Oscar-nominated shorts and winners

Longer isn’t always better

The beauty of short films is that filmmakers can focus on one narrow aspect of life. Shorts can also be as powerful and meaningful as a movie that is 10 times as long, and can give fledgling filmmakers an opportunity to hone their craft. Short films also have received a boost in popularity in recent years with an annual theatrical release of Oscar-nominated shorts in the animated, live action, and documentary categories.

While the films are also available on streaming platforms, the theatrical release is a great way to see a great diversity of films in one sitting.  While I was emotionally exhausted after watching five live action films and seven animated (the five nominee and two honorable mention selections) over three and a half hours, I was also rewarded with a variety of cinematic storytelling. This year’s three Academy Award winners for short films all showed the power and diversity that can be found in brevity. And the winners were:

Best documentary short film: Period. End of Sentence. While I did not watch all of the nominated documentary shorts, the winner is a Netflix original and available on the streaming service. The 26-minute film focuses on efforts in India to change the cultural stigma around menstruation. The filmmakers interviewed men and women about periods and no one was comfortable talking about the subject. Many girls end up dropping out of school eventually because they do not have access to sanitary pads and have to miss school out of fear of embarrassment and negative public perception. Girls have to use cloths – often dirty ones– or whatever they can find. An Indian man, however, created a machine that makes sanitary pads, and in the movie he sets one up in a village. Women in the village start to make them and sell them, earning income, gaining confidence, and increasing access of pads to more females. The film again shows the power of zeroing on a subject that would not catch the eye of male-dominated Hollywood. “I can’t believe a film about menstruation just won an Oscar!” filmmaker Rayka Zehtabchi said in her acceptance speech.

Best live action short film: Skin. I wanted Marguerite to win, partly because it was not only well made, but it was sweet – which was an anomaly in this category. On an intensity scale from 1 to 10, the other four nominees scored anywhere from 12 to 1,004. These are not lighthearted films and can be difficult to watch, with four of the films featuring children in various states of peril. It is therefore somewhat fitting that Skin, the most disturbingly intense of all nominees, took home the statue. The movie focuses on a white supremacist father who raises his son to hate. After a black man playfully interacts with the white man’s son at a grocery checkout counter, the white man and his friends brutally beat the black man in front of his family in the parking lot. A group of black men enact revenge in a surprising way, making the film thought provoking. While it provides the fodder for excellent conversation, it is difficult to recommend across the board due to its violent nature.

Best animated short film: Bao. Thankfully, I saw the animated films immediately after the live action films, which provided much-needed reprieve from nervous adrenaline of the previous two hours. That’s not to say that the animated films aren’t provocative, but there is undoubtedly a lighter feel. Bao director Domee Shi became the first female to direct a film for animated studio Pixar, and ended up winning an Oscar to boot. Bao is about a woman who suffers from Empty Nest Syndrome, but receives another opportunity to be a mother when one of her homemade dumplings comes to life. She raises the little bao, and slowly sees him follow the same pattern of growing up and want to escape from his parents. It is beautifully animated, funny, touching, and surprising. Pixar showed it for free online but stopped once Oscar season rolled around. It is now available for purchase on streaming platforms, but definitely worth $1.99 to buy it to own on YouTube.

While the short films used to show primarily in larger markets, they have expanded their reach in recent years. I recommend both the animated and live action nominees, but do be warned about the disturbing content that permeates the live action films. To see if the shorts are playing near you, visit: https://shorts.tv/theoscarshorts/theatrical-release/.

Shown as a group, the animated films are not rated but would probably be PG. The documentary and live action nominated films are both rated R. Mom/Dad: Yes on animated, no on live action.

Click here for more by Matthew Kauffman Smith.