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    Oscar Nominated Shorts, 2019



    Oscar Nominated Shorts, 2019.

    LIVE ACTION.
    All but one of them focuses on children in danger, and they seem aimed to gain our attention by shocking and frightening us. They are of impressive quality, emotionally powerful, and bring up important themes.



    ELY SOLAN IN "DETAINMENT"

    DETAINMENT ((Vincent Lambe and Darren Mahon)
    The longest, at thirty minutes, relates to the murder of John Bulgar, a two-year-old toddler, by two ten-year-old boys in England, near Liverpool, in 1993. There are bits of the abduction of the victim and much of the separate interrogation of the two young killers. Much emotional effect is derived from the performance of Ely Solan, who plays Venables, the more sensitive and guilt-ridden of the two boys. It's all heightened and concentrated through much editing, which makes it seem unnecessarily busy. The film has shock value, bringing to life a horrifying event. It doesn't shed much light, but simply confronts us with something appalling and incomprehensible: that young boys could have killed a small child seemingly for sport. It's all about the event and teasing out admission of guilt but leaves us, the viewers, in the dark about how and why this happened and what happened to the guilty boys. As Eric Kohn says in Indiewire, this at least "provides a good excuse for further reading." The act is horrifying. So is the weakness of the perpetrators: because they are helpless too, and that they essentially went to jail at the age of ten is also horrifying and seems wrong.



    MARGUERITE (Marianne Farley and Marie-Hélène Panisset) 19 mins.The outlyer of the group,this nineteen-minute French Canadian film stars Béatrice Picard as Marguerite, an elderly woman who confronts her own long-repressed romantic feelings for another woman after learning that her home care nurse Rachel (Sandrine Bisson) is a lesbian. Marguerite is a handsome woman, though not quite ell, and at the end of life. The rapport between her and her daily caretaker is sweet and takes us into caregiving, age, and same-sex attraction in a graceful, elegant way. But in order to achieve its effects the film dips into sentimentality a bit, as short films do. The whole thing feels like a classy and specific buildup to a "Hallmark moment." But the focus on an elderly person and on memory and regret is welcome. In Eric Kohn's canny ranking for Indiewire, this is the runner-up to FAUVE and the only one that might steal away the Academy's hearts from that one for the Oscar.



    MADRE (Rodrigo Sorogoyen and María del Puy Alvarado) 19 mins.
    Spanish. Consists of a divorced mother at home who gets a call from her six-year-old son with his father on a beach. The father has seemingly disappeared, the beach is deserted, the boy is lost and frightened, and the mother can do nothing to help. This is an amping-up monodrama with an unseen interlocutor, like the Norwegian police thriller The Guilty. The Spanish of Spain seems great for expressing controlled hysteria. The sense of helplessness is palpable. A taut drama with a virtuoso performance, but it never quite goes anywhere, just pumps the premise. One note, intensely evoked.



    SKIN (Guy Nattiv and Jaime Ray Newman) 20 mins.
    It means skinhead, and probably also tattoo. The only nominated short set in the US. The director, Guy Nattiv, is Israeli. Nattiv has since expanded the milieu into a feature based on Bryan Widner's Erasing Hate and starring Jamie Bell and Vera Farmiga, which debuted last fall at Toronto. At first SKIN has a documentary feel as it shows a racist white nationalist type with a cute little boy whom he adores and who loves him. The action revolves around the boy. It reminded me of the scary but exciting white underclass atmosphere of Andrea Arnold's 2016 American Honey. The father does something awful to a black man who makes friendly with his son; then he receives nasty retribution. Again there is the effort to make the 20 minutes pay off as intensity and shock. The surprise, shocker ending undermines the real, authentic feel and life of the initial scenes; but in a time when white suprematism has become almost mainstream, the theme of racism is highly relevant.


    FELIX GRENIER, ALEXANDRE PERREAULT IN "FAUVE"

    FAUVE (Jérémy Comte and Maria Gracia Turgeon) 17 mins.
    one of the two live action shorts finalists that are French Canadian this year. Two boys play and challenge each other near an open pit mine, with dangerous consequences. More good child actors as in "Detainment" and "Skin." In fact these two, especially the dominant one, are the best yet, quite amazing. Original and haunting, this multiple-prizewinner shines out above the rest as something you won't forget. Best not to give away the details of the aciton in advance.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-19-2019 at 05:05 PM.

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    Oscar Nominated Shorts, 2019.

    ANIMATION.
    These are more varied in style and unpredictable in tone perhaps than the live action ones.There also are even more (three) from Canada It's been suggested they're al about ssad childhoods. It has seemed to me before that the animated short Oscar noms tend not to be as cool as the range of animated films you see a t the beg festival in Annecy, France every year. See again Eric Kohn's descriptions and rankings on IndieWire Kohn notes that these animated shorts nearly all "center on sad childhoods and parent-child hardships
    ."



    ANIMAL BEHAVIOR (Alison Snowden, David Fine) 14:26 mins.
    An odd one, from Canada. Group therapy session of mixed creatures led by a dog and including a leech,bird, cat, praying mantis, and a pig. Victor, a Gorilla with anger management issues, arrives and shakes it all up with his violence. Very talky.Humorous and willing to be silly but also pointed. "Problems" the patients bring up include the therapist's own acknowledge one - an addiction to sticking his nose up other dogs' butts, the cat's habit of licking herself all the time, and the odd bent of the praying mantis - she feels compelled to kill and eat all her sex partners. Probably not a real contender but welcome (after the live action noms) for not seeming to strive hard to grab us. Indeed, viewers may simply be puzzled.



    BAO (Domee Shi) 7:43 mins.
    Domee Shi’s Pixar short showed in theaters before Incredibles 2 last summer.
    About a woman (evidently Chinese?) who dreams of raising a steamed dumpling as her child. She is cruel with him when he's a bother, and swallows him. But he comes back as an adult and they are reconciled. All without words. Kohn deems this to be the winner.I grasp the sentimentality but do not really understand the visual language. I also have a problem with the Pixar style, which I find unattractive and too uniform. But compared to the other animations this one may show the most visual ingenuity, and may get closest to the effects its makers want to achieve.




    LATE AFTERNOON Louise Bagnall 9:23 mins.
    In a different, more "drawn" style, and with a more delicate color scheme, this depicts the mental world of a woman with dementia whose caretaker (as in the live action short MARGUERITE) is visiting her and, by bringing things to her, awakens floods of fantasy or memory.Thoughts come and go. As her things are being packed away, perhaps so she can be moved to a home, she is alternately comforted and frightened, nurtured and lost. People and places gently overlap and recombine. At least, at the end, she recognizes and remembers the caretaker as her daughter, whom at the outset she took to be a stranger. A gentle, forgiving depiction of the process of mental decline with age it focuses on.



    ONE SMALL STEP (Andrew Chesworth, Bobby Pontillas) 7:40 mins.
    Depicts in raid wordless stages the growing up of a joyous girl (in China?) from a very modest family (her father is a shoemaker) who dreams of becoming an Astronaut.Evokes childhood, imagination, delight, aspiration. Her father's encouragement sustains her after he is gone even though she falters for a while. She remembers him through the shoes he made for her - a handy visual symbol for parental nurturing. There seem to be big gaps in the storytelling here, but it is nonetheless a classic use of purely visual language.


    SCENE FROM "WEEKENDS"

    WEEKENDS (Trevor Jimenez) 15:21 mins.
    Done in a rough hand-drawn style srot of like pen and ink with watercolor, this again has an original visual style and color scheme. A little boy with divorced parents is shunted back and forth between contrasting households, picked up by his father at weekends in a big 1970's car and taken to a dark, warm bachelor pad with samurai swords and a big window with a panoramic view of Seattle and the Space Needle, with a big red model horse in the middle. He lounges around and plays with his father in a kimono, and his father may have an Asian girlfriend, who later is in the car holding a big engagement ring. Yet dad takes a bunch of roses to mom each week on returning the boy, which she dumps in the garbage. She wears a neck brace and studies to become an accountant, and has a big bright dusty room with a piano where she dabbles in Satie. Interestingly, he sometimes has wild dreams at his moms peopled with things at his father's place. Kohn thought this the oddest but most interesting and rated it highest next to BAO. I find it hard to pick a winner here.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-12-2019 at 07:32 PM.

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    Oscar Nominated Shorts, 2019.

    DOCUMENTARY.
    This category tends, understandably, to focus for the most part on hot button current issues. The first one this time, however, "A NIGHT AT THE GARDEN", takes place in the 1940's, and so is aarchival footage. But the 20,000 strong crowd out to give the Nazi salute and cheer for Hitler and jeer at Jews in the heart of New York City is a shocker that resonates with our current reawakening to the presence of racism and white supremacy in our midst. There are a lot of good feature length documentaries and likewise there are plenty of good short ones, sometimes several about the same key subject, as was the case with ones a couple years ago about the fighting in Syria. Kate Erbland rates then on IndieWire. I mostly agree and they are here in ascending order of quality.





    LIFEBOAT (Skye Fitzgerald, 34 mins,).
    A vivid film, referencing one of he biggest problems in he world today, refugees. For a more comprehensive global description of the issue see other bigger films like Ai Wei Wei's human Flow.. But a great flm about this problem, I have yet to see. LIFEBOAT follows Sea Watch, a German program, one of three coordinated by the maritime Coordination Rescue Center (MCRC) in Rome, rescuing refugees on small boats in distress off the coast of Libya. One by one Africans from Cameroon and Code d'Ivoire recount being exploited and imprisoned when they got to Libya, beaten, ransomed, raped. They chose to escape "across the water" to Europe. The wooden or rubber boats are vastly overcrowded, straining the capacity of Sea Watch's crafts and staff. In one day there are a thousand on three boats, with sick people and pregnant women suffering, and they have only one doctor and one nurse. In three days, they rescue 3,200 people. They destroy the boats so they can't be reused by traffickers. This depressing, patchy, but essential film is bookended by scenes of Libyans in boots and masks and gloves retrieving dead bodies that have been washed up on the shore. A ship captain utters some wise words about the refugee problem with the thought that we may be these people in a later cycle of history - but it is not enough to sum up such complicated issues.



    PERIOD. END OF SENTENCE (Rayka Zehtabchi, 27 mins.).
    This film makes a "joyous" or jaunty process the account of rural India's belated adoption of sanitary pads for menstruating women. With the lack of "technology" goes ignorance and superstition. It's still believed in this region that menstruation is "dirty" and therefore women shouldn't enter a place of religion when menstruating. Young man don't even know what a "period" is, and young women in a class are much too shy and embarrassed to divulge it. If all this reflects a patriarchal remnant, we must remember that India as had a woman prime minister, and America hasn't. There is fun in the giddy young women and the clueless men, the peple are beautiful, and the local semi-artisanal production of sanitary pads that's set up i the provinces seems a model of environmentally sound and noble local female-based business. But this film seems somehow a bit off, uncertain in tone.



    END GAME (Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman, 40 mins.).
    San Francisco's UCSF Medical Center Palliative Care Team is shown at work in this end-of-life study. Soon we go to the Zen Hospice Project. This has a reputation of being a good place to go for your last days. Where do you go, what do you do? All have their own answers. The filmmakers spend a lot of time with the family of Mitra, an Iranian woman dying of cancer, in UCSF Hospital, with her family around her, her husband, her mother, her young son, even her sister comes from Lucerne, Switzerland. She is taking some trug treatments but she is very weak. Before they decide to take her anywhere else, she dies. The film also focuses on the Zen Hospice Project and one of its leaders, a charismatic MD who lost two lower legs and one hand playing on top a train at nineteen. We visit the Zen Guest House and some of the people, and handful of whom are followed through till their deaths. Some wise things are said about death and dying here by the en Hospice doctor, UCSF doctors, and even the dying and their families, providing much food for thought. A Netflix film.



    BLACK SHEEP (Ed Perkins) 26:42 mins.).
    This is a participant's post-facto narrative and recreation of an essential childhood-adolescence recollection: scenes and a talking head. Cornelius Walker, a young, handsome, likable man of Nigerian descent who came originally from Peckham, Southwark, London. His father took the family out of Peckham to the country after there was a killing of a ten-year-old boy of Nigerian descent, just like him, in their neighborhood. He and his brothers knew it could have been them. His father had to continue working in London. Essex, where they moved, turned out to be a white, racist place. He misses his father's love. He needs love. So, after getting badly beaten, he does all he can to fit in. He wears their clothes, talks like them, wears blue contact lenses, and bleaches his skin, becomes a white Negro, and fits in, becomes accepted in a gang of white racist boys who do violent things, and enjoys it, letting out all the anger he feels about his dad. And he liked it. The scenes are recreations, but they are needed to flesh out the bear bones of the narrative. This is a well made film, good because of the skillful and artful scene-making, but above all because of the charm and honesty of Cornelius, who, 18 years later, still has no answers about what he did and is completely honest about whatever he can tell. A compelling and strangely appealing tale.



    A NIGHT AT THE GARDEN (Marshall Curry) 7 mins.).
    On the brink of Hitler's invasion of Poland, the films condensed here were made of a huge rally in Madison Square Garden in support of Hitler and the German government. Think back to Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour: Churchill was an outlier in being staunchly opposed to appeasement of the Führer and the Third Reich. It was a while before it was okay to be anti-Nazi in the States too. But we probably didn't know if we're not historians that a 20,000-strong rally could be mounted.Curry's doc is only 7 minutes long but it packs the biggest wallop of the group. In the IndieWire critic's view, this is the best of the lot, and indeed, it has the most resonance in this current moment. A stunning discovery.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-12-2019 at 07:33 PM.

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    English object to "Detainment" nomination.

    Just as there has been outrage at the Motion Picture Academy's announced, now reversed, decision to award the Oscars in four categories - Editing, Cinematography, Makeup and Hairstyling, and Live Action Short - during commercial breaks so the public would not see them, the English have tried to block the nomination of "Detainment" altogether. As we describe above, the Live Action Oscar finalist "Detainment" focuses on the actual 1993 abduction and murder of a two-year-old boy in England, James Bulger, by two ten-year-old boys, impressionistically depicting the interrogation of the two perpetrators with flashbacks to moments of their crime. A more interesting but less sensational topic suitable for documentary treatment would be the later punishment of the boys and its results. But that could be equally controversial in England.

    According to Variety, Bulger's mother and others who organized a petition to have the film removed from the Oscar list were protesting "what they see as a gratuitous depiction of a horrific incident and a too-sympathetic portrait of the killers." Variety mentions there were 100,000 signatures on the petition to withdraw "Detainment" from submission to the Oscars.

    The Irish filmmaker, Vincent Lambe, said that he was trying to add nuance to a case that is usually viewed in extreme colors (or colours). This is somewhat debatable: "Detainment" seems full of an almost hysterical excitement. But it does add some sympathy for the two young murderers, though Lambe denies this. (Am I alone in seeing them also as victims?)

    "Detainment is still one of the four Live Action Short Oscar nominees. Reviews indicate it is not likely to win. "Marguerite" seems now to be the favorite in this category though I and several other reviews I saw prefer "Fauve."

    The Oscar Shorts category seems to be more recognized by the public in recent years, partly because the finalists are now shown in theaters across the country over the weeks preceding the awards ceremony.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-19-2019 at 09:54 AM.

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