Who does not like animations? I for one am a big fan and we have five nominated for the Oscar for Animated Shorts.
A dog, an ape, a leech, a mantis, a pig, a bird and a cat are gathered in a therapy session to discuss their innermost thoughts, fears and ambitions. Take it from there and we get to see their all-too human “Animal Behaviour” in the Canadian entry to the Oscar nominated animated shorts.
An aging Chinese woman, desperate to fill her empty nest, makes dumplings for her hard working but inattentive husband. One day, after he stuffs his face and hurries off to work, she takes a bite into the last remaining dumpling when it cries out. Suddenly, it sprouts a nose, eyes, mouth and ears and then a tiny body and arms and legs. The old woman finally has the baby of her dreams. Then, the adorable adolescent becomes a sullen, unruly teen, a rebellious young man and too much for mom to handle – to an unexpected end in “Bao.”
"Late Afternoon" is a warm and heartfelt view into lives of an Alzheimer patient. And I say lives because, in a very simple way, it shows how the disease affects those around the patient, too.
While "One Small Step's" story is about the dreams and ambitions of a young girl who wants to travel to the stars, it is really a loving thank you card to all the fathers who support and help their children, no matter what.
Unfortunately, this story of a broken family is all too real in our world where the real victim of a broken marriage is the child who must choose between parents. Their lives go on, as they must, but it leaves the boy, Bruce, as the pawn in the middle.
All of the nominated short animations offer their own pleasures, but Trevor Jimenez's "Weekends" is the clear winner for me. Many will have seen Pixar's "Bao" as it accompanied their "Incredibles 2" release. Domee Shi examines over protective mothering within the guise of food culture when a woman's handmade dumpling turns into a child. It and "One Small Step," a charming look at a young girl whose father sacrifices so that she may achieve her dream of becoming an astronaut, are the only CGI entries. "Animal Behavior" is a hilarious look at different species, all brandishing recognizable human traits, in a therapy group. "Late Afternoon" is a lyrical visualization of an old woman's fragmented memories. "Weekends" charts a young boy being shuttled between divorced parents. The wordless animation is profoundly emotional, nostalgic snippets of a radio program or foreign film on TV creating a longing, its look as unique as the work of Edward Gorey with its Gothic undertones.
The 2019 Oscar nominated live action shorts hail from Spain, the UK, Canada and U.S., but while they take on many genres - true crime, mystery, coming of age adventure and drama - they all have one thing in common, death.
Writer/director Vincent Lambe's "Detainment" is the most controversial, having garnered tens of thousands of signatures in the UK petitioning the filmmaker to remove it from Oscar consideration in deference to the victim's family (he refused). Based on the transcripts of police questioning of Robert Thompson (Leon Hughes) and Jon Venables (Ely Solan), Britain's youngest convicted murderers at 10 years of age, the film recounts how in 1993 these two young boys led 2 year-old James Bulger away from a Liverpool shopping mall, conversed with adults twice, then ultimately stoned him to death on railroad tracks. There was more, four pages of these transcripts deemed too horrific for court or this film, although Lambe certainly implies what happened was sexual in nature. The two young actors are tremendous, Hughes a full blown sociopath (no background as to his own possible abuse is provided) and Solan cornered, emotional and hysterical over what he has taken part in. Three parents run the gamut of reactions, from Jon's supportive if still unfathoming mother and his numbed father to Robert's more matter-of-factly astonished mother. The film is exceedingly well done, leading us to ponder just how preventable this crime was, but one is left also pondering its point, no psychological background provided to 'explain' the boys' behavior nor even why two such seemingly different kids were hanging out to begin with. Grade: B+
Canada's "Fauve" also features two young boys getting up to mischief, albeit without murderous intent. Out exploring, a game of oneupmanship ensues as the boys clamber about an abandoned train car, challenging each other at every turn with dangerous dares. At one point, the sheer beauty of nature stops Benjamin (Alexandre Perreault) in his tracks as he describes a fox in the distance, but Tyler (Félix Grenier) smells a ploy and we are left to guess. But when the boys come across a quarry their dangerous games cross a critical line. Writer/director Jeremy Comte makes a powerful statement about man's destructive nature with an ironic final image. Grade: A-
"Marguerite," also from Canada, is my favorite to win the Oscar. An old woman who refuses to consider dialysis concerns her home care aide who's noted spreading bruising on her back. Yet Marguerite (Béatrice Picard) takes great pleasure in Rachel's (Sandrine Bisson) touch as she rubs lotion on her legs or washes her hair, appreciation noted by the aide with satisfaction and affection. A phone call interrupts their routine, Rachel's flirtatious responses observed by Marguerite who asks if that was her boyfriend. A second's hesitation later, she answers that it was her girlfriend. Marguerite's calm surprise turns into revelatory inquisitiveness. The two actresses share intimate communion,
expressing much with few words in writer/director Marianne Farley's moving consideration of how the repression of past generations stifled humanity. Grade: A
"Madre," from Spain, is exceptional in its use of physical space to suggest atmosphere and increase tension. Beginning with a long shot of an empty , expansive beach, the action shifts to a modern apartment where Marta (Marta Nieto) and her mother (Blanca Apilánez) gossip about an alluring woman. Then Marta gets a phone call from her 6 year-old, Iván, scared because he's been left by his father, her ex-husband, on a beach. With one shot encompassing action in the multiple rooms the two women move into and out of, writer/director Rodrigo Sorogoyen makes us feel the futility of action from a distance as the child's circumstances grow increasingly dire. Grade: B+
The U.S. nominee, "Skin," is the starriest entry, "Patti Cake$'s" Danielle MacDonald and "The Deep End's" Jonathan Tucker the parents of the impressionable Troy (Jackson Robert Scott). The tattooed, heavy metal loving parents appear to have created a loving family, their circle of friends rough but comfortably companionable. But then a group trip out of the city turns into a firearms 'lesson' for Troy featuring all manner of weaponry and our perception begins to change. Things veer into ugliness with Jeff's reaction to a black man's interaction with his child at a grocery checkout. Cowriter (with Sharon Maymon)/director Guy Nattiv turns everything on its head with a twisty racial revenge plot in his exploration of racism, gun violence and nurture vs. nature, but his conclusion is all too obvious. B
I have always been a sucker for documentary films so I love to give this Oscar category for short docs a shout.
While I am familiar with the titular event, it is a good thing, from a modern social viewpoint, that the filmmakers carefully assemble footage of that evening, on 20 February 1939, when 20000 members of the American Nazi Bund rallied at Madison Square Garden in “A Night at the Garden.” The plus-one who gets on stage at the height of the rally makes this a moment of significant historic note.
In “Black Sheep,” a mom frets over the news of yet another murder in her neighborhood and decides to move to a much safer white locale. But, the dangers in the minority community are far less frightening when the mom’s son must make himself acceptable (lighter skin, blue eyes) and turn against his own race to conform to the denizens of his new home town.
End of life documentaries are becoming more and more part of that landscape and the filmmakers show us that end for those who are dying and the families around them. “End Game” is a melancholy but honest look at their end game.
We thought that the refugee migration from North Africa to southern Europe was a thing of the past. After all, it is not a nightly news item anymore, right? But that does not mean it is over and “Lifeboat” brings to light that the crisis is still a crisis for those risking their lives and those who help them.
I was a bit reluctant to watch a doc short about female empowerment in rural India. That empowerment is in the form of a group of women who start a local business to make sanitary pads in “Period. End of Sentence.” It does not sound like much but it is an excellent view into a culture discovering things that we in the west take for granted. It is an eye opener.
Four of the short documentary nominees hail from the U.S., but I'm putting my money on the U.K. entry, "Black Sheep," with "Period. End of Sentence." a close second. "End Game" and "Lifeboat" are both worthwhile but had me thinking I was back in 2017 when documentary short entries also included entries on end-of-life health care and the refugee crisis. Marshall Curry's "A Night at the Garden" is a chilling look at 22,000 Americans gathered at Madison Square Garden in 1939 to celebrate Nazism and the Ku Klux Klan, but it is mostly an expert piece of editing of historical footage. "Period. End of Sentence." is a delightful and informative look not only at how menstruation is India's biggest taboo, with many young men describing it as some form of illness, but at Project Pad, a movement providing machines to manufacture sanitary napkins to rural women. Not only do these women experience a new form of personal hygiene freedom, but they are able to generate an income that is changing their lives. Ed Perkins' "Black Sheep" gives us a whole new perspective on racism, Cornelius Walker's brave recitation of his experiences opening our eyes as Perkins' filmmaking skills shuttle us between an absorbing talking head and dynamic recreations.
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