(*homocinematically inclined)

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Dearest Review: Short Cuts 2019, Part 3: 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 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 last of three parts, Movie Dearest takes a look at this year's five nominees for Best Documentary Short Subject.

Unlike the bumper crop of contenders for the Documentary Feature category (where such high profile hits as Won't You Be My Neighbor? and Three Identical Strangers couldn't even make the final cut), the pool of Documentary Shorts must have been a shallow one considering this mostly average slate of nominees. The largely familiar subjects and/or lack of innovative approaches makes this year's finalists a weaker field than recent years. And a somber one as well, which is good news for the lone "inspirational" nominee as "overcoming adversity" narratives are often the victors here.

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...

Black Sheep, Ed Perkins and Jonathan Chinn (UK, 27 minutes).

Meet Cornelius Walker, a black man who spent his youth going to extreme lengths to "fit in" with his racist friends. Winner of several film festival awards, this vivid personal history is brought to life through well-crafted reenactments depicting Walker's physical transformation, which even he is shocked by in retrospect. Walker is undoubtedly a charismatic subject (and his story just screams to be fully dramatized), yet Black Sheep comes up short in the end by, curiously, leaving out how his survival plan ultimately played out.

Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 7/10
Pair it with: Documentary Feature nominee Hale County This Morning, This Evening, another intimate study of the modern black experience.

End Game, Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (USA, 40 minutes).

An intimate look inside San Francisco’s Zen Hospice Project and UCSF’s Palliative Care Program, where several terminal patients are faced with the choices that must be made as they are nearing the end of their lives. From the long-running directing duo behind the Oscar winning Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt (as well as such essential gay docs as The Celluloid Closet, Paragraph 175, etc.), this Netflix documentary short doesn't live up to their past work; it feels like the first draft of what would be a more fully-realized feature.

Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 6/10
Pair it with: Granted, the title may sound a tad too on the nose here, but the biopic At Eternity's Gate does deal with the final days of famed painter Vincent Van Gogh's life.

Lifeboat, Skye Fitzgerald and Bryn Mooser (USA, 34 minutes).

Volunteers from a German non-profit humanitarian group search the Mediterranean Sea to rescue Libyan refugees who have fled from their country in dangerously overcrowded rafts. The second installment of the filmmakers' trilogy of short films exploring the global refugee crisis, Lifeboat does have an important story to tell. However, its impact is reduced if one has seen the feature Fire at Sea and/or the short 4.1 Miles, two Oscar nominated docs from two years ago that covered similar ground in much more immediate fashions.

Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 6/10
Pair it with: Like these refugees who are seeking a better life, the young protagonist of Capernaum (Lebanon's Foreign Language Film contender) is fighting against the life that was imposed on him.

A Night at The Garden, Marshall Curry (USA, 7 minutes).

On February 20, 1939, an American Nazi rally is attended by 20,000 people in New York City's Madison Square Garden. This one is a puzzlement to me. There is no doubt that what we see is powerful, and terrifyingly similar to certain modern-day political rallies (which is probably why it has made it this far at the Oscars). But it is literally just archival footage, with no commentary other than a three-sentence title card at the end. Frankly, it just doesn't seem it deserves to be here considering how little actual filmmaking was involved in it.

Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 5/10
Pair it with: Needless to say it is not much of a stretch to go from Nazis to the KKK, therefore: BlacKkKlansman.

Period. End of Sentence., Rayka Zehtabchi and Melissa Berton (USA, 26 minutes).

In India, female menstruation is looked upon as taboo and less than 10% of women use feminine hygiene products. We meet a group of women who, fed up with the stigma attached to this natural act of human biology, learn how to manufacture and sell sanitary pads. Sponsored by the Pad Project, this AFI Fest Award winner from Netflix refreshingly focuses on the solution rather than the problem, and the result is a joyous salute to its inspiring subjects, women helping women by making their lives better in a basic but profound way.

Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 8/10
Pair it with: A female empowerment doc? You won't find a better match than RBG.

Coming soon: 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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