This past Saturday night I went to a Special Screening of all the 2016 Oscar-nominated short films. Here is what I found:
Nominations for Best (Live-Action) Short Films:
Patrick Vollrath's Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut) was the best film I experienced all night. The action is riveting. It is complex in subject matter, and although you quickly catch on to what is going on, it’s shot in a way that provokes greater anxiety for the viewer. The pacing is balanced, it never lingers on a shot for too long, and the story is clear from beginning to end. Unlike most of the other nominated shorts, this one has a clean, and clear structure. It relishes in the layers of the father and daughter relationship, leaving the audience, not knowing who to root for. There is no villain, but there are desperate acts that all humans are vulnerable to, and this short film humanizes the relationships between the two leading characters and gives the viewer a punch-in-the-gut experience. Watch this movie, and skip all the rest. Everything will be ok, makes all the other live-action films nominated, look like amateur, student work.
Basil Khalil's Ave Maria – a great attempt at utilizing humor to address the Israel-Palestine relationships. However, the shots are lazy, the actors- not committing to roles (cracking smiles when they should be serious, short-changing the story). The humor only works if the actors don't break character. Their stakes must be high, and they must take themselves seriously in order for the audience to find the story funny. Bottom Line: The story was light, and contained. It didn’t feel too long, and it had moments of humor.The subject matter is definitely an important one, that we should be addressing, and the humorous approach is a smart choice, when dealing with heavy political themes. However, It lacked in Cinematographic originality, and was filled with amateurish acting.
Jamie Donoughue's Shok – A movie about the Albanian-Serbian war, was touching, well acted, contained. A good contender, except in the Editing. Without giving away any spoilers, the film could have simply been about the two young boys’ story. The beginning and the end of this short film did not add to the emotional journey of the viewer, or propose any further catharsis. The film would have, in fact, been more powerful, had it trimmed off the fat of it's secondary story.
Benjamin Cleary's Stutterer – is a convoluted story about a man who stutters. A sweet little love-story with not much depth, that doesn’t leave you caring about any of the characters. The main character is annoying (although we are meant to empathize with him). There are too many convenient coincidences (things that aren’t totally likely to happen, but conveniently in this film, they do—such as the ending, very predictable, but highly unlikely). Furthermore, the structure is misleading. In my opinion, short films should have clear, simple structures because they start and end before you know it. This one makes you think that it’s about one thing, and then too late into the film it turns into a love story. It’s not bad. It’s shot well, and it’s light (unlike any of the other Oscar nominees in its category), but it lacks a wow-factor that makes the audience invest in the characters. It was ok, but hardly worth a nomination.
Henry Hughes' Day One – the best way I can describe this film: it is like watching someone, cringe-worthy, and awkward, and not knowing if you should be afraid, sad or laugh at how campy, uncomfortable and odd the events unfolding before you appear to be. Day One has so many issues. Starting with theme/subject matter. The lead character (an army interpreter) is introduced in a random bizarre interaction (in the shower) where she meets her army-man-side kick. Then she has an expository conversation (conveniently), abouther past (and her failed marriage), with another woman on the base. By this point, you are wondering: Is the film about the Interpreter and the male army officer? Is it about the woman's past? Then, we find out (through a series of disjointed events) that there is a bomb-maker on the loose and the leading Army dude, and the Interpreter lady must go and retrieve him. But once they arrive at the home of the bomb-maker, the story totally changes to be about something else entirely. "Is this a campy horror movie?" you think to yourself, but it is not.
It tries to come full circle at the very end (remember expository conversation in the beginning), but fails miserably. The film takes itself way to seriously, and while it is supposed to be a “Drama” it’s more of a campy piece of something, that makes you laugh (for all the wrong reasons) because it’s totally unbelievable. Characters don’t follow what would be natural responses that humans would have in the types of situations that are presented, and therefore, it fails on all accounts, making it embarrassingly funny to watch. The irony is, that this movie was “based” on a true story. This supposedly really happened to someone. However, one of the first things they teach you in Screenwriting 101, is “just because something actually happened, doesn’t make it a good script” And furthermore, if you are so close to the facts, and want to be accurate to them, then you are blinded from telling a compelling cinematic story. When telling a “true story” not all facts are relevant. This film failed so hard, it was laughable. It tried to emote, compel, affect, but it was bizarre (not in a complimentary way), it was awkward, and the writing was horrendous. The Acting was actually ok, but sadly, not good enough to save the disaster that was Day One. It felt like something a student would make on day one, in Film School. The fact that this film is even being considered for an Oscar, is baffling.
I don't understand, with all the wonderful, creative, inspiring, and clever short films, made all around the world, how these five were selected as front-runners.
Oscar Nominations for Best Animated Short Film:
Of the Animated films nominated, the standout was Gabriel Osorio’s “Bear Story” the complexity in the animation, the structure, the story, the pacing, it was a beautiful film, and work of art. It was compelling, emotional, and took the viewer on a sad (but visually stunning) rollercoaster. Another sweet animated short was “Sanjay’s Super Team” about a father and a son, struggling to connect. The gap between them widens as the things they worship (television/superheroes, vs. religion/heritage) continue to separate them. A sweet, and powerful catharsis occurs, that brings the father and his son, closer together. Last Animated short that was beautifully written (though, in my opinion could have been better executed) was “World of Tomorrow” a genius, imaginative story, with a fresh new perspective. A story that takes us to new places; eloquently presenting a witty point of view of the future, using humor and lightness to address big issues. Reminiscent of Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s “The Little Prince” in time/planet travel, however, the weakness of this short was in its animation, and lack of creativity in design. I understand this may have very well been a choice, but it was an uninspired choice, that weakened the effectiveness of its script. All the other Animated shorts were forgetful.
Off the top of my head, some of my favorite Short films include:
1) Do Pivnice (1983) by Jan Svankmajer, about a little girl, and her fears about the basement.
2) Food (1992) by Jan Svankmajer, an animated exploration of Food, in three parts.
3) Two Men and a Wardrobe (1958) by Roman Polanski, a somewhat surrealist short about two men who come out of the Ocean with a wardrobe to explore the world, only to be so disappointed in what they see, that they return to the ocean.
4) Vincent (1982) by Tim Burton, about a strange little boy (of course).
5) The Telephone Box (1972) by Antonio Mercero
6) Meshes of the Afternoon (1943) by Maya Deren
7) Father and Daughter (2000) by Michaël Dudok
8) Un Chien Andalou (1929) by Luis Buñuel
9) World of Glory (1991) by Roy Andersson (and pretty much the collection of Roy Andersson commercials, all of which play like short films).
10) Destino (1945) by Salvador Dali and Walt Disney