2019 Oscar Nominated Shorts – Animation, Live Action, Documentary
Laura's Review: B
All of the nominated short animations offer their own pleasures, but Trevor Jimenez's "Weekends" is the clear winner for me. Many will have seen Pixar's "Bao" as it accompanied their "Incredibles 2" release. Domee Shi examines over protective mothering within the guise of food culture when a woman's handmade dumpling turns into a child. It and "One Small Step," a charming look at a young girl whose father sacrifices so that she may achieve her dream of becoming an astronaut, are the only CGI entries. "Animal Behavior" is a hilarious look at different species, all brandishing recognizable human traits, in a therapy group. "Late Afternoon" is a lyrical visualization of an old woman's fragmented memories. "Weekends" charts a young boy being shuttled between divorced parents. The wordless animation is profoundly emotional, nostalgic snippets of a radio program or foreign film on TV creating a longing, its look as unique as the work of Edward Gorey with its Gothic undertones. Live Action: The 2019 Oscar nominated live action shorts hail from Spain, the UK, Canada and U.S., but while they take on many genres - true crime, mystery, coming of age adventure and drama - they all have one thing in common, death. Laura: Writer/director Vincent Lambe's "Detainment" is the most controversial, having garnered tens of thousands of signatures in the UK petitioning the filmmaker to remove it from Oscar consideration in deference to the victim's family (he refused). Based on the transcripts of police questioning of Robert Thompson (Leon Hughes) and Jon Venables (Ely Solan), Britain's youngest convicted murderers at 10 years of age, the film recounts how in 1993 these two young boys led 2 year-old James Bulger away from a Liverpool shopping mall, conversed with adults twice, then ultimately stoned him to death on railroad tracks. There was more, four pages of these transcripts deemed too horrific for court or this film, although Lambe certainly implies what happened was sexual in nature. The two young actors are tremendous, Hughes a full blown sociopath (no background as to his own possible abuse is provided) and Solan cornered, emotional and hysterical over what he has taken part in. Three parents run the gamut of reactions, from Jon's supportive if still unfathoming mother and his numbed father to Robert's more matter-of-factly astonished mother. The film is exceedingly well done, leading us to ponder just how preventable this crime was, but one is left also pondering its point, no psychological background provided to 'explain' the boys' behavior nor even why two such seemingly different kids were hanging out to begin with. Grade: B+ Canada's "Fauve" also features two young boys getting up to mischief, albeit without murderous intent. Out exploring, a game of oneupmanship ensues as the boys clamber about an abandoned train car, challenging each other at every turn with dangerous dares. At one point, the sheer beauty of nature stops Benjamin (Alexandre Perreault) in his tracks as he describes a fox in the distance, but Tyler (Félix Grenier) smells a ploy and we are left to guess. But when the boys come across a quarry their dangerous games cross a critical line. Writer/director Jeremy Comte makes a powerful statement about man's destructive nature with an ironic final image. Grade: A- "Marguerite," also from Canada, is my favorite to win the Oscar. An old woman who refuses to consider dialysis concerns her home care aide who's noted spreading bruising on her back. Yet Marguerite (Béatrice Picard) takes great pleasure in Rachel's (Sandrine Bisson) touch as she rubs lotion on her legs or washes her hair, appreciation noted by the aide with satisfaction and affection. A phone call interrupts their routine, Rachel's flirtatious responses observed by Marguerite who asks if that was her boyfriend. A second's hesitation later, she answers that it was her girlfriend. Marguerite's calm surprise turns into revelatory inquisitiveness. The two actresses share intimate communion, expressing much with few words in writer/director Marianne Farley's moving consideration of how the repression of past generations stifled humanity. Grade: A "Madre," from Spain, is exceptional in its use of physical space to suggest atmosphere and increase tension. Beginning with a long shot of an empty , expansive beach, the action shifts to a modern apartment where Marta (Marta Nieto) and her mother (Blanca Apilánez) gossip about an alluring woman. Then Marta gets a phone call from her 6 year-old, Iván, scared because he's been left by his father, her ex-husband, on a beach. With one shot encompassing action in the multiple rooms the two women move into and out of, writer/director Rodrigo Sorogoyen makes us feel the futility of action from a distance as the child's circumstances grow increasingly dire. Grade: B+ The U.S. nominee, "Skin," is the starriest entry, "Patti Cake$'s" Danielle MacDonald and "The Deep End's" Jonathan Tucker the parents of the impressionable Troy (Jackson Robert Scott). The tattooed, heavy metal loving parents appear to have created a loving family, their circle of friends rough but comfortably companionable. But then a group trip out of the city turns into a firearms 'lesson' for Troy featuring all manner of weaponry and our perception begins to change. Things veer into ugliness with Jeff's reaction to a black man's interaction with his child at a grocery checkout. Cowriter (with Sharon Maymon)/director Guy Nattiv turns everything on its head with a twisty racial revenge plot in his exploration of racism, gun violence and nurture vs. nature, but his conclusion is all too obvious.