We’ve been meaning to launch a small but sweet “short” series for a long time. But alas, despite the tiny nature of the beast, we haven’t. On December 21st, we’ll hear which 30 eligible shorts Oscar voters favor across the Documentary, Animated and Live-Action flavors and we’ll have a good excuse to dig in a bit more. With all golden categories back on the broadcast for the 95th Oscars (yay!) we should highlight the three miniature categories in someway!
Sadly, the Academy has gotten less transparent over the past handful of years. They no longer release their eligibility lists in the shorts categories. We are sometimes able to get approximations of the lists from various sources but it’s not the same thing as having an “official” list. Nevertheless we believe the following five shorts are eligible and we’ve seen them so let’s briefly discuss…
GRANNY’S SEXUAL LIFE directed by Urška Djukič & Émilie Pigeard
After a handful of festival prizes this Slovenian short based on the book “Fire, Ass, and Snakes are not toys” won the European Film Award for Best Short (they don’t differentiate between what type of short). It’s easy to see this funny, disturbing, and feminist animated short making the finals. It’s not just that the hand-drawn scratchy animation is expressive but that there’s intent and honesty in the storytelling.
ICE MERCHANTS directed by João Gonzalez
This Portuguese animated short about a parachuting family who sells ice in the village below their cliff home, is wordless. But who needs words when the brilliant vertiginous visuals and the clear-as-day family dynamics paint so many for you? This took the Cine Discovery prize at Cannes and was nominated at the European Film Awards. We’re rooting away for an Oscar nomination.
LIVE ACTION SHORT
BALL AND VASE
BALL AND VASE written and directed by Dave Baram
This drama stars 82 year old enduring stage and screen character actor Austin Pendelton (he’s been in over 100 films or tv shows). He should have been Tony-nominated just last season for Tracy Letts’ The Minutes so he’s still got it. In this quiet short he plays a widower during the Christmas holidays who keeps wanting to show people magic tricks and none seem too interested inititally. We do think this has a shot at the finals.
TECHNO, MAMA written and directed by Saulius Baradinskas
This 18 minute Lithuanian short was nominated at the European Film Awards and has won a few festival prizes, too. The short revolves around a hostile relationship between an abusive mother and her angry son who loves techno music and dreams of clubbing in Berlin. Baradinskas and his cinematographer Vytautus Katkus shoot this one in a very tight aspect ratio that feels closer to a phone than a movie screen. Normally this kind of aspect ratio feels like an affectation signifying “modernity!” but it works so well for this short. The claustrophic sides of the frame are giving crowded mosh pit or life/town that’s just too small. You, too, are bouncing off the walls (or other people) to escape….literally, figuratively, spiritually. Is it the Academy’s cup of tea? Hard to say but damn it’s good. If you’ve ever seen Andrea Arnold’s Wasp (2003) it shares with that short an unsentimental slice-of-life confidence and charged furtive emotional beats. Baradinskas is just 32. Can’t wait to see what he does next.
NO GHOST IN THE MORGUE
NO GHOST IN THE MORGUE written and directed by Marilyn Cooke
Making shorts is a very specific artform. There can’t be too much plot or too many ideas but it also can’t be too simplistic so that the short is reduced to one punchline or one takeaway. No Ghost in the Morgue gets the balance just right. Despite its simple premise, a med student takes an internship she’s wary about at the morgue after losing her grandmother, it’s not entirely predicable despite one sidebar that feels like it will be in which the student sees her grandmother holding a parrot, in what is either a dream or a visitation. Despite the grim setting, the filmmaking is playful, and the takeaway message takes you off guard very pleasantly. Canadian filmmaker Marilyn Cooke’s third short stars Haitan-Canadian actress Schelby Jean-Baptiste and it won Best Live Action Short at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.