Combustible Celluloid

Live Action and Animated Oscar Shorts (2018)

One Small Step

Short Fuses

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

February 7, 2019—I can't be sure, but it seems as if the Academy voters this year collectively decided that, in these dire, terrible times, it was overall more important to nominate serious movies with strong messages than it was to nominate fun movies or movies with good stories or an intriguing artistic style. For better or for worse, this is reflected strongly in the Animated and Live Action Short Film categories.

This year's animated shorts don't seem to have yielded any classics. Of the five, David Fine and Alison Snowden's Animal Behavior (15 mins., Canada) is the only funny one, but its single joke — animals in a group therapy session dealing with their intrinsic traits — goes on for 15 minutes and doesn't really get any laughs.

The other four are very similar, depicting the melancholy, bittersweet passage of life from one generation to another, sometimes using dreams and reveries. Pixar's Bao (8 mins.) — which showed theatrically with Incredibles 2 — is lovely but strikes me as just a little creepily Freudian. It's favored to win. I think I liked Andrew Chesworth and Bobby Pontillas One Small Step (8 mins., USA and China) best; it tells the story of a young girl named Luna who dreams of becoming an astronaut, while her kind father quietly mends all her various shoes (including a pair of kid-sized moon boots).

Otherwise, Louise Bagnall's Late Afternoon (9 mins., Ireland) tells the story of Emily (voiced by Fionnula Flanagan), who suffers from dementia and whose grown daughter is taking care of her. Certain objects trigger memories of her life. Finally, there's Trevor Jimenez's Weekends (16 mins., USA), which features a fine, intricate design (with some samurai imagery), and is about a young boy shuttled back and forth between his divorced parents; he becomes increasingly upset as each parent finds a new significant other.


As for the live action shorts, four of them deal with children and death, so we're not talking anything terribly cheerful here. Vincent Lambe's Detainment, from the UK, is based on the true story of two young boys who take a toddler from a mall and somehow manage to kill him. It's focused on their questioning in the police station, and ends with the disturbing factoid that they were tried as adults, making them the youngest murderers of the 20th century; at 30 minutes, the film seems both too long and not long enough.

Jeremy Comte's Fauve (16 mins., Canada, in French) deals with two kids who are playing near a construction site, giving each other little challenges, when they encounter a pool of goopy, sucking muck. I like the ending, but the material is dauntingly dark.

Guy Nattiv's Skin (21 mins., USA) is pretty darn good, in a revenge-y sort of way. A sweet little kid is being raised by a gang of white supremacists, being taught to shoot and encouraging various bad behaviors, such as "surfing" (i.e. riding on a couch that is strapped to and pulled behind a pickup truck). One day a black man in a supermarket smiles at the boy, so his dad, and the rest of the gang beat him up. Then, the black man, who has his own gang, turns the tables. Danielle Macdonald (Patti Cake$) co-stars in this one.

Rodrigo Sorogoyen's Madre (18 mins., Spain) is easily my favorite, a dynamic story of a woman who gets a phone call from her six year-old son; he's alone on a beach somewhere and his father is nowhere to be seen. It consists of only a few shots, including the lengthy centerpiece whopper of more than 10 minutes, with tension and drama mounting the entire way. (Sorogoyen is apparently making a feature-length version.)

Finally, Marianne Farley's Marguerite (19 mins., Canada, in French) tells the story of an aging woman who discovers that her visiting nurse is a lesbian; she remembers her own past, when times were different. It's nice, but a bit slow and not terribly subtle, and it could be the winner just for being different and for offering something positive.

Movies Unlimtied