Short films are perhaps the most overlooked part of the awards season, and unfairly so, as they frequently offer a new perspective on the world, showcase a rising talent, or innovatively overcome the limitations of their running time in a way that captures the distilled brilliance of cinema. Fortunately, a selection of Oscar nominated shorts are released every year by Shorts.TV on iTunes – and, while Bao (the Pixar contender) isn’t available outside of The Incredibles 2, the rest of this year’s nominees are available to watch for free on YouTube or Vimeo, or available to stream on Netflix.
This year’s nominees range from a collection of downbeat live action shorts and some sweet animations to some jaw-dropping, urgent documentaries – and, best of all, over the credits of the ones released by Shorts.TV, you can see the filmmakers reacting to the news of their nominations.
We take a look at each of them:
One Small Step (Andrew Chesworth, Bobby Pontillas)
Andrew Chesworth, Bobby Pontillas have hit upon something quite brilliant in this hugely warm animation, which sees a young girl (named, of course, Luna) dreaming of one day walking on the moon. Her hands-on dad makes sure she has the shoes to make strides in the world, and the inspiration she gets from him powers her through life – a rousing, sweet tale that leaves you rooting for women in science and championing the kind of visual filmmaking that makes this a deft, heartfelt counterpart to Damien Chazelle’s recent First Man.
A therapy session, but with animals. That’s the crux of this offering from David Fine and Alison Snowden, which pits a bunch of animals together in one room to talk through their issues – there’s a dependency-driven leech and a gorilla who can’t resist going ape at the idiots around him, and a preying mantis who wonders whether she’s right to eat her young. Overseen by a calm pit bull, it’s a likeable role call for every stereotypical condition you could name, one that has a few chuckles but doesn’t manage to grow into anything particularly memorable.
There’s a moment halfway through Bao that will leave you gasping in shock, and that reaction epitomises just how well this doughy delight sinks its hooks into you. A delicately drawn portrait of motherhood and intimacy, it begins with a woman crafting a homemade dumpling and twists and turns into something wonderfully unexpected and moving – a metaphor that’s quick to swallow but lingers on the tastebuds for hours. The only shame is that it’s a Pixar short, which means you won’t get it in the normal collection of short films and will have to buy The Incredibles 2 to watch it via the special features instead.
A slow, gentle performance of Satie’s Gymnopédies plays over this personal offering from Trevor Jimenez, which finds peace and tranquility in between the chaotic moving from one divorced parent to another every week. It’s simple, but achingly so, and packs in a wealth of emotion that quietly sneaks up on you over its delicately observed 15 minutes.
“It really messed me up,” admits Cornelius Walker, who lived five minutes away from Damilola Taylor when he was killed in 200, aged 11. Cornelius’ mother, scared for her son of the same age, moved the family away, but placed Cornelius in the middle of an estate run by racists, which led to further pain and trauma, as he tried to fit in. Walker is honest and grippingly frank as he talks about identity, hatred and anger erupting from beneath the surface. Filmed speaking straight to camera by director Ed Perkins, it’s almost entirely a one-man, single-take monologue, and the result is both moving and compelling, as well as a demonstration of the power in direct, straight communication.
Lifeboat (Skye Fitzgerald)
With the refugee crisis still an urgent, brushed aside matter, there can’t be too many films made that remind us the many human lives at risk as migrants take to the seas to reach safety. Sky Fitzgerald’s account is a German non-profit organisation that rides the Mediterranean waves to rescue Libyan refugees from hastily constructed rafts brings a close-up humanity and identity to each person we encounter, while finding cinematic flair in its fiery sense of purpose.
A Night at the Garden (Marshall Curry)
This short film is only seven minutes long, but director Marshall Curry captures something in those 420 seconds that should be remembered for centuries to come. The movie is a compilation of footage from an event in Madison Square Garden in 1939, when a packed house cheered on Hitler and the Nazi party ahead of World War II, from kids whooping in the crowd and violence on display for those who protest against it. There’s no context, no relief from the spectacle of very recent history, just a chilling reminder that it happened not very long ago. Powerful, essential viewing.
End Game (Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman)
A companion piece to Netflix’s previously acquired medical documentary In Extremis, End Game is a moving, tasteful portrait of a palliative care centre, where people in their final weeks of live are cared for and looked after with the maximum comfort and happiness possible. Encouraged by the facility’s boss not only not to be afraid of death but to have a relationship with it, it’s a powerful study of mortality and illness, one that urges us all to consider both our own twilight stages of life and how we care for the loved ones around us.
Rayka Zehtabchi directs this feel-good tale of a group of women and girls in rural India who work together to operate a machine that will make sanitary pads. Menstruation, even in 2019, remains a weirdly taboo topic, and this short serves a wonderful dual function: firstly, it brushes that taboo right away by showing us the education of young people (particularly schoolboys) in what periods are, and secondly, it champions a cause – The Pad Project – that is trying to supply pad machines to people in poverty around the world, ending the stigma surrounding it while also stopping girls having to leave school after they start to menstruate. Netflix snapping up the film is a fantastic way for that message to transmit further afield, and regardless of whether this inspirational tribute to pioneering women charms Oscar voters, it’s a global spotlight that’s well earned.
The best live action short of the bunch, and possibly one of the most surprising films you’ll see this year, Skin is stone-cold thriller that deserves to be seen. Directed by Guy Nattiv, it immerses us with a bunch of racist Americans who don’t miss a chance to gang up against and assault an innocent black man in a supermarket car park. Framed through the lens of the pack leader’s son, we see these toxic values passed down insidiously through generations, priming his kid to pull the trigger on any intruder who isn’t white. The consequences that follow are skin-crawlingly well calculated – and entirely deserved – with a payoff that makes you wonder why nobody has thought to make a feature film with the same jaw-dropping premise.
The most controversial of this year’s nominees, Vincent Lambe’s short film recreates the events surrounding the death of James Bulger. He was just two years old when he was abducted by Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, both 10 years of age, and killed in 1993. Lambe, seeking to understand them, uses the police tapes played in court during the subsequent trial to re-enact their interviews. The result challenges us to sympathise with the two killers, who were convicted and have since been released with new identities, and it’s a difficult, uncomfortable thing to be asked to do. The degree to which the 30-minute film is exploitative is deserving of debate, but there’s no denying the remarkable performances from Leon Hughes and Ely Solan as the children being questioned, as they’re asked to explain why they murdered an innocent toddler.
Jeremy Comte establishes a strong sense of atmosphere in short space of time with this intriguing, immersive story of two boys playing a dangerous game – a game of one-upmanship that begins innocently but soon ramps up the stakes, as the weight of what they’ve set in motion slowly sinks in. A gripping, intelligently shot thriller that makes sure its two leads stay grounded throughout.
Given the tone of this year’s Oscar-nominated live action shorts, you could be forgiven for expecting something depressing and bleak from a story about an elderly woman and her carer. But there’s a wonderful tenderness that emerges from this unassuming tale, which gives us a glimpse of the woman’s past lives and missed loves, and finds strength in the simple act of someone reaching out across boundaries and taboos to make a connection before it’s too late.
What if you child was in danger and you could do nothing about it? That’s the agonising, gut-churning question behind Mother, Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s short, sharp triller. It introduces us to a mother just as she received a pone call from her six-year-old son who’s apparently gone missing in France. The ending may not entirely satisfy, but the tension that racks up beforehand is borderline unbearable, and serves as a calling card for both him and leading lady Marta Nieto, who channels every emotion possible into a mostly one-sided conversation. It comes as no surprise that the pair are already in production on a feature of the same name.
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