(*homocinematically inclined)

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Dearest Review: Short Cuts 2018, Part 2: Oscar's Documentary Short Subject Nominees

ShortsTV once again presents this year's Academy Award nominated animated, live action and documentary short films at a theater or streaming service (starting February 27th) near you. These special programs are usually the only way for most movie fans to see all of 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.

In a year when gender issues have rocked Hollywood, women's stories dominate this category's nominees, which range in subject matter from mental health to elderly care to police brutality. All five films hail from America, and all but one of the nominated filmmakers are first-timers.

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

And the nominees are...

Edith+Eddie, Laura Checkoway and Thomas Lee Wright (USA, 30 minutes).

96-year-old Edith Hill and 95-year-old Eddie Harrison, "America's oldest interracial newlyweds", just want to live out their time with each other but find their happiness in danger when a family member threatens to separate them. Championed by none other than Cher herself, this nominee is the heart-breaker of this year's doc shorts, giving it a strong chance of winning. But more importantly, Edith+Eddie shines an unflinching light on the despicable subject of elder abuse, a horrifyingly growing trend in this country that needs to be exposed as much as possible.

Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 8/10
Pair it with: Chili's Best Foreign Language Film nominee A Fantastic Woman, which also features an unconventional couple and a disapproving family.

Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405, Frank Stiefel (USA, 40 minutes).

Mindy Alper is an accomplished artist who has had noted gallery showings of her thought-provoking ink drawings and expressive papier-mâché sculptures. She has also battled chronic mental illness most of her life, suffering through electroshock therapy, multiple institutionalizations and a decade-long period where she didn't speak. Dealing with her depression, anxiety and lingering issues with her late father and once-estranged mother through her art, Alper makes a compelling, idiosyncratic subject in this year's requisite "artist overcomes adversity" nominee.

Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 7/10
Pair it with: Another unique profile of a unique artist, Loving Vincent.

Heroin(e), Elaine McMillion Sheldon and Kerrin Sheldon (USA, 39 minutes).

If your town was known as the "overdose capital of America", you may want to do something to change that. Three female residents (the "heroines" of the title, get it?) of Huntington, West Virginia — the fire chief, a drug court judge and the head of an outreach ministry — are the subjects of this Netflix documentary, and they are seen doing the best that can be done in a community that sees from five to seven OD deaths a day. While statistics such as that are shocking, there's nothing all that revelatory here, and there's a distinct lack of focus.

Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 6/10
Pair it with: Hmm, a film with a strong female lead and her quest for justice? That would be Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Knife Skills, Thomas Lennon (USA, 40 minutes).

Edwins, a French eatery in Cleveland, Ohio, is not your typical restaurant: it serves as a training ground for a majority of its staff — men and women who have spent time in prison — to learn a marketable trade, such as cooking or serving. Although director Lennon has been Oscar nominated three times previously in the documentary categories, this one can't escape the feeling of a reality show (granted, a watchable one), from its array of character types (the hot-headed manager, the likable ex-drug dealer who wants to impress his mom) to that groaningly awful double-meaning title.

Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 6/10
Pair it with: Albeit on the opposite end of the spectrum in many respects, Molly Bloom is also trying to "get on the straight and narrow" following past illegal deeds in Molly's Game.

Traffic Stop, Kate Davis and David Heilbroner (USA, 31 minutes).

In June 2015 in Austin, Texas, an African-American teacher was pulled over by a white police officer for a routine traffic stop that quickly escalated into a violent arrest, and all of it was caught on his patrol car's dashcam. That raw footage is distressing to say the least, but as the woman's civil case against the officer is still going on, there is a lot of unanswered questions that this HBO documentary is unable to answer. As it is, it plays like the first half-hour of a more in-depth feature-length documentary still waiting for real life to catch up to it.

Watch trailer. Premieres on HBO February 19th, with an early preview on HBO NOW, HBO GO and HBO On Demand on February 16th.
Dearest Rating: 5/10
Pair it with: For more racially-motivated injustice, watch Yance Ford's powerful Best Documentary Feature nominee Strong Island.

Coming soon: Reviews of the Oscar nominees for Best Live Action Short Film.

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

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