It's been a few years since we've done an overview of the Oscar-nominated short films. Although I didn't get to see all of the 15 nominees, here's a rundown on the ones that are easily available on streaming platforms.
Oscar Nominated Animated Short Films
The Flying Sailor (Canada)
This film has much to say about contemplating our own death. What comes to mind in our last moments? Is it peaceful or terrifying? When a sailor walking along the docks witnesses an explosion as two boats collide in the harbor, he's launched into the air by the blast, loses all his clothes (yep, the titular sailor spends most of the film in his birthday suit) and as he floats above the earth, his mind conjures up many memories of the life he's had.
Amazingly, the film is based on real life events that occurred in Halifax in 1917. The animation is very stylized and brilliantly done.
Ice Merchants (Portugal, UK, France)
This delightful little film focuses on a father and son who live in their home which just happens to be bolted high up on a glacier. Every day they take their ice cubes and parachute to the town in the valley below. As they're going down, their hats fly off in the wind. In town, Dad buys new hats for he and his son with the money they've made. Every day the same thing happens.
That is until the thermometer starts to creep up above freezing. I don't want to give everything away but watch until the end and some questions will be answered.
The film presents a commentary on climate change but also on the dedication of a father to his son and his work. I found the sound to be what stole the show for me as it really makes you feel like you're right there with them.
Screenshot from "Ice Merchants." © 2022 COLA/Wild Stream. All Rights Reserved.
My Year of Dicks (USA)
Unfortunately, this one is as crass as it sounds. Don't get me wrong. The animation is quite creative, with a variety of styles in each "chapter" of the film but the film's premise is not something we Catholics could get behind. However, it does get across the point that what we see in film and television, especially when it comes to sexuality and relationships is usually a far cry from what real life is like.
15-year-old Pam, inspired by her viewing, wants to lose her virginity. The five "chapters" of the film represent her exploits to fulfill her goal. The lesson she learns is a good one but getting there was a cringe-worthy watch.
The two animated short films I did not get to see are The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and the Horse from Apple TV and An Ostrich Told me the World is Fake and I Think I Believe It.
If I had to pick a winner from the three films I saw, I'd choose Ice Merchants, but I'd also be happy if The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and the Horse won as it seems from the trailer that it's chock full of wonderful values.
Oscar-Nominated Live-Action Short Films
Unfortunately, only two of the five nominated films are available online so this category is a little slim.
Night Ride (Norway)
Ebba (Sigrid Kandal Husjord) finds herself waiting on a cold, snowy platform for the train after a party one evening. When the engineer won't even let her wait inside the train to get warm, she sneaks in anyway. Trying to close the door, she accidentally starts the train, leaving him behind.
She picks up some passengers, one a transgender woman (Ola Hoemsnes Sandum) who proceeds to get bullied by other riders. When Ebba asks them to respect the passenger, they ignore her, but she persists in her entreaties for consideration. I won't spoil the end but all I can say is it served them right.
The film tells a story our world needs to hear. Every person deserves our respect, no matter what. Even if they're living a lifestyle different than ours or which we don't agree with, they are still human beings, sons and daughters of God, loved by God just like we are. It may be a cliché, but the saying, "Always be kind. You never know what someone is going through," applies to everyone.
Screenshot from "Night Ride." © 2020 Cylinder Productions. All Rights Reserved.
Le Pupille (The Pupils) Disney+
This Italian film speaks of innocence, greed, and the desire for freedom from the perspective of the orphans at an institution run by Catholic nuns during World War I. Serafina (Melissa Falasconi) seems to be a rebellious child and the Sisters label her as "wicked."
The people who come to the orphanage for the Christmas play request the children to pray for them, believing the prayers of the innocent will be effective for their intentions. One woman leaves a special gift in return for prayers. When a beautiful cake is revealed at the Christmas dinner (definitely not a feast), the nuns encourage the girls to sacrifice this small pleasure for the sake of others. That's what good girls do.
Since Serafina's been told she's wicked, she figures since she's not good, she can have some cake. What she does next is precious.
As a nun who reviews films, I'm always a bit disappointed when films rely on the stereotype of disturbingly mean nuns who treat their young charges harshly. Even so, this short film is worthy of it's nomination.
The other films in this category are: An Irish Goodbye, Ivalu, and The Red Suitcase. I can't really call this category since I only saw two of the five films nominated but if it's between the two I saw, Night Ride gets my vote.
Oscar Nominated Documentary Short Films
The Elephant Whisperers (India) Netflix
In a remote area of India, on the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve is a camp where elephants are rehabilitated. In 2019, the Teppakadu camp welcomed Raghu, an injured baby elephant. Bomman, the caretaker nursed him back to health but when they tried reuniting Raghu with his herd, they were not successful.
So began the task of raising a baby elephant. To help Bomman, the government sent Bellie, the first woman to be sent to the elephant camp. Together, she and Bomman saw to Raghu's needs.
During the scorching heat of summer, some baby elephants get left behind when the herd migrates. Such was the case with Ammu, who came to the camp when she was five months old.
The film delights the viewer as Bomman and Bellie kick a soccer ball around with the elephants, swim with them in the river and make huge millet balls to feed them. The huge creatures are like their children and Bomman and Bellie became the first people to successfully raise two baby elephants. But watch until the end for the human twist!
Another film which comments on the climate change crisis, Haulout follows marine biologist, Maxim Chakilev, who has been visiting the Siberian Arctic each autumn for a decade where the largest walrus haulout on the planet happens. Walruses rely on sea ice to rest during their feeding and migration. With the decline of sea ice, there are more animals on land during the haulout resulting in stampedes and trampling which kills a significant number of the amazing creatures.
This film is beautifully crafted, simply following Chakilev around during one of his research trips. He's alone in a hut on a remote shoreline. One day, all you see is sand and snow. The next day all you see is walruses on every speck of shore. The film needs no narration as the pictures speak for themselves.
Screenshot from "Haulout." © 2022 Albireo Flms. All Rights Reserved.
The Martha Mitchell Effect (USA) Netflix
Richard Nixon said that without Martha Mitchell, there might have been no Watergate. That says something about this woman who didn't let the male-dominated politics of her time silence her.
The Netflix documentary follows the story of Martha Mitchell, the wife of John Mitchell, Nixon's campaign manager and then attorney general. As a "Cabinet wife" she was supposed to be a demure hostess but not much else. So, when she spoke her mind, people listened. She's the first one who suggested that Nixon should resign after the Watergate scandal.
It's a fascinating story of a woman who dared to speak the truth to power. When the administration tried to silence her, she went to her friends in the press. All she wanted to do was "some good for my country." The Martha Mitchell Effect phrase was coined to describe someone whose beliefs are initially labelled as delusional but later turn out to be true.
Stranger at the Gate (USA)
The story of Richard McKinney needs to be told. A U.S. Marine who served for 25 years, finds the enemy when he returns home to Muncie, Indiana. In 2009, McKinney plotted to bomb Muncie's mosque but something happened when he meets the people he planned to kill.
When the film begins, it's a little confusing. I had read the description and wondered why interviews with this guy were not happening from a prison. What happened only became clear as the story slowly unfolds.
McKinney's daughter, Emily, describes how she once witnessed something as normal as a mom picking up her son from school. The mom wore a niqab, which only left her eyes visible. Commenting on this to her parents when she got home, her Dad flew into a rage. He says, "there was a Muslim kid, a future terrorist, sitting across from my daughter."
God had other plans, however, and as Richard did recon at the mosque, he met some of the community who welcomed him and made him feel at home. As he began spending time with the community, he realized just how kind and loving they were. He said, "They showed me what true humanity was about.
The only documentary short I didn't get to see was How Do You Measure a Year? If I had to pick a winner among the four films I saw, I'd want Stranger at the Gate to win. Although, I though Haulout was an absolutely fascinating story with a unique approach to filmmaking.
Watch the Academy Awards on March 12th to find out who takes home the coveted golden statue.