Every year the Academy Awards hand out three Oscars for the best short films, in the live-action, animated and documentary categories. For a long time, these films were among the most obscure Oscars of each year, because with the exception of the occasional animated short that played before Disney and Pixar releases, very few of them had been seen by many people.
In recent years, that’s begun to change. Streaming services have begun to offer some of the live action shorts, while many of the documentaries are produced by the New York Times and other news outlets, which distribute them through their own channels.
Also, many theaters, both in person and virtual, have the shorts program available to screen in full.
Having watched all 15 shorts, a ranking of the ones nominated for this year’s Oscars, and how you can watch each one. The distribution is being presented by ShortsTV.
Genius Loci (Animated)
This French animated short, directed by Adrien Merigeau is probably the weirdest and most abstract of the animated category, looking more like a painting than the traditional look of the film. I just couldn’t connect with it, for whatever reason.
The Letter Room (Live-Action)
Most of these films don’t have much, if any, star power, but The Letter Room is the exception — it stars Oscar Isaac, who also produced, as a prison guard who gets a new assignment handling the correspondence to the prisoners.
Isaac’s character finds himself getting inappropriately involved in the affairs of the prisoners, even going to meet the ex (Alia Shawkat) of one of them.
It’s a decent idea, and good for Isaac for actually appearing in it, but the film builds up to not much at all.
A very strange Icelandic animated film that represents a slice-of-life look at everyday people, mostly in a single apartment complex.
Like most films in the animation category, it has few words besides music and incidental sound, but in this film it feels more like a gimmick than in the others.
Yes-People can be watched in full on The New Yorker’s YouTube channel.
Hunger Ward (Documentary)
The shorts category this year isn’t quite as unbearably bleak as it has been in some past years, but Hunger Ward is a tough, tough watch. Directed by Skye Fitzgerald and Michael Shueuerman, it’s set in a pair of hunger wards in war-torn Yemen.
It’s brave filmmaking, which certainly shines a negative light on the U.S.’ support of the Saudis’ war in Yemen. This is just not a movie that anyone is going to watch twice.
Hunger Ward is available, of all places, on the free streaming service Pluto TV.
A Concerto is a Conversation (Documentary)
This year’s entry from The New York Times‘ “OpDocs” operation, a recent mainstay of the documentary shorts category, is directed by Ben Proudfoot and Kris Bowers and tells the story of Bowers’ career as a Black composer, and his conversations with his grandfather.
The film is compelling, albeit aesthetically uninteresting, and it leads to the triumph that Bowers scored… Green Book? Ava Duvernay is an executive producer.
The documentary can be watched in full above.
White Eye (Live-Action)
White Eye, directed by Omar Shushan, is about an Israeli man whose bike is stolen and ends up in the hands of an African migrant. It’s part of the long cinematic tradition, from The Bicycle Thieves to Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, that involves the protagonist’s bike being stolen.
The Present (Live-Action)
Both the Israelis and the Palestinians are represented in the live-action short category, with a pair of films that are competent but no great shakes overall.
The Present, directed by Farah Nabulsi, is the Palestinian effort, telling the story of a man and his daughter traversing Israeli checkbooks in order to buy an anniversary present.
The Present is on Netflix.
A Love Song For Latasha (Documentary)
Directed by Sophia Nahli Allison, this is a documentary short looking at the life of Latasha Harlins, a 15-year-old Black girl who was killed by a convenience store owner in Los Angeles in 1991, just days after the Rodney King beating. The film expertly uses home video footage and more, while making the (probably correct) decision to not show the shooting itself.
A Love Song For Latasha is also available to stream on Netflix.
Made by Pixar as part of its “SparkShorts” program, Burrow is the animated category’s annual “funny animals” entry. Directed by Madeline Sharafian, it follows a brown rabbit looking to “burrow” into her dream home.
The film is just six minutes long, but in the finest Pixar tradition, it establishes stakes. I was rooting for that bunny, big time, by the end.
Burrow can be watched in its entirety on Disney+.
This is the story of a 90-year-old former French resistance fighter named Colette Marin-Catherine, who had long vowed to never visit Germany, but ultimately takes a trip to the place where her brother was killed.
It’s very harrowing, but quite illuminating in the end.
Colette was produced through The Guardian, and is available in full on that newspaper’s YouTube channel (see above).
This film definitely wins the award for the highest degree of difficulty. The ambitious Opera, directed by former Pixar animator Erick Oh, looks at the entirety of history and the human condition, in a way that sort of resembles an opera.
Nine minutes long, the film has many pieces moving at all times, and took four years to make.
Two Distant Strangers (Live-Action)
This very stylish film, directed by basketball player-turned-Daily Show writer-turned-filmmaker Travon Free (along with Martin Desmond Roe), has a great hook: A young man (rapper Joey Bada$$) just had a one-night stand with a woman (Zaria), before he has an unfortunate encounter with a cop (Andrew Howard.)
The film then becomes a Groundhog Day/Russian Doll/Edge of Tomorrow situation where he keeps repeating the same thing, the twist being that he gets killed by the same cop every time, albeit under different circumstances.
It’s such a good hook, in fact, that there was a film at festivals last year, The Obituary of Tunde Johnson, that was pretty much the same premise, only about a teenager. Two Distant Strangers is well-executed, even if it does have one twist too many.
It’s on Netflix, and a rare short film to crack the top ten list.
Feeling Through (Live-Action)
The best nominated live-action film is a sweet New York City story, directed by Doug Roland. It depicts a homeless teenager (Steven Prescod) and a man who is both deaf and blind (Robert Tarango) who meet one night and form an unlikely friendship.
The story is told with gorgeous nighttime cinematography, by YuGin Koh.
Do Not Split (Documentary)
Directed by Anders Hammer, this film takes an up-close, unflinching look at the protests in Hong Kong, back in late 2019.
They say Hollywood is afraid to ever cross China, but that’s certainly doesn’t apply to this short doc, which had a front-row and very sympathetic view of those protests, which took place on the eve of the pandemic. Of course, it’s impossible not to notice that the footage, which teargas, fire, and people running from armed agents of the state, doesn’t look all that different from what took place in dozens of American cities about six months later.
The entire film can be watched on Vimeo (see above.)
If Anything Happens I Love You (Animated)
Directed by Will McCormack and Michael Govier, this is a tear-jerking portrait of grief, and the film — nearly wordless, except for some music — explores two parents who are grieving the death of their young daughter, who was killed in a school shooting, with their emotions emerging as shadows above them.
Just a beautiful film in every way. You can watch it on Netflix.