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2018 Oscar-Nominated Shorts: Live Action

February 11, 2018

2018oscarshorts

 

Many forget or don’t even realize that feature-length filmmakers start out directing short films. Like authors who start out creating short stories, short films provide an opportunity for writers and directors to test their storytelling efficiency, as well as their proficiency.  There are filmmakers I personally know and have interviewed who started out this way, some of which have taken their shorts and expanded them into feature-length films providing them with a chance to expand on their story and character development. The most impressive shorts are the ones that can hook viewers right away in their timeframe (any film with a runtime under 40 minutes is eligible for the Academy Award) and offer a compelling story, captivating performances and impressive photography, leaving viewers content or wanting more, hopefully both. 

What are the similarities and differences among the five nominees? All but one of the them are “based on a true story” shorts and that one is the only outright comedy. There’s also only one that takes place in the past, yet would sadly be significantly relevant today. I’ve already shared my thoughts on the Animated nominees, below are my thoughts on the five Oscar nominees in this category…

 

 

dekalbelem

DeKALB ELEMENTARY

USA (21 min.)

It’s unfortunate that ‘active shooter’ has become a familiar term that pops up throughout the year here in the States, especially when tragedies occur at elementary schools.  However, we rarely learn what transpired when/if a shooter interacts with someone inside the school. Such is the focus of this “based on actual events” short, written and directed by Reed Van Dyk, which follows an armed young man (Bo Mitchell “Palo Alto”), who enters the titular school with an assault rifle. He’s working alone and makes his way into the school office, where we stay with him and a receptionist (Tarra Riggs, “Ballast”) as we learn he’s mentally troubled and does not care if he dies. The police are lined up outside and we are being linked to the receptionist via 911 operator, but most of the tense drama focuses solely on these two characters. It’s an enthralling snippet, heightened by Rigg’s great performance as a compassionate character in a frightening situation trying to calm a desperate individual. As far as getting the most out of its runtime, I consider this the best out of the nominees.

RATING: ***1/2

 

 

 

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MY NEPHEW EMMETT

USA (20 min.)

What took place at 2:30 in the morning in Money, Mississippi on August 28, 1955 haunts and reverberates to this day. That’s when young Emmett Till (Joshua Wright) was dragged out of his uncle’s home by a local sheriff (Charlie Talbert “Angus”) after whistling at a white woman earlier that day.  Unfortunately, we know how this true story played out. Writer/director Kevin Wilson Jr. focuses on Emmett’s uncle, Mose Wright (L.B. Williams), who wold eventually identify his nephew’s dead body and how an unspoken, impending doom built within the man after he learned of his nephew from Chicago’s actions. His wife (Jasmine Guy) may not know the reason for their unexpected early morning visit, but Mose knows full well. It’s an impactful perspective, shot and performed with a potent realism that’s unsettling.

RATING: ***1/2

 

 

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THE ELEVEN O’CLOCK 

Australia (13 min.)

It helps to have at least short mix up the nominees with some humor. While this isn’t an outright comedy, it definitely is clever and funny thanks to the situation we find the characters in here. A psychiatrist (Josh Lawson) has to contend with his eleven o’clock appointment, a patient (Damon Herriman) who is convinced he himself is the psychiatrist. Although its quite clear where the story, written by Lawson and directed by  is going, the quick banter between the two “doctors” is entertaining to watch. It would certainly be interesting to see where this material would go if it was stretched out into a full-length film. It feels like it was nominated simply for its concept and execution, rather than containing any true standout material.

RATING: ***

 

 

silentchild

THE SILENT CHILD

UK (20 min.)

Here’s a short that serves as a PSA for incorporating sign language in grade schools. That’s not a slight or a bad thing, simply an observation that becomes apparent long before the texts with statistics appears on screen before the end credits explaining such. Set in modern-day rural England and (you guessed it) based on actual events, the story here focuses on Jo (Rachel Shenton, who wrote the screenplay), a young social worker specializing in sign language who is tasked with helping Libby (Maisie Sly), the titular child who lives with her parents and two children. There is progress in Jo’s work, as Libby learns to communicate more confidently, but the real hurdle comes from the child’s mother. There’s a thread here that could explain why the obtuse mother (Rachel Fielding) feels the need to pursue speech over sign language, but it’s never fully explored and that decision makes the story feel unfinished.  “The Silent Child” is the first film directed by actor Chris Overton and clearly a passion project for Shenton. It may touch on an important topic, but the story only seems suited for an awareness of its subject and nothing more.

 

RATING: **1/2

 

WATUWOTE

WATU WOTE: ALL OF US 

Germany (22 min.)

The story presented here revolves around a true story that starts off in Nairobi, Kenya in December 2015 and primarily takes place aboard a bus that is taking Christian and Muslim passengers to Somalia. On the bus, we find Jua (Adelyne Wairimu), a Christian who is nervously mindful of the Muslims around her and later on, when she is conversing with another passenger, a teacher named Salah (Abdiwali Farrah), we learn of a tragedy in her past that makes her on edge in Muslim company. When armed Al-Shabaab terrorists (led by “Captain Phillips” actor Faysal Ahmed) stop and board the bus, fear spreads throughout as they separate the Christians and Muslims among them, clearly intending to harm Christians. What transpires, as the passengers unite to protect each other, is both harrowing and inspiring, which is essentially why this short from director Katja Benrath was made. It would definitely benefit from an expansion to a feature.

RATING: ***

 

Find out who will win on March 4th, when the Oscar ceremony will be telecast on ABC.

 

2018oscarliveaction

 

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