Every year I go out of my way to check out the short films recognized by the Academy and this year is no different. Over the course of the next couple of weeks I will try to see and review every short film I can find from the Oscar Shortlists and collect the short reviews here!
Daughter - Daria Kashcheeva - 15 mins
Using an extremely effective stop motion animation approach and telling a more raw and emotional story, there is no doubt that Daughter is a work of art. Especially with the visuals that don't just look great from a production design standpoint but also with the unique lighting and cinematography. The story itself as I mentioned is also a big highlight taking universal and hard hitting themes such as loss and the process of grief which includes anger and sadness, and then presents these themes in a thematically interesting and unique way.
Hair Love - Matthew A. Cherry & Everett Downing Jr. - 6 mins
After a second viewing of this short which initially released in theaters alongside Angry Birds 2, this remains one of the most charming short films from any of the shortlists. Even if I can't personally speak on the feeling of representation that this short brings being a white male I can appreciate how much this short has impacted so many which easily can be seen on social media. For being a smaller production the animation is actually quite impressive with the animation on the hair especially being layered and complex. The emotions of course are also hard hitting and the ending makes tears swell into my eyes. Currently available on Youtube this is a must watch from this collection of shorts.
He Can't Live Without Cosmos - Konstantin Bronzit - 16 mins
A few years ago Konstantin Bronzit created the short film We Can't Live Without Cosmos which absolutely blew me away becoming one of of not my favorite short film of that year. Obviously when I saw that Bronzit had not just another short on the way but one seemingly directly tied to that previous show film I quickly became excited for the film with it easily becoming my most anticipated short from this list. He Can't Live Without Cosmos turned out to be a very different film that his previous short film of basically the same title but still impresses greatly. Compared to his previous film, He Can't Live Without Cosmos is much more of an ambitious film tackling a much larger story full of more nuance and metaphorical ideas but with the same hard hitting human backbone which was the thing that made his previous film stand out so much. Just like with that film, this left me heartbroken and in tears. The emotions are so raw and powerful yet also smart. Whenever this short becomes available despite missing the nomination I hope gets the attention it deserves.
Hors Piste - Léo Brunel, Loris Cavalier, Camille Jalabert, & Oscar Mallet - 6 mins
Every year on the animated shortlist there are a few shorts clearly meant for kids and this year Hors Piste fills that role. The animation is nice looking and the slapstick is clever and effective but about 2 minutes in the gimmick started to wear thin. By the end the film just feels dull and overly long but kids will probably still be laughing their heads off. It is harmless and charming enough but definitely lacks the substance to stand out to adults on a shortlist as strong as this.
Kitbull - Rosana Sullivan - 9 mins
YES YES YES! This is absolutely adorable and heartwarming yet also is so sad and emotional. It takes an emotional journey from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs becoming one of the most captivating shorts of the year easily. The message is also important enough that the film feels important, its not just a cute heartwarming film but one that has something it is trying to say making it feel layered and deep. I absolutely love this short and hope everyone gives it a try, if you haven't already I would 100% say to use your week free trial of Disney+ to see this short as it is currently streaming on the platform.
Memorable - Bruno Collet - 12 mins
Mind My Mind - Floor Adams - 30 mins
The Physics of Sorrow - Theodore Ushev - 27 mins
Sister - Siqi Song - 8 mins
Without giving the end of this film away I will say that it overall works for me. The emotions are strong and the ending of the film is very clever when it comes to building the emotional impact within the film. Yet with the subject matter it is covering there are similar issues to what I took away from the film which match up perfectly with the feature documentary also from this year dealing with the subject matter (find my full review for that feature here). The short is able to handle it much better than the feature but still the focus of blame and how they describe the problem feels like a bit of a misfire. Still the short is overall strong and one I would recommend.
Brotherhood - Meryam Joobeur - 25 mins
Coming from the same producer as Fauve which got nominated in the same category last year but failed to connect much with me, I didn't expect much from Brotherhood but what I got surprised the hell out of me. Following a young man who returns home after leaving to fight for ISIS feeling like he had a duty to fight with them the film looks at his relationship with his family who feels betrayed by his actions. This is layered and complex hitting hard with some incredible dialogue and acting which is especially impressive considering some of the characters are not trained actors, they are people the director found working as farmers while developing the short. There is so much interesting and complicated emotions within these characters that where the short itself is fascinating I would love to see it expanded into a feature length film. This was a really wonderful experience and if you were to check out the highlights of the shortlist this film 1000% deserves to be included. It is one of the best short films of the year easily and I can only hope it gets the recognition it deserves come Oscar Nomination morning.
The Christmas Gift - Bogdan Muresanu - 23 mins
Little Hands - Rémi Allier - 15 mins
From premise alone it is easy to see why Little Hands turned out to be one of the most intense 15 minutes of film this year. Following a man named Bruno who in order to gain leverage in a dispute over a factory closing kidnaps the managers son this follows the tense bit of time where Bruno holds the child hostage. Where tonally the film is a total success, message why the film is a bit more debatable. The story of going too far in a disagreement is important especially in the current climate of debate and fundamental differences in ideas but the choice to not develop the characters or situations makes it feel like a film that easily could be wrongly interrupted. The film presents the workers fighting for their jobs as to a point barbaric, sure they also turn against Bruno but it is a worker who kidnaps the child and the film never quite finds it's footing in showing Bruno as a well rounded character who made a mistake. Instead he just looks like a bad guy which could mess up the deeper message in the film for some. It still overall works but I do wish it was a bit cleaner in what it was trying to say.
Miller & Son - Asher Jelinsky - 21 mins
Nefta Football Club - Yves Piat - 17 mins
This was fun. The foreign comedy shorts that find their way into the Oscar conversation is always a bit hit or miss with stuff like Ave Maria really failing to connect but luckily Nefta Football Club does work well enough to be entertaining. Where the film never had me laughing super hard it constantly had be entertained with some really clever lines and plot points which was amusing. This short won't be super memorable come a few months or leave a major impact on the audience but it still is enjoyable enough to where I wouldn't mind watching it again. It's not a must watch but if you are watching as many shorts from this list as possible this is going to be an enjoyable one.
The Neighbors' Window - Marshall Curry - 20 mins
Despite being in the awards conversation a good amount my introduction to the work of Marshall Curry was last year with his documentary short A Night at the Garden which was one nomination I could not get behind. I was so frustrated at that nomination considering other amazing shorts like My Dead Dad's Porno Tapes failed to get the nomination. When I saw Curry was back this time with the fictional live action short The Neighbors' Window, I would be lying if I said I was overly excited for it. Where the film definitely isn't perfect I do have to say that I overall enjoyed it. Following a family who is struggling with accepting their new role as parents constantly having to look out their window into an apartment of a young couple who are enjoying their youth, the actual concept was extremely effective. Especially in the more quiet and lingering shots this movie was able to conjure legitimately powerful emotions that hits the audience and force them to analyze their own lives. What this film has to say is important and effective and it is so smart with where they go plot wise to further explore the thesis it is building. The major downside though would be the acting, especially for our main couple the quality of their performances and emotional delivery was clearly weaker and did hurt the impact of some scenes especially towards the beginning of the film. Overall it still is effective and strong but could have been just a bit stronger and cleaner throughout which would have elevated it to another level.
Refugee - Brandt Andersen -
Saria - Bryan Buckley - 23 mins
A Sister - Delphine Girard - 16 mins
Sometimes, I Think about Dying - Stefanie Abel Horowitz - 13 mins
This is one of those shorts that is going to be very hit or miss. With a script which often showcases the thoughts from inside the characters minds normally being slower and more methodical the film clearly is trying to be a deep and almost meditative experience. This is a fine approach that could have really impressive results which can be seen in a film like The Tree of Life but here, it sadly never connected with me. It felt very style over substance with the actual points it was bringing up and exploring never feeling that deep or interesting. It clearly want's to be something of substance and a deeper emotional value but it never felt like it was. Maybe for the right person this exploration of the human experience will connect with them but I clearly wasn't that type of person.
After Maria - Nadia Hallgren - 36 mins
Fire in Paradise - Zackary Canepari & Drea Cooper - 40 mins
To give a bit of context I used to live in Northern California and have been to Paradise multiple times. I remember the shock when the devastation of the Camp Fire was revealed and this short perfectly captures that shock and fear and expands on it with haunting accounts of those who fought for their lives trying to escape the fires. The footage taken by those escaping the fires is truly shocking and despite knowing the fates of the people giving interviews the film has you on the edge of your seat. There is something truly haunting about this film especially in the beginning as you know how destructive the fire will eventually get. Part of why this is so effective is how scary the possibility that this event can happen again to you, this was just a normal day in a normal town that got destroyed by a fire. As you watch this you cannot help but wonder what you would do if there was a fire like this coming for you. Would you survive? Would you get out in time? Are you prepared? This is an anxiety inducing short and had me hooked despite the longer runtime. Please check this one out on Netflix, easily one of the best shorts of the year.
Ghosts of Sugar Land - Bassam Tariq - 21 mins
Ghosts of Sugar Land is one of Netflix's major short film plays for the year making waves ever since it won the Short Film Jury Award: Nonfiction at Sundance earlier in the year. Following a group of friends who come together to tell the story of their friend who left Texas to fight for ISIS in Syria, it is obvious that for those in the film the subject matter is deeply emotional and raw. This is one of their best friends who somehow left to do terrible things. They can try to justify it, like coming to a conclusion that he is secretly working for the FBI but that doesn't fix their anger or sadness. However not knowing the subject and not having those relationships with him, I found it hard to fully engage with the film emotionally. Where it was interesting and I could clearly see the emotions, I never felt them myself. I never was devastated or hurt by the emotions in this short like I was in Fire in Paradise for example. It is definitely interesting but doesn't have the emotional impact to where it is going to be a short that sticks with me past this awards season.
In the Absence - Yi Seung-jun - 29 mins
Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You're a Girl) - Carol Dysinger - 39 mins
Life Overtakes Me - Kristine Samuelson & John Haptas - 40 mins
The Nightcrawlers - Alexander A. Mora - 40 mins
This is one of those documentaries that you can't really believe you are watching at times. Showcasing the violence between citizens and government in Manila where the President has allowed thousands of murders as part of his war against drugs. This is a hard to watch film that is not afraid to showcase the raw emotions caused by this mass violence. The actual footage is also incredible as the film brings you right into the action. This is an engaging and shocking short film that I would highly recommend anyone checks out.
St. Louis Superman - Smriti Mundhra & Sami Khan - 29 mins
Stay Close - Shuhan Fan & Luther Clement - 19 mins
Following the life of U.S. Fencing Olympian Keeth Smart, this is a short that really captivated me. Keeth starts as an underdog not being particularly notable but as he busts his ass he becomes something even as life constantly takes from those around him and himself. This is an inspirational look at a man who made something of his life but it also doesn't sugar coat anything. He has his moments of struggle and hardship and even as he makes it onto the global stage at the Olympics he is facing consequences for the life he lives. In this way the film is extremely well rounded and engaging. The filmmaking is also really notable incorporating elements like animation and Keeth's home videos in extremely effective manners that add something to the film. This is one everyone should check out especially considering it is currently streaming for free.
Walk Run Cha-Cha - Laura Nix - 22 mins
For the first 3-5 minutes this short had be in the palm of it's hand following a couple who gave so much away in their youth during the Vietnam War who not only found a love for each-other but a love for dance which allows them to express their emotions in a healthy way. This story has some really wonderful explorations of pain and lasting effects of it but those explorations do not need a runtime of 22 minutes. There is a really wonderful 8-10 minute short in here but it adds so many scenes of lingering and atmosphere that it ends up feeling dull and bloated. I wanted to love this short and think it has some really great elements to it but sadly the filmmaking just wasn't strong enough and the runtime ended up hurting it's impact greatly.