Oscar Best Short Film (Live Action) 2018 Roundup
Time for the heavy stuff.
If you read the previous post about the Oscar animated short films, you already know that I've never really made a super concentrated effort to sit down with the short films nominated for Academy Awards. I'm not going to repeat everything I said last time, but I am going to repeat the parts that I think are worth repeating about short films.
I've written some student short films and my big takeaway from writing some is that it's really difficult to do, possibly even harder than writing a feature length script. Yes, a feature length script has a lot of moving parts to keep track of, but that's the thing about short scripts: You have less to keep track of because you have less space to deliver a beginning, middle, and end. That lack of space makes building characters and situations so much harder, so I have the deepest respect for these films.
The second and final post (for now, I haven't seen the Documentary short category and it might take a bit before I do) is the live action short film group. This group of films is substantially darker and heavier (with one exception), so you've been warned.
I kind of wish that they'd shown DeKalb Elementary last in the lineup of short films, mostly because I felt like each film that came after it was living in its immense shadow. DeKalb Elementary is without exaggeration one of the best short films I've seen in a long time. The more I think about it, the more I love it. Maybe love isn't the right word for a film of its intensity and subject matter, but it's made with a precision and control that had me and a full theater completely on edge.
Based on a true story of a secretary at an elementary school dealing with a school shooter, DeKalb Elementary is a harrowing exercise in tension. The film holds shots for uncomfortably long periods of time, forcing the viewer into the middle of the situation. Combine that with the lack of other characters and the omission of music entirely, and you have the kind of stripped back minimalist bottle film that I live to see. A powerhouse showcase for actress Tarra Riggs as the secretary, this is the kind of short film I strongly admire. A gut-wrenching character piece that shows what an extraordinary person can do under the worst circumstance, DeKalb Elementary never becomes maudlin or manipulative.
In short, it's phenomenal.
The Silent Child
The Silent Child has a good story to tell and tells it with just enough style to keep your interest. It's a story worth telling about a therapist teaching a deaf little girl sign language, but man does it fall into the maudlin trap in a hard way by the end. I'm literally not exaggerating here, but this drama morphs into a PSA at the very end and it's a disappointing way to go. The short film that precedes the PSA is pretty good, but it's not good enough to excuse a film that literally has to slam on the brakes to explain what it's about (even though the movie had done a perfectly fine job of that in the first place).
The one thing I will put in its favor though are some really great uses of drone photography. The film gets a little too carried away with using drone shots, but a few of them are exceptional.
My Nephew Emmitt
The program guide at the Detroit Film Theater only listed the name of each film, so I didn't know what any of the films were going to be about. But once a title card early on in My Nephew Emmitt popped up to say that it was 1955 in Mississippi, I felt my heart sank. I knew exactly where this film was going and I was dreading its end. If those words didn't mean anything, I knew that this was going to be a dramatization of Emmitt Till's last night on Earth. And if that doesn't mean anything to you, strap in and get ready to learn about one of the ugliest corners of America's violent racism.
The story isn't told from Emmett's perspective, but his uncle who was among the last people to ever see Emmett Till alive. It's a sad and brutally intense piece, but one that ultimately feels incomplete. Instead of actually feeling like a complete short film, it feels like an excerpt of a larger piece, and unfortunately for My Nephew Emmitt, it has to stand on its own.
The Eleven O'Clock
The less you know about this one, the better. It's the shortest of the five live action films, and unlike the rest, this one's a comedy, and a pretty great one at that. Feeling like an Australian Monty Python sketch, The Eleven O'Clock is fast and funny enough to earn a nomination here. Again, I'm not going to say much about this one, except that even though I knew where it was going almost immediately, it's still impressive how much it nails the ending.
Watu Wote: All of us
The final film in the slate is also the third to be based on true events. Arguably the most emotionally powerful film of the slate, the short takes place in Kenya where a radical Islamic terrorist group is infamous for attacking busses full of travelers and killing the Christians onboard. A Christian woman takes one of these infamous bus trips and finds herself immediately tense with the Muslim passengers on board.
What unfolds is a terrifying but incredible event where Muslim passengers attempted to conceal and protect Christian passengers against terrorists as an act of solidarity. It's powerful material, and it's expertly shot and acted by everyone involved. The locales are gorgeous, the music intense, and while it also ends with a bunch of title cards, it's not in the form of a PSA. Watu Wote: All of us is the only film in the slate that I thought was a contender against DeKalb Elementary, but it still loses out, but only because of my love of bottle films like DeKalb Elementary.
And it's time for the ranking. This is a "personal favorite" ranking, so anyone reading this wondering which of these five will win the Oscar won't find a straight answer from me. It's kind of a toss up and I'd be happy to see just about any of them win. Enjoy the ranking, but do try and see all of these films. Hopefully I'll be able to see the Documentary Short Films soon to review and rank them.
- DeKolb Elementary
- Watu Wote: All of us
- The Eleven O'Clock
- My Nephew Emmitt
- The Silent Child