On Oscar day, it’s not unusual for a movie critic to receive several (slightly frantic) text messages from friends seeking advice on the office awards pool: “What will win Best Live-Action Short? Best Short Doc? Best Animation Short? Help!”
Although your nearest critic pal is always glad to help, this year, you can see the nominated shorts for yourself. All the films in each of the three categories begin screening this week at quite a few L.A. area theaters — look hard, there’s one near you. Here’s a round-up of the nominees, with office pool tips, of course.
Best Live Action Short
Brotherhood: In this complex drama, a Tunisian father wonders if the son who’s returned from Syria with a pregnant Syrian wife fought for the Islamic State, and if so, what it means for the family.
Nefta Football Club: In this fable-like tale, two brothers come upon a donkey wandering the Tunisian desert carrying a pack full of white powder. The little brother is sure its laundry detergent. (It’s not.) The final shot is a delight, and for the directors, a triumph.
The Neighbor’s Window: A young couple with a growing family becomes obsessed with the sexy, seemingly carefree couple in the apartment across the street. The surprising final scene is beautifully acted by Juliana Canfield and Maria Dizzia, who’s currently starring in What the Constitution Means to Me at the Mark Taper Forum. Director Marshall Curry is a three-time Documentary Short nominee.
Saria: Based on 2017 fire that killed 41 girls at a horribly managed state-run Guatemalan orphanage, this muddled narrative drama centers on two sisters and their attempt to escape the home in the days before the tragedy. The filmmaking is exquisite but the storytelling lacks specificity.
A Sister: A Belgian 911 operator receives a call from a woman traveling in a car with a man who’s dangerous. A tight, well-told story that nonetheless feels slightly undercooked.
Our vote: Brotherhood
Office pool pick: The Neighbor’s Window
Best Documentary Short Subject
In The Absence: On April 16, 2014, a ferry began to sink off the coast of South Korea. The Coast Guard did nothing and eventually over 300 people died, including 250 high school students. In this superbly edited documentary, archival footage, including damning audio of indifferent government officials, track the makings of a tragedy.
Learning To Skateboard In A Warzone (If You’re A Girl): In Kabul, the school called “Skateistan” provides a safe place for the girls and boys of Afghanistan to read, write and learn how to skateboard. And hopefully, also learn to dream big(ger) dreams. The filmmakers focus on the girls, charmers all, and their hope-filled mothers. Slightly overlong, but truly inspiring.
Life Overtakes Me: This haunting doc looks at several refugee families in Sweden in which the children, traumatized by the events that caused the family to emigrate, have retreated into a coma-like silence. A deeply disturbing story. Available on Netflix.
St. Louis Superman: An aching look at the life of Bruce Franks Jr., the St. Louis battle rapper turned Black Lives Matter leader who was elected to the Missouri House of Representatives. Co-produced by MTV Films, this is a painfully intimate film about a man who’s constantly lifting others while struggling to bear the weight of history — his own, and that of his community.
Walk Run Cha-cha: Co-produced by The New York Times, this moving documentary is most interesting in the way that it uses voice-over to tell the story of Paul and Millie Cho, who spend their days ballroom dancing — to make up for the years they lost when separated by traumas of the Vietnam War.
Our vote: In the Absence
Office pool pick: Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone
Best Animated Short Film
Dcera (Daughter): This Czech stop-motion animated short about a daughter trying to come to terms with the pending death of the father she loves but has never truly known has deep emotional currents and visual style to match.
Hair Love: A father struggling to fill in for his wife must style his daughter’s Afro-textured hair for the first time, a challenge he faces with a delightful mix of love and pure terror.
Kitbull: An alley cat cautiously befriends a mistreated pit bull in this marvelous Pixar produced short. Available on Disney Plus.
Memorable: A painter feels his world slipping away to Alzheimer’s in this gorgeous stop-motion French short. We see what he sees — a world dissolving into Escher landscapes and swirling Van Gogh skies.
Sister: The third of this year’s stop-motion nominees is the story of a brother and sister growing up in China. They drive each other crazy, but also couldn’t live without each other. The twist is heartbreaking.
Our pick: Memorable
Office pool pick: Hair Love
Shorts TV streaming service showcases all the 2020 Oscar Nominated Short Films into three programs — one for animation (running time: 1 hour and 23 minutes), one for live action (running time: 1 hour and 44 minutes) and one for documentaries — at the following theaters in L.A. and O.C.:
Alamo Drafthouse Downtown Los Angeles, Arclight Culver City 12, Art Theater Long Beach, Block 30 @ Orange, Burbank 16, Citywalk Stadium 19, Edwards Westpark 8, Marketplace 6 – Long Beach, Nuart Theatre, Pacific ArcLight Hollywood 15, Pacific Arclight Pasadena 14, Pacific Arclight Sherman Oaks 16, South Coast Village 3, and Sunset 5.
More info on dates, times, locations and the films themselves at shorts.tv/en/theaters.