By Sean Boelman
Every year, ShortsTV releases the short films nominated in all three categories — Animation, Live Action, and Documentary — in theaters. Not only is this an opportunity for audiences across the country to see the nominees, it is also the chance for these filmmakers to see their work projected on the big screen, an opportunity which is not often afforded to shorts. Especially with recent news that the three categories won’t be broadcast live at the ceremony, it is important to recognize the extraordinary work of these filmmakers from around the world.
The Chilean short film Bestia is definitely one of the most unique of the five animated shorts, but it’s not very good. It’s a pretty detestable film, in fact, exploring potentially interesting subject matter in a way that is disturbing in all the wrong ways. The ceramic stop-motion style is intriguing at first, but the film leans way too heavily into the bizarre with some content that is outright disgusting. It’s a shame, because the film shows the promise to be an interesting commentary on the political turmoil in the country in which it is set, but it ends up being a waste of potential.
4. Affairs of the Art
Joanna Quinn’s Affairs of the Art has the benefit of being extremely personal, even if it doesn’t work in pretty much any other way. Telling the story of a family’s unusual hobbies, the animation is messy and the film makes some attempts at humor that completely fall flat. It deals with some weird ideas (albeit not as weird as Bestia’s) that are just rather off-putting in nature. It’s the type of film that has a particular niche that will appreciate it, which makes it all the more surprising that it ended up in this category.
3. The Windshield Wiper
It wouldn’t be an Oscar Animated Shorts category without a film that is more style than substance, and Alberto Mielgo’s The Windshield Wiper fits that bill. The thing that this short should be praised for is the ambition in its animation, as there are a few different approaches all combined into the fifteen minute runtime, but it doesn’t all add up into something interesting. The message about love is pretty insubstantial, and the narrative is quite lacking. There are a lot of really good beats in this short, but it’s missing something to be excellent.
2. Robin Robin
Often, the Animated Short category is dominated by one or two entries from the major studios, but this year, the only big player in the competition is Aardman with Robin Robin. This mainstream stop-motion animated short is absolutely adorable, but also very conventional. That said, audiences (and voters) are surely going to resonate with the very heartfelt tale of the protagonist feeling out-of-place and then finding themself. And it will definitely help that the film has big names attached to it, both in regards to its studio and the cast, which features Richard E. Grant among others.
Anton Dyakov’s Boxballet is not only the best of the animated shorts, but also the best of the shorts in any category. It’s a very basic story, about a boxer and a ballerina who form an unexpected relationship, but there’s something powerful in its simplicity. The animation style is rough but charming, but the thing about the film that is most impressive is that it does so much with so little. There’s no dialogue in the film, and yet the emotion that it is able to convey is absolutely extraordinary.
5. Ala Kachuu - Take and Run
The Academy is notorious for recognizing trauma porn, films which explore an important and timely issue, but in a way that feels enormously manipulative (almost to the point of being insensitive). And while we were spared of this in the feature categories, Ala Kachuu - Take and Run shows that the Oscars can’t escape this trend. About a young woman in Kyrgyzstan who is forced into an arranged marriage when she expresses the desire to receive an education, the film is a snapshot of an issue that is shockingly still present in today’s society, but feels like little more than a justification to include an angering statistic before the end credits.
4. The Dress
Tadeusz Lysiak’s The Dress is one of the more well-shot short films in this year’s batch, but the issue with it is that it isn’t all that interesting. Following a woman who has struggled romantically due to her dwarfism as she meets and bonds with a handsome truck driver, it’s a very slow and somber film, and there isn’t enough here to sustain the viewer’s interest for a full thirty minutes. Anna Dzieduszycka does a very solid job in her leading role, but there isn’t enough substance to the character for her to have much of an impact.
3. Please Hold
Last year’s winner in the Live Action Short Film category, Two Distant Strangers, handled an incredibly relevant political topic with a sci-fi lens, and it was incredibly divisive. This year’s Please Hold isn’t quite as embarrassing as that film, but it’s also overambitious while still managing to only scratch the surface on its themes. There are definitely some things to like about this, but the execution is cheap-looking and KD Davila’s script is incredibly uneven. This is the type of film that was clearly recognized more for what it stands for than what it actually accomplished.
2. On My Mind
On My Mind is an entirely inoffensive film, but it also isn’t particularly good. Following a man who desperately wants to sing “Always On My Mind” by Elvis at a karaoke bar on a weekday afternoon, the film spends almost two-thirds of its brief runtime building up to a final scene that is either going to leave the viewer in tears or absolutely frustrated. It seems likely that more will be the latter, as this tear-jerker resorts to some of the most basic tricks in the book to get a reaction out of the audience.
1. The Long Goodbye
Every year, there seems to be a star-driven short in the Live Action category, and this year, it is The Long Goodbye, starring last year’s Academy Award nominee Riz Ahmed. Following a Muslim family living in Britain as a group of white supremacists threaten them, it’s a very shocking and unsettling watch in all the best ways. Ahmed gives yet another extraordinary performance, proving again that he is one of the most talented actors working today, especially in the rap-based finale. It’s the only one of the five that is particularly impactful, and should be the clear frontrunner.
5. Lead Me Home
The Documentary Short category is typically the most consistent of the three, and this year is no exception. Even the weakest of the bunch, Pedro Kos and Jon Shenk’s Lead Me Home, isn’t bad. Exploring the homelessness crisis on the US West Coast, there’s no denying that the film explores a topic which is very important, but in a way that isn’t as affecting as it likely should have been. It’s an all-around well-made documentary, but the approach doesn’t feel quite as urgent as this topic demands.
4. Three Songs for Benazir
Three Songs for Benazir is the type of short film that uses an intimate story to illustrate a greater issue in society. Following a young refugee who wants to join the army but also faces the challenge of starting a family with his new bride, it’s a very human story and a fascinating tale of perseverance and dedication. However, the thing that makes Gulistan and Elizabeth Mirzaei’s film so special is that it’s surprisingly optimistic. Audiences are used to seeing dark and depressing doc shorts about this type of topic, and it’s refreshing to see something with a better outlook.
3. The Queen of Basketball
There’s usually one odd archival-based doc short in the mix, and The Queen of Basketball is a good one. Directed by Ben Proudfoot (who was also nominated last year for A Concerto is a Conversation), the film tells the story of one of the greatest women’s basketball players in the history of the sport. And while the presentation is quite straightforward, and the short runtime prevents the film from interacting much with the deeper implications of Lusia Harris’s contributions, the story is so uplifting and inspiring that it speaks for itself.
Another crowd-pleasing short documentary, Audible tells the story of a Deaf football team that has exceeded expectations at every chance they have gotten. It’s a crowd-pleasing underdog story, a type of film that has been known to resonate with Academy voters, and on top of that, it has the inclusivity angle, discussing disabled representation in a thoughtful way. On top of that, it is probably the most well-made of the batch all-around, and the most likely to resonate with general audiences.
1. When We Were Bullies
Jay Rosenblatt’s When We Were Bullies has caused a lot of controversy, and it’s understandable why. Many argue that the film was not made in the best taste, and while the complaints are valid, that is also quite reductive to what is a complex, personal work of nonfiction filmmaking. Following the filmmaker as he explores an event from his childhood, the film poses some interesting questions about complicity, and while it does seem to try to make excuses at more than one point, the ultimate conclusion of the film is that there are no easy answers, making it hard to write this one off.
The 2022 Oscar-Nominated Short Films hit theaters on February 25.
The Snake Hole
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