Ranked: 2015 Oscar Nominated Documentary Short Films
Feb 21, 2015
The 87th Annual Academy Awards ceremony will happen on Sunday, February 22nd. This week we've taken a look at this year's short film competitions. The Academy defines a short film as an original motion picture running 40 minutes or less, and excludes all advertisments, unaired or unsold television episodes, or credit sequences from feature-length films. Our critic, Shawn Hazelett, watched and ranked all of this year's Oscar-nominated shorts. In this final installment, he'll look at this year's documentary category.
Dirs. Tomasz Śliwiński and Maciej Ślesicki
Two first-time parents battle the difficulties facing their newborn child, who was born with a life-threatening breathing disorder. The parents—who otherwise resemble any young, attractive couple--always appear exhausted, defeated by a situation that seems to have voided their romance. When they aren’t musing about their child’s bleak future, they feel sorry for themselves. The title of the film is very appropriate. Our Curse can be read as if the parents consider this their curse instead of their baby’s. On the other hand, there’s an implicit warmth in the phrasing, an understanding that while their child was indeed born with an abnormality, they will take it on together. Indeed, despite their morose feelings, we see them carry on and make small adjustments, reimagining possibilities for the child they have instead of the child they may have wanted.
Dirs. Ellen Goosenberg Kent and Dana Perry
Crisis Hotline makes no attempt to hide its agenda—raising awareness for a hotline for veterans struggling with PTSD—but too much skill is on display for it to be reduced to a mere PSA. Its presentation is elegant, laying out statistics, facts, and procedures before focusing on actual calls with veterans seeking help. The film is only privy the operator’s side of the conversation, so every line is incredibly stepped and chilling. Though the film is made for veterans, the heroes here are the operators. Their jobs are unforgiving, poorly compensated, and can’t be delegated. Some are veterans who can relate to the terrible things the callers experienced. All just want to help.
Dir. Aneta Kopacz
Joanna is a heartfelt film about a mother fighting a losing battle with cancer, who then starts a blog to convey values and life lessons to her young son. Accordingly, the film spends the majority of its time on their relationship. There’s nothing monumental on display—like any relationship, its strength is in the details—but the normality of a situation with such a bleak and inevitable outcome makes it all the more inspiring.
Dir. Gabriel Serra Arguello
Efrain explains that he started as a floor sweeper at the slaughterhouse, and that simple curiosity about its procedures led to a full time job killing animals. A steady job with longevity is rare for an unskilled laborer, but it’s one that obviously carries psychological repercussions. The Mexican documentary offers some chilling imagery, but there’s a sense that its subject might be too aware of the camera. His dialogue feels too poetic, which of course might speak to the existential nature of his job, but the film spends so little time on his life away from the slaughterhouse that he feels accomplice to the filmmaker’s agenda (though it’s unclear what that is).
Dir. J. Christian Jensen
In a small North Dakota town dominated by the oil industry, children of the workers are offered remarkably few paths. Some go to school. Others don’t even bother, accepting that their future careers are right in front of them. They convey their painfully modest dreams and disdain towards the oil industry in voiceover that sounds (poorly) scripted, adding to a general feeling of inauthenticity and kitsch that some might confuse for important.