With the Oscars only a few days away, the most popular question being asked is probably about which film is going to win Best Picture. Short films often get overshadowed by their feature length partners, but despite their small size, they can often present a better narrative than most movies you see being promoted by the big Hollywood studios. This year’s batch of Animated shorts provide personal and inventive stories with some dazzling animation techniques, while the Live Action shorts explore real-world issues that hit all emotions on the scale. In the following article, each film is reviewed with the two front runners in each category clearly presented.
1. Revolting Rhymes: Part One (UK) dir. Jakob Schuh & Jan Lachauer
Based on the novel of the same name by the legendary Roald Dahl, with illustrations by Quentin Blake, Revolting Rhymes cleverly rewrites the classic fairy tales that most of us grew up with. Following the narration of the Big Bad Wolf (Dominic West), the stories of Snow White and Red Riding Hood (featuring the Three Little Pigs) intertwine in this modernized, fun, and darkly comedic adventure. The relationship between Snow White (Gemma Chan) and “Red” (Rose Leslie) provide the most charm as it’s rare we get to see some of our favourite fairy tale heroines together. The animation is beautiful in its realism, especially in terms of the modern, Parisian-style architecture surrounding the story. Originally airing as a two-part series on BBC, only the first chapter of this tale has been nominated for an Academy Award, leaving the Wolf’s cry for “patience” for the rest immediately ignored, as you scramble to find part two on Netflix.
2. Negative Space (FRA) dir. Ru Kuwahata & Max Porter
While most children bond with their fathers through sport or cars, Negative Space takes a look at a father and son who bond over packing suitcases. Their unique relationship is shown in a stop-motion animation style reminiscent of My Life as a Zucchini. With its flat lay object-filled imagery, the narrator explains how exactly his father taught him how to pack, making sure every space is filled, just like the film that manages to cram a lot into its small package. The story isn’t just about packing. At its core, it’s about parental love and the lessons we learn from our parents. Negative Space is short and sweet in the best possible way, with an ending that’s equally powerful and comedic.
3. Lou (USA) dir. Dave Mullins
Theatrically released alongside Cars 3, Lou is a computer-animated film about a bully who meets his match in an unusual way–through an unseen monster who takes the shape of the items the bully steals from his classmates. This mostly dialogue-free short is funny, charming, delivers character development and an important message. Lou is as good-hearted and fun as Pixar gets and deserves recognition as more than just “the part before the movie.”
4. Garden Party (FRA) dir. Gabriel Grapperon, Florian Babikian, Victor Caire, Vincent Bayoux, Théophile Dufresne, & Lucas Navarro.
Among all the animated shorts, Garden Party is the one where an audible “Wow!” will most likely be heard from several audience members. The dazzling visuals achieved here, as cliche as this sentence is, will be sure to take your breath away. From the realistic wildlife, to its setting, it’s a wonder how Garden Party isn’t live action. Created by a group of French animation students, the story (or lack thereof) revolves around a group of frogs who take over a luxurious mansion. As the frogs hop and leap from shot to shot, it becomes clear that the mansion has been abandoned for some time. The frogs soon become a backdrop to the mystery surrounding the sudden move of the home’s human inhabitants, as the tone and visuals shift to create something similar to film noir. The truth lurking beneath the frogs’ new oasis makes for a shocking ending.
5. Dear Basketball (USA) dir. Glen Keane
Dear Basketball is a project put together by legends in their respective fields: Kobe Bryant, basketball; Glen Keane, Disney animator; and John Williams, composer. It took big names to create the most lackluster short of the bunch. Narrated by Bryant, this love letter to basketball is strangely free of any emotion as he takes us on his journey from a young boy, to a Lakers star, and to retirement. It feels more like an NBA commercial about why playing basketball is so great than an emotional farewell. It’s drawn together in an animation style that’s the least pleasing to the eye as it attempts to achieve with pencil what Loving Vincent did with paint, but resulting in something that looks like a rough draft. Bryant fans will surely love this, but it doesn’t dive deep enough into his career, achievements, and the future, to say it’s a slam dunk.
1. The Silent Child (UK) dir. Chris Overton
Set in rural England, The Silent Child tells the story of a deaf child named Libby and Joanne, a social worker, who teaches her how to communicate through sign language. Written and starring Rachel Shenton as Joanne, the film was created for the purpose of bringing awareness to the lack of support and assistance that deaf children receive at home and in school. Libby is trapped in a chaotic household that has no room for her. With her workaholic parents and overachieving siblings, Libby is often left to her own devices. And with her parents’ obsession to “normalize” her before she starts school, they disregard the importance of sign language, limiting her ability to communicate and grow. This is a common problem, as seen in the film’s final credits where the audience is given statistics showing how many deaf children lack proper aid. The most beautifully shot live action nominee doesn’t miss an opportunity to turn down the noise in certain scenes so the audience gets to experience the silence that Libby lives with every day. The Silent Child aims right for the heart with powerful performances by Shenton and Maisie Sly as Libby, whose bond carries the same emotional weight seen in feature length films that have tackled deafness before it.
2. The Eleven O’Clock (AUSTRALIA) dir. Derin Seale
The Eleven O’Clock, providing the comic relief in the lineup, is brilliantly acted, cleverly written, and laugh-out-loud funny from start to finish. The film centers on two men (writer Josh Lawson and Damon Herriman), a psychiatrist and his patient who believes he’s a psychiatrist, but which is which? The film doesn’t waste any moment of its length, as it delivers endless bits of clever wordplay between the central characters as they go head to head in this guessing game of who’s who. The truth, not revealed until the very end, is a satisfying conclusion with a twist.
3. Watu Wote: All of Us (GERM/KENYA) dir. Katja Benrath
Watu Wote: All of Us is based on the true story of the December 2015 Mandera bus attack where Muslim and Christian passengers were held at gunpoint by Al-Shabaab. The film shows the danger faced by Christians in an environment dominated by Muslim terrorist groups and the mistrust it has created, as the film’s main character Jua (Adelyne Wairimu) openly blames all Muslims for the death of her family. Everything changes when the bus is attacked by Al-Shabaab whose members demand that the Muslim passengers identify the Christians. While demonstrating that the distrust of Muslims transcends Western borders, Watu Wote: All of Us is a beautifully written script that shows Muslims as a compassionate people who want peace, and that terrorism goes against everything Islam stands for. Benrath’s narrative is built with tension and an honest depiction of a timely political story that calls for empathy in an era of religious intolerance.
4. DeKalb Elementary (USA) dir. Reed Van Dyk
DeKalb Elementary discusses another timely political issue: America’s epidemic of gun violence. This next live action nominee brings to life a real 911 call that took place when a gunman entered a school in Atlanta, Georgia. The tension is almost unbearable as Bo Mitchell’s gunman character Steven Hall reveals his semi-automatic weapon and aims it at the school employees and delivers warning shots to the police outside. Audiences unfamiliar with the story will begin to think the worst, but Van Dyk’s incredibly unsettling short soon takes a turn thanks to the amazing performance by Tarra Riggs as the compassionate school receptionist and her attempts to talk Hall down from doing any harm. The film’s cinematography takes advantage of its confined office setting, creating a claustrophobic feel that’s palpable.
5. My Nephew Emmett (USA) dir. Kevin Wilson Jr.
Emmett Till’s name could be found in the headlines of many publications just last year when the woman, whose accusations led to Till’s death, confessed her falsehood. Till was only 14 when he was lynched in 1955. In the final short film nominee, Till’s death is experienced from his uncle’s perspective. It’s an important story as the murders of unarmed black teenagers happen almost every day; however, the emotion that one would usually feel from a story like this is surprisingly absent. Despite being elegantly shot with an amazing performance by L.B. Williams as Till’s uncle Mose Wright, the short format doesn’t do this story justice. Comparisons to Mudbound are unavoidable, and create a wonder of what could have been. The film does deliver the best score of the selection, with powerful imagery in its closing credits reminiscent of Get Out’s “the sunken place” sequence. While focusing on Wright may not have been the best choice, it allows the film to end on a powerful note as real footage of a heartbroken man fighting for justice fills the screen.