What if I could guarantee—ironclad—that you will most definitely see an Oscar-winner a full week before the Motion Picture Academy hands out its coveted little gold men? Truly. Through the good graces of the Academy, delightfully curated collections of all the animated and live action short subjects are given the pre-ceremony boost they deserve—2020 is the 15th anniversary of this genius idea, and I’m thrilled to report that this year’s bundles are among the very best.
I’m particularly partial to this year’s animated short subject nominees; and the best of the best has to be "Hair Love," which started rather modestly as an idea in a 2017 Kickstarter campaign. It was picked up in 2019 by Sony Pictures, which paired "Hair Love" with The Angry Birds Movie 2 for mass distribution last summer, and is now vying for filmdom’s biggest prize. It’s a delightful 7-minute tale swirling around the relationship between an African American father, his daughter Zuri and the most daunting task a father could ever come across—doing his daughter’s hair for the first time. Ultimately, dad and daughter go to the see the Mom who is… well, that’s as much as you’ll get from me. Hint: bring a hanky.
My next (but very close) fave is "Kitbull" from Pixar wizard Rosana Sullivan, which reveals an unlikely chemistry that sparks between a fiercely independent stray kitten and a toothsome pit bull. Together, they experience friendship for the first time.
"Sister," from Chinese director Siqi Song, might be the most polemical bit of animation I’ve ever seen. It’s about brothers, sisters and siblings that never were. I won’t reveal the cultural-but-very-political undertone here, but be prepared.
The other two Oscar-nominated animated short subjects are also swell: "Daughter," from the Czech Republic, weaves a story of an injured bird, young girl, father, and a misunderstanding that has stretched into many years until the moment that another injured bird appears on the scene. "Memorable," from French director Bruno Collet, concerns an artist whose world seems to be mutating. Slowly, furniture, objects and even people begin to deconstruct and lose their realism. All five animated nominees are, pound-for-pound, among the best short subjects in Oscar history.
If you like your storytelling to have a real-life pulse, this year’s Live Action Short Subject Oscar nominees are probably more to your liking. The best of the lot has to be "The Neighbors’ Window" from director Marshall Curry (already a three-time Oscar nominated documentary director cinematographer and editor). "The Neighbors’ Window" tells the story of Alli, a 30-something mom—she has two little ones and a third on the way—who has grown a bit fatigued with her day-to-day and often-thoughtless husband. But her life is shaken up when two free-spirited twenty-somethings move into an apartment across the street; and Alli can see straight into the young couple’s apartment (they are sexually adventurous, to put it mildly). But lest you think that this story is Rear Window redux, "The Neighbor’s Window" has a big surprise that you don’t see coming (even if you’re using binoculars as Alli does).
"The Nefta Football Club," from French director Yves Piat, takes place in a wasteland village where soccer (aka football) remains children’s only passion. But one day, two young Tunisian brothers come across a donkey, without any accompaniment, in the desert outside the village. The donkey is carrying two large packs of something very important on its back. And, oh yes, the donkey is also wearing headphones over its ears.
The other live action nominees include "Brotherhood" (also taking place in Tunisia), which explores a family whose son’s new Syrian wife wears the full niqab, igniting the father’s suspicions that his son may be working with ISIS. "A Sister," from Belgian director Delphine Girard, is a thriller shot in real time as a late-night operator must unravel a crisis-in-the-making. "Saria" from American director Bryan Buckley is the heart-stopping true story of inseparable orphaned sisters, Saria and Ximena, as they try to survive unimaginable hardship in the days leading up to the 2017 tragedy that claimed the lives of 41 orphaned girls at the Virgen de La Suncion Safe Home in Guatemala.
Be among the first in line to see these amazing films; and in a week’s time, when someone announces, “And the Oscar goes to…," you can confidently say, “I postively know who’s going to win.I guarantee it.” Ironclad.
Oscar Nominated Short Films (Not Rated)
Opens Friday, Jan. 31, at The Flicks