The 2017 Oscar-Nominated Shorts
Glen Keane (Dear Basketball); Florian Babikian, Vincent Bayoux, Victor Caire, Théophile Dufresne, Gabriel Grapperon, Lucas Navarro (Garden Party); Dave Mullins (LOU); Ru Kuwahata, Max Porter (Negative Space); Jan Jan Lachauer, Jakob Schuh (Revolting Rhymes); Reed Van Dyk (DeKalb Elementary); Kevin Wilson Jr. (My Nephew Emmett); Derin Seale (The Eleven O’Clock); Chris Overton (The Silent Child); Katja Benrath (Watu Wote); Laura Checkoway (Edith+Eddie); Frank Stiefel (Heaven Is…); Elaine McMillion Sheldon (Heroin(e)); Thomas Lennon (Knife Skills); Kate Davis (Traffic Stop)
Kobe Bryant (Dear Basketball); Dave Mullins (Lou); Jan Lachauer, Jakob Schuh (Revolting Rhymes); Reed Van Dyk (DeKalb Elementary); Kevin Wilson Jr. (My Nephew Emmett); Josh Lawson (The Eleven O’Clock); Rachel Shenton (The Silent Child); Julia Drache (Watu Wote)
6 min (Dear Basketball); 7 min (Garden Party); 7 min (Lou); 5 min (Negative Space); 29 min (Revolting Rhymes); 21 min (DeKalb Elementary); 20 min (My Newphew Emmett); 13 min (The Eleven O’Clock); 20 min (The Silent Child); 22 min (Watu Wote); 29 min (Edith+Eddie); 40 min (Heaven Is…); 39 min (Heroin(e)); 40 min (Knife Skills); 30 min (Traffic Stop)
Kobe Bryant (Dear Basketball); Rob Brydon, Bertie Carvel, Gemma Chan, Amelie Forester-Evans, Tamsin Greig, Dolly Heavey, Dylan Issberner, Rose Leslie, Eden Muckle, Dennis Storhøi, David Walliams, Dominic West (Revolting Rhymes); Tarra Riggs, Bo Mitchell, Del Hunter-White (DeKalb Elementary); L.B. Williams, Joshua Wright, Dorian Davis, Jasmine Guy, Emily Hooper, Tylon Larry, Ethan Leaverton, William Perkins, Dane Rhodes, Chris Steele (My Nephew Emmett); Josh Lawson, Damon Herriman, Jessica Donoghue, Alyssa McClelland, Eliza Logan (The Eleven O’Clock); Rachel Shenton, Maisie Sly, Rachel Fielding, Philip York, Anna Barry, Sam Rees, Annie Cusselle (The Silent Child); Adelyne Wairimu, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, Abdiwali Farrah, Abdiwali Farrah, Charles Karumi, Justin Mirichii, Saada Mohammed (Watu Wote)
Taken on the whole, this year’s short film nominees were all incredibly strong. Although I had my issues with the likes of The Eleven O’Clock and Dear Basketball, they were largely a treat to sit through, even when they were at their most dramatic and dangerous.
Animated Short Films
Basketball legend Kobe Bryant wrote a letter announcing his retirement from basketball in 2015. That letter forms the basis for this incredibly well drawn, strongly inspirational animated short. The short is meant as a form of encouragement to young children to reach for the stars for they might just find the success Bryant has.
Legendary animator Glen Keane animated Bryant’s letter using a pencil-sketch style and the animation is phenomenal. John Williams’ score is a bit overbearing in places. That said, it will surely be an inspiration to all the young kids who look up to Bryant now, though children of the future might not be as encouraged by it.
Photorealism in animation has gotten more impressive as time progresses and Garden Party is a near perfect example of just how far the style has come. Set against the backdrop of an abandoned estate, numerous frogs leap about unaware of what has transpired there.
As the dialogue-free film progresses, details begin to emerge and what has happened at the estate shifts from obviousness into mystery. At first, it seems like the frogs are exploring the remnants of a raucous and messy party, but as broken glass and other clues begin popping up, the scene takes a decidedly sinister tone.
The gorgeous animation is thorough and impressive, though when we finally find out what has happened, one particular piece of animation breaks the photorealism almost entirely, looking entirely out of place visually with the rest of the film. It isn’t so outlandish that it ruins the film, but it suggests that certain types of figures are still a struggle for animators to get just right.
While some of Pixar’s animated shortes have been less than spectacular, all of them have some defining element that makes them spectacular and none can be considered outright failures. As Lou opens, the characteristically strong animation looks to be headed down a slightly mediocre path, but once we’re introduced to the titular character, things take a more positive turn.
After that point, the narrative kicks into high gear and all of the setup pays off as a mysterious creature helps remind a bully what it was like to be mistreated. The lively, emotional short features some of the best of what has defined Pixar’s short films, though it is decidedly the most realistic of their myriad recent efforts and that’s both a good thing and a reminder of just how much diversity the studio has put into its short films.
Strong animation and a compelling narrative, Negative Space explores the literal and metaphorical space left in the heart of a young man on his way to his father’s funeral. Using stop-motion techniques, the film explores grief from an interesting perspective.
While the suitcase-packing of the concept is supposed to be ample, using all available space for maximum effect, the short itself seems to have a lot of extraneous space, open segments, and lengthy setups. It’s a wonderful piece, but could have used a bit of tightening in the end.
The first part of a two-part animated program that takes the fairy tales of yore and mixes them together in a darker, more sinister take. While Shrek and Hoodwinked have already mined this territory, we’re now treated to something a bit more tonally similar to the original tales of the brothers Grimm and others.
Following Little Red Riding Hood and Snow White as they become friends and take out the various wolves that plague them and the three little pigs, the story cuts across multiple stories, merging them together in fascinating ways. If the first half of this short hadn’t left off on a cliffhanger, it might have been better instead of forcing the viewer to wait for the next part. It also seems like the kind of story that might have been better constructed as a feature length film than as a pair of shorts.
Live Action Short Films
In the all-too-brief span of 21 minutes, writer/director Reed Van Dyk explores the tense front-office encounter between a school receptionist and a potential school shooter. Inspired by an actual 911 call, DeKalb Elementary is a tense, riveting portrayal of fear, calm in the face of imminent death, and the compassion of one woman focused on ensuring not only the safety of an entire school, but that of a mentally challenged young man with a rifle.
Shinelle Azoroh commands the screen with a performance that while seemingly calm on the surface, is a mass of nerves, fear, and anxiety underneath. She lets her emotions bleed to the surface in small doses, embodying a woman who suspects her own life may be forfeit even as the shooter seems reticent to carry out his deed.
With palpable tension, Van Dyk, who also edited the film, keeps the audience on the edge of their seats, tear-filled eyes riveted to the screen uncertain if they are about to see a mass slaughter or a miraculous transformation. Neither are evident, but we feel the same emotion and terror watching the film as someone might experience living through it.
The Eleven O’Clock
Set in a psychiatrist’s office on the day that the receptionist is out and a temp is holding down the fort, two psychiatrists battle it out as one accuses the other of being an impostor. One of them is a real psychiatrist while the other is a patient. The audience gets plenty of cues throughout the proceedings as to which is the real doctor.
As much as writer and star Josh Lawson tries to create something original, the execution is unimpressive and wholly predictable. You can guess based on past experiences with these types of narratives who is the real doctor and who isn’t. While it’s an interesting conceit, if you figure it out early, it doesn’t have any revelations later that make you feel like you haven’t wasted your time.
We’ve seen too many films and shorts just like this in the past to not have some kind of insight already, which makes them less interesting and impressive as a result.
My Nephew Emmett
The sad tale of Emmett Till, a young African American boy from the north visiting his uncle in the deep south who was brutally murdered for making eyes at a white woman, is given a dark, foreboding treatment in this short film from director Kevin Wilson Jr.
The film is told from the perspective of Till’s uncle, Mose Wright (J.B. Williams), as he explains to a white filmmaker what happened during the 1955 incident. Archival footage at the end roots the incident in history better than the film itself can.
Mose must contend with the risk placed on him and his family if he refuses to allow the white men who come for Emmett in the middle of the night, but knows what will happen to the 14-year-old even if they say they won’t harm him. There’s a sense of dread here, but not one that’s impressively realized. It’s a mournful look at a heinous incident of the pain African Americans faced in the deep south prior to the Civil Rights movement, as well as still today, and that alone gives it purpose.
The Silent Child
Exploring the idea that deaf children aren’t given the support or care they need to thrive and excel beyond expectations is given humane treatment by writer and star Rachel Stenton as the narrative explores the relationship between a deaf girl and her disconnected parents who are trying to figure out how to help her develop.
As the story progresses, Stenton and the little girl Libby, played with sad strength by Maisie Sly, develop an inseparable relationship and while Libby begins to come out of her shell, her seemingly unconcerned mother, played by Rachel Fielding, speaks with her husband and becomes convinced that the only way for Libby to succeed is for her to be treated like other children even if being specially supported would help her develop far better social and educational skills.
Stenton’s Joanne is a strong moderating force here and while she pushes hard to protect Libby, it’s clear that Libby’s parents just don’t see the value in an emotional lifeline, something that is handily conveyed in the span of the film. While the short ends on a sad note, the title card at the end suggests that there is a way to protect children like Libby and that gives this film added relevance and importance as we try to make sure that the most vulnerable are not left behind.
Watu Wote / All of Us
In Kenya, Muslims and Christians are in conflict. Each group feels the other is trying to destroy their way of life, while most folk of both Christian and Muslim faiths simply want to exist peacefully and survive. The film opens as a Christian woman is boarding a bus through a dangerous region where her safety is in serious doubt.
Surrounded by Muslim passengers, Jua (Adelyne Wairimu) guards herself against assault, but is generally left unmolested even when small conflicts arise. When the bus is deprived of its police escort and is stopped by violent Al-Shabaab militants, Jua’s life is in danger as the militants demand the Muslims turn over any Christians among them.
The short is a riveting look at the day-to-day dangers of living in Africa where Christians and Muslims alike are mistreated and forced to betray one another when all they want is to go about their daily lives unharmed. What Watu Wote does is convey the idea that while there are extremists willing to murder those of different faiths, there are others who will close up ranks and protect those with whom they may not see eye to eye. The film is a stirring look at how positive our future could be if those of differing faiths came together to reject the militant extremism that infests our world and each of their religions.
April 9, 2018