Oscar 2016 short film reviews 

Everything you need to see (and skip) from the Oscar short list.

click to enlarge Ave Maria
  • Ave Maria


Each year Oscars are awarded to short films in three categories: live action, animated, and documentary. We never get a look at the documentaries, which is a shame, but adventurous film-goers can check out the other two categories at Landmark Keystone Art Cinema. The collections are being shown as two separate features. This year I found the Live Action shorts to be a bit stronger than the Animated nominees. Bear in mind, however, that I haven't seen the full theatrical package, which includes several bonus animated features to bulk out its running time. I'm told that some of those films are quite strong. Here's a glimpse at the nominated films in both categories.

Live Action
4 stars (NR)


Ave Maria
Directed by Basil Khalil, Palestine/France/Germany, 15 minutes
Abrasive comedy set in the West Bank, where a family of Israeli settlers has a minor wreck outside of a convent. Inside, five nuns are dining. When they hear the crash they ignore it and keep on eating. Odd behavior. Eventually the youngest nun goes outside and meets the bickering family. They want help, but the nuns have taken a vow of silence. The sisters make their facilities available, but the family can't even dial the phone as the Sabbath has just began. Compromises must be made and there are moments of humor in the resolution. Modestly entertaining. Glad it was short.

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Shok
Directed by Jamie Donoughue, Kosovo/UK, 21 minutes
Beautifully photographed story of boyhood friendship in the middle of madness. Set in 1998 Kosovo, where the locals in a small village try to carry on their lives while the war moves from the shadows to the center of their everything. For a few minutes, the two young friends look like they could be cousins of the guys in Stand By Me, but the thugs around the boys have no intention of letting anybody, even children, get off easy. Moving.

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Everything Will Be OK (Alles Wird Gut)
Directed by Patrick Vollrath, Germany/Austria, 30 minutes
The story takes place in Germany, but it could be anywhere. A father picks his daughter up for their regular visitation. The tension between him and his ex is thick. We watch as Dad takes the eight-year-old shopping, flinging money around like divorced dads so often do. The pair get their photos taken in one of those do-it-yourself machines and all appears routine, until he instructs her to stop making faces and strike a neutral pose. Neutral? Sounds like dad has more on his agenda than a typical visit. The camera follows as the outing turns into a crime. It's riveting, thanks to the very realistic performances of the lead actors. Tough stuff.

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Stutterer
Directed by Benjamin Cleary, UK/Ireland, 12 minutes
My favorite of the bunch is this short focused on a young man enjoying an online relationship with a young lass. He's eloquent and charming, but also has a debilitating problem with stuttering. When she lets him know she's coming to his town and would like to meet him in person, he panics. What to do, what to do! I enjoyed getting to hear the fellow's interior voice as he describes fellow travelers. I appreciated the maturity in his decision on how to handle the proposed meeting, and I was satisfied by the resolution of the tale.

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Day One
Directed by Henry Hughes, USA, 25 minutes
It's the day of her first mission for an Afghan-American woman who joined the U.S. military as an interpreter and was sent to Afghanistan. Her task is to assist as troops pursue a bomb-maker, but matters become more complex when the man's pregnant wife goes into labor. Despite its war-torn setting, the film seemed a little stagey to me. Still, the drama is there and the crucial segment is certainly harrowing.

Animated
3.5 stars (NR)

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Sanjay’s Super Team
Directed by Sanjay Patel, USA, 7 minutes
Real life artist Sanjay Patel offers an agreeable look at his childhood, when his father attempted to draw him away from his cartoon superheroes long enough to become involved in Hindu traditions. After some colorful fantasizing, a compromise is reached.

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World of Tomorrow
Directed by Don Hertzfeldt, USA, 17 minutes
Stick figure sci-fi. A little girl named Emily receives a visit from her future self in the form of a clone. The flat-toned visitor is chatty, explaining that one of the ways people try to escape death is to imprint their minds/spirits into cloned bodies. From her presentation style, it appears there has been some degradation over the years. Watch carefully, this creepy, darkly funny tale showcases a belief system we are only now creating.

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Bear Story
Directed by Gabriel Osorio, Chile, 11 minutes
A sad bear with an elaborate diorama sells glimpses of his life, where he was taken from his family and forced to perform in the circus. The diorama even includes escape attempts on a mechanized wheel. Political imagery abounds in the melancholy tale. The handsome storybook quality art is presented in a mix of standard CGI and faux stop-motion

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We Can’t Live Without Cosmos
Directed by Konstantin Bronzit, Russia, 16 minutes
Two cosmonauts – inseparable since boyhood – undergo training for their space missions. Then tragedy strikes. Their devotion to one another is as intense as their devotion to their tasks, as the feature illustrates in scenes both funny and sweet. Read what you will into their relationship and you can draw a political message about the prevailing mindset in their home country. Or just enjoy it as a tale of pure friendship. My favorite of the animated short films.

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Prologue
Directed by Richard Williams, UK, 6 minutes
A young girl witnesses as warriors fight to the death in the Spartan-Athenian wars. The drawings are powerful, but adults considering taking kids to see the feature should bear in mind that the bloody battle includes a scene of a naked warrior taking a lethal sword up his ass.

Additional Films:
If I Was God
Taking Flight
The Short Story of a Fox and a Mouse
The Loneliest Spotlight
Catch It


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