The rest of the Oscar-nominated shorts

Back in April, I wrote about the Oscar-nominated shorts I had seen to date. I’ve since seen all of the rest of them. I’ll tell you how at the end.

Short Film (Live Action)

The Present (Palestine, 24 minutes), IMDB: “On his wedding anniversary, Yusef (Saleh Bakri) and his young daughter set out in the West Bank to buy his wife a gift. Between soldiers, segregated roads, and checkpoints, how easy would it be to go shopping?”

Not easily at all, as it turns out. One can’t but help think the guys at the checkpoint weren’t so much protecting as being schmucks. But it does have a nice ending.

Feeling Through (USA, 18 minutes). IMDB: “A late-night encounter on a New York City street leads to a profound connection between a teen-in-need (Steven Prescod) and a DeafBlind man (Robert Tarango).” Touching and effective. The only one of these I saw before.

Two Distant Strangers (USA, 32 minutes). IMDB: “A man trying to get home to his dog gets stuck in a time loop that forces him to relive a deadly run-in with a cop.” OK, it’s a young black man and a white cop. A warped Groundhog Day. Unsubtle but with a thought-provoking impact. The Oscar winner, and rightly so.

Ayn Levana (White Eye) (Israel, 20 minutes). IMDB: “A man finds his stolen bicycle, which now belongs to a stranger. While attempting to retrieve it, he struggles to remain human.” Having had bicycles stolen from me, I could definitely relate. Does the new owner need it more than the original owner? Issues of immigration are also involved. A good film.

The Letter Room (USA, 33 minutes) IMDB: “When a corrections officer (Oscar Issac) is transferred to the letter room, he soon finds himself enmeshed in a prisoner’s deeply private life.” What would you do in the same circumstances? Especially since his life is pretty much his job? Isaac, who plays Poe Dameron in the last Star Wars trilogy, is very effective here.

Animated Films

Burrow (USA, 6 minutes). IMDB: “A young rabbit tries to build the burrow of her dreams, becoming embarrassed each time she accidentally digs into a neighbor’s home.” Pleasant, light fare.

Genius Loci (France, 16 minutes). IMDB: “One night, Reine, a young loner, sees the urban chaos as a mystical oneness that seems alive, like some sort of guide.” A surrealistic…something. I’ll admit I don’t really get it. Something with her sister and a baby and a muse.

Opera (South Korea/USA, 9 minutes) IMDB: “Our society and history, which is filled with beauty and absurdity.” That doesn’t tell you diddly. From Indiewire: A Provocative Animated Short Confronts Never-Ending Polarization. “It consists of a giant pyramid with cyclical activities.” It’s almost hypnotic.

If Anything Happens I Love You (USA, 13 minutes). IMDB: “In the aftermath of tragedy, two grieving parents journey through an emotional void as they mourn the loss of a child.” And without dialogue, but great use of shadows, you can feel the sense of disconnectedness this couple is experiencing, long before you know why. It’s quite extraordinary and deserving of the Oscar.

Yes-People/Já-Fólkið (Iceland, 8 minutes).  IMDB: “One morning an eclectic mix of people face the everyday battle – such as work, school, and dish-washing. As the day progresses, their relationships are tested and ultimately their capacity to cope.” It’s a story about the mundane, which can be rather interesting, but this wasn’t, at least for me.

If Anything Happens I Love You

Highly commended

The animation nominations run less than an hour, so the packagers usually throw in a few more to create a 90-minute program.

Kapaemahu (USA, 9 minutes) IMDB: “Kapaemahu reveals the healing power of four mysterious stones on Waikiki Beach – and the legendary dual male and female spirits within them.” It was very affecting, telling a story I did not know. You can see it here.

The Snail and the Whale (UK, 27 minutes) IMDB: “A tiny snail goes on an amazing journey by hitching a ride on the tail of a huge humpback whale. Based on the picture book written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler.”  It’s a sweet story, with some star power, with the late Diana Rigg as the narrator and Sally Hawkins as the snail.

To: Gerard (USA). IMDB: “A sprightly elderly man brightens the day of a little girl through magic.” A guy from Dreamwork produced this, and it’s very good.

I suppose I would have replaced Burrow, Yes-People, and possibly Genius Loci with these three.

Documentary

I reviewed all of these – Do Not Split (USA/Norway), Hunger Ward (USA), the winning Colette (USA), A Concerto Is A Conversation (USA), except one.

A Love Song For Latasha (USA, 19 minutes.)  IMDB: “The injustice surrounding the shooting death of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins at a South Central Los Angeles store became a flashpoint for the city’s 1992 civil uprising.

As one critic noted, “The decision to embrace poetic abstract over reenactment is an easy one to make. And that’s exactly what Sophia Nahli Allison does.” It may be a bit confusing for some but it’s worthwhile.

I’d say either Latasha or Collette was the best film.

My local Landmark Theatre, Spectrum 8 offered packages to see one, two, or all three packages. Obviously, I picked the latter, for a total of $30, not much more than the price of three in-person tickets. I ordered them in mid-April and had until mid-May to start watching them. Once I started, in the first week in May, I had until the first week in June to see them all.

Oscar-nominated shorts for 2020

Hong Kong, Yemen, NYC

Feeling ThroughNormally, when I want to see the Oscar-nominated shorts, I go to the Spectrum Theatre in Albany, one of the Landmark Theatres. I generally view the Live-Action or Animated films. Unfortunately, that’s not an option; it just re-opened, but I’m not ready to go out. Nor is watching the documentaries at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady.

Luckily, they are online and I see at least some of them. This Rotten Tomatoes link from March 16 is a good starting place.

Unfortunately, I didn’t actually SEE any of the Animated Films.  Burrow, about a rabbit, is on Disney+; it doesn’t even have a trailer.  Genius Loci has a trailer on YouTube, which is lovely, but I can’t find how to access it fully.

If Anything Happens I Love You is on Netflix. “Grieving parents journey through an emotional void as they mourn the loss of a child in the aftermath of a tragic school shooting.”  Opera has bits on Instagram, but I don’t know how to access the whole thing. Vimeo has a teaser for  Yes-People.

Documentary (Short Subject)

I fared better in this category: 4 out of 5.  Colette (24:50) is on YouTube. A 90-year-old woman who was part of the French Resistance sees, for the first time, the Nazi camp where her brother died. It’s a touching character study of a woman who thought she was tougher than she was.

A Concerto Is a Conversation (13:24) is on the NYTimes.com site. “A virtuoso jazz pianist and film composer tracks his family’s lineage through his 91-year-old grandfather from Jim Crow Florida to the Walt Disney Concert Hall.” Warm conversation between the two men.

Do Not Split (35:38) is on Facebook. It “follows activists in Hong Kong as they endure violent stand-offs with police and grapple with the new restrictions imposed by mainland China.” Sometimes, it’s difficult to understand the particular strategies employed by the protestors at certain times.

Hunger Ward (45:00), from MTV,  is on something called PlutoTV. It’s about the bombing of Yemen, and the devastating effect it has on children. A six-year-old weighs 15 pounds. And it’s tough on their caretakers. Think of all of those news reports you’ve seen of exhausted and frustrated COVID nurses; that’ll give you a taste. Check out HungerWard.org to get involved.

The one I didn’t see was A Love Song for Latasha (19:00) on Netflix. “The killing of Latasha Harlins became a flashpoint for the 1992 LA uprising. This documentary evocatively explores the 15-year-old’s life and dreams.”

Short Film (Live Action)

The only one of these films I saw so far was Feeling Through on YouTube (18:25). A homeless teen meets a deaf-blind man at a bus stop. This is the film with which I was most familiar. “The film was inspired by a chance encounter with the first DeafBlind person director Doug Roland met late at night in New York City.” Marlee Matlin, an executive producer, and an Oscar-winning deaf actor promoted the film on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.

The Letter Room (32:00) has a trailer on Vimeo. “When a kind-hearted prison officer (Oscar Isaac) is transferred to the letter room, he soon gets involved in an inmate’s personal affairs.” One CAN see the film for $6.99. Also with a trailer on Vimeo is The Present. It involves a Palestinian father and his young daughter at a border.

Two Distant Strangers has a trailer on YouTube, but I don’t know how to see the whole thing. “Cartoonist Carter James’ repeated attempts to get home to his dog are thwarted by a recurring deadly encounter that forces him to re-live the same awful day over and over again.”

Finally, White Eye likewise has a YouTube trailer, and I’d like to know how to see the film in its entirety. “A man finds his stolen bicycle and it now belongs to a stranger. In his attempts to retrieve the bicycle, he struggles to remain human.”

Oscar-Nominated Shorts: Animation

fuzzy wool

Best-Animated-Short-Oscars-2020After the Oscars, and indeed, just before the package left town, my wife and I finally saw the Oscar-Nominated Short Films: Animation.

The first, and the one that Indiewire ranked the least, was Hair Love, which won. “The Sony Pictures short — which screened last year before ‘Angry Birds 2’ in theaters — started as a Kickstarter campaign.” It was later adapted into a children’s book.

I had actually already seen Hair Love on CBS Sunday Morning. It was about a young black girl and her father being overwhelmed trying to fix her hair. Been there! I thought it was quite moving, even on second viewing.

Daughter, from the Czech Republic’s Daria Kashcheeva is also between a girl and her father, but far more melancholy. The title character is “startled by a bird crashing into the window, which in turn sparks a series of somewhat-difficult-to-follow memories in which she imagines herself to be a bird.”

I was a tad confounded by the narrative. But the technique, which appear to be puppets made from papier-mâché, was impressive. The “camerawork… mirrors the shallow focus and shaky, handheld technique used to convey emotional turmoil and confusion in live-action movies.”

China girl

Sister is a China-US project. As Variety notes, its stop-motion “represents the most successful marriage of concept and technique among the nominees, but hinges on a twist that’s best not revealed here.” Yet, annoyingly, Indiewire DOES tell too much.

The “puppets have been assembled from fuzzy wool, which the director lights in such a way that they look alive. Stray squiggles of loose material complete the illusion, vibrating even as the dolls sit still… The underlying script is so strong… that [the limited facial features] merely reinforce the film’s humor. For instance, “the hungry infant swells to fill the entire nursery, then comically deflates like a balloon…” And that really IS funny.

Quite often, these shorts show people coping with Alzheimer’s. The French stop-motion entry Mémorable deals with an elderly artist. “Director Bruno Collet has designed his main character to resemble one of Vincent van Gogh’s self-portraits.”

He “remains determined to paint, asking his wife to pose without realizing who she is,” and it is a marvelous portrayal. “Nicolas Martin’s string score adds resonance to the couple’s predicament.” Possibly my favorite.

Kitbull is about “a rowdy stray kitten attempting to survive a stormy night in a heap of trash. The cat “encounters a pit bull… being subjected to abusive owners.” It is a wordless story about the value of negotiation. It was “produced as part of Pixar’s SparkShorts program, which finances independent shorts by young Pixar artists.” It’s not bad.

Also-rans

As always, those who catch the program in cinemas will be treated to a handful of “highly commended” shorts. A stop-motion project, Henrietta Bulkowski tells a parable about overcoming differences. Variety says, “The animation’s nice, but the story feels rigged to prove a point…” This features Christina Hendricks and Chris Cooper as voice actors.

“Carol Freeman’s The Bird & the Whale represents a painstaking job of hand-painted oil-on-glass animation, though the story… doesn’t quite work.” I’d agree with that.

“Computer-animated French entry Hors Piste is hilarious in its retro-toned, well-timed slapstick humor.” It features “a number of clever gags involving a bumbling high-altitude rescue squad.” We’re talking LOL funny.

The two-minute CG Maestro from the team behind 2018 nominee Garden Party, shows them pushing their photoreal animal animation to new levels.” It is essentially one joke, but it’s visually amazing.

Oscar-nominated live action short films 2017

“Enemies Within,” feels like it’s based on current events, though it was set in the 1990s.

Sometimes, you just need to leave work early to see the Oscar-nominated live action short films

“Mindenki,” Hungary (25 minutes)

This was the Oscar winner, and certainly worthy. The title translates to “Sing,” but it oughtn’t to be confused with another, full-length, animated recent film of the same name.

Reportedly based on a true story, young Zsofi (Dóra Gáspárvalvi) enrolls in a new school best known for its lauded children’s choir, which is great, because Zsofi loves singing. Her mother, the principal and her new friend Liza (Dorka Hais) encourage her to join the troupe. But Zsofi runs into a snag.

I love the music, and the world of competitive choir, and it has a nifty ending. But the most engaging part of the film is the friendship between the shy Zsofi and the cool Liza.

“Silent Nights,” Denmark (30 minutes)

Aske Bang’s third short starts off strong. Malene Beltoft (Inger) is a kindhearted worker for the Salvation Army homeless shelter worker. One of her clients is a Ghanaian immigrant named Kwame (Prince Yaw Appiah). They strike up a romance.

The film’s first half addresses the difficulty many immigrants, including Kwame, have in wanting a better life. But there may be way too much story at the back end to be credible. Still, I found the couple intriguing.

“Timecode” (Spain, 15 minutes)

Juanjo Giménez Peña won the Palme d’Or for this. Luna (Lali Ayguadé) and Diego (Nicolas Ricchini) work in a parking garage in 12-hour shifts. Pretty boring, with polite but minimal interaction between the two only at the shift change.

Then Luna discovers that Diego has a hobby. Eventually, the two soon start using the expansive video surveillance system to swap videos. It was a minor piece but with some charm, especially if you appreciate the moves.

“Ennemis Interieurs,” France (28 minutes)

Sélim Azzazi’s film, translated “Enemies Within,” feels like it’s based on current events, though it was set in the 1990s. It takes almost entirely inside a dim immigration office. Hassam Ghancy is an unnamed Algerian-born Frenchman hoping to procure official citizenship. Najib Oudghiri is the likewise unnamed official who essentially plays the good cop AND the bad cop at different points.

For a movie mostly confined to one location, it was quite affecting. Ghancy’s character showed fear and indignation from the interrogator’s questions. Probably the best of the five.

“La Femme et la TGV,” Switzerland (30 minutes)

Timo von Guten’s film is the most quirky of the features. Jane Birkin, who’s been in quite a few movies you may have seen, is the femme, a melancholy baker in a tiny French town. Her only joy is to wave at the TGV train when it goes by twice a day at 185 mph.

A train conductor sends her a note, tossed off the speeding train and landing in her yard, thanking her for her daily greetings. A correspondence is struck up between the pair, but not on “the Internets,” which she actively avoids.

There is a relationship based on more tossed packages, stuffed with cheese, and carefully written letters which eventually forces her to take action unusual from her predictable life. The solution was there but she couldn’t see it before. I liked it, though it may be a tad long. It’s based on a true story.

Here are trailers for Oscar-nominated live action short films. Most of the movies are in subtitles. I did not find them out there for free, only for a fee.

Oscar-nominated animated shorts 2017

Tthe pic pairs gravelly voiceover with luridly colored frames recalling some indie comic books.

Every year I try to see both the Oscar-nominated animated shorts and their live-action counterparts. The documentaries, alas, don’t seem to make it into this neck of the woods.

This year’s roster:

Borrowed Time -a weathered Sheriff in the Old West returns to the remains of a terrible accident. It was done by a couple Pixar folks, so it is of high quality. I had seen this before online, and while it’s evocative of a mood, it didn’t quite satisfy.

Pearl – a father/daughter relationship from the point of view of the family car, and especially the music played therein. It is my wife’s favorite piece, and we saw it in a conventional theater. Watch it here or here or here.

Blind Vaysha – based, i think, on an old folk tale about a girl with cursed eyesight. One eye sees visions of the past, while the other peers into the future. It’s done in the style of German expressionist woodcuts. This was possibly my favorite. If you’re in Canada, you can see it here.

Piper – this is the Pixar piece, which I saw before Finding Dory. It had a photorealistic look of a newborn bird trying to find food on his own. I actually liked it more in the rewatching. See it here.

Then there was the warning about the final piece that contains sex and violence and language and that you might want to get the kiddies out of the room. I saw a movie a couple years back like that; it was quite terrible.

But before that, a few of the also-rans:

Asteria – wo astronauts make an unexpected discovery on a barren planet. A silly, yet quite pointed observation about the human condition.

The Head Vanishes – a woman is determined to make her annual train trip to the seaside when she quite literally loses her head. this about dementia, of course, which my late mother experienced in her later years. This too you may be able to see in Canada.

Once Upon a Line – a dialogue-free film using a clever pen-and-ink style continual illustrations in which a humdrum guy’s life gets upended by romance. It should have been in the final five in lieu of Borrowed Time.

Pear Cider and Cigarettes – “the aforementioned naughty film, which at 35 minutes is also four times the length of any other nominee. Apparently drawn directly from writer/director Robert Valley’s life, it tells of his friendship with a hard-living character named Techno, who winds up stuck in a Chinese hospital awaiting a liver transplant. Covering decades of up-and-down friendship in a hard-boiled but persuasive style, the pic pairs gravelly voiceover with luridly colored frames recalling some indie comic books. Though very tied to the specifics of Valley’s larger-than-life subject, the bittersweet featurette depicts a sort of character many older viewers will recognize: the kid who could be in charge and out of control simultaneously, who did what others feared until life caught up with him.” My wife and I really related to thie Techno character; we’ve both known that guy with a lot of potential who frittered it away.

It occurred to me that most of these films are about memory, in one form or another. All the nominated films, plus, of course, The Head Vanishes, fit into the category. A worthwhile visit to the Spectrum Theatre.