The 2018 Oscar-Nominated Shorts
David Fine, Alison Snowden (Animal Behavior); Domee Shi (Bao); Louise Bagnall (Late Afternoon); Andrew Chesworth, Bobby Pontillas (One Small Step); Trevor Jimenez (Weekends); Vincent Lambe (Detainment); Jeremy Comte (Fauve); Marianne Farley (Marguerite); Rodrigo Sorogoyen (Mother); Guy Nattiv (Skin)
Alison Snowden, David Fine (Animal Behavior); Domee Shi (Bao); Louise Bagnall (Late Afternoon); Andrew Chesworth, Bobby Pontillas, Shaofu Zhang (One Small Step); Trevor Jimenez (Weekends); Vincent Lambe (Detainment); Jeremy Comte (Fauve); Marianne Farley (Marguerite); Rodrigo Sorogoyen (Mother); Sharon Maymon, Guy Nattiv (Skin)
14 min. (Animal Behavior); 8 min (Bao); 10 min. (Late Afternoon); 8 min. (One Small Step); 16 min. (Weekends); 30 min. (Detainment); 17 min. (Fauve); 19 min. (Marguerite); 19 min. (Mother); 20 min. (Skin)
Ryan Beil, Taz Van Rassel, Leah Juel, Andrea Libman, Toby Berner, James Kirk, Alison Snowden (Animal Behavior); Louise Bagnall, Fionnula Flanagan, Aislin Konings Ferrari, Michael McGrath, Niamh Moyles, Caoimhe Ni Bhradaigh, Lucy O’COnnell (Late Afternoon); Ely Solan, Leon Hughes, Will O’Connell, David Ryan, Tara Breathnach, Morgan C. Jones, Brian Fortune, Kathy Monahan, Killian Sheridan, Martin Phillips, Caleb Mason, Barbara Adair, Julie Lockey, Helen Roche, Tom Pigot (Detainment); Felix Grenier, Alexandre Perreault, Louise Bombardier (Fauve); Beatrice Picard, Sandrine Bisson (Marguerite); Marta Nieto, Blanca Apilanez, Alvaro Balas, Miriam Correa (Mother); JOhnse Allende Jr., Zeus Campbell, Lonnie Chavis, Jared Day, Sam Dillon, Shelley Francisco, Maliq Johnson, Ronnie Tyrone Lee, Danielle Macdonald, David Maloney, Jahdai Pickett, Katie Ryan, Jackson Robert Scott, Ashley Thomas, Jonathan Tucker (Skin)
Taken on the whole, this year’s short film nominees were a rather depressing affair. Apart form Animal Behavior, there was no humor to be found among the ten fiction short films. That doesn’t necessarily mean they were not good, they were just a little bit challenging to sit through at times.
Animated Short Films
The only pure comedy among this year’s animated short films, Animal Behavior has a lot of fantastically humorous moments. The concept is that of a canine psychiatrist hosting a weekly group session with a handful of neurotic animal patients. They range from an ape with anger management issues to an overeating pig to a hyperventilating slug.
As each character conveys their neuroses to each other, trying to find comfort and aid from their fellow patients, the ape’s anger continues to rise feeling he doesn’t need these sessions, that everyone is fretting over nothing, and that the doctor doesn’t actually care about finding the truth. While there are brief bits of drama throughout, including near-death events, the film flows almost effortlessly through its predictable comedy routine.
The animation style isn’t the best of the bunch and the humor, while funny, feels a bit dated as well. While it’s the best effort to personify animals since the brilliant Nick Part animated short Creature Comforts, it doesn’t quite feel as engaging as it probably should.
Airing ahead of Pixar’s superhero sequel Incredibles 2, Bao is something akin to Pinocchio wherein a lonely mother finds a replacement for her son who’s gone to college in a small dumpling that comes to life. She treats him like a child, but as the film progresses, the dumpling begins acting more like her now-grown son: dating, playing sports, and going off to college.
As an exploration of empty nest syndrome, Bao is a compelling look at the difficulty that arises when a child is about to leave home for the first time and that parents sometimes resort to selfish acts to try and keep the child with them for just a little bit longer. Filmed entirely without dialogue, the universality of the film comes through and the tears it generates will be genuine, even if you’ve never had a child of your own.
One of the most difficult challenges to dealing with an aging parent is when that parent begins developing Alzheimer’s Disease, robbing them of the knowledge and wherewithal to function by themselves.
Expressed in elegant line drawings of progressively intensifying beauty, Late Afternoon is a gorgeous symbolic exploration of Alzheimer’s and its effects, the diminished capacity to conjure memories of the past, and the general care and concern with which these individuals must be handled.
While there have been countless tales about the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s, Late Afternoon is one of the most beautifully crafted, genuinely heartfelt, and glorious expressions of the condition. While it wouldn’t be described as haunting, the effects are comparable with just how easily impactful the film is on one’s afterthoughts.
One Small Step
Another dialogue free animated short film that runs the audience’s emotions through the grinder, One Small Step is as hopeful as it is poignant.
A young girl, who has always dreamed of becoming an astronaut and going to the moon, is given every ounce of support by her doting father. While the young woman suffers setback after setback in her studies, she almost gives it all up when her father dies unexpectedly. Torn with the emotional loss of her biggest supporter, the girl redoubles her efforts in order to make her late father proud and achieve that impossible dream, the one he always knew she could accomplish.
One Small Step has a simple, yet beautiful animated design, a two-dimensional exploration of parental love and loss, of finding failure then learning success. It’s a film that speaks as much to the power of emotional parental support as it does to the idea that goals can be achieved even when the greatest odds are stacked against you. Those two potent messages make this particular short incredibly engaging.
The sharp, angular and dingy animation style employed in Weekends speaks as much to the film’s subject matter as the narrative itself.
Set against the backdrop of an acrimonious divorce, a young boy spends weekends with his father where he’s treated to fun, expensive gifts, and other attempts to win his love. At home, his mother is less interested in winning a “best parent” contest and instead has moved on to a new man, causing the boy concern that he’ll be forgotten. When his father succumbs to the same motivation, he feels even more isolated and alone as his father stops showering affection and attention on him, focused instead on his new paramour.
As significant and compelling as the narrative is and its down-and-dirty exploration of a child torn between two parents who don’t understand how to handle the situation or him, Weekends feels like it’s trying far too hard to be expressive and neglects to give the audience something more hopeful to cling onto. While film should never shy away from the difficult discussions, and this one is rather challenging, the dark and cluttered animation style distances the audience from the most compelling elements of the narrative.
Live Action Short Films
A dramatization of events surrounding the murder of James Bulger, a three-year-old boy murdered by two ten-year-old boys, is a riveting depiction, focusing on the police interrogations of the two boys rather than the gruesome death of Bulger.
Centered on the performances of two young actors, Ely Solan as the emotional Jon Venables and Leon Hughes as the emotionless Robert Thompson, Detainment is a gut-wrenching film. You see the events as they happen while the two boys do their best to convince the police that they had nothing to do with it. However, as their stories begin to crumble and the parents begin to understand the heinousness of their crimes, the boys shift their priorities and expressions with Venables breaking down into intense sobbing insisting that Thompson was solely responsible while Thompson’s cool, calculated attitude oozes evil and points the other direction.
Solan and Hughes are terrific in their roles. While Solan comes off stronger upon initial viewing, thinking back on Hughes’ performance generates chills, suggesting both did amazing work with their unfettered performances. While the static nature of the film makes it a challenge to sit through, the raw power of the situation still manages to find its way through and the resolution of the film, although never completely assured, is nonetheless absorbing.
What begins as a portrait of youth as two teens explore themselves and their surroundings turns into a horrific tale of accidental death and painful recrimination.
Fauve works best when it’s focusing on Félix Grenier and Alexandre Perreault in their perpetual oneupsmanship, moving from one dangerous situation to another. When the pair wander into an open pit mine, their games become life-and-death struggles. As tense and horrifying as that scene is, the remainder of the film doesn’t feel as connected, dealing more with sorrow and shock than anything remotely playful.
Where the film ends feels natural, but the whole of the film feels rudderless, without purpose, ambling along until it can confront us with tragedy for seemingly little reason. Once that happens, the audience is left to come to grips with what it’s just seen and figure out why everything had to turn out as it did.
The most painful aspect to aging is confronting everything you didn’t do in the past either because of a lack of opportunity or society’s intractable mores. Marguerite is a beautiful and haunting, yet hopeful tale of how one elderly woman looks back with regret at all she could not do.
Through the life of her caregiver (Sandrine Bisson), Marguerite (Béatrice Picard) comes to realize the dissatisfaction and disillusionment that has caught her emotionally in the last act of her life. Looking back at the relationship she never got to have due to cultural attitudes towards homosexuality, Marguerite doesn’t know what else to do but quiz Rachel about her life and eventually confess to her the satisfaction she never felt.
Pensive and deliberate, Marguerite, in the span of 19 minutes, manages to convey more wistfulness than features ten times its length. The emotional resonance and connectivity the audience feels with Marguerite defines and enhances the film with palpable sensitivity, leaving us at a conclusion that’s both heartbreaking and hopeful.
This eighteen-minute Spanish language short film is a riveting tale woven entirely within the confines of a small apartment suite.
Marta (Marta Nieto) lives a quiet life as a divorced mother. Returning home from a day out with her own mother (Blanca Apilánez), she is greeted by a phone call from her terrified son (Álvaro Balas) who has been left alone on a remote beach by his father. As myriad complications run through her mind, the phone call continues getting more and more tense as the child spies an unexpected figure on the beach who wants to help the child, but who could be some kind of predator.
What makes Mother (Madre) so compelling is that it takes place entirely within Marta’s studio apartment. The frightened child’s voice is the only thing we can hear that relays his own worst fears, amplifying those of his mother. While she is clearly distraught and calls the police for assistance, her lack of knowledge of where her son is further ramps up her and our tension while she does her best to convey a calm, measured tone to her son, to keep him from panicking.
Every parent’s worst nightmare is conveyed in this terrifying film, a brilliant employment of mood, tension, and especially performance to tell the entire story. That the entire short film appears to have been shot in a single take only enhances the brilliance of it.
Hate is taught. Love is taught. The two are not mutually exclusive. Skin does its best to convey the hazards of teaching your child to hate when your own well being is at stake.
The story centers around Jeffrey (Jonathan Tucker) and his son Troy (Jackson Robert Scott) as the pair share in familiar father-son activities, including a fascination with shooting guns of various types. During each of these encounters, the audience begins to sense a growing dread as these seemingly normal people exhibit hateful and dangerous beliefs manifesting in an assault against a black father while both of their sons watch.
As the film spirals out of control, we learn that Jeffrey’s own prejudice and the hate he’s taught his son will ultimately lead him to committing an atrocious act from which there is no returning.
While Skin effectively conveys the inherent danger in educating your child with offensive prejudices and encouraging them to mistreat or harm those who are different than they, it tries too hard to manipulate the audience into sympathizing with this family. While Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman does a stellar job humanizing those who hate, this film wants us to hate everyone and when we’re supposed to feel empathy, we cannot help but feel disconnected. If the film was intending to get the audience to speak out against hate, it might work, but not as effectively as it should have.
March 22, 2019