Released: February 8, 2019
Runtime: 105 minutes
Program: Oscar Nominated Live Action Shorts for 2018
(Parental Discretion strongly advised; not suitable for children)
During every Oscar ceremony, there’s a stretch of categories with nominees that virtually no one has ever heard of, let alone seen: the shorts.
Divided into three competitive groups – Live Action, Animated, and Documentary – the Academy Award nominated shorts can make-or-break a person’s Oscar pool ballot.
Thankfully, for several years now, the slate of nominated shorts have been made available through separate feature-length programs in movie theaters nationwide. This year, many theaters (like Circle Cinema, in my home city of Tulsa, OK) have debuted one program per week leading up to the Oscars.
Below is a look at the five films nominated as Best Live Action Short Subject for 2018, ending with my prediction of Who Will Win.
Detainment (Ireland, 30 minutes)
dir. Vincent Lambe
Devastating for anyone to watch, but particularly parents. Based on police interview transcripts and records, this is the true account of two grade school boys charged with the murder of a 2-year-old toddler. Focusing on the separate interrogations of the accused, one boy is hard and defensive while the other is sensitive and fragile. Detainment continues to challenge our evolving assumptions – both our hopes and fears – leaving us with an unflinching portrayal that’s tough to stomach.
Fauve (French-Canadian, 17 minutes)
dir. Jeremy Comte
Working like a 1-2 punch, Fauve follows Detainment as another story of two grade school deliquents that carelessly place themselves in grave danger. Here, playing a series of teases and pranks on each other escalates to a “cried wolf” crisis. Palpable, unnerving tension crescendos to hopeless, morbid despair. This Detainment / Fauve double bill is a horrifying two-fer for parents, worst-case scenarios about what could happen if they leave their children alone to wander off and left to their own devices.
Marguerite (French-Canadian, 19 minutes)
dir. Marianne Farley
While not a sweet. sentimental antidote to the two shorts that precede it, Marguerite is nevertheless a welcome shift to something softer. Though sad in one key respect, this story of an elderly woman who holds a lifelong secret is ultimately pogniant. And when she feels brave enough to confide that burden with her caretaker, Marguerite provides a much needed dose of compassion. (I could see this developed into a feature film, too.)
Madre (Spain, 19 minutes)
dir. Rodrigo Sorogoyen
Back to another parent’s nightmare, Madre tracks a mother in single-take real time after she receives a phone call from her 6-year-old son who finds himself alone in the woods, separated from his dad. Gripping and anxiety-ridden, it is psychological torture to experience this mother’s desperation as she tries to coordinate her son’s rescue from afar, and as more dangers rise to threaten him. The camera movement throughout the one-shot take is judicious, not drawing undue attention to the actual technique. Director Rodrigo Sorogoyen never lets us escape the stress, even through something as subtle as a cut.
Skin (U.S.A., 20 minutes)
dir. Guy Nattiv
Saving the worst for last, Skin is tale of a boy being raised by a neo-Nazi father in a rural redneck family and white nationalist community. It attempts some provocative complexity by having the boy’s parents actually be great parents to him – genuinely loving and attentive – but that gets overwhelmed by unsophisticated melodrama, first by an inevitable assault, then a ludicrous twist, and finally capped by a predictable, eye roller of an ending. But it’s fairly well-shot (especially a tattoo scene).
This collection of nominees is mostly painful to watch, offering no humor or levity, with only a respite of warmth and tenderness in Marguerite. Nevertheless, all but Skin are well made and powerfully rendered – and worthy of their nominations.
And with that, my prediction for who will win the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film of 2018:
In a (mostly) strong slate of bleak realities, Marguerite is the only one that offers some humanity.