Tag Archives: short films

Review: ‘2018 Oscar Shorts Program’

Reflecting on the Oscar ceremony each year, what’s the most energetic, off-the-wall moment of the night … usually? It’s that middle section where a certain Hungarian filmmaker wins the foreign language film award or the director of a little-seen short injects mania and uncompromising glee into an evening full of been-there-done-that Meryl Streep stares. Sorry, Meryl, but it’s true.

And, in an effort to get these hard-scrabbled labors of love in front of an audience, the Oscar Shorts Program has been an event for the past decade or so, neatly packaging the Live Action Short/Animated Short film nominees together in one palatable event for any and all to see. Whether you’re an Oscar ‘completist’ (yes, they exist) or simply someone looking for an adventurous time at the theater, it’s a terrific choice to make.

In the Live Action block, the two best short films include Kevin Wilson Jr’s My Nephew Emmett (pictured above) and Reed Van Dyk’s DeKalb Elementary. Both films are visually stunning and carefully controlled exercises that re-enact horrific moments within American history. My Nephew Emmett (running 20 minutes) follows 14-year-old Emmett Till after he is taken from his home by a small lynch mob in 1955. Starring L.B. Williams as uncle Mose Wright and his wife (played by Jasmine Guy), My Nephew Emmett exists in a nocturnal space of low-light and moonlight as the events unfold and the couple try and make sense of things. What’s most striking about the film — besides its acute attention to light, shadows and the whites of someone eyes — is the way director Wilson maintains a strong sense of dread throughout. It’s a powerhouse short film that deserves the Oscar.

Parlaying that same sense of uninterrupted tension is Reed Van Dyk’s DeKalb Elementary. Based on an actual hostage situation that occurred in Atlanta and crafted from the existing 911 phone call, it’s a very different visual experience than My Nephew Emmett. Filmed in clean, eye level static shots as a gunman (Bob Mitchell) holds a school worker (Tara Riggs) hostage and relays some unique demands to the police crouched outside, DeKalb Elementary also succinctly explores an abhorrent cycle of violence in America that shows we haven’t come very far from the tainted ills exhibited by human nature upon each other since 1955 (or the beginning of time for that matter). Watch this short film and I doubt one will hold their breath the entire time as I did.

Less successful but still hugely moving is Chris Overton’s The Silent Child. Observing the warm relationship that develops between young, deaf Libby (Maisie Sly) and the sign language teacher the family briefly employs to help their daughter communicate, the film has a big heart and touches all the right emotional strings. I can see the Academy going for this more simplified version of life than the abrasively ‘real’ efforts of Wilson Jr. and Van Dyk.

Also featured are Derin Seale’s slight, comical The Eleven ‘o’ Clock and Katja Benrath’s strong exploration of the violence between Muslims and Christians in Watu Wote (All Of Us).


Looking for a bit of relief from the troubled social commentary in the Animated Shorts block? Not likely. Exorcising many of the same personal and societal demons as the Live Action films, the handful of selections here are different only in their candy colored, CGI aesthetic.

From Ru Kuwahata and Max Porter’s Negative Space, which feels like a bit of mordant self analysis via Charlie Kaufman, to Florian Babikian’s Garden Party, whose deft humor comes to a bracing halt with a slice of demented political commentary, these animated shorts take no prisoners.

While those two films marinate ideas of hostility and loneliness, Dave Mullins’ utterly charming Lou (pictured above) utilizes the Pixar style of animation to relay an exuberant story about a schoolyard bully forced to re-evaluate his attitude towards his classmates. Fleet footed and entertaining, I can see the film being pushed aside for the more topical films mentioned above, but it’s a lovely and endearing effort nonetheless.

Rounding out the fourth and fifth spots are Jan Lachauer/Jacob Schuh’s ingenious scrambling of various nursery rhymes, titled Revolting Rhymes, and Glen Keane’s sketch animated Dear Basketball, which serves as fairly pedantic paean about Kobe Bryant (who also did the voice over) and his love of the sport that’s consumed his entire life. Both handsomely crafted, they pale in comparison to the genuine emotions leveled in the other three efforts.

Regardless of the length or subject matter, all of the films included here provide  a unique and swift view of the world. If you don’t like one, you don’t have to wait very long for the next. And, in the process, perhaps you’ll see the debut work of the next auteur of the year 2025.

The Oscar Shorts Program opens in the Dallas/Fort Worth area on Friday, February 9 at the Magnolia in Dallas and the Angelika Film Center in Plano.


Review: Oscar Nominated Short Films 2012 – Live Action and Animated

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
'The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore'

Ah, the Oscar-nominated shorts! How I look forward each year to seeing them — and be assured that, for once, my scribblings contain not a single iota of irony.

The Oscar shorts program annually showcases the best of both animated and live action films, typically of no more than 30 minutes in length, with the animated films generally trending closer to five or ten minutes in length.

This year’s crop of shorts can be seen at Dallas’ Landmark Magnolia, and kudos to them for providing one of the few opportunities to see them on the big screen before Academy Awards time.

Here are capsule reviews (observations, if you will) about each of the shorts in the two categories. NOTE that there is also a set of Academy Award-nominated documentary shorts, which will be playing separately at the Texas Theatre, starting on February 19.


Raju (German with English subtitles)
A German couple travels to India to adopt an orphaned child and take him into their European household. All goes well until Dad takes the young boy for a stroll around the seedy looking Delhi neighborhood; then events take a nightmarish turn as the boy disappears. But all is not what it seems. The action is presented documentary style as the new adoptive father prowls the streets looking for Raju – and for answers. We are eventually forced to ask ourselves the question: where is the higher moral ground here? And what is the right thing to do — for Raju?

A comical tale about a failed Irish altar boy whose focus is more on football finals than his assigned duty wielding the censor in high mass. The priest’s pep talk before the big game — er, I mean the mass — is done with tongue firmly in cheek.

“Let’s see some grace, some vision – go out there and have the mass of your lives.”

Slacker dude and would-be quantum physicist Stillman has made a scientific breakthrough — from his cluttered garage workshop. But when he lets his best friend in on the details, a startling revelation about where he’s been traveling in time comes to light. This plays like Groundhog Day done short and sweet, and asks the question: How far would you go to do your friend a solid? (How far in time, I mean.) Obsessives will relate.

“So, you built  a time machine, and you’ve been traveling around yesterday?”

Tuba Atlantic (Norwegian with English subtitles)
A crusty, curmudgeonly Norwegian bachelor farmer has six days to live, says his doctor. (Yes, exactly six.) In order to enjoy his final days in the comfort of his seaside home, he’ll need a companion to monitor over his progress (says the government). Enter a pert and extremely annoying blond angel of death named Inger, who learns that there are many ways to murder seagulls. (Machine guns, dynamite and washing machines, to name a few.)

The Shore
An unassuming, almost inconsequential half-hour story filmed on the green, green tidal shores of Northern Ireland. Two old friends whose lives took radically different courses come together again after 25 years. Ciaran Hinds stars as a former IRA man who immigrated to America — when he returns to his homeland, he has his lovely daughter in tow, and quite a backstory to tell. A case of mistaken identity leads to hilarious results; then mistaken motivations result in an emotional reunion.


La Luna
This magical Pixar-produced fantasy tale presents us with three generations of fishermen in one rowboat, on a sea of dreams. It’s not fish they’re going after, but star stuff. Complete with an engaging starry-eyed little boy and a ladder to the moon. Stylish design – artistic composition – a joy to behold. Don’t ask what language they’re speaking — think the Swedish Chef and you’ll get the idea.

A Morning Stroll
Presented in vintage line-drawn animation look and accompanied by a jazzy score, this odd story spans several decades to tell the story of a pet chicken who startles passersby as he (or she) ambles down a busy urban sidewalk and then pecks at the door of a flat to be let in. Look out for 2059, where zombies appear to hold sway on the populace.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (pictured above)
A phantasmagorical celebration of the printed page, and a paean to those singular individuals who devote their lives to them. Literally. Features gorgeous traveling camera effects. Sure to elicit a sympathetic sniffle from librarians and bibliophiles everywhere. (Kindle users need not apply.)

Charming, naive, childlike animated art is employed to tell this whimsical slice of life story about a little boy forced to spend his Sunday going to church and then struggling through a visit to his grandparents’ house. Here, he discovers that bears mounted on the mantlepiece still have some life in them, and that life is permeated with glimpses of death. (In an interesting way.) Three squawking crows make for a fine Greek chorus.

Wild Life
Tells the tale of a dandified Englishman who decamps to early 20th century Canada — a land of rugged adventure — to try his hand at ranching. Glowing, shimmering impressionist animation highlights this surprisingly melancholy story. The significance of a cryptic comet backstory remains clouded ’til the bitter end. A very moving piece of work. “A’fore too long, I shall be as rough as a cowboy.”

The Oscar Nominated Short Films programs — separate admission for Live Action and Animated — is now playing exclusively at Landmark Magnolia for a limited engagement.