There are at least a dozen reasons why some people hate the Oscars, like the pomposity of the Motion Picture Academy, as well as its bloated ceremony and the disproportionate weight given to which films take home the trophies. But I've always looked at Hollywood's biggest night through the original lens of why it was first conceived 90 years ago: to promote a struggling industry that has survived the advent of theme parks, television and, most recently and most damning, streaming video platforms. I think the Academy is at its best when it shares its spotlight with under-the-radar films, particularly documentaries, foreign-language films and short subjects. At least for me, it's those animated and live-action short subjects that are, reel-for-reel, the most entertaining films every year, and I'm thrilled to report the 2018 Oscar-nominated entries are the best yet.
For the past dozen years, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, ShortsTV and Magnolia Pictures have sent the Oscar-nominated short subjects to first-run cinemas. For the past several years, I have been granted me an advance look at the nominated shorts (thank you, ShortsTV and the Academy), so I can give Boise Weekly readers a sneak peek. The nominations are culled from a field of 63 qualified films, and they represent some of the most compelling creative efforts in recent memory.
Among the five nominees of Animated Short Films, the top of the heap is Dear Basketball, based on a love letter by NBA legend Kobe Bryant to the game that brought him fame, fortune and a fundamental understanding of greatness. Bryant narrates the 5-minute film, beautifully animated by Glen Keane, a Disney veteran who created countless beloved characters such as The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast. Adding to the intensity of Dear Basketball is its lush score, written and conducted by five-time Oscar winner John Williams.
If it weren't for the sheer brilliance of Dear Basketball, LOU might be a shoo-in for the Oscar. LOU is the creation of Pixar animator Dave Mullins, who worked on Finding Nemo, Monsters, Inc. and The Incredibles. LOU is an adorable monster-like character who emerges from a lost and found box outside of an elementary school. (His name is made up of the three letters missing from the lost and found sign: L, O and U). The kids at the school are being terrorized by a bully who has been stealing toys, so it's up to LOU to scare the bully straight and then turn him into a warm-hearted hero. Think of LOU as "Three Billboards Outside Cartoonland."
Another nominee is Revolting Rhymes, from German animators Jakob Schuh and Jan Lachauer. This gem opens with a wolf, wearing a trench coat and fedora, walking into a coffee shop and approaching a young woman who is holding a book of nursery rhymes. The wolf (voiced by Dominic West) dismisses the fairy tales as rubbish and tells the young woman "real" tales, including stories about three little pigs, a little girl who wears a red hooded cape and a young lady whose skin is white as snow. Revolting Rhymes, based on Roald Dahl's playful twists on classic fairy tales, is wickedly funny and offers a look at what happens after happily ever after.
Most of this year's Live Action Shorts are much more serious, but there is one lovely bit of fun in The Eleven O'Clock from Australian director Derin Seale. It weaves the story of a psychiatrist and his delusional patient, who believes he is actually the psychiatrist. Each man insists he's the real doctor and things get really out of hand when a temp shows up to take over for the psychiatrist's regular receptionist.
The best of the live action shorts, and my pick to take home the Oscar this year, is My Nephew Emmett, written and directed by Kevin Wilson Jr., who is a student in the graduate film program at New York University. My Nephew Emmett, an extremely jarring drama, is based on the 1955 murder of a young black Mississippi man lynched for whistling at a white woman.
Finally, the best performance in any of the nominated short subject films is delivered by 5-year-old Maisie Sly in The Silent Child. Sly portrays Libby, who is born into a middle-class family living in denial of her deafness. When a caring social worker gives Libby the gift of communication by teaching her sign language, Libby's family rebukes the social worker's effort and insists that Libby learn to read lips instead. You'll never forget this film.