(*homocinematically inclined)

Monday, February 19, 2018

Dearest Review: Short Cuts 2018, Part 3: Oscar's Live Action Short Film 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 last of three parts, Movie Dearest takes a look at this year's five nominees for Best Live Action Short Film.

The most international of this year's short film categories, the live action slate is a mostly serious one, although one laugher from down under managed to squeak in. Three are based on true stories, two are Student Academy Award winners and all five come from first time Oscar nominees. They're also each a quick watch, ranging in length from just 13 to 22 minutes.

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...

DeKalb Elementary, Reed Van Dyk (USA, 21 minutes).

It's a typical, quiet day at DeKalb Elementary School until a young man enters the administration office and calmly pulls a semi-automatic rifle out of his backpack, takes the receptionist hostage and threatens to shoot any police that interfere. Based on a real 911 call and playing out in real time, this is a taut, unsettling 21 minutes that captures the claustrophobic intensity of the situation, one that has become, horrifically, all too common in this country: tragically, coincidentally, this Kentucky high school shooting occurred on the same day that this short was Oscar nominated.

Most Valuable Player:  Tarra Riggs as Cassandra, just the type of person you would want on your side during a crisis.
Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 7/10
Pair it with: Dunkirk, another marathon of tension.

The Eleven O'Clock, Derin Seale and Josh Lawson (Australia, 13 minutes).

A psychiatrist meets with a patient who thinks he's a psychiatrist... so which one is the psychiatrist? As the only comedy in the mix, you would think this one would stand out, but no. A clever idea (although not all that original... didn't we see this on Frasier?) gets old fast; with the two dueling shrinks trying to out-analyze each other, it quickly turns into a psychoanalytic "Who's On First?". Not even the handsome Aussie playing the... psychiatrist?... the patient?... can make this one any more than a mildly amusing diversion amidst its more dramatic competition.

Most Valuable Player: Jessica Wren plays the temp secretary who is just as confused as the audience is as to who is who.
Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 6/10
Pair it with: It's dry humor would be a nice set up for The Big Sick.

My Nephew Emmett, Kevin Wilson, Jr. (USA, 20 minutes).

Mose Wright is a black preacher in Mississippi circa 1955, so when his teenage nephew from Chicago whistles at a white woman he knows it's just a matter of time before retribution will come knocking on his door in the middle of the cold, dark night. As distrubing as all the other times we have had to watch young black men dragged off by bile-spewing Southern bigots, this Student Academy Award winner tells an oft-told story (see also: fellow Oscar nominee Mudbound). A reality-grounding coda sets it apart.

Most Valuable Player: Yes, that is Jasmine Guy as Mose's wife Elizabeth.
Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 6/10
Pair it with: The obvious choice would be Mudbound, but I'm going with Get Out, which would provide vicarious catharsis for all the emotions this short elicits. Plus, the end credits of My Nephew Emmett bare a strikingly similar image to an iconic moment in Get Out.

The Silent Child, Chris Overton and Rachel Shenton (UK, 20 minutes).

Lily is a four-year-old profoundly deaf girl about to start school for the first time. But she is unable to communicate, even with her apathetic family, until a kind social worker (played by nominee Shenton, who wrote the screenplay) teaches her sign language. Yes, this one bears all the hallmarks of a winner in this category: child protagonist; inspirational "overcoming adversity" story; stirs just enough righteous anger; it's a tearjerker. But it will have earned that win just as much as it earns every bittersweet tear.

Most Valuable Player: The filmmakers wanted to cast a deaf child in the role of Lily, and they struck gold with Maisie Sly, seen here in her film debut.
Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 9/10
Pair it with: The wonderful Wonder, to show the right way to raise a child with a disability.

Watu Wote/All of Us, Katja Benrath and Tobias Rosen (Germany/Kenya, 22 minutes).

Jua is a Christian widow living in Kenya who finds herself in the minority when she must take a dangerous bus trip surrounded by Muslim passengers. Based on an actual incident that took place in 2015, this Student Academy Award winner (in the foreign language category) shows the power of empathy and the strength of standing up to intolerance, even when extraordinary choices must be made. The fact that what is dramatized in Watu Wote happened in real life shows that there is indeed hope for All of Us.

Most Valuable Player: Adelyne Wairimu is simply stunning as Jua.
Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 8/10
Pair it with: Both Watu Wote and The Insult (the Lebanese Foreign Language Film nominee) deal with interfaith conflicts.

Coming soon: Oscar Party ideas! And a Movie Dearest annual tradition: "If We Picked the Oscars".

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

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