Ranked: 2019 Oscar Nominated Live Action Shorts

Feb 20, 2019
Bookmark and Share


The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences are made up of thousands of individual voting members, but because categories tend to follow a specific theme -- especially the short films categories -- it’s often treated as a collective. As such, a fun exercise when reviewing the nominees is to try to extract a methodology. Do they represent some sort of zeitgeist in the mind of the voters, the filmmakers themselves, or do the films reflect something happening in the world? In 2017, for example, three of the five Short Documentary nominees centered around the Syrian refugee crisis. That made sense!

For this year’s Live Action Shorts -- perhaps it has something to do with school shootings or the general cynicism in the air -- the theme that’s a bit of a head-scratcher: child endangerment.

By Shawn Hazelett

1

Directed by Rodrigo Sorogoyen and María del Puy Alvarado

Madre

A Spanish mother receives a call from her ex-husband's phone. It's her seven-year-old son. He's on a beach in France. It sounds nice, until we learn that he's alone. That his father has been gone for hours. That it’s getting dark. That the phone's battery is dying. That a strange man has appeared suddenly, asking him to walk over. A phone call about a car accident or a crime can potentially upend a life, but Madre creates a scenario that gradually descends into a nightmare in real time. The stakes are rooted in an authenticity generated by stylistic choices -- a single setting in a modest apartment and with almost entirely continuous action -- as well as precise writing and measured acting.

2

Directed by Guy Nattiv and Jaime Ray Newman

Skin

A ten-year-old raised amongst southern Neo-Nazis projects a relatively normal childhood. He’s a smart kid with a knack for ecology. He’s a bit of a daredevil. Perhaps the only sign of his irregular upbringing is that he’s dead-eye accurate with a rifle. He doesn’t know or doesn’t care about differences in skin color, evidenced by a friendly encounter with a black man at a supermarket. That this encounter -- witnessed by the father -- ends poorly for the stranger is inevitable, but the twists and turns that follow are near impossible to predict, as the narrative ventures into areas that feel a tad absurd until you’re smacked in the face with reality.

3

Directed by Jérémy Comte and Maria Gracia Turgeon

Fauve

A pair of adventurous teenage boys spend an afternoon playing tricks on one another, tallying a score as to who is the most gullible. The boys venture into a quarry which has wet concrete and suddenly one of the boys is stuck. The other, naturally, isn’t going to take the bait, until his friend is neck deep and can’t move his arms. He runs for help, though it might be too late. Fauve presents an authentic-feeling teenage friendship and has cast two actors that play off each other well, but as a realistic “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”, it’s a bit of a flawed morality tale, with the boy who gets stuck less a victim of mortgaged trust than by an incredibly unlucky circumstance.

4

Directed by Vincent Lambe and Darren Mahon

Detainment

On one hand, I never knew the story of Jamie Bulger, the two-year-old boy from Liverpool who was murdered by a pair of ten-year-olds in 1993, making them youngest convicted murderers in British history. Based on a series of actual confession tapes, the film doesn’t recreate much of the actual crime inasmuch as its aftermath and society’s nagging curiosity as to what could possess ten-year-old boys to commit such a heinous act. In all, the storytelling is tense, believable, and lean. On the other hand, why the need for this film? Is a lack of closure from 1993 really worth resurrecting a story that would undoubtedly upset the Bulger family? Perhaps retelling this story would be worthwhile if the filmmakers had anything new to add, but the narrative is resigned to the idea that some people are physically capable of evil without grasping the concept, which doesn’t feel like enough of a reason. With true crime currently in vogue, the challenge is finding stories that exemplify broader issues -- like flaws in the justice system or racial profiling -- not stories that leave you with a sick feeling in your gut and make you suspicious of strangers. No, I don’t think it’s anyone’s place to tell a filmmaker what stories they can and cannot tell, but even if such a story is well told, it can be hard to see the value in telling it in the first place.

5

Directed by Marianne Farley and Marie-Hélène Panisset

Marguerite

An elderly widower looks back longingly to her youth, to her caretaker, a beautiful young lesbian, and wonders: what would it have been like? Marguerite is about half as sweet as it is predictable, but, given the prevailing theme of the category, half a dose of sweet is good enough.

Comments

Submit your comment

Name Required

Email Required, will not be published

URL

Remember my personal information
Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below:

There are no comments for this entry yet.