It's that time of year again, as ShortsTV once again brings all fifteen of the year's Oscar-nominated short films from the Animated, Live-Action, and Documentary categories into theaters around the country. Get an advantage in your office Oscar pool, and catch up with all the nominees before the Academy Awards ceremony takes place on Sunday, March 4.
Kicking off a politically-tinged collection of films, "DeKalb Elementary" (USA, 20 min.) is a tense, claustrophobic drama based on a real-life 911 call made by a brave front office worker (played by a terrific Tarra Riggs) during a 2013 school shooting incident in Atlanta, Georgia. Strong performances and the sure, steady hand of writer-director Reed Van Dyk keep the tricky material from coming across as exploitative.
The sad but sensitively drawn "My Nephew Emmett" (USA, 20 min.) focuses on a horrific moment in American history, the lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955 Mississippi. The film mostly avoids any depiction of the actual violence, focusing instead on the hours just prior, as Till's uncle Mose Wright (L.B. Williams) does his best to protect the young boy.
The lone comedy amongst this year's nominees, clever "The Eleven O'Clock" (Australia, 13 min.) takes place during a therapy session that spirals out of control when a psychiatrist meets his latest patient: a delusional man who believes he's a psychiatrist meeting his new patient. Hijinks ensue.
Impeccably performed and beautifully lensed, "The Silent Child" (UK, 20 min.) tells the touching story of a determined social worker (played by writer and star Rachel Shenton) hired to care for a young deaf girl born into an entirely hearing family who don't know how to deal with her.
Amid violent tensions between Christians and Muslims in Kenya, a bus trip taken by young Christian Jua (an excellent Adelyne Wairimu) becomes a powerful and harrowing plea for empathy in "WatuWote: All of Us" (Germany and Kenya, 23 min.).
Documentary Shorts Program A
The devastating "Traffic Stop" (USA, 31 min.) tackles racism and law enforcement in America through the story of Breaion King, a 26-year-old African-American school teacher from Austin, Texas. Pulled over in a routine traffic stop by a white police officer, the incident ended in King's violent arrest. That event is captured by police dashcam footage, which director Kate Davis juxtaposes with scenes from King's everyday life. "Traffic Stop" will also get an HBO premiere on February 19.
In my favorite of the documentary crop, the deeply humane "Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405" (USA, 40 min.), director Frank Stiefel turns his cameras on Los Angeles-based artist Mindy Alper, who opens up about her lifelong battle with mental illness and depression to show how she's been able to channel her experiences into some truly stunning work.
The heartbreaking "Edith+Eddie" (USA, 29 min.) chronicles the story of America's oldest interracial newlyweds. But what begins as a sweet human interest story becomes something much more urgent, when a family dispute between Edith's daughters threatens to separate the loving pair.
Documentary Shorts Program B
"Heroin(e)" (USA, 39 min.) gives audiences a look into the lives of three women on the front lines of the battle against addiction in Huntington, West Virginia, the "overdose capital of America." Equally heartbreaking, angering, and inspiring, their stories could easily could have supported a full-length feature.
"Knife Skills" (USA, 40 min.) chronicles the efforts of founder Brandon Chrostowski to launch Edwins restaurant in Cleveland, an establishment that ambitiously attempts to teach untrained, formerly incarcerated individuals how to cook and serve high-end French cuisine.
Former NBA player Kobe Bryant's creates an adoring tribute to the sport he loves in "Dear Basketball" (USA, 5 min.). As a film, it's beautifully executed -- no surprise considering Bryant was able to hire veteran Disney animator Glen Keane to direct, and none other than John Williams to compose the music. But the result leans toward self-indulgence, and in the wake of #MeToo and #TimesUp, knowledge of the sexual assault accusations against Bryant leave a somewhat bitter aftertaste.
A group of amphibians explore a mysteriously abandoned mansion in "Garden Party" (France, 7 min.), a gorgeously animated film with a delightfully macabre streak that's right up my alley.
Originally screening in front of "Cars 3," "LOU" (USA, 7 min.) tells the funny and sweet story of a playground bully and his encounter with the monster that lives in the lost and found.
Told through evocative stop-motion, "Negative Space" (France, 7 min.) is an unexpectedly emotional adaptation of a poem by Ron Koertge, about a boy who connects with his father by learning to pack a suitcase.
Adapted from the Roald Dahl book, the completely charming "Revolting Rhymes" (UK, 29 min.) remixes several well-known fairy tales in expectedly cheeky fashion.