2019 Oscar Nominated Live Action Shorts
For AshevilleMovies.com’s dialogue about the 2019 Oscar-Nominated Animated Short Films, click here.
Bruce Steele: The five live action short films nominated for the 2019 Academy Award are an impressive bunch, but boy, they do lean in hard to the dark side, with a focus on the sins and suffering of children. I'd say they're well worth a trip the Grail, but is there any "parental advisory" sort of warning you'd like to offer Asheville moviegoers?
Edwin Arnaudin: You mean other than a heads-up to past, present, and future mothers and fathers that emotional turmoil awaits? Perhaps there’s some comfort knowing that the bleak program offers one hope-filled exception: “Marguerite,” about an elderly woman who reflects on a bygone love with help from her caretaker. One of two nominees from Québec, it’s fittingly directed by a pair of women (Marianne Farley and Marie-Hélène Panisset) and plenty raw in its own ways. Do you think its child-free content will allow it to stand out in this category?
Bruce: I honestly hope it shows in the middle of the program, where it can be something of a respite from the intensity of the other nominees. Its storytelling is nicely relaxed and buoyed by honest detail, and it has perhaps the sweetest moment in all the shorts we've seen so far this year. It's in stark contrast to "Detainment," a nail-biting 30-minute film about a notorious toddler kidnapping in England in 1993, written and directed by an Irishman appropriately named Vincent Lambe. The key roles are the two accused 10-year-olds, Bobby (Leon Hughes) and Jon (Ely Solan), who go through a dramatic spectrum of emotions.
Edwin: I’m not very lenient when it comes to child performances, and the boys’ limited acting abilities — from Solan’s cry-talking to Hughes’ one-note patter — wound up frustrating me and lessening the film’s suspense, as did Lambe’s inconsistent direction. I was far more impressed with both the filmmaking in “Fauve,” aka “the other Québec nominee,” and its young male leads Félix Grenier and Alexandre Perreault. Their ill-defined game of one-upmanship casts an air of tension over the proceedings where you’re not sure what to believe until it’s too late. If Academy voters are willing to go heavy while embracing all-around craft, I think it stands a chance at winning.
Bruce: "Fauve" (French for "fox") starts off in the boys-behaving-badly mode of "Detainment," but it goes to a much more existential and thoughtful place. I agree it has a shot at the Oscar, even if I liked "Detainment" and those two boys' acting more than you did. The boys in "Fauve" have a very natural quality, but I would argue in favor of the "Detainment" boys that overacting is what the actual youngsters being interrogated in that kidnapping case were doing in real life, spinning lie after lie, so I thought they were spot on. But the real acting tour de force is in the Spanish short "Madre," wouldn't you say?
Edwin: Good grief, yes! The tautness of a, well, mother receiving a distressing call from her young son is amplified by Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s inspired decision to film the drama in a single take and in a single location. As the rightfully frazzled mom, Marta Nieto is extraordinary and Blanca Apilanez hits just the right balance of concern and over-reaching as the child’s grandmother. Like a shorter yet more ambitious version of Denmark's The Guilty, which was robbed of a Best Foreign Language Film nomination, it’s a celebration of what an imaginative filmmaker without much of a budget can accomplish in a brief amount of time. I’d love to see it win.
Bruce: This entire short-film program will have parents squirming, but "Madre" in particular. Like a good short story that starts on what seems an ordinary day, you don't realize either the level of hazard or the level of technical accomplishment until well into the story. It's mesmerizing while it lasts, but I'm not sure it ultimately knows what it wants to accomplish. So I don't think it's a contender for the Oscar. "Skin," on the other hand — the only American-made finalist — seems laser-targeted to win over Academy voters.
Edwin: *sigh* Indeed. Along with a lack of subtitles, it features recognizable faces in Danielle Macdonald (Dumplin’; Patti Cake$), Jonathan Tucker (TV’s Parenthood and Westworld), and Lonnie Chavis (TV’s This Is Us), plus a hot-button, racism-laden narrative. Though it packs a few surprises, I find its message heavy-handed and obvious — so, yes, it could be a shoo-in, though I thought the same about last year’s also-ran “My Nephew Emmett."
Bruce: Good point. Using last year as a bellwether for this year, we could go one of two ways: We could predict a win for "Madre," which nails the emotions of a certain specific parenting crisis — as did last year's winner, "The Silent Child," which addressed the education of a deaf girl. Or we could note that both "Silent Child" and "Skin" are slick propaganda films that tug at the heart strings. "Skin"'s focus on an adorable little boy with racist parents is not subtle, but it appears to be a credible portrait of a white supremacist family going about their lives. There's a lot of heartstring-tugging in all these movies. Which one tugged the hardest at your heart?
Edwin: “Marguerite,” and it’s not even close — which, in addition to its aforementioned qualities, makes me think it has a shot. But my money is on “Skin,” which voters could see as their way of honoring edgier racial material while the pandering Green Book dances to Best Picture. Similar to the political balancing act over in the animated shorts category, it seems like a logical balancing act on the Academy’s part of covering various bases, but if we’ve learned anything with the shorts categories over time, it’s that nothing is certain.
Overall grade: B. Not rated. Opens Feb. 8 at Grail Moviehouse.
(Photos: DIY Films/Les Films de L'Hydre, H264 Distribution, Twelve Media, Apache Films/Caballo Films/Malvalanda, New Native Pictures/Studio Mao/Salaud Morisset)