Review: 2022 Oscar-Nominated Short Films

The 2022 Oscar season is underway, and despite the Academy’s offensively stupid decision to present eight of the categories before the ceremony and then awkwardly edit them in later, there are still plenty of good films nominated. Great international films overperformed (Drive My Car, The Worst Person in the World, Parallel Mothers), and many of the best films of the year, like West Side Story and Licorice Pizza, are coming to VOD. However, there are also plenty of underseen films nominated, most prominently being the short films, and while many of them are good, some of them are not pleasant. 

Some of the shorts can currently be watched from home, but others will be available from home as part of rental packages from ShortsTV on March 22. Thankfully for you, I saw all of them in theaters last week, and I’ll outline and review them here so you can win your Oscar pools: the Avocado Oscar pool opens Monday morning!

Animation

Robin Robin (UK)

Dan Ojari and Mikey Please

Available on Netflix

What’s It About? A robin (Bronte Carmichael) raised in a family of mice goes on a journey to prove to her family that she can be sneaky like a mouse, and gets into trouble along the way. 

How Grim Is It? Not grim at all! 

Is It Good? Very much so. This is an Aardman short, but instead of the studio’s traditional plasticine animation and whiz-bang tone, the film is quiet and soft, animated with fuzzy, tactile models that look beautiful when arranged against their backgrounds. The film is quietly a musical, with the dialogue sometimes sung aloud instead of Broadway-style ballads, and it’s quietly a Christmas special, perfect for giving you Christmas vibes throughout the year without being overly saturated. Richard E. Grant shows up as a magpie, and what more do you need, really? It’s funny (at least according to the woman who cackled like a banshee at my screening), charming, and great for the whole family. Rating: 8/10

Boxballet (Russia)

Anton Dyakov

Available as part of the official shorts package on 3/22 (but check the comments below)

What’s It About? A brutish boxer and a lithe ballet dancer forge an unexpected connection.

How Grim Is It? More “slightly off-putting” than “grim.” 

Is It Good? Fairly! The characters are well-designed, with the extreme physical differences between the two highlighting their different social statuses, and they move very well (the boxing scenes are a highlight). The political commentary is a little unfocused, but may work better in Russian, but while the short is completely silent, Dyakov is able to give his boxer character a lot of heart. The ballet dancer is shafted a bit by Dyakov’s confusing commentary on gender and power: he is trying to say something a little more nuanced than his one-note casting-couch ballet director character implies, but I’m not exactly sure what it is. Rating: 6/10

Affairs of the Art (Canada/UK)

Joanna Quinn and Les Mills

Available on YouTube for free

What’s It About? Beryl, the not-so-lovable character from Quinn’s previous shorts, tells more comic anecdotes to the camera about her life. 

How Grim Is It? Again, more slightly off-putting due to some black comedy that doesn’t land.

Is It Good? It sure is annoying. Quinn’s line drawings have a bouncy movement to them, but her focus on celebrating the grotesque of the human body can lead to some gross images I wouldn’t really recommend. Most of the short is Beryl telling stories about her strange sister, but there are so many abstractions that it becomes confusing: what is Quinn trying to say? A few of the jokes are funny but what is the point? Sound off in the comments below! Rating: 4/10

Bestia (Chile)

Hugo Covarrubias and Tevo Díaz

Available on Vimeo for $2.20

What’s It About? A surreal, silent piece about a china-doll woman, her relationship with her dog, and her nightmares. 

How Grim Is It? Mitigated by the animation, but somewhat grim. 

Is It Good? It’s great as a piece of surrealist art, but the political context of the short isn’t really explained at all. When I was watching it, I thought it was a chilling, engrossing story but without much broader context; instead, it is actually a depiction of a real woman, an agent for the secret police during Chile’s military dictatorship, and her nightmares represent the crimes that she had committed. Knowing this background makes the short even more resonant, and I highly recommend the price. That being said, there’s a reason why the animated shorts package is rated NC-17, and this film features frank presentation of disturbing images that would never be able to be depicted in a live-action film. Everyone’s a china doll, so I think it’s watchable, and the matter-of-factness of the imagery adds to the stark, austere feeling of the short. Rating: 8/10

The Windshield Wiper (Spain/US)

Alberto Mielgo and Leo Sanchez

Available on Short of the Week for free (must have 18+ YouTube account)

What’s It About? A series of short vignettes about love and relationships. 

How Grim Is It? 30 seconds are pretty grim, but it’s not violent, and again mitigated by the stylized animation. 

Is It Good? I enjoyed it despite its dumb strivings to be Profound and Wise about love and relationships. I don’t care at all what it has to say, and it’s far too abstract to have a Point, but it looks beautiful, resembling the pointillism of Spider-Verse with more rotoscoping and shadows. It ends with a montage showcasing a bunch of different lovers, and some of the images are really beautiful. The hacky jokes about Tinder are less beautiful. Rating: 7/10

Predicted Winner: Robin Robin’s family-friendly atmosphere and impeccable craftsmanship make it the likely choice for the winner: plus, Netflix can campaign more heavily for it. If the Academy is feeling less populist, the visually astounding The Windshield Wiper may be their pick. 

Documentary 

Audible (US) 

Matthew Ogens and Geoff MacLean

Available on Netflix

What’s It About? A Maryland school for the Deaf’s football team. 

How Grim Is It? Not at all, but it is a bit sad at times. 

Is It Good? It’s really great. In 35 minutes, the film explores the history of the football team, shows thrilling game footage, and dives into the personal lives of several of the players and how they are defined or not defined by their Deafness. The decision to drop all sound out of the scenes with the Deaf characters, as if to perceive the world through their perspective, never feels exploitative or gimmicky and instead feels unique and natural. The teenagers are really perceptive, and their struggles are never made to feel mawkish or unavoidable. Instead, the short focuses on their resilience and how they overcome struggle both on and off the field. I cried multiple times. Rating: 9/10

When We Were Bullies (US/Germany)

Jay Rosenblatt

Available on HBO on 3/30, 3 days after the ceremony

What’s It About? A filmmaker reflects back on a bullying incident he participated in in fifth grade.

How Grim Is It? Not grim.

Is It Good? It depends. Basically, the short is about this filmmaker reflecting back on when he and his fifth grade classmates beat up a kid, and interviewing his former classmates about the incident. It’s never really clear whether he wants to make a social statement about bullying or apologize to the guy personally, and as a result he comes across as extremely selfish in a way that makes for good entertainment. Rosenblatt clearly thinks he is being Profound, but he’s just whining and rambling on, and there are some very strange digressions (including a framing device of him trying to jump a fence that ends up being completely pointless). By the end, I was laughing at his sheer self-absorption and the audacity he has to never consider the kid’s perspective, only viewing the bullying incident from his own even though he was the bully. The best part of the film is when he interviews his former teacher, Mrs. Bromberg: this woman who is likely in her nineties immediately destroys the very premise of the film inside the film, asking why people would even bother to watch it because it sounds so boring and tedious. I hope that’s the Oscars clip. Rating: 6/10

Three Songs for Benazir (Afghanistan)

Elizabeth Mirzaei and Gulistan Mirzaei

Available on Netflix

What’s It About? A family living in a camp for displaced persons in Afghanistan.

How Grim Is It? Could be grimmer, but it’s still about the war in Afghanistan. 

Is It Good? I respect the verite nature of the documentary, which never pulls out of the family’s experiences to root it in a broader context, but at some points a broader context might be nice to better explain the situation the family is in. There is some good filmmaking (particularly the image of an American drone surveilling the camp) and a strong emotional hook: it also never feels too depressing despite its subject matter. It’s good, but at the end of the day it feels like there isn’t a lot to it. Rating: 7/10

Lead Me Home (US)

Pedro Kos and Jon Shenk

Available on Netflix

What’s It About?: The homeless crisis in the United States, told by interviewing and following about fifteen unhoused people in Seattle and Los Angeles. 

How Grim Is It? Oh boy is it grim. If you like close-ups of unhoused people crying, this is the film for you! 

Is It Good? It’s awful. For forty minutes, the film does nothing but tell us that homelessness is bad and that no one is doing enough to stop it. Realism is better than cheap optimism, but the filmmaking is atrocious, focusing on way too many characters and playing exploitative moments of people sobbing to the camera for high drama, with weepy orchestral music and intense close-ups. There are enough time-lapse establishing shots of the cities to give Tommy Wiseau a run for his money. When Netflix bought this short for distribution, did they give any money to the people profiled? At the end, this pulls out a website link to ask you to donate, a cheap, offensive move that makes the project feel more like an ASPCA commercial than a movie. Rating: 3/10

The Queen of Basketball (US)

Ben Proudfoot

Available on YouTube for free

What’s It About?: Lusia Harris, the first woman to be drafted for the NBA. 

How Grim Is It? Not grim, which is probably why it was programmed after the stench of Lead Me Home

Is It Good? It’s charming. Harris tells her own story in a long talking-head interview supplanted by archive footage, so it’s definitely the safest and least technically engaging documentary. However, Harris is clearly a delightful presence to structure a story around, and the basketball footage is well-chosen. It’s funny, and it’s good to see a short featuring people who didn’t really face major problems and mostly just had a good time. She shoots the ball well! Sometimes that’s all you need. Rating: 8/10

Predicted Winner: Audible has filmmaking panache, an inspiring story, and Netflix money funding its campaign. If the Academy is feeling more socially conscious but wants you to solve the problem instead of themselves, Lead Me Home might be their pick.

Live Action

On My Mind (Denmark)

Martin Strange-Hansen and Kim Magnusson 

Available on YouTube for free

What’s It About?: A married couple who own a pub are surprised to see a man show up on a Tuesday morning, asking to use the karaoke machine. 

How Grim Is It? The least grim of the live-action short nominees, so naturally it’s still depressing. 

Is It Good? This short is pretty much just a vehicle to land an emotional punch, as it’s structured to build up to the reveal of why he wants to use the karaoke machine. Would you be surprised that the reveal is sad? As simple as it is, it’s also tasteful, which is key: you can’t help but feel moved despite the emotional manipulation. 7/10

Please Hold (US)

K.D. Dávila and Levin Menekse

Available as part of the official shorts package on 3/22

What’s It About?: After a mistake involving police drones, a young Latino man is thrown in a completely automated prison; his only means of escape is through the world’s worst customer service line. 

How Grim Is It? It’s pitch-black satire, so it’s inventively grim. 

Is It Good? Even if some of the jokes don’t land given how horrifying the situation is, this dystopian-future satire is really clever and will make you as angry as it wants you to be. Erick Lopez (Hector from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) makes for a great lead, spending all 20 minutes trapped in a small room. The story is cleanly plotted and satisfyingly executed, very successful at making its political statements but still keeping you invested in its world-building. Plus, there’s a good Clippy joke. 8/10

The Dress (Poland)

Tadeusz Łysiak and Maciej Ślesicki

Available on Netflix

What’s It About?: A woman with dwarfism navigates her crush on a man who is staying at the hotel she works at. 

How Grim Is It? Well, you think it won’t be grim, but the ending is three shorts’ worth of grim. 

Is It Good? It is good, until it ends in a moment of cruelty so shocking and so pointless you’ll be left questioning the purpose of the whole thing. Anna Dzieduszycka is a great find as Julka, the protagonist, and I like how a disabled person is treated as a romantic object instead of falling into narrow stereotypes. And then the cruelty at the end is so bad it almost ruins it- but not quite. People in my audience were not happy. Rating: 6/10

The Long Goodbye (UK)

Aneil Karia and Riz Ahmed

Available on YouTube for free

What’s It About? Riz Ahmed exploiting tragedy to build his personal brand. (Spoilers in the review!) 

How Grim Is It? So grim I could barely believe it was happening.

Is It Good? It’s awful.

Spoiler

This twelve-minute short opens with five minutes depicting a British Indian family’s everyday life. Then they all get shot in the head on camera by paramilitaries. Then Riz Ahmed delivers spoken-word poetry about it. You cannot show people getting shot in the head in an act of racist violence, on-screen, and then pivot to spoken-word poetry.

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Manages to be incredibly corny and upsettingly offensive at the same time, and the end makes me feel like Ahmed is just making this short and using these images to draw attention to and make profit from his new album. Soulless. Rating: 1/10

Ala Kachuu- Take and Run (Switzerland)

Maria Brendle and Nadine Lüchinger

Available on Vimeo for $6.99

What’s It About? A young Kyrgyz woman is kidnapped and forced into marriage, looking for an escape. 

How Grim Is It? Quite grim, but definitely not as grim as it could be. 

Is It Good? At first, I was alarmed that yet another short was going to be extremely grim, but this is actually really nuanced and well-done. Sezim, the protagonist (Alina Turdumamatova), is resourceful, and watching her escape attempts is exciting even when they are unsuccessful. Most importantly, the film treats the system of forced marriage with nuance instead of just portraying her kidnappers as one-dimensional villains; a conversation between Sezim and her new mother-in-law, who underwent the process herself, is crucial. Some of it can be seen like it’s trying too hard to to non-Kyrgyz audiences about culture (down to the bilingual title), but it’s well-shot and well-performed. Rating: 7/10

Predicted Winner: Ala Kachuu- Take and Run is educational without being depressing and uses a strong central performance to highlight a social and political problem not well known among Americans. If the Academy prefers big celebrities and more overt social messaging, Riz Ahmed and The Long Goodbye will win.