Magnolia Pictures and Shorts HD continue their fantastic annual tradition of bringing the year's collection of Academy Award-nominated short films to theaters around the country with the "2016 Oscar Nominated Shorts Programs." The Academy's short film selections usually end up being a bit more adventurous than the feature film nominations, and it's often a place where young filmmakers get their big break, making this program essential viewing for any film lover. I'm always a bit in awe of how these directors are able to accomplish more with their films' minimal running times than most features.
As has become the tradition, the films are split into four presentations (the documentary shorts are separated into two separate programs). Catch them before the Oscar ceremony on Sunday, February 28, to get a leg up in your office Oscar pool.
Live action program
An Israeli family crash their car outside a Palestinian convent in "Ave Maria" (Palestine/France/Germany), Basil Khalil's funny but somewhat uneven story about how sometimes it's necessary to break the rules in order to do what's right.
In the nerve-racking "Shok" (Kosovo/United Kingdom), Jamie Donoughue follows two young boys who find their friendship and their lives threatened as their country becomes embroiled in the Kosovo War.
A divorced father picks his 8-year-old daughter, Lea, up for the weekend, but she senses that something is very wrong, in the emotionally harrowing "Everything Will Be Okay" (Germany/Austria). Director Patrick Vollrath gets remarkable performances from his two leads, particularly Julia Pointner as Lea.
On her first day in Afghanistan, an army translator comes to the aid of the pregnant wife of a suspected enemy, in the tense and well-acted "Day One" (United States).
My favorite of the Live-Action group, "Stutterer" (United Kingdom/Ireland) is the sweet story of a lonely typographer who, when his online crush wants to meet, must overcome his speech impediment for the sake of romance.
The latest work from renowned animator Richard Williams ("The Thief and the Cobbler," "Who Framed Roger Rabbit"), "Prologue" (United Kingdom) is a brutal but gorgeously animated battle between four Spartan and Athenian warriors.
The sole animated short to feature any dialogue, Don Hertzfeldt's brilliant "World of Tomorrow" (United States) is the story of a young girl named Emily who receives a surprising visitor from the future.
An aging circus bear shares the story of his life, told through a mechanical diorama in the charming and bittersweet "Bear Story" (Chile).
The story of two cosmonauts and lifelong friends training for their first mission to space, Konstantin Bronzit's"We Can't Live Without Cosmos" (Russia) skillfully moves from humor to unexpected pathos. This one gutted me.
If you didn't see "Sanjay's Super Team" (United States) before Pixar's "The Good Dinosaur" (and let's face it, most of you didn't) you missed out on director Sanjay Patel's sweet, action-packed tale about a young boy finding common ground between his values and those of his immigrant father.
The animation program is rounded out by four additional shorts, which I unfortunately didn't have the opportunity to screen ahead of time: "If I Was God," "The Short Story of a Fox and a Mouse," "The Loneliest Spotlight," and "Catch It."
Documentary program A
The riveting HBO Documentary, "Body Team 12" (Liberia), from director David Darg, follows Garmai Sumo, the sole female member of the medical team whose job it is to remove the bodies of Ebola victims after they've died.
SharmeenObaid-Chinoy's heartbreaking "A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness" (Pakistan) documents the story of Saba Qaiser, a 19-year-old Pakistani girl who was the victim of an attempted honor killing carried out by her father and uncle. She survived, only to face pressure from the elders of her village to forgive her attackers, essentially pardoning them from all wrongdoing.
Through audio interviews illustrated with sparse black and white animation, Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman shares the heartbreaking story of Bill Babbit and his brother Manny, in "Last Day of Freedom" (United States). Two tours in Vietnam and severe PTSD left Manny a broken man, but when Bill learned his brother had perpetrated a terrible crime, he agonized over whether to turn him in.
Documentary program B
In "Chau, Beyond the Lines" (Vietnam/United States) director Courtney Marsh follows Chau, one of the thousands of Vietnamese children suffering from birth defects due to the lingering effects of Agent Orange. A teenager, Chau is determined not to let his disability keep him from his dream of becoming a professional artist.
In another HBO Documentary, "Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah" (Canada/United States/United Kingdom) Adam Benzine chronicles the 12-year making of the landmark epic Holocaust film, "Shoah," through interviews with French filmmaker Claude Lanzmann.