Ranked: 2020 Oscar Nominated Live Action Short Films | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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Ranked: 2020 Oscar Nominated Live Action Short Films

Feb 09, 2020
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The 92nd Annual Academy Awards ceremony will happen tonight, February 9th. As in years past, 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. Here, he looks at this year's live action category.  

Want to judge for yourself? Click here to find a list of theaters and showtimes for this year's Oscar-nominated shorts.

1

A Sister

The biggest challenge in short narrative filmmaking is context, which is why many are light-hearted. Comedy simply doesn’t require the building blocks as drama. A Sister circumvents this by throwing viewers right into a tense situation: an emergency responder receives a call, which at first sounds like a wrong number, until the responder realizes the caller is speaking in code because she has actually been abducted. Tense, clever, and harrowing, this short is beautifully economical with what’s said and not said, shown and hidden, all complimented by terrific performances and tight, dark cinematography.

2

Nefta Football Club

Two poor, Tunisian boys happen upon a stash of hidden drugs. The older of the two sees financial opportunity, telling the younger that what they’ve found is laundry detergent while ignoring the fact that someone might be tracking the drugs. This short might sound like something you might see in a VICE documentary, and the performances, cinematography, and sparse editing provide authenticity and tension. But like many narrative shorts, the success here ultimately comes from the unexpected twists -- or in this case, twist -- in the writing, which is both surprising and deeply satisfying.

3

Brotherhood

Another film set in Tunisia, Brotherhood observes some very uncommon subject matter: an indoctrinated ISIS fighter returns to his family in rural Tunisia. The father’s disappointment and anger at his son for contributing to such a reprehensible cause is further complicated by the fact that his son returned with a young, 14-year-old wife. The writing here is exemplary: domestic squabbles are wonderfully scripted and observed, but the strength is more about what’s left unsaid. This provides room for many unexpected surprises, all of which speak to the film’s central theme of loyalty.

4

Saria

Dozens of young girls are in a tight room with rows of bunk beds. They speak Spanish, but we don’t know what country or even what sort of institution they inhabit. It feels like a prison, but several girls are pregnant. They attend class with teachers who slap them without beating an eyelash. Soon, there’s an uprising in which the girls protest rape, and, as a mass escape ensues, we learn it’s not a prison: it’s an orphanage. Based on a true story, Saria’s incredible story has production value and craft that would severely benefit from extra padding. Each year, one short feels too ambitious for short form storytelling -- this is this year’s.

5

The Neighbor's Window

A young, married couple with two young kids who have settled into a routine, find odd excitement after discovering a twentysomething couple across the street having crazy, unabashed sex in front of an open window. Observing this couple for months, the film takes on a Rear Window quality as the characters start ascribing narratives to these strangers. A solid germ of an idea, the film is more Joe Swanberg than Hitchcock, presenting early squabbles between the husband and wife that feel unearned, presented with zero imagination, and points to an obvious and trite resolution in which these well-off people realize they are exactly that.

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