Movie Reviews: Oscar Nominated Shorts – Documentary (2018)

I already took a look at the animated and live action nominees for Best Short Film at this weekend’s Academy Awards so let’s finish it up with those in the category of Best Documentary (Short Subject).  Unlike those which I was able to see in the theater, it was the Internet route for these which feels appropriate.  This is always the category which feels the most obscure both before and after the ceremony.  There’s almost never anything in this category which receives any kind of cultural footprint, undeservedly relegated to a footnote each year.  It’s also appropriate because well, all of these titles are free (or free with subscriptions I already have) and thanks to the wonders of technology, I was able to pace them out and did not have to rewatch any of them.  Considering these are usually pushing the 40-minute maximum, it’s a lot to take in at once and the breathing room is appreciated

Heroin(e) – First up is Netflix’s entry to the category, offering a look into the opioid crisis.  Forgive me if this review is imperfect as it’s the one I saw weeks ago and didn’t think to write a review for.  As indicated by the title, it’s focus is on both heroin and three women in West Virginia who are working to fight it.  First up is a small-town deputy fire chief whose role will inevitably be played by Jodie Foster in the film adaptation and is frequently sent to addicts who have overdosed.  Everywhere she goes is a place where someone OD.

The next is a judge who must preside over the frequently repeat customers in her courtroom.  Some are heading into treatment, others emerging from it, and most tragically there are those who even her fair hand are unable to help and are destined for prison.

Finally, we have a woman who works to bring both food and religions to junkie prostitutes.  The film thankfully shows that you can’t just fix things so simply, but it’s these little kindnesses that’s more affirming that these women aren’t being forgotten.  It’s not a hopeful short and isn’t going to offer any solutions, but it’s an interesting look at actual humans dealing with the crisis as best they can from different hands on perspectives.

Traffic Stop – Next up in terms of ones that I watched before preparing this review (albeit much more recently) is the recently premiered on HBO Traffic Stop.  Telling of as the title indicates a Traffic Stop, it alternates between the police footage of the event and interviews with/following around the woman who was stopped.  As is obvious by the fact that this film exists, the woman who was stopped was black.  She’s a teacher and a fairly engaging subject, but after a while her scenes just become unnecessarily dragged out.  The more interesting and harder to watch scenes are the dash cam footage showing her treated like shit and then brutalized.

The film never indicates whether she deserved to be pulled over or was merely guilty of a DWB, but it doesn’t matter.  The real issue is that there is zero trust of the police by the black community when dealing with the police which makes every situation more dangerous, and the fear by the black community of the police is completely justified.  There is no excuse for her treatment and while the film offers no resolution (the case is still ongoing), the sad fact is we don’t need it.  We know how these stories end.  The fact that she survived shouldn’t be the only happy ending we get and yet it likely will be.  That the film gets out ahead of the resolution of the case gives the film more relevancy as well as helping it stand out against all the other films which offer merely a retrospective on things that leave us feeling powerless.  We’re still powerless here, but there’s that bit of hope that there is still time for us to do something about it (not that we will).

Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405 – A story of mental illness, this short follows an artist (who we are informed is talented, an attribute I can’t and won’t comment on for obvious reasons) who principally works in papier-mâché and suffering from a number of mental disorders including anxiety and OCD, depression, and one I won’t speculate on the exact nature of (and the film never discloses though electroshock treatments are at least partly to blame).  It uses her work, especially work from her youth to help illustrate her mind and some simple animations that feel somewhat unnecessary.  It’s fine.  I feel bad criticizing stuff like this but honestly, I don’t get much out of such works, nor am I interested in “inspirational” portrayals of those with mental disorders.

Knife Skills – As someone who enjoys cooking, this one has an easy leg up on the competition.  This one tells of a restaurant staffed almost entirely by ex-cons which isn’t exactly the most original idea for such a short (when procedurals such as NCIS are using such ideas and years previous, you know it is nothing new).  We watch as these men and women are forced to quickly pick up the skills necessary to work in an upscale restaurant, a task which inevitably leaves some behind.

You’ll never guess what race all the people running this restaurant are and what race all but one or two of the ex-cons are *sighs* which wouldn’t be a big deal, but those in charge have a bit of the white savior in the way they speak on their mission.  It is never explicit, but well, there’s something about the personality of chefs that certainly extenuates it.  At least they don’t hide that the one person running it is a giant entitled prick, a white dude who says he is basically the same as these people though only going into specifics off camera, so I am going to assume he once murdered a friend on his yacht and then stole his girlfriend until told otherwise.

Still, it’s an interesting enough short that moves well and doesn’t feel much in the way of being padded.

Edith+Eddie – The Youtube title says the basic premise well enough, doesn’t it?  “Meet America’s Oldest Interracial Newlyweds”.  They are 96 and 95 years old and despite the fact that this has all the makings of one of those adorable stories your mom shows you, the film quickly undercuts this inherently heartwarming nature for an ugly truth behind it for one of them as mild dementia, and her guardianship (and likewise their marriage) rests in the fates of the courts as a result of the tricky motivations of others.  A family member wants her house (with some believing race involved) while she insists that it is really the current guardian who is abusing them.  It’s clear that all they want is to be left alone with each other in their final moments on this Earth and it’s heartbreaking to watch them suffer.

The film is well made and depressing, the story uninterested in giving any sort of answers or even resolution.  I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing, but it does leave the short feeling incomplete and abrupt.  Like Traffic Stop, Edith Plus Eddie is missing some fleshing out that could have completed the story, but it’s caught between feeling like a film that needs an immediate release to enact action and change and one that could have used the benefits of time to see the whole story (albeit a whole story that might not see a conclusion if not for this film).