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.
After a particularly weak batch last year, the Academy has redeemed themselves with a mostly strong group of nominees for the live action award. As always, the category has a focus on harder-hitting topics and themes, although none are as outright depressing as some of the ones that have won in the past. Still, viewers shouldn’t expect to watch the nominees feeling uplifted.
5. The Neighbors' Window
The only English-language short nominated in this category and perhaps the most widely agreeable of the group, The Neighbors’ Window ultimately suffers from feeling too direct and to the point. The entirety of the film’s message is summed up a bit too nicely in a brief monologue at the end of the film, leaving the viewer feeling like the previous fifteen minutes were somewhat meaningless. There is some merit in this short, but because of this, it feels like the least substantial of any of the nominees.
Arguably the most socially relevant nominee, but also the least satisfying short nominated, Brotherhood can’t be faulted for lack of ambition, though it feels like its premise would have been better-suited to a feature-length runtime. There is a lot happening in the narrative in this short, and while the themes the film addresses are certainly important and some of the commentary insightful, there simply isn’t enough time in the film for all of the threads to be developed. However, the film is absolutely gorgeous, particularly in terms of its cinematography, so despite its narrative shortcomings, it earns its spot on this list.
3. Nefta Football Club
The only nominee out of the five films that isn’t emotionally draining, Nefta Football Club is a (relatively) feel-good comedy about the joys of childhood friendship. Although there is a bit of a bittersweet edge to the film — the sense of humor is extremely dark — it is a welcome relief when put against the stressful and/or depressing nature of the other four shorts. The chemistry between the two child actors is great, developing naturally over such a short period of time, and is likely the main reason why this short works so well.
2. A Sister
Without a doubt the most intense nominee out of this year’s batch, A Sister takes advantage of its confined setting and minimal premise to deliver a lean and suspenseful thriller. Although there was a feature-length film (The Guilty) that did something similar, A Sister still feels fresh and necessary thanks to the timely themes it addresses and the exquisite craftsmanship with which it is told. Ultimately, this short feels a lot more low-key than some of the other contenders, and likely won’t get as much attention as a result, but it is probably the best-shot of the bunch.
Admittedly a bit rough around the edges, Saria nonetheless proves itself to be the short most worthy of this award thanks to its timely themes and character-driven approach to its true story. In just over twenty minutes, the film is able to connect the audience to this group of girls to a point that the film becomes absolutely heartbreaking. Unfortunately, the film will likely be passed up in favor of one of the ones dealing with a more hot-topic issue, but this exploration of the failures of the orphanage system is undeniably riveting.
The 2020 Oscar Nominated Short Films open in theaters on January 29.
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