By Sean Boelman
For the fifteenth year, ShortsTV is releasing the Oscar-nominated short films in all three categories in theaters, allowing audiences across the country and world the unique experience of getting to see these short films in a setting unlike that in which they are usually shown. This also gives the filmmakers of these shorts the opportunity to see their work playing on the big screen, which is often a dream come true.
This year’s batch of documentary shorts going for the title is much stronger than usual, each of the films feeling unique in their own way. Perhaps the most intriguing thing about this group of nominees, though, is the fact that they are much more uplifting than is typical for the category. More often than not, multiple tear-jerking (and sometimes even outright depressing) docs dominate the group, but this year, the nominees are much more pleasant as a whole.
5. In the Absence
Every year, there is one documentary short that stands out as less deserving of the accolade than the rest, and this year, that is In the Absence. Although the story is certainly very strong and inspiring, the way in which the filmmakers go about approaching it is not particularly effective. Feeling more like an extended news story than a true documentary, this film is messily assembled from haphazardly-captured footage shot on the scene. This film undoubtedly has a ton of potential, but it doesn’t ever pan out into anything particularly compelling.
4. St. Louis Superman
Telling the story of an extraordinary subject in such a short period of time, St. Louis Superman feels like it could and should have been expanded into a feature. There are so many sides to this story, but not all of them can be explored to their full depth with a minimal runtime like this. Ultimately, the charisma of the film’s subject makes it naturally entertaining, and the film does address some very timely themes, though this short easily could have been significantly better had it been even just ten or twenty minutes longer.
3. Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You're a Girl)
In any other year, Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl) likely would’ve been the best in show, but that only goes to show how strong the crop is this year. Inspiring and well-shot, this film encourages viewers to find time for compassion, even in what seems to be the most difficult of situations. Although the film does lean a bit too heavily into its sentimentality at times (a few overused documentary tropes do make an appearance), it is consistently heartwarming and manages to hold the attention of the viewer for all of its forty-minute runtime.
2. Life Overtakes Me
One of the more subtly resonant of the nominees this year, Life Overtakes Me balances its human-oriented story with its political message quite effectively. Out of all of the shorts, this is arguably the one that feels the most cohesive. The story doesn’t feel like it demands a feature-length narrative, but it commands the viewer’s interest for the entirety of the forty-minute runtime. If there is an issue with the film, it is that it doesn’t explore all of the subjects equally. Perhaps the film would have been better off focusing on one of these people’s stories.
1. Walk Run Cha-Cha
With a seemingly small-scale but ultimately very important story, Walk Run Cha-Cha is a simple but truly effective documentary short. Functioning as both an inspiring story of two immigrants overcoming the obstacles they have faced and a statement as to how art unites all of us, the film is poetic and beautiful. Culminating in a final sequence that is immensely satisfying, Walk Run Cha-Cha is certainly one of the most moving nominees of this year’s batch. However, unlike many of the recent winners, this isn’t an absolute tear-jerker, so that may not be working in its favor.
The 2020 Oscar Nominated Short Films are now playing in theaters.
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