(*homocinematically inclined)

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Dearest... Short Cuts 2016, Part 2: Oscar's Documentary Short Subject Nominees

ShortsHD once again presents this year's Academy Award nominated animated, live action and documentary short films at a theater or streaming device near you. These special programs are usually the only way for most movie fans to see these otherwise illusive short film nominees that can make our break your office Oscar pool. In the second of three parts, Movie Dearest takes a look at this year's five nominees for Best Documentary Short Subject.

Two British and three American short documentaries are the finalists for the Oscar this year, with loss and global conflict the dominant themes.

In addition to my reviews and trailer links, I've suggested a similarly-themed Oscar nominated feature film to pair with each documentary short nominee to create your own Academy-sanctioned double feature. Bring on the popcorn!

And the nominees are...

Extremis, Dan Krauss (USA, 24 minutes).

Set in the bustling confines of a hospital intensive care unit, compassionate doctors help families make the agonizing decisions on whether or not to keep their loved ones on life support (the title refers to the Latin phrase in extremis, which means “at the point of death”). Needless to say, this one is an intense, but effective, emotional roller coaster, and the one nominee here most likely to hit close to home. Krauss was previously nominated in this category for The Life of Kevin Carter.

Watch trailer, or watch in full on Netflix.
Dearest Rating: 8/10
Pair it with: Manchester by the Sea is steeped in grief and guilt.

4.1 Miles, Daphne Matziaraki (USA, 26 minutes).

4.1 miles is the distance across the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece, where thousands of refugees, fleeing from the war in Syria, attempted to cross the perilous waters on flimsy inflatable rafts. Most wouldn’t have survived if it wasn’t for the tireless rescue efforts of the Greek Coast Guard. The raw footage here is absolutely harrowing, with child after child plucked from certain death right in front of your eyes. Visceral and immediate, you won’t soon forget this one, already a Student Academy Award winner.

Watch trailer, or watch in full here.
Dearest Rating: 8/10
Pair it with: Documentary Feature nominee Fire at Sea, another view of the plight of refugees.

Joe's Violin, Kahane Cooperman and Raphaela Neihausen (USA, 24 minutes).

A 91-year-old Polish Holocaust survivor donates his treasured violin, which immigrated with him to America, to a school instrument drive, where it is adopted by a 12-year-old schoolgirl from an impoverished neighborhood. I hate to bag on something so well-intentioned, but this one feels so manufactured it’s practically a reality show. Even the big “emotional moment” when the two meet feels forced and falls flat. Sigh; Holocaust-related documentaries have become the Meryl Streep of this category, automatically nominated regardless of their actual merit.

Watch trailer, or watch in full on YouTube.
Dearest Rating: 5/10
Pair it with: another inspirational heart-tugger, Hidden Figures.

Watani: My Homeland, Marcel Mettelsiefen and Stephen Ellis (UK, 40 minutes).

The family of a Free Syrian Army commander live on the literal frontline of the Syrian Civil War, where bombs and gunfire are such everyday occurrences that the children actually “play ISIS”. After the father is captured, the family flees to Germany. Not sure what this one is trying to say, as it’s hard to sympathize with a father who would keep his children in a war zone or a mother who wants to go back to where her husband has been likely tortured and/or brutally murdered.

Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 4/10
Pair it with: The grim Jim: The James Foley Story.

The White Helmets, Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara (UK, 40 minutes).

They are the Syrian Civil Defense, a group of volunteer rescue workers who rush in to recently bombed-out neighborhoods to save as many victims as they can. You’ll witness their triumphs (rescuing a “miracle baby” from under tons of rubble) and defeats (not all of them make it home). Above all, you’ll be struck by not just the bravery of these selfless heroes but also their steadfast commitment to preserve life. Even after all the death and destruction, the filmmakers (previously nominated for the documentary feature Virunga) end their story on an uplifting note.

Watch trailer, or watch in full on Netflix.
Dearest Rating: 8/10
Pair it with: For more drama on the frontlines, try 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.

Coming soon: Part 3 takes a look at the five Oscar nominees for Best Live Action Short Film.

Click here for Part 1, my reviews of this year's Animated Short Film nominees.

Reviews by Kirby Holt, Movie Dearest creator, editor and head writer.

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