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Monday, September 26, 2022

Life + Arts

Oscar nominated short films are powerful, highlight struggles


Short films

Here is an overview of the short films category for the 94th Academy Awards. | Santiago Martinez/The Cougar

The 94th Academy Awards are just around the corner, and in a controversial move The Academy decided that eight of the 23 award categories will not be broadcast live, including short films.

Because of these circumstances, people should go out and support the less fortunate categories getting the short end of the film strip, which include all three awards for short films: animation, live-action and documentary.

Thankfully, the Houston Museum of Fine Arts provides a great opportunity to do just this thanks to their annual screenings of all three Oscar nominated short film categories. 

Being one of their most attended events of the year, the MFAH will be holding four screenings for each category throughout March, but a few of the nominated shorts are also available online.

Animation

The animation category is the most diverse with respect to both style and content, ranging from the wholesome, family-friendly romp of “Robin Robin” to the deeply disturbing fever dream of “Bestia”.

There’s also the playfully sordid, sketch-like animation of “Affairs of the Art” and hyper-stylized if hardly subtle social commentary of “The Windshield Wiper,” but perhaps the highlight of the selection is the second short on the program, “BoxBallet.”

“BoxBallet” tells the unlikely love story between a ballerina and a boxer. The film uses this poetic premise to great humor and pointed romance, and all without a single word of dialogue. 

The film’s great use of sound design and music, as well as shot composition and pacing allow this micro rom-com work as seamlessly as any great silent film.

Either ironically or out of spite for the general stereotype that animation is for children, the animated shorts category also contains the most mature content of all three, and viewers should expect some fairly graphic nudity and gore in three of the five shorts (“Affairs,” “Bestia” and “Wiper”).

Live-action

The live-action standout is “Take and Run,” a film about a Kyrgyz woman who is kidnapped and forced to marry. Shockingly, her family supports the coercion because in their village, tradition is more important than common sense, and any sign of independence is to be looked down upon.

In addition to the powerful and incredibly dynamic story that will make you laugh and smile as much as shake your fist, this short also contains the best acting, cinematography, and set design of the category.

Despite that, “The Long Goodbye” may have the highest profile thanks to Riz Ahmed, who received a best actor nomination last year for “Sound of Metal.” The short contains a powerful monologue about racism and Islamophobia written and performed by Ahmed, but it works more as a sort of music video than a cinematically-competent short film.

“Please Hold” also tries to tackle a real world issue by presenting the criminal justice system as taken over by AI, whereas “On My Mind” and “The Dress” tell more personal stories about love and the human condition.

“The Dress” is of particular interest, as it portrays the seldom examined perspective of a woman with dwarfism. The film explores the long-running harassment and deep alienation often experienced by people with this condition, but it also introduces a bit of hope.

Documentary

The documentary category can be roughly divided into two subcategories: the mildly-tragic but moving “Audible,” “Three Songs for Benazir” and “Lead Me Home” and into the more upbeat and playful “When We Were Bullies” and “The Queen of Basketball.”

The three short documentaries in the former subcategory present what it’s like to live under certain conditions and circumstances, namely being a football player in a school for the deaf, starting a family in a camp for displaced persons in Kabul and homelessness, respectively.

On the latter subcategory, “The Queen of Basketball” tells the largely forgotten story of Luisa Harris, possibly the greatest female basketball player despite her apparently invisible legacy. 

“When We Were Bullies” recounts the tale of a bullying incident in fifth grade as revisited by two of the bullies in their sixties.

What makes “Bullies” particularly engaging is its captivating, if somewhat egocentric, voiceover and its use of simple but effective stop-motion animation to reenact some of the bits being talked about as they try to track down their entire class to see how they remember the incident.

The Oscars are set to air on March 27.

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