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January 14 2019
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Staff

State Of The Short Film Oscar Race

MAKING SENSE OF THE SHORT DOC, ANIMATED AND LIVE ACTION SHORTLISTS BEFORE NOMINATIONS ARE ANNOUNCED

 

 

On January 22nd, the Oscar nominees will finally be announced. That means all the anticipation, build-up, campaigning and prognosticating will result in five titles being selected from each category. An Oscar nomination means significantly higher profile, a long theatrical release, plenty of press coverage and, yes, seats to the Academy Awards this year.

Needless to say, there’s quite a bit on the line. So let’s take a look at the three categories and see how we think next week’s announcements will go.

(Watch several of the shortlisted films online right now for free, and judge for yourself which films should move on.)

 

DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT

“A Night At The Garden"

 

Black Sheep addresses extremely pertinent subject matter (racially-motivated violence) in highly cinematic fashion. We wonder if the film will prove too “challenging” or not uplifting enough to make the final five, but the pedigree of director Ed Perkins give it a good chance. End Game and Zion, like Roma, have the big red ‘N’ on their backs. Whether the short film voters look down on Netflix as much as some other institutions remains to be seen. But co-director of End Game, Rob Epstein, has two Oscars for feature docs already, so he brings some goodwill to the plate.

Lifeboat and Los Comandos both remind us of 2016’s winner White Helmets in their focus on current humanitarian issues. We only wonder if these two films have been seen enough to make the list of nominees. There’s a good chance only one of these two get in because of it. The rise of My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes has become one of the film festival narratives of the year. A very personal journey has reached an incredible audience, and we don’t see its momentum stopping here. A Night At The Garden and ’63 Boycott are two of the most potent and powerful shorts of the year, but will their frank dealings with fascism and racism in America hit voters too hard, or just right?

Period. End of Sentence. and Women of the Gulag both tell stories film of women who have faced historic oppression. Despite featuring diverse voices on once-taboo subjects, we don’t know if the films are on enough radars to be nominated. It’s a sad consideration that we hope, in the end, isn’t true.

 

ANIMATED SHORT FILM

“Weekends”

 

Despite some major outlets decrying the remaining films on this list, we are intrigued by how exactly the ten will be whittled down to five or less. Many of these seem to be fighting for the same crowds, which could make for some interesting snubs and surprises.

Age of Sail is a Google-funded VR experiment that also had a standalone cinematic release. Its top-notch voice casting and wonderfully-realized nautical world helps it, but we also wonder if the tech innovation angle will get in the way of some voters taking it seriously. The team behind Animal Behaviour have won an Oscar in this category before, and anthropomorphized characters always win over audiences. If a short were to pull off the ultimate upset win, we’d think it could be this hilariously inventive one.

Bao, Bilby and Bird Karma have the biggest animation studios behind them (Pixar and Dreamworks). The animated category tends to mix a popular choice with an under-the-radar pick, so we doubt all three get nominated. Bao is a lock, so which of the two Dreamworks will move on? Weekends is tangentially in this group, only because a Pixar alum is the creator. The design here is arguably the most striking of the bunch and anyone who sees it won’t forget it. We have a big contender for nomination and win on our hands. One Small Step looks like, sounds like and carries the same story beats as a Pixar film, but voters will know the difference, and that will unfortunately work against it. We enjoy the film’s diverse representation and animated depictions of the cosmos, but in a field this tough, we can’t see it moving on.

Late Afternoon is the sort of heartwarming, traditionally-animated film that we usually see make it to the nominations at least. The Irish studio “Cartoon Salon” is already quite familiar with what an Oscar feels like, so we could see another Secret of Kells shocker moment happening during the announcements. Stop motion has an interesting relationship with awards season. Most voters marvel whenever it’s done well, but they usually still lose out to the 3D CGI animated films. Lost & Found is the audacious counter-culture pick that we really want to get behind. A nomination is probably in its future, but from there we can’t’ say.

Pépé le morse is the true animation dark horse. It’s a foreign language short with frightening, psychedelic moments and uncomfortable family relations throughout. Doesn’t exactly tug on the heart strings. But it’s the closest thing to unconventional on the list, so it’s very possible that those who like it will really, really like it.

 

LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM

“Icare”

 

Caroline and Fauve are our two front-runners this year. Both combine unflinching realism with hypnotic camerawork, and build up a kind of Hitchcock-ian tension not seen anywhere else this year. Both films also feature strong performances from children, another major feat. If either one doesn’t take the whole thing, we won’t be surprised (anything is possible), but we really like their chances going forward.

The short about conference interpreters, Chuchotage, is a very talky film (as is to be expected). Though we find it to be the film’s strength, we know that voters are often directed by their eyes. They’ll be looking for striking compositions and exhilarating editing. If it does get nominated though, we won’t be disappointed. Detainment has been under fire with a recent controversy, but it’s not the first or last film in an Oscar race to weather that storm. Nearly every festival jury (and audience member) who’s seen it has been left deeply affected. The sheer emotional power of the film, combined with its being based on real events, tells us that it is very likely to be right up there with Caroline and Fauve for top honors.

Icare is truly breathtaking, but perhaps too somber and withdrawn to win it all. Despite its outside chance of making it to the ceremony, we do agree that the more people who see this on the big screen the better. Marguerite’s director, Marianne Farley, wears many hats. She’s acted in countless films and television shows, recorded music and directed shorts. This is only her second, but she’s taken this to dozens of festivals, including wins in almost twenty of them. This one’s got serious momentum…now to just make sure the voters see it.

Wale and May Day were both hits in the festivals they appeared and we are extremely glad their success translated to the Oscar shortlist. From here though, we just can’t gauge how voters will respond. Will the potentially smaller audiences for these shorts be rabid enough to pull out a nomination or two? As for Skin and Madre, these filmmakers have already finished making feature length companions. We could see this fact hurting its overall chances (if there are any short “purists” in the Academy), but the fact that they were given the funding to expand their vision shows is a success of its own.

Stay tuned for our continuing awards coverage from now until February 24th, 2019.

Watch several Oscar-nominated and Oscar-winning shorts from past years on Miniflix today.

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