ANIMATED SHORT NOMINEES (from best to worst)
Garden Party (Florian Babikian, Vincent Bayoux, Victor Caire, Théophile Dufresne, Gabriel Grapperon and Lucas Navarro; France)
LOU (Dave Mullins; USA)
While the animated short field looks relatively strong this year, these are the two class acts of the category. LOU is the requisite Pixar entry (it played in front of Cars 3 last summer), a nearly wordless morality play about a schoolyard bully meeting a magical comeuppance, and it once again shows the studio’s mastery of character design and visual storytelling. However, I liked France’s Garden Party, a darkly funny, dialogue-free vision of nature overtaking a suspiciously abandoned mansion, just a little bit better.
Negative Space (Ru Kuwahata and Max Porter; France)
Revolting Rhymes (Jan Lachauer, Jakob Schuh and Bin-Han To; UK)
These two shorts occupy the next level down from Garden Party and LOU. Based on a poem, the stop-motion animated Negative Space concerns death and luggage, and it offers a nice mix of wintry bleakness and wry comedy. Revolting Rhymes is Part One of a two-part British animated series based on stories by Roald Dahl (you can watch both parts on Amazon Prime), and at 30 minutes, it’s by far the longest entry in the category. It’s entertaining, albeit not much different in concept and execution than Hoodwinked!.
Dear Basketball (Glen Keane; USA)
Long-time Disney animator Keane sketches Kobe Bryant’s heartfelt love letter to basketball, while John Williams provides the score. It’s good to have famous friends! Not much more than an extended Nike commercial, but like I said, heartfelt.
LIVE ACTION SHORT NOMINEES (from best to worst)
The Eleven O’Clock (Josh Lawson and Darin Seale; Australia)
The no-contest champion of the category, a compact and fully realized black comedy filled with that wonderfully Australian deadpan absurdity. It all springs from a classic set-up: a psychotherapist has an appointment with a patient who believes that he is a psychotherapist, and each one wrestles for control of the session.
DeKalb Elementary (Reed Van Dyk; USA)
My Nephew Emmett (Kevin Wilson, Jr.; USA)
As usual, the animated nominees this year are mostly pretty good, and the live-action nominees are mostly pretty bad. Every live-action short in the category other than The Eleven O’Clock is a stiff, self-important, “based on a true story” social issues drama, and they echo a lot of the incomprehensibly literal artistic decisions made by Hollywood social issues dramas. These two shorts – the first a real-time look at a gunman occupying a school, the second a docudrama about the murder of Emmett Till – are at least distinguished by excellent acting.
Watu Wote: All of Us (Katja Benrath; Germany/Kenya)
The Silent Child (Chris Overton; UK)
Not so much with these two draggy, painfully sincere, agenda-driven dramas. The former tells the true story of Muslim bus passengers protecting Christians from terrorists in Kenya. Meanwhile, the latter film springs from a true story about a deaf child struggling to connect with her non-deaf family. Watu Wote is practically indistinguishable from the murkily topical, quasi-inspirational duds that tend to get nominated for the Best Foreign Film award. Therefore, Benrath may have a long and irrelevant career ahead of her. I don’t know the full backstory of The Silent Child, but it was written by star Rachel Fenton, who plays a compassionate social worker fighting against the monstrously obstinate mother of a neglected deaf girl. The story ends on a note of naked advocacy so strident and personal that it makes the movie feel like an act of revenge.