Movie Reviews: Oscar Nominated Shorts – Live Action (2019)

It’s time for the next batch of Oscar Nominated Short Films after yesterday’s lot of documentary titles.  The live action shorts are always my least favorite of the three by a considerable margin.  The films are always such a dour lot (not that good films can’t be included in that group) and often just a prolonged set up for some big twist.  I had heard this year’s package wasn’t very good and boy, were they not kidding.  It’s bad.  Catastrophically bad.  So, for the few of you who were even interested enough to check out this thread, prepare to lower your expectations into the dirt.  I would provide links when possible as to where you can see them legally for free or as part of a subscription if you weren’t interested in shelling out for the VOD package or heading to the theater (if that’s even possible for you), but none of them are.

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Madre (Mother) (Spain) – Our first installment is a thriller, primarily filmed as a one-shot though  I think we’re passed the point where that will get you and inherent praise in my book.  A woman is talking with her mom, about to head out with her friends, until she receives a call from her six-year-old son.  He’s on an empty beach alone as his father has left him and has not come back in who knows how long.  We follow her about as she paces all over the place as she tries to gain any knowledge, she can about the place from him, contact anyone who might no where they are, and get the police to find him as we follow her in the apartment.  It’s a nice little idea for a thriller with constantly building bit of tension.  Sadly, the film squibs it in the end in the cheapest possible way and undercutting an otherwise solid short.  It only throws salt on the wound with an offensively bad end credits sequence that spiritually remind me of Abed’s from his heartfelt film on Community.

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Fauve (Canada) – Two boys are playing around, keeping score in a game they are playing which mostly just involves them getting one up on each other.  I mentioned earlier how these are often reliant on a twist before and that makes so many of them hard to talk about, this one not excepted.  They sure do drag out that twist though even though it is incredibly obvious it is coming.  I get what they were going for with the whole metaphorical content of the short (which it’s hard to talk about without spoiling), it’s just that it doesn’t make it any less ambling.  It has some pretty landscapes though between the handheld camerawork which makes the short practically a standout contestant.

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Marguerite (Canada) – After seeing four candidates come from the US last time, it is nice to see the reverse true this time, both Canadian counterparts having heavy French components on top of that.  An elderly woman is receiving in home care while living alone and clearly enjoying that brief contact with the outside world she receives every day from her female caregiver.  The revelation that said caregiver has a girlfriend looks for a second like we are going to be dealing with a depressing story of homophobia or a depressingly standard coming to terms narrative, but instead it turns out Marguerite too once loved a woman.  It’s a shaky short beforehand and the film seems unsure about what it wants to say, but the end is so stunningly misguided it beggars belief.

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Detainment (Ireland) – At least I can feel confident that I won’t be the only one having negative feelings about a short this time out since this one’s engendered quite a bit of controversy over its existence and handling of the subject matter.  It tells the story of the 1993 murder of James Bulger by two ten-year-old kids, the youngest convicted murderers.  It pulls from actual interviews and recordings that were used in their capture and in many ways, it feels like it belongs more in the Documentary section.  It also has the same issue Black Sheep had for me where it splits the short between the interrogation scenes and reenactments.  Once again, I feel the reenactments do nothing but detract from the story, doubly so because in this case the whole film is already one.  Those reenactments sections are film with over-dramatic camera angles and needless editing.  It’s laughable.

The interrogations are harder to watch from a more understandable point of view.  One of the boys is standard street tough in the making while the other is more nervous and constantly crying.  I get why the critics would complain about the humanizing of him, but it still portrays him as a constantly lying little shit.  The acting isn’t exactly great all around, though the worst of it comes from their parents whose faces you can practically see the pained expressions, not from dealing with situations, but from the actors having to strain out the expression the director called out for them to show or melodramatically overact whenever they say a line.  It’s a clearly a subject that needed to be handled with care and I’m not sure it was one that was demanding to be told, but in the end my biggest concern was just that it wasn’t all that well made.

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Skin (USA) – We saved the best for last.  *Checks notes*  Sorry, I meant to say that we saved the most horrifically realized for last.  That was almost really embarrassing, nearly as embarrassing as the fact that this film has already been made into a feature length title that premiered last year at TIFF.  We follow a bunch of Neo-Nazis with a special emphasis on the kid of two of them.  Hey, you want to get on a film for trying to humanize shitty people, why don’t you rope in this title with it (for the record and with the recent death of Bruno Ganz, an actor who was criticized by some for such in Downfall, I think there’s value to be had in reminding us that even the worst of us are still human beings for a number of reasons… also there’s value in making memes undercutting all of those awful people’s dignity as individuals)?  They are not likely to engender much sympathy however after an incident where the father and a bunch of his mates beat up a black man for talking to his son.  The eventual twist that caps this short is incredibly obvious, drawn out, and baffling shot too.  The short jumps about in tone and focus, not to keep one off-balance.  Like I said, every scene is blatantly obvious with the characters all stock tropes.  It just creates no sense of cohesiveness or flow. as it jumps around in genres before settling on darkly “humorous” Twilight Zone episode.