Oscar Marathon 2018: Thoughts on all 15 short films

Last Updated by Chip Chandler on
Pixar short "Lou" is among the Oscar-nominated short films.
Courtesy Pixar / ShortsTV

By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer

I wrap up my look at all 59 Oscar-nominated films with some thoughts on the 15 short films up for awards.

Previously

These are the films that even Oscar die-hards often have trouble tracking down. The 10 live-action and animated shorts will screen Friday through Sunday in marathon blocks at Cinemark Hollywood 16, and the five documentary shorts are available for purchase or streaming in various online locations (see below).

 

Animated shorts

"Dear Basketball," based on a poem by Kobe Bryant, is among the short films nominated for an Oscar.
Courtesy ShortsTV

Dear Basketball: So, on the one hand, this brief little film is gorgeously animated by Disney vet Glen Keane (The Little Mermaid and other Disney classics) and scored nicely by John Williams. On the other hand, it’s almost content-free, based solely on a self-lionizing poem by Kobe Bryant on the occasion of his retirement from basketball and the L.A. Lakers (whose hometown fans surely make a large portion of Oscar voters). Excuse me, that’s accused rapist Kobe Bryant. So there’s that. Time’s up, indeed. (Nominated for best animated short film. Seen via press screener; screening Friday through Sunday as part of Oscar shorts marathon at Cinemark Hollywood 16 and available here for free)

 

"Garden Party" is a film by French students that is nominated for an Oscar for best animated short film.
Courtesy ShortsTV

Garden Party: A French student film, this short boasts hyper-realistic, computer-animated frogs, toads and other amphibians who mysteriously have the run of an abandoned mansion that's stocked with food and technology. Eventually, we learn what's really going on, but I don't want to give anything away. Suffice it to say it's a wicked little twist that thoroughly delighted me. (Nominated for best animated short film. Seen via press screener; screening Friday through Sunday as part of Oscar shorts marathon at Cinemark Hollywood 16 and available soon through ShortsTV on many VOD / download sites)

 

"Lou" was seen before "Cars 3" and is now an Oscar-nominated short film.
Courtesy Pixar / ShortsTV

Lou: A playground bully is given his comeuppance, but in an empathetic way, in this kind of slight but definitely sweet Pixar short. A creatively animated spirit lingers on a school playground, building a body with the contents of a lost and found box. He spies a sad boy and decides to teach the bully a valuable lesson. It's surely the most broadly seen of these nominees thanks to its theatrical release alongside Cars 3 last summer. (Nominated for best animated short film. Seen with Cars 3 and via press screener; screening Friday through Sunday as part of Oscar shorts marathon at Cinemark Hollywood 16 and now available for purchase on many VOD / download sites)

 

"Negative Space" is up for an Oscar for best animated short film.
Courtesy ShortsTV

Negative Space: This stop-motion animated short really lingers, though it's hauntingly simple. A man explains his detailed, verging-on-compulsive way of packing a suitcase perfectly, something he learned from his father, who traveled often when the narrator was a child. And so, from the unlikely starting point, we get a lesson in parental love, in the way parents pass on knowledge, and in grief. More than any other film in this category, it shows the strength of the short-film medium in wrapping a wallop in a tiny package. Fitting, that. (Nominated for best animated short film. Seen via press screener; screening Friday through Sunday as part of Oscar shorts marathon at Cinemark Hollywood 16 and available soon through ShortsTV on many VOD / download sites)

 

The Big Bad Wolf comes calling in "Revolting Rhymes," an Oscar-nominated short film.
Courtesy ShortsTV

Revolting Rhymes: This fractured look at Red Riding Hood and Snow White is based on a Roald Dahl book and originally shown as a two-part BBC special — though only the first part is nominated and will screen during this weekend's Oscar shorts marathon. And, not surprisingly, the audience is likely to be left wanting more when the story abruptly stops. Thankfully, it does have Dahl's dastardly wit, generally, and a talented voice cast. But the animation looks pretty cheap, especially compared to the other films nominated, and it's just not as satisfying as it could be. (Nominated for best animated short film. Seen via press screener; screening Friday through Sunday as part of Oscar shorts marathon at Cinemark Hollywood 16 and now available on Netflix)

 

Live-action shorts

"DeKalb Elementary" is an Oscar-nominated short inspired by a true story.
Courtesy ShortsTV

DeKalb Elementary: Though it’s both tense and unnervingly timely, the overwhelming feeling left after watching this short is an appreciation for the power of empathy. Based on a true story that attracted national attention, a gunman (Bo Mitchell) walks into an elementary school and says everyone will die. Really, Steven himself wants to die at the hands of the cops, and Cassandra (Tarra Riggs), the perceptive woman filling in at the receptionist’s desk, can sense the difference between his words and his actions. It’s intense but, in the end, hopeful. (Nominated for best live-action short film. Seen via press screener; screening Friday through Sunday as part of Oscar shorts marathon at Cinemark Hollywood 16 and available soon through ShortsTV on many VOD / download sites)

 

The twisty, comedic "The Eleven O'Clock" is vying for the Oscar for best live-action short.
Courtesy ShortsTV

The Eleven O’Clock: A man walks into a psychiatrist's office, and in this case, it's not the start of a hoary joke. It's a delightfully clever one instead, because the man (Damon Herriman) insists that he is the psychiatrist and the fellow sitting behind the desk (writer Josh Lawson) is the patient — and vice versa. The tension escalates nicely from there, with clever wordplay and a smart decision not to give the truth away prematurely. This Australian film is the one I'm most looking forward to watching again. (Nominated for best live-action short film. Seen via press screener; screening Friday through Sunday as part of Oscar shorts marathon at Cinemark Hollywood 16 and available soon through ShortsTV on many VOD / download sites)

 

"My Nephew Emmett" takes a new angle on the lynching of Emmett Till.
Courtesy ShortsTV

My Nephew Emmett: The titular Emmett is Emmett Till, a young black man who was lynched in 1955 in Mississippi, whom we meet through the eyes of his uncle, Mose (L.B. Williams). Beautifully shot and told in a deliberate manner by director Kevin Wilson Jr. (for his pre-thesis project in film school), Emmett is a disquieting treatise on what life is like in a racist society when you're constantly waiting for the worst. (Nominated for best live-action short film. Seen via press screener; screening Friday through Sunday as part of Oscar shorts marathon at Cinemark Hollywood 16 and available soon through ShortsTV on many VOD / download sites)

 

A deaf girl finds new hope in "The Silent Child," an Oscar-nominated live-action short film.
Courtesy ShortsTV

The Silent Child: A young British social worker (played by writer Rachel Shenton) is assigned to look in on Libby (Maisie Sly), a deaf girl who's about to start public school after growing up in a hearing family that has absolutely no conception of Libby's needs or capabilities. Shenton's script is well written, but it's a little too weighted toward one side of the story — an understandable and even commendable choice, though not the best decision in crafting a drama. (Nominated for best live-action short film. Seen via press screener; screening Friday through Sunday as part of Oscar shorts marathon at Cinemark Hollywood 16 and available soon through ShortsTV on many VOD / download sites)

 

A harrowing real-life incident inspired Oscar-nominated live-action short film "Watu Wote / All of Us."
Courtesy ShortsTV

Watu Wote / All of Us: When Jua (Adelyne Wairimu), a young Christian woman in Kenya, first climbs aboard a bus, she is reluctant to sit with a Muslim woman and her child. But when the bus is stopped by gun-toting al-Shabaab terrorists, all of the passengers work together to protect each other as best they can. Based on a true story, this film is quite timely and offers a valuable admonition about empathy and tolerance, though never in a heavy-handed way. (Nominated for best live-action short film. Seen via press screener; screening Friday through Sunday as part of Oscar shorts marathon at Cinemark Hollywood 16 and available soon through ShortsTV on many VOD / download sites)

 

Documentary shorts

"Edith+Eddie," which features elderly newlyweds Edith Hill and Eddie Harrison, is among the Oscar nominees for best documentary short.
Courtesy Laura Checkoway / ShortsTV

Edith+Eddie: There's no doubt that the story of Edith Hill and Eddie Harrison is inherently fascinating: Married at ages 95 and 96, they were the country's oldest interracial newlyweds. Add in the heartbreak of their separation, when a court-appointed guardian sides with Edith's estranged daughter, and you've got a killer hook. But director Laura Checkoway doesn't go far enough to make it a true advocacy piece (more information about the scope of elder abuse in the country might have helped) nor does she choose to present a more balanced look (the estranged daughter and the guardian are not interviewed). The result is too middle of the road. (Nominated for best short documentary. Seen via press screener; available here for free and for purchase soon through ShortsTV on many VOD / download sites)

 

Artist Mindy Alper is profiled in the Oscar-nominated documentary short "Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405."
Courtesy ShortsTV / Frank Stiefel

Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405: Artist Mindy Alper's dynamic drawings and paper mache sculptures alone would make her a worthy subject for exploring in a film, but her traumatic life story makes this film even more moving and fascinating. Alper matter-of-factly discusses her lifelong battle with depression and mental illness, soberly discusses the 10-year period in which she was incapable of speech, and more emotionally looks back on her troubled childhood.Art is often born from pain, and Alper turns her lifetime of it into something beautiful. (Nominated for best short documentary. Seen via press screener; available here for free and for purchase soon through ShortsTV on many VOD / download sites)

 

Fire Chief Jan Rader is among the women in the spotlight in Oscar-nominated documentary short "Heroin(e)."
Courtesy ShortsTV / Netflix

Heroin(e): Almost any of these nominated films could have been stretched to a full-length film, but Heroin(e) especially could have thrived with more material. That's a sign that Elaine McMillion Sheldon is a masterful storyteller, because while the film absolutely feels complete at 39 minutes, I still wanted to spend more time with the women Sheldon profiles: Fire Chief Jan Rader, Judge Patricia Keller and volunteer Necia Freeman. They're on the frontline of the opiod epidemic, saving lives in Huntington, W.V. Sheldon doesn't impose herself on the narrative, but the message is clear: These empathetic women are the way forward in the so-called "war on drugs." (Nominated for best short documentary. Seen via press screener; available on Netflix)

 

"Knife Skills," an Oscar-nominated documentary short, focuses on a program that trains former prisoners like Alan to work in a French restaurant.
Courtesy ShortsTV / Thomas Lennon

Knife Skills: Similarly, I was left wanting more from Knife Skills, too, but not in a good way: Filmmaker Thomas Lennon's short left too many unanswered questions, but his subject matter is fascinating. We follow the opening of Edwins, a new French restaurant in Cleveland, and learn that virtually all of the staff members have recently been released from prison. The kitchen serves almost as a halfway house, and they have six weeks to master cooking skills, front-of-house duties and wine selection before the restaurant opens. But the film's hurried structure doesn't adequately explain the situation in full, nor does the narrative focus really pay off. (Nominated for best short documentary. Seen via press screener; available for free here and available for purchase on iTunes)

 

"Traffic Stop" examines the violent arrest of Austin math teacher Breaion King after a minor traffic violation.
Courtesy ShortsTV / HBO

Traffic Stop: Extraordinarily urgent and unsettling, this film by documentarian Kate Davis (Southern Comfort) explores the violent arrest of Austin math teacher Breaion King following a routine traffic stop. The film opens with a since-fired police officer brutally yanking King out of her car and throwing her to the ground, and Davis returns to dash-cam video frequently to further show the nonsensical treatment received by King, an African-American woman. Between those hard-to-watch bursts of a sad reality, we see King living a fulfilling life as a teacher and dancer — and we breathe a sigh of relief knowing that King's story didn't end like so many of her brothers and sisters. (Nominated for best short documentary. Seen via press screener; streaming on HBO apps)

 

 

Chip Chandler is a digital content producer for Panhandle PBS. He can be contacted at Chip.Chandler@actx.edu, at @chipchandler1 on Twitter and on Facebook.

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