Film/Arts/Satire*
(*homocinematically inclined)

Friday, April 9, 2021

Short Cuts 2021, Part 2: Oscar's Live Action Short Film Nominees


For the 16th year, ShortsTV presents this year's Academy Award nominated animated, live action and documentary short films, now playing in select theaters as well as digitally (watch the trailer here). 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.

Three American shorts face off against a pair from the Middle East, all from filmmakers invited to the Big Night for the first time. The common theme among this year's batch of nominees is conflict, with a diverse collection of protagonists struggling to "do the right thing" in difficult situations.

And the nominees are...

Feeling Through, Doug Roland & Susan Ruzenski (USA, 18 minutes), trailer.

A homeless youth (Steven Prescod), searching for shelter for the night on the streets of New York City, finds unexpected inspiration when he encounters a DeafBlind man (DeafBlind actor Robert Tarango). While it teeters awfully close to the "magical other" trope, this feel-good fable nails it on the strength of its winning lead performances.

Oscar Connection: To date, Marlee Matlin (one of Feeling Through's executive producers) is the only deaf performer to win an Academy Award; she won the Best Actress Oscar for 1986's Children of a Lesser God.

MD Rating: 7/10

The Letter Room, Elvira Lind & Sofia Sondervan (USA, 33 minutes), trailer.

After he is transferred to the mail room, an amiable corrections officer (a mustachioed Oscar Isaac) is drawn into the private lives of two death row prisoners. A promising premise that never quite commits to a tone: gritty prison drama or irreverent comedy? It's the Orange Is the New Black of short films.

Oscar Connection: Oscar Isaac (who is married to The Letter Room's writer/director Elvira Lind) has yet to be nominated for an Oscar himself, but if he ever is and then wins he will only be the second person named "Oscar" to do so. The first and so far only Oscar-winning Oscar is legendary songwriter Oscar Hammerstein II (who actually won two Oscars).

MD Rating: 6/10

The Present, Farah Nabulsi & Ossama Bawardi (Palestine, 23 minutes), trailer.

The simple task of shopping for an anniversary gift for his wife turns into a series of demoralizing frustrations for a Palestinian man (Saleh Bakri) as he navigates the Israeli checkpoints of the occupied West Bank. A powerful, universal story of persevering, of holding fast to one's humanity, in the face of seemingly insurmountable oppression.

Oscar Connection: The Present is the only short film this year nominated for both an Oscar and a BAFTA Award.

MD Rating: 8/10

Two Distant Strangers, Travon Free & Martin Desmond Roe (USA, 32 minutes), trailer.

A young black man (Joey Bada$$) is forced to relive a deadly encounter with a white police officer (Andrew Howard) over and over again. This "Spike Lee's Groundhog Day" couldn't be timelier, but a "gotcha" moment rips it back to harsh reality. Point made, but at the expense of our empathy for the film's hero (not to mention his poor hungry dog).

Oscar Connection: Prolific "tough guy" character actor Andrew Howard (Watchmen, Perry Mason) also appears in another Oscar nominated movie this year, Tenet.

MD Rating: 7/10

White Eye, Tomer Shushan & Shira Hochman (Israel, 20 minutes), trailer.

On the streets of Tel Aviv a man finds his stolen bicycle; the situation intensifies when the presumed thief appears. Unfolding in real time and in one continuous take that amps up the growing sense of inevitable, inescapable dread, this tense mini-drama shows how quickly lives can change, and often for the most senseless of reasons.

Oscar Connection: You may recall another film shot as one continuous take from last year, the Oscar winning 1917.

MD Rating: 8/10

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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