(*homocinematically inclined)

Friday, January 31, 2020

Short Cuts 2020, Part 3: Oscar's Documentary Short Subject Nominees

For the 15th year, ShortsTV presents this year's Academy Award nominated animated, live action and documentary short films at a theater or streaming platform (starting February 4th) 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.

This category is a mixed bag this year. There are two investigative pieces that start off with interesting subject matter but end up feeling frustratingly incomplete, and two personal profiles that don't dig any deeper than "aren't these guys great". Rounding out the nominees is the requisite "children overcoming adversity inspirational story" that usually ends up winning.

And the nominees are...

In the Absence, Seung-jun Yi & Gary Byung-Seok Kam (USA, 28 minutes), trailer.

On April 16, 2014, a Korean ferry carrying 476 passengers sank. A shocking amount of bureaucratic incompetence leads to the preventable loss of 304 lives. This AFI Docs Festival award winner engrossingly recounts the events of the disaster, but fumbles with the aftermath, curiously leaving out key details like murder charges and manhunts.

MD Rating: 6/10

Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl), Carol Dysinger & Elena Andreicheva (UK, 39 minutes), trailer.

Welcome to the Skateistan Schoolhouse and Skate Park in Kabul, Afghanistan, where young girls are taught how to read, write and... skateboard? Although that last subject is never really explained in this IDA and Tribeca award winner, it's hard not to be won over by the beaming faces of the courageous students, eager to learn... and skate.

MD Rating: 7/10

Life Overtakes Me, Kristine Samuelson & John Haptas (Sweden/USA, 39 minutes), trailer.

In Sweden, hundreds of refugee children are lapsing into a coma-like illness called 'Resignation Syndrome'. This Netflix short takes an odd approach to exploring this fascinating medical mystery, relying heavily on repetitive patient histories and relegating the facts to voice overs during random, bleak montages of the Swedish countryside.

MD Rating: 6/10

St. Louis Superman, Sami Khan & Smriti Mundhra (USA, 28 minutes), trailer.

Bruce Franks Jr. is a civil rights activist, 'battle rapper' and Missouri State Representative. Apparently he is known as Superman to his constituents, thus the title, although nobody actually calls him that in this documentary. He is frequently upstaged by his precocious son. If this review seems a little choppy and incomplete, so is this short.

MD Rating: 5/10

Walk Run Cha-Cha, Laura Nix & Colette Sandstedt (USA, 20 minutes), trailer.

Two young lovers are separated by war and reunited years later. No, not the Judi Dench Britcom As Time Goes By, but the story of Paul and Millie Cao, Vietnamese immigrants who have discovered in middle age a new level of freedom in ballroom dance. Easily the most "feel good" of the nominees, this is a sweet story but not a particularly revelatory one.

MD Rating: 6/10

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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