the story of a young Vietnamese boy who wants to become an artist but suffers from severe Agent Orange-related birth defects, but developed into a sort of mini-Boyhood, following its subject through eight years of childhood and young adulthood as he pursues that dream. Equal parts horrifying and inspiring.
Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of Shoah – I also didn’t see this, a making-of film about the legendary Holocaust documentary Shoah, but there seems to be widespread agreement that it’s the most technically adept film in this category.
A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness – This is the last of the three I didn’t get to see. It’s about “honor killings” of Pakistani women.
Last Day of Freedom – The only animated documentary in the group, Last Day is about the murder conviction and subsequent execution of a black veteran with PTSD, told through an extended interview with his brother. Visually, the film alternates between sketches of its interview subject and depictions of the events he’s describing. As someone who cares a lot about this subject and has worked with death row inmates, Last Day is both touching and maddening. I’m skeptical, though, that anyone who cares enough to watch this documentary will learn anything they didn’t already know.
Will Win: Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of Shoah. I’ve never seen Shoah itself either, but I know its reputation as one of the greatest documentaries ever. This one seems to be the consensus favorite to win, both for the sake of its subject and for the quality of its production. I don’t have any reason to doubt it.
I Liked: Chau, Beyond The LInes.
Upset Special: Last Day of Freedom‘s unique visual style might get it some extra attention. Either of the other two I haven’t seen could have a shot based on subject matter alone.