- Hamburg Media School
Every year, you want to participate in an office or viewing-party "pick the Oscars" contest—but then there are those damned short films categories, the bane of every casual moviegoer's predictions, since you might as well just throw a dart for all you know about them. Fortunately, Magnolia Pictures and Shorts International team up annually to release the short film nominees to art-house theaters ahead of the awards ceremony. The documentary shorts open at the Tower Theatre Feb. 16; this week brings the animated and live-action shorts nominees. Here's a preview of which ones might win a statuette on March 4.
Dear Basketball: Recently retired NBA star Kobe Bryant teamed up with veteran Disney animator Glen Keane for a love letter to the sport that gave the athlete so much. The sketchy hand-drawn style produces some lovely images—a basketball net erupting like a volcano—and a John Williams score adds to the drama. It's a bit too thin from a storytelling perspective, however, to appeal to awards voters who aren't hoops fans. And is the world really ready for "Academy Award winner Kobe Bryant"?
Garden Party: Magnificent CGI images abound in this product of the MOPA animation school in France, which focuses on frogs and toads frolicking through the interior and exterior of a mansion—which apparently has been the site of a violent intrusion. A few hilarious gags are sprinkled throughout the stunning visual achievement, but the juxtaposition of quirky and grim might be a bit too off-putting for many Oscar voters.
Negative Space: Max Porter and Ru Kuwahata co-direct a stop-motion tale in which a male narrator reflects on how he bonded with his father over learning how to pack a suitcase. While it's a unique style in a category that's often dominated by computer animation, and features some arresting images like clothing moving like tides onto a beach, it feels more conceptually interesting than emotionally affecting, especially given the fact that it's ultimately a story of mourning.
Revolting Rhymes: By far the longest of the nominees at 29 minutes, this adaptation of Roald Dahl's 1982 collection of revisionist fairy-tale poems by Jakob Schuh and Jan Lachauer combines the stories of Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood and the Three Little Pigs, as narrated by a big bad wolf (voiced by Dominic West). The storytelling is clever, though that's mostly a credit to Dahl's devices like turning the seven dwarfs into compulsive-gambler ex-jockeys, while the animation style is perhaps a bit too simplistic to put it over the top.
Lou: Yes, Pixar is probably the favorite, thanks to this short that showed before Cars 3 in theaters. Director Dave Mullins' wordless 6-minute narrative—about a schoolyard bully facing off against an anthropomorphic conglomeration of toys and clothing from a lost-and-found box—has both the eye-catching visual artistry to appeal to technicians, and the emotional hook of finding a compassionate approach to someone who victimizes others.
The Eleven O'Clock: Director Derin Seale offers a hilarious 13 minutes that feels like a lost Monty Python routine, as two men (Damon Herriman and the short's writer, Josh Lawson) face of in a psychiatrist office over which one of them is the real doctor, and which is a patient with a delusion of being a doctor. The comic pacing and performances are perfectly pitched, right down to the final shot. It's also the one nominee that's not about a serious issue, which means it doesn't have a chance in hell.
My Nephew Emmett: The murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till by a lynch mob in 1955 Mississippi gets an earnest, somber dramatization, focused on the uncle (L.B. Williams) trying to save his life. There's not much in Kevin Wilson Jr.'s version beyond its connection to tragic real-life events—and it even falls victim to the trope of "showing footage of the real people at the end."
The Silent Child: A teacher (Rachel Shenton, who wrote the script) in rural England works with a profoundly deaf 4-year-old (Maisie Sly) on sign language, which isn't entirely supported by the child's harried mother (Rachel Fielding). There's a nice, tightly constructed story here, complemented by lovely direction from Chris Overton. A dark-horse possibility, though perhaps not as dramatic as the other two top contenders.
DeKalb Elementary: Based on a true 911 call, Reed Van Dyk's film follows an elementary school receptionist (Tarra Riggs) trying to talk down a gunman (Bo Mitchell) whose real target is the police he expects to respond. Both of the lead performances are strong, and beneath the simmering tension there's a powerful low-key story of a woman trying to prevent a tragedy simply by connecting with a troubled man as a fellow human being.
Watu Wote: All of Us: Katja Benrath's fact-based story concerns a Christian Kenyan woman (Adelyne Wairimu) traveling by bus to a region overrun with Muslim terrorists, depending on fellow Muslim passengers to protect her. Directed with a documentary-style urgency and bluntly forceful in both its violent situations and story of self-sacrificing concern, it feels like the kind of movie voters will reward for its good intentions, and so a filmmaker can give a speech letting everyone know about this topic.