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2021 Oscar-nominated LIVE-ACTION Shorts

April 7, 2021


There are often similarities in the Oscar-nominated shorts, especially in the Live-Action category, but it’s uncanny how the connective thread weaves through the nominees this year. Each short seems to be touching on some kind of political or social issue and how people are seen (or not seen and sometimes are considered transparent) and treated differently than others. Ultimately, tensions between others are examined, some are resolved while others are left with the repercussions of how their snap-judgements impact someone else. None of these five nominees feel like propaganda, but rather sincere and predominately successful attempts at pointing a lens on those who live around us, often stemming from a very personal place and often resulting in escalated situations.

Like the other Shorts categories, the Live-Action nominees can be found in select theaters or On Demand, thanks to ShortsTV. Below are my thoughts on each of the nominees in this category, from Worst to Best…or rather: Least Favorite to Most Favorite, since I feel like all of them are worthy of your time and I wouldn’t slap “Worst” on any of them. This was a challenge and reminded why I’m not a fan of ranking. Still, some are certainly better than others…




Writer/director Doug Roland takes a look at the unlikely interaction between two strangers late one night at a New York City bus stop in “Feeling Through” and it happens to be the only nominee that does not include authority figures. Wayward black teenager Tereek (Steven Prescod) is out roaming the streets after saying goodbye to his friends and awaiting a text response from another friend to see if he’ll have a place to sleep for the night. The heart of the 18-minute story kicks in once Tereek approaches a man standing patiently by himself on a corner. As he moves closer, he notices the man holds a sign that reads, “Deaf-Blind. Need Help”, and with no one else in sight, Tereek decides to assist the man. It turns out Artie (Robert Tarango) needs assistance catching a specific bus, yet doesn’t seem to be in any particular hurry. This affords the two characters (and the viewer) time to get to know each other and the most interesting aspect of this short is how they communicate. Artie has a note pad handy that he writes on, while Tereek uses his finger to write letters on Artie’s open palm. It’s a process that works and it becomes obvious that the story is designed to provide some enlightenment for the teen as it superficially offers a look at breaking down stereotypes. Supposedly, “Feeling Through” marks the first time a film has featured a deaf blind actor and that helps the overall story with Tarango lending a natural authenticity to the role.





Palestinian actor Saleh Bakri comes from an acting family (his father and siblings are all actors) and first earned attention for a role he had in “The Band’s Visit”. Most recently seen in Julie Delpy’s “My Zoe”, and he’s great as the main protagonist here in director Farah Nabulsi’s “The Present”. The title could refer to what seems to be an ever-present situation along the West Bank between Israel and Palestine, but this is about a refrigerator that Yusef (Bakri’s character) has purchased as a surprise for his wife on their wedding anniversary. First he must cross an armed checkpoint with his young daughter Yasmine (Mariam Kanj) in order to pick up the fridge and bring it home. Yusef must contend with Israeli-armed guards enforcing the border, who can strip, search, and detain anyone they please (usually Arab neighbors), rarely blinking as Jews cross through. Both Yusef and Yasmine are detained for no reason and eventually released to retrieve the fridge and when they return they are given even more grief from border patrol, which escalates tensions further. “The Present” offers an experience we would otherwise not be privy to unless we’re placed in the moment of the lives who have to endure discrimination of power dynamics that have gone on for far too long. The 24-minute short, co-written by Nabulsi and Hind Shoufani, concludes by the father receiving an unexpected lesson from his daughter and reminding the viewer that if a path of least resistance is available, take it.





Filmed in Tel Aviv, Israel, “White Eye” tells a story that is both distinctive to its location, but also quite universal, primarily because it revolves around a stolen bicycle and just about everyone has had some form of transport stolen at some point in their life. I myself have had two bikes stolen, but I’ve never found the stolen bike myself nor did I ever encounter the alleged thief. That’s what happens here when Omar (Daniel Gad) leaves a gym one night after a workout and happens to see his beloved white bike chained to a post on a nearby street corner. Two cops arrive after he calls the police and they tell him he never filed a report that his bike was stolen and they cannot do anything until he does. They also ask Omer for proof of purchase, which he cannot provide and proceed to tell him that without a report they can’t do anything. After the cops leave, Omer attempts to break the bike free, but is witnessed by the new owner Yunes (Dawit Takelaeb), who exits his nearby workplace and confirms that he purchased the bike recently. While the situation doesn’t necessarily get heated, neither man is going to stand down, even when Yunes’ supportive boss (Reut Akkerman) vouches he’s not a thief. When the police get involved again, everything escalates quickly and it is revealed that Eritean immigrant Yunes has an expired visa. Written and directed by Tomer Shushan and shot by cinematographer Saar Mizrani in what seems like a single-shot long take, “White Eye” starts out with Omer seeking justice (something we would all do) and then turns into a sudden and complicated moral dilemma. Both lead actors deliver some fine work in a short amount of time and the story makes the most of it’s 20-minute runtime, getting the story across in an affective manner while leaving viewers with valid questions for discussion.





In “Two Distant Strangers”, successful comic book artist, Carter (rapper Joey Bada$$) wakes up next to Perri (Zaria Simone) after a night of getting lucky at her place. They seemed to have hit it off and there could be promises of future hook-ups as well…that is, if only Carter would stop getting killed by Officer Merk (Andrew Howard) every time he leaves her apartment building. That’s right. All Carter wants to do is get home to his dog on the other side of town, but he seems to be stuck in a time loop where this specific police office keeps killing him after an unnecessary altercation on the sidewalk. Despite trying to figure out how to approach the situation differently, including at one point calmly discussing what he’s been going through with the officer over and over, yet he still winds up dying either by a hail of bullets or by being choked to death. This horrific recycle is an obvious metaphor for the increased number of unarmed black men that are killed by white police officers across America. Written by Travon Free, who co-directed with Martin Desmond Roe are both clearly stating that no matter what black men (and women) attempt to do differently, there lives still come to an end by an institutional police approach that derives from racial profiling. Sure, it’s not all black men and women, nor is it all white male police officers, but the statistics are still there. Free and Roe end the 32-minute with some histrionics that didn’t land for me, but I can’t deny their bold style on such a hot-button topic and I can understand and appreciate how they end with no clear answers for either side. Regardless, the 32-minute short will be avail. on Netflix as of April 9th, which will earn the widest audience possible.

RATING: ***1/2



Rarely do the nominated shorts have star power behind them, let alone a recognizable actor, but “The Letter Room” has Oscar Isaac, in a compelling story written and directed by his wife, Elvira Lind (her documentary “Bobbi Jean” is a must-see). Isaac plays Richard, a lonely death row corrections officer who has been recently assigned a new position as director of prisoner communications, responsible for thoroughly reading all the mail that is received and sent out, required scanning and censoring where needed. It’s a job that takes him away from walking and regularly interacting with the inmates, but it also finds Richard sucked into the lives of the writers, both on the outside and the inside. He learns a stark truth when he decides to visit one of the death row inmates writers after being concerned by certain content in an incoming letter she wrote. This act on his part is morally questionable and could result in him getting reprimanded or fired at work, and it even borderlines on being intrusive or creepy, but at least it’s all in contrast to the harsh officers typically portrayed. Isaac, with his robust mustache and paunchy gut, disappears into the role and one can’t help but think what else he had in mind for the role if there was more time. Lind’s story lasts 32 minutes and it winds up being that rare short where I was left wondering how she could delve into character perspectives more if she expanded it to feature length.

RATING: ***1/2




To find out which theaters are showing these Oscar-nominated Live-Action Shorts, click here!  or check and see when they will be available on TV here! 


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