I’m not really sure why I started at this point for seven years running I’ve gone to the theatrical releases of the Oscar Nominated live action shorts when ShortsTV tours them in the days leading up Oscars. Well, I had to stream them leading into the 2021 ceremony for obvious reasons, but still. Honestly I must say I was a bit less excited for it this year as it’s really extended out the 2022 movie year for me a bit longer than I’d like right as I’m finally starting to be ready to just move on to 2023, but I wasn’t about to cut the tradition of just yet.
Also, please note that when talking about movies with running times like this even talking about small plot points can be bigger spoilers than they would be when talking about longer works, so if you’re interested in actually watching these maybe be careful about reading. So, without further ado…
Our first movie is Ivalu which is officially labeled as a film from Denmark, but more specifically it’s a film set in the Danish constituent country of Greenland and is in the Kalaallisut language spoken by the Greenlandic Inuit population. The film follows a young Inuit girl named Pipaluk, and “Ivalu” is the name of her older sister, who has gone missing without a trace. The film is about Pipaluk looking through the Greenland landscapes while reading what is essentially a letter to this sister via voiceover. Not to be too much of a spoiler but there isn’t a happy ending here for Ivalu, so this is meant to be something of an elegy for this missing person both in terms of the voice over while also having the wide openness of the natural landscapes sort of acting as an expression of just how much a person missing in this place can really be lost. These landscapes make this one of the more visually stimulating of the five films here but the subject matter probably makes it the darkest of the offerings here. I’d also say that of the five this one is probably the least comfortable with its running time as it kind of feels like we should have more information about this family and this situation in general but we’re only seeing the “tip of the iceberg” so to speak.
My Grade: B-
Its Oscar Chances: Slim to nil. The movie is a downer, and not necessarily a downer in a sentimental way. It also doesn’t really have a filmmaking gimmick at its center or really much of a novelty to its story that will really make it stand out. The film does have one thing in its corner however and that’s that it’s director, Anders Walter, actually won in this category in 2013 for the short film Helium so maybe he’s got more going for him in the industry than I’m giving him credit for but still I would be very surprised if this walked away with the award.
For our next short we move on to another Nordic country, Norway in this case, for Night Ride. This short begins with a woman with dwarfism trying to get on a light rail train at nigh only to be told that it won’t be leaving for half an hour and since the driver is going on break she can’t wait on the rain and must stay out in the cold. Rather than do this she waits until the driver has left, gets on board the (apparently unlocked) train and starts pressing buttons to try to close the door behind her but to her surprise the train starts moving. Realizing that the driver is about to chase after her she ops to just keep the train rolling rather than try to move it back, and this will lead her on a bit of a wild adventure. The short starts off rather comedically but in its second half a tense situation rooted in social issues arises that does take this in a bit of a more serious direction before circling back to a certain degree of lightness at the end. That’s an interesting mix of tones and director Eirik Tveiten’s handling of that is probably the film’s biggest asset. It’s biggest drawback is probably its handling of the social issue in the twist, which is something I could see people taking in a couple different ways, though I think most would agree that the film’s heart is in the right place with regard to it.
My Grade: B
Its Oscar Chances: Low. These kinds of low key quirky “two disparate people meet in the night” shorts are not uncommon in this category but they don’t tend to win. That combined with the fact that this isn’t in English (which I’ve come to learn is a huge disadvantage here) probably don’t bode very well for this one winning.
Over in the Animated Short category we have, for the second year in a row, managed to have a year in which none of the nominees were made by Disney or their sibling studio Pixar. However, the mouse did surprisingly show up in the live action short category this year, and in surprising fashion with this forty minute Italian film from the world famous director Alice Rohrwacher which premiered at Cannes. The film also boasts a star producer in Alfonso Cuarón of all people, whose nomination here ties him with Kenneth Branagh for having gotten Oscar nominations in the most different categories. So, what’s Disney doing funding this? Well, the short is indeed ostensibly light hearted and family friendly, so it’s not completely out of place on Disney+ (where it’s currently streaming) and it is a film about children, specifically little orphan girls living at a boarding school in Northern Italy during World War II where they have to deal with this really overbearing and strict nun who’s overseeing them. One could imagine a more serious take on the lives of orphans living under a fascist dictatorship, and there probably is some sort of allegory intended between this dictatorial nun and Mussolini, but the short aggressively avoids being heavy handed about this and instead plays out as an A Christmas Story style “funny memoir of youth” kind of way (and yes, the movie actually is set during Christmas). I’m not sure there’s a particularly deep or specific message behind it all, in fact it basically ends with a “What did we learn here? Probably nothing” type of line, but it’s a pretty fun ride along the way.
My Grade: A-
Its Oscar Chances: It’s not a total lock but it’s obviously the frontrunner. Having high profile filmmakers involved in your short certainly doesn’t hurt (just ask Riz Ahmed) but it’s not a guarantee either (just ask Oscar Isaac), and I’m not sure how big of a name Alice Rohrwacher is among voters. But even without that this has a lot of advantages like the Disney brand, the fact that it’s quite a bit longer than its competitors, and the fact that it’s populated by cute kids. The only thing really working against this is that it’s not in English, which has proven to a bigger barrier than I would have thought over the years in this category.
The Red Suitcase
Our next film takes us to everyone’s favorite European microstate: Luxembourg. In fact the entire film is set at the Luxembourg International Airport and follows a sixteen year old girl who arrives there from Iran with a red suitcase. Shortly after arrival she has an uncomfortable encounter with airport security and you’re not sure what’s going on with her as she’s behaving kind of erratically. It all becomes a bit more clear once you realize what’s going on: she’s been sent to Europe by a controlling father, who’s made an arrangement for her to marry a much older rich man there, something the girl with the red suitcase has no desire to do. From there this becomes a suspense driven short film in which the girl tries to evade her “fiancé.” I’m not really sure how authentic this is as a depiction of arranged marriage and sex trafficking but it has a number of nice touches like how the contents of the suitcase tells a story about this girl and her ambitions, and the movie is willing to end on a bit of a question mark rather than a tidy ending. I wouldn’t call this the most innovative or formally inventive of short films but it does do an efficient job of telling the story it wants to tell.
My Grade: B
Its Oscar Chances: Very small. Whatever the film’s merits, it has “also ran” written all over it. Winning shorts need to have something of a novelty to them which makes them stand out and this doesn’t really have that. I’ve also found in general that suspense driven shorts are usually at a disadvantage here with similar films like “Mother” and “A Sister” having fallen short in the past.
An Irish Goodbye
As the title would imply, our last short this year brings us to Ireland for the one English language short of the bunch. This one is something of a dark-ish comedy about two brothers meeting after their mother’s funeral. One of the brothers has been living in England while the other appears to have some sort of mental disability and it’s unclear who he’s going to live with now that their mother is gone. These two brothers are not particularly meek people, they fight and bicker with each other as brothers do even though one of them has a mental disability, and generally have that irascible Irish demeanor. That demeanor between the two of them is where much of the film’s humor comes from, that and a set of gags in its second half where they set out to complete a list of things their mother wanted to do before she died by doing those things with her urn of ashes. Whatever dark edge the film had because of the grief theme is largely dissipated by the end and it’s ultimately a story about the bonds of familial love and all that bullshit. I wouldn’t say it’s a short that’s entirely to my tastes but it does do a good job of fitting a lot of storytelling into twenty three minutes. I think a lot of people are going to like this one.
My Grade: C+
Its Oscar Chances: I’d say this is clearly the dark horse, and a strong one at that. I cannot understate how much of an advantage being in English is here. When given an English language option the Oscar voters have gone for it every time since 2013, which is a pretty strong trend. This is also an appealing short that will likely charm people and it’s setting will likely appeal to people looking for more Irish shenanigans after The Banshees of Inisherin.
Final Thoughts: I would say that this assortment of shorts, with the exception of Le Pupille, are very much in line with what I’ve come to expect from this category year in and year out. Le Pupille stands out for being the work of a noted stylist who’s done work in live action, which is something that the voters in this branch tend to gate keep out of the nominations for various reasons (just ask Pedro Almodóvar). I will probably be predicting that film to win as it has too many advantages (including the support of the mouse) to ignore, but on some level I feel like a fool for doing it because there have been one too many times when the voters just reflexively pick the one that’s in English and it’s a trend I think I ignore at my peril, so don’t underestimate An Irish Goodbye.