What if I could offer you a gold-clad promise that, a full two and a half weeks before the Oscar ceremony, you could see a guaranteed 2019 Academy Award winner? Indeed, that opportunity affords itself in the form of the 2019 Oscar-Nominated Short Films showcase, which bundles together all of the nominees with separate screenings of the Animated and Live Action contenders. This Oscar season's showcase comes to The Flicks beginning Friday, Feb. 8.
I'm particularly thrilled to report that the animated nominees offer, pound-for-pound, the most entertainment you'll enjoy at the cinema this year. The live-action nominees? Well, that's a bit more complicated; I'll address why in a moment. First, let's consider the animated shorts.
Animal Behavior, from previous Oscar winners David Fine and Alison Snowden, is a hilarious visit to a group therapy session where five animals meet regularly to discuss their inner angst. There's Cheryl, the praying mantis who struggles to keep a man (of course there's the small matter of her killing them during sex); Lorraine, a leech who suffers from separation anxiety and Todd, a pig with an eating disorder. It's brilliant, and Comedy Central should immediately consider it for a series.
Bao comes from first-time director Bomme Shi, who began as an intern at Pixar Animation. Here, we meet an aging Chinese mom suffering from empty nest syndrome. She gets another chance at motherhood when one of her dumplings springs to life, becoming a giggly dumpling boy.
Late Afternoon, from Irish director/filmmaker Louise Bagnall, is the breezy but dramatic story of an elderly woman whose consciousness slips in and out of the present as she relives her childhood, her first kiss and motherhood. One by one, her memories are swept away like sandcastles on a seashore.
One Small Step, a co-production from the USA and China, is the work of directors Andrew Chesworth and Bobby Pontillas. It's the inspiring tale of a vibrant, young, Chinese-American girl who dreams of becoming an astronaut as her loving father supports her with a humble shoe repair business.
Weekends is the first professional film from Canadian-born director Trevor Jimenez. It shares the very personal remembrance of a young boy shuffling between the homes of his recently divorced parents. Surreal, dream-like moments mix with the domestic realities of a fractured family in this hand-animated film, set in Toronto.
Now for the live-action group, which includes the most controversial film nominated for an Oscar this year: Detainment, from Irish director Vincent Lambe. This jaw-dropper dramatizes the real-life murder of a toddler in the U.K. in 1993. The murderers, a pair of 10-year-old boys, were the youngest convicted killers of the 20th century. To say this film is disturbing is a massive understatement. The U.K.'s Daily Mirror has called its Oscar nomination "an insult," adding, "Hang your head in shame, Hollywood... this is off limits." In fact, an online petition calling for Detainment to be removed from the nomination list has attracted hundreds of thousands of signatures. Be forewarned. To complicate things further, it turns out that four of the five films nominated for Best Live Action Short Subject involve children and are extremely difficult to watch.
Fauve, from Canadian director Jeremy Comte, features two skin-and-bone boys who are playing in an abandoned open pit mine in rural Quebec when something goes terribly wrong.
Madre, from Spanish director Rodrigo Sorogoyen, begins with a single mother receiving a phone call from her 7-year-old son, who is on vacation with his father in the French Basque Country. But the call evolves into a nightmare when the child tells her that he is alone.
I first saw Skin, from Israeli-American director Guy Nattiv, at last September's Toronto International Film Festival and I still can't get it out of my head (I wish I could). When a black man smiles at a 10-year-old white boy across the checkout aisle in a grocery store, an ugly, violent race war erupts in a rural town.
The one film among the five live-action nominees that has some saving grace is the beautiful Marguerite from Canadian director Marianne Farley. Marguerite is a woman near the end of her life who unearths an unacknowledged love with another woman when she learns that her young caregiver is a lesbian. It's a gorgeous film.
All in, this year's short subject Oscar nominees are a powerhouse. They're all worthy of your consideration. As for me, I'm planning on revisiting the animated bundle. They are among the best films I've seen this award season.