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Short Films in Focus: The Oscar-Nominated Short Films of 2022

Last week, the Academy announced that none of the Shorts categories would be part of the live telecast (along with Best Editing, Best Production Design, Best Sound, Best Score and Best Make-up and Hairstyling). I’ve seen a few people respond with “I understand cutting shorts, but not the rest.” Obviously, I don’t understand cutting the shorts. The logic used to be that nobody sees the shorts, so why bother? But that has changed dramatically over the last 15 years since Shorts.tv and Magnolia have been working to make the films available, both theatrically and through streaming. The Oscars, for better or worse and with varying degrees of success, have always been about celebrating film in all its forms. Without these three categories, some of the year’s best, most innovative films (no matter their length) would go largely undiscovered. Short films have their own form and deserve the same treatment as the features. 

The 2022 Oscar Nominated Shorts programs are currently in theaters. They will be available on iTunes, Amazon, Verizon, and Google Play starting on March 22. For more info, visit Shorts.tv.

"The Long Goodbye"

LIVE ACTION  

“Ala Kachuu (Take and Run)” - What we think is going to be a story of a young woman named Sezim (Alina Turdumamatova) gaining her independence by escaping the possibility of being stuck in an arranged marriage instead turns out to be a nightmare about that very thing. The film explores the plight of Kyrgyz women, many of whom are kidnapped and forced into a life of isolation and servitude. While we have seen this story many times over, Maria Brendle’s film remains a gripping drama in which we pray right alongside Sezim for some ray of hope. Turdumamatova’s performance keeps us watching. (38 min.)

“On My Mind” - A man (Rasmus Hammerich) walks into a bar and orders a drink. On his way out, he notices a karaoke machine and asks if he can film himself singing “You Are Always On My Mind.” We soon realize that the man has a need to do this that goes far beyond being a nuisance. This is an unexpectedly tender tearjerker that earns the tears, especially due to the final shot. Hammerich’s singing might test your patience, but his lack of talent makes for a much more poignant gesture. Directed by Martin Strange-Hansen. (18 min.)

“Please Hold” - A mix of semi-futuristic ideas from “RoboCop” and “Brazil,” in which a man is mistakenly arrested by drone cops and forced into a jail cell where he only has automated voice prompts to help get him out of prison. The film makes the most of its concept for its statements on prison reform, artificial intelligence, and the inherent flaws in automated voice messaging. The mix of tones doesn’t always work, but much like “AluKachuu (Take and Run)”, we wait for something good to happen that will put an end to this horrific situation. An English-language entry combined with a high concept make this an almost guaranteed win on Oscar night. Almost. (19 min.)

“The Dress” - This short tells the story of a dwarf woman (Anna Dzieduszycka) who works as a maid and engages her co-worker in discussions of love, sex and marriage, all of which she feels she will never have, until one day a man takes an interest in her. "The Dress" is a nicely rendered character portrait of a woman coming to terms with her prospects and the unfortunate reality of her situation, which limits her chances of feeling loved. Dzieduszycka is a real find. Directed by Tadeusz Lysiak. (30 min.)

“The Long Goodbye” - A week and a half ago when I watched this, it was a different film. Today, it will play much differently. The rug gets pulled out from the viewer as a family enjoys their day in an English neighborhood, only to have it disrupted by a horrific invasion. The film gains its power in its final moments as the brilliant Riz Ahmed has the final word on how inclusivity in a foreign land remains out of reach for far too many. Directed by Aneil Karia, but star and co-writer Riz Ahmed is also nominated and could go home a winner. (12 min.)

"Audible"

DOCUMENTARY

“Audible” - The first of two sports-centered docs this year, this one focuses on the Maryland School for the Deaf’s football team trying to defend their title. The death of a former schoolmate gives the film its emotional center as the teammates try to come to terms with the loss. Director Matthew Ogens has a lot of themes to work with here (bullying, LGBTQ+ issues, loss, redemption) and mixes them seamlessly in a short film that would likely have been equally satisfying as a feature. A crowd-pleaser and likely to be a favorite with voters. (35 min.)

“Lead Me Home” - The subject of homelessness in San Francisco and Los Angeles might be too big in scope to make for a satisfying short, as directors Pedro Kos and Jon Shenk try their best to follow some individuals and their plights while also giving an overview of the governmental side of the crisis. Their admirable attempts certainly come from a place of compassion and urgency, but the film consists of too many stylistic sequences that employ a bombastic score, some time-lapse and cross-cutting between the haves and the have-nots, and many seemingly rehearsed scenes of people in boardrooms and zoom chats speaking in earnest tones about what needs to be done. Focusing on one or two of the more compelling stories about the homeless would have had more of an impact. (39 min.)

“The Queen of Basketball” - The New York Times op-doc for this year centers on Lucy Harris, the first woman ever to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Directed by Ben Proudfoot, the short takes a broad overview of her accomplishments throughout high school and the Olympic, as Harris talks us through her life story and how she struggled with being bipolar and starting a family after leaving basketball. Harris does all the narrating and she is an engaging force of positivity. The film gets the job done, but as with all docs from the New York Times and the Atlantic, it is told in a formulaic narrative that shows little in the way of a directorial personality. It’s the safest of the five. (22 min.)

“Three Songs For Benazir” - Benazir is a young farmer living on the outskirts of Kabul where he is married to Shaista and has two kids. In order to build a life with her beyond the farm (or just to put shoes on their kids’ feet), he wants to enroll in the Afghan army, but his father and brother refuse to sign the proper papers to make that happen. Directors Elizabeth and Gulistan Mirzaei have found an interesting subject (Benazir) to help focus their story of the dramas that exist within these communities, while also keeping in mind the larger world out there. There are recurring shots of a blimp hovering in the sky, keeping watch. We leave the film wondering how Benazir is doing nowadays. (22 min.)

“When We Were Bullies” - Jay Rosenblatt’s personal examination of a bullying incident from almost 50 years ago is one that will resonate with many viewers, causing them to recollect similar incidents from their own childhood. A chance encounter with a former student also helps give the film a great deal of narrative momentum as Rosenblatt seeks to reconnect with everyone in his graduating class to help better understand his role in the bullying. Scrapbook animations also keep the story involving and engaging, but the more I thought about it, the more disingenuous it seemed. The apology ultimately falls flat. “I’m not sure anyone will want to see your film. They might find it tedious,” says a 92-year-old former elementary school teacher to her former student. If this were any longer than 35 minutes, she might have been right. Directed by Jay Rosenblatt. (35 min.)

"The Windshield Wiper"

ANIMATED

“Affairs of the Art” - Right off the bat, this short alerts its audience that this program is not for kids. A woman named Beryl (voiced by Menna Trussler) recounts significant moments from her childhood and relates them to the children she has now, all of whom have their own unique obsessions (taxidermy, art, Communism, plastic surgery, giving wounded animals a home). Beryl dreams of the artist's life she could have had if she made different choices. The hand-drawn animation style and sense of humor might remind one of the works of Bill Plympton. It's charmingly deranged and occasionally grotesque, but always with an eye on the subject of not being able to grow up. Definitely not for easily triggered animal lovers. Directed by Joanna Quinn. (16 min.)

“Bestia” - This is a grim tale about a Chilean Intelligence worker whose work haunts her to the point where she starts to lose her grip on reality. Her relationship with her dog and her body occupy a significant amount of her time. A dialogue-free piece that has a beautiful texture to it, "Bestia" is full of dark shadows and porcelain, almost expressionless figurines as its characters. Still, I have to admit that when I read the synopsis on IMDb after watching it, my first thought was, “Wait, that’s what that was about?” Another one that's not for easily triggered dog lovers. Directed by Hugo Covarrubias. (15 min.)

“Boxballet” - "Boxballet" is a wordless Russian love story between an Olive Oyl-like ballerina and a hulking, burly boxer. It's a nice exploration of opposites being attracted to one another, and how these characters have more layers to them than their professions would indicate. I’m somewhat put off by an animation style that makes humans look too much like extreme caricatures that it makes it hard to connect to them, but there are some lovely flourishes and textures here to keep our eyes on the screen. Directed by Anton Dyakov. (15 min.)

“Robin Robin” - No Disney, Pixar, or Sony titles this year, but we do have an Aardman film and it’s no doubt poised to take home the award (FYI, the most kid-friendly film almost always wins, so you’d be foolish to bet against it). This utterly charming short tells the tale of Robin (voiced by Bronte Carmichael), a bird who believes she is, or could be, a mouse, just like the ones who sneak into houses without being noticed. The artists traded in claymation for felt, with elaborately designed settings that make this tangible piece all the more worthy of a big-screen viewing. Aardman hasn’t won this award in 25 years and, while it may not be their most inventive, it nevertheless is a delight. Also featuring the voices of Gillian Anderson and Richard E. Grant. Directed by Daniel Ojari and Michael Please. (32 min.)

“The Windshield Wiper” - With its metaphorical title, this film explores love in many forms and how the chance to have it in one’s life often gets missed (swiping through dating profiles in rapid succession, for instance). "The Windshield Wiper" travels through many cities and even into space, where a text message exchange is superimposed over a hovering satellite, with one’s deepest feelings and desires becoming a synthetic exchange instead of an in-person, heartfelt declaration. The narratives here aren’t meant to coalesce into a final moment that explains everything (despite what the man on the train says at the end), but to further express that there exists no big answer or epiphany regarding chance encounters or explosive relationships. They happen or don’t, based on the choices we make. The animation style relies primarily on rotoscoping, but the colors here are sharp and arresting; the flow of the piece is hypnotic. My personal favorite of the bunch. Directed by Alberto Mielgo. (14 min.)

The 2022 Oscar Nominated Shorts programs are currently in theaters. They will be available on iTunes, Amazon, Verizon, and Google Play starting on March 22. For more info, visit Shorts.tv.

Collin Souter

Collin Souter has been reviewing films in Chicago for 14 years, most notably on WGN Radio where he has been a part of the movie review segment every week on The Nick Digilio Show.

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