Whatever complaint you want to lobby against the Oscars, you’re no doubt right. The Oscars are indeed #SoWhite and #SoWrong. But there are categories that the Oscars get correct that nobody talks about, because they’re the smaller ones, the ones featuring works of art that most of the movie-going public won’t see, or frankly, care about.
This level of indifference about the Live Action, Animation and Documentary shorts perhaps gives the Academy the wrong idea about the rest of the ballot. America doesn’t care about independent film, or foreign film. America does care about documentaries, but only if they’re on HBO, iTunes or Netflix and involve murderers (or the making of one).
With VOD and more arthouse theaters showcasing the Oscar nominated shorts (featuring the Animated, Live Action and Documentary categories separately or packaged), the opportunity to see these great films is greater than ever, and should be taken advantage of, and help change the perception the Academy has of us. In six to 40 minutes, these films tackle themes far more eloquently and beautifully than most feature length films. We all know blockbusters have a lot of fat on them, are super stuffed and over-long. Think of the Shorts as if it’s watching movies on a diet: an imaginative, eye-opening, delicious and multicultural diet.
5. Stutterer (United Kingdom, directed by Benjamin Cleary and Serena Armitage)
This is the only short that ends on a happy note, but it’s still an emotional journey to get us there, witnessing a lonely man with a stutter that makes Prince Albert’s problems in King’s Speech look like a trifle. It’s hard to root for a guy more than in this film, as he maneuvers an online relationship. This is You’ve Got Mail without the unfortunate undertones. It’s the warm, family favorite, but it’s also the only one easily ranked.
4. Ave Maria (France/Germany/Palestine, directed by Basil Khalil and Eric Dupont)
A bickering Israeli family quite literally crashes into the lives of five West Bank nuns, right in time for Sabbath. Ave Maria is funny, biting, and important: showing people that believe in COMPLETELY different things can work together and help one another. It’s sad when a message as obvious as “being civil and understanding goes a long way” feels revolutionary, but there you have it.
Ranking the Oscar shorts is almost as painful and gut-wrenching as watching them. I mean that in a good way: we should be challenged and put through the wringer, and you will with the rest of these, that are all interchangeable for the top spot.
3. Shok (United Kingdom/Kosovo, directed by Jamie Donoughue)
It’s wartime in Kosovo in 1988, with two young boy besties caught in the crossfires. You know how it’s going to end, but the journey is harrowing and worth the gut punch. We’ve seen this story before, and that’s precisely the point, and why Shok is so important. War, violence and the innocent lives caught in the middle of it need no introduction, yet it seems like nothing has changed, a familiar theme seen in both Live Action and Animation categories.
2. Everything Will Be Okay? (Germany/Austria, directed by Patrick Vollrath)
If I had a child, I don’t think I’d be able to watch this one.
A father picks up his daughter Lea from his ex-wife to take her around on their normal weekend. Except, this time, he doesn’t intend on bringing her back. As the audience and Lea slowly realize what’s going on, your heart becomes firmly lodged in your throat: you realize how easy it could be for anyone to crack, to do crazy desperate things for love, and the damage we’re inflicting upon our children in the process.
Whereas Day One is just ALL tension all the time, this one builds up to impossible heights, simmering until it boils, giving you this uncomfortable grab bag of emotions and the shivers.
1. Day One (United States, directed by Henry Hughes)
An Afghan-American woman joins the U.S. military as an interpreter and is thrown into it from, yes, Day One. There’s not a more brutal, tension-filled, edge of your seat, frustrating, gripping, AHHHHH 25 minutes of your life you will spend at the theater than here. But in the end, much like Ave Maria, we see the miracles of what can happen if we work together, communicate, and understand our religious and cultural differences.
I think this should win, but my hunch is that Shok takes home the trophy this Sunday.