(*homocinematically inclined)

Monday, February 11, 2019

Dearest Review: Short Cuts 2019, Part 2: 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 19th) 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 or break your office Oscar pool. In the second of three parts, Movie Dearest takes a look at this year's five nominees for Best Live Action Short Film.

To paraphrase Margo Channing: "Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a gloomy time". No doubt about it, the majority of the shorts nominated here are a bleak bunch. Subjects range from racial violence to infanticide to dying alone, so be prepared to shocked, sickened and really really bummed out. On the other hand, be prepared to be challenged with five thought-provoking mini-movies (all from first-time Oscar nominees) that may possibly be the best collection of contenders in any category this year.

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 our own Academy-sanctioned double feature. Bring on the popcorn!

And the nominees are...

Detainment, Vincent Lambe and Darren Mahon (Ireland, 30 minutes).

Two 10-year old boys are interviewed by the police about their involvement in the kidnapping and brutal murder of a 2-year old child. With a script directly based on the interview transcripts from the James Bulger case, this dramatic reenactment has aroused controversy in England (where the tragic event took place in 1993) and drawn heavy condemnation from the victim's family, who was not contacted regarding its production. It is difficult to disassociate oneself from the ethical and moral questions that surround Detainment, and it is extremely unsettling to watch as it is played out; even though no actual violence is depicted, I couldn't help but to grow concerned for the welfare of the young actors in it (one spends the bulk of the film in abject hysterics, for example). However this raw realism does not make one feel sympathetic for the killers, as some criticisms against the film have claimed. Yes, it does show them as human, but humans who did a monstrous, unspeakable thing, and Detainment elicits no empathy towards them. And considering the facts of what happened, how could it?

Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 7/10
Pair it with: Germany's Foreign Language Film contender Never Look Away is also based on a true story that has also been denounced by those who really lived it.

Fauve, Jeremy Comte and Maria Gracia Turgeon (Canada, 17 minutes).

Wrapped up in their adolescent game of one-upmanship, a pair of preteen boys stumble into a life-threatening situation. A grim and gritty exploration of young male machismo gone horribly wrong, this Sundance Special Jury Prize and Toronto International Film Festival Award winner is stunningly soul-stirring in several respects, from its growing sense of unease that slowly, chillingly intensifies as the chain of events unfold to a somber, sobering closing moment of fleeting innocence. Fauve (French translation: Wildcat) is a powerful, disconcerting examination of the consequences of unchecked masculine aggression.

Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 8/10
Pair it with: These characters would fit right in with the skateboarding guys in the Documentary Feature nominee Minding the Gap.

Marguerite, Marianne Farley and Marie-Hélène Panisset (Canada, 19 minutes).

When an elderly woman learns that her home care nurse is a lesbian it stirs within her memories of an unrequited love from long ago. Even though its main character is terminally ill, this is the least depressing of the nominees, which may help it stand out with Oscar voters when they cast their final ballots for the winner; it's already won every other award its been up for, including several LGBTQ film festival prizes. With a beautifully nuanced performance from veteran Canadian actress Béatrice Picard at its center, Marguerite is a bittersweet tale; heartbreaking yes, but also heartwarming.

Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 8/10
Pair it with: The Favourite may seem the obvious choice, but its satirical tone would be wildly out of sync here; go with The Wife instead, another story of a woman looking back on her life choices.

Mother (a.k.a. Madre), Rodrigo Sorogoyen and María del Puy Alvarado (Spain, 19 minutes).

A woman's life is turned upside down when her 6-year old son calls from his vacation with her ex-husband and says that his father has disappeared and he is alone on a beach somewhere in France. Already the winner of a Goya Award (Spain's Oscar) and the basis for a feature film adaptation (currently in post-production), Mother/Madre is an intimate, nerve-racking deep dive into a parent's worst nightmare. Taking place chiefly in one location, with long continuous shots to add to the swept-up-in-the-moment feel, this nominee will have you on the edge of your seat throughout and on your feet at its abrupt ending.

Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 7/10
Pair it with: Another tense nail-biter about a mother trying desperately to protect her children, A Quiet Place.

Skin, Guy Nattiv and Jaime Ray Newman (USA, 20 minutes)

An innocent smile between a black man and a white boy leads to a savage assault and a mind-blowing act of retaliation. Featuring familiar faces Danielle Macdonald (Dumplin', Bird Box) and Lonnie Chavis (young Randall on This Is Us), Skin closes out this year's nominees with another emotional roller coaster, one that takes you on a harrowing ride through redneck day trips, hate crime scenes and one very well-equipped garage/tattoo parlor. This one is very intense, and features an almost-too much to be believed payback scenario that nevertheless delivers a powerful payoff. Like Mother, this short has also already been turned into a feature, which premiered at last year's Toronto International Film Festival.

Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 7/10
Pair it with: Of Fathers and Sons, a Documentary Feature nominee, explores further what leads a parent to raise a child to hate.

Coming soon: Reviews of the Oscar nominees for Best Documentary Short Subject.

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

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