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For the first time ever, I watched the Oscar nominated shorts because I felt that I hadn’t found enough categories to grouch about, so I might as well add two more. Overall I was much more intrigued and entertained by the animated shorts, but discussion of those will come later. First, the live action shorts that were uneven, not especially moving or involving, with a the comedic entries outshining the serious ones. I’ll kick things off with my reactions then Jared will follow up for all five. Listed in the order as shown at E St. Cinema:

Jared: I’d break the live action shorts into two distinct categories.  Three of them deal with easily identifiable human tragedies.  The other two are bizarre comedies where violence plays at least a tangential role.  Guess we know what the Academy was looking for.


I recall that when Slumdog Millionaire came out, was praised, and then ran into the predictable backlash, the term “poverty porn” was thrown around. Merited or not, I was reminded of the term again when watching Kavi, the story of an enslaved laborer at an Indian brick-making shop. With his father indebted to an EVIL, EVIL MAN, Kavi must sublimate his curiosities and desire for school and cricket and instead toil non-stop turning over clay bricks. I was interested in seeing how each film used the “short” form, but was generally bored with what Kavi offered. The story was slight and predictable and the characters were broadly drawn. Considering the subject, I am surprised that I wasn’t more affected by the content. Still, considering that Gregg Helvey made this film for his MFA thesis at USC film school, it’s a rather impressive showing.

Jared: Chock full of familiar characters, Kavi feels like the third draft of a very good short.  The characters have shading just past cartoonish, but not quite to the point of being interesting.  Most of the main scenes work, but the auxiliary ones (e.g. Kavi’s garden) feel incomplete.  And while the topic of modern slavery is certainly important, the short itself doesn’t seem to have any particular point.  Obviously slavery being bad is a point, but if that’s the entire point of the film, it seems a documentary is more in order.  Because as is, the short feels a little trite.

The New Tenants

Brian: This ranks as one of my favorites of the bunch — and if all the Grouches saw the shorts, I’d wager that consensus would form around The New Tenants, an absurdly dark comedy featuring Kevin Corrigan and Vincent D’Onofrio. The gist of the film is that a gay couple (played by Jamie Harrold and David Rakoff) have recently moved into an apartment that was the site of a gruesome murder — and they are visited by a variety of characters — all of whom have unfinished business with the previous tenant. I liked the funny script and the acting was generally strong. Perhaps it was a little too weird for my liking — and dark comedies aren’t my favorite comedies — but I thought that — more than the other shorts — it was the right length for the story that was told.

Jared: My favorite live action short, anyone who has seen a trailer for a Danish movie recently will have no trouble placing this one’s origins in Denmark.  I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to describe this film’s level of weirdness, but actually it is quite obvious: the film kinda makes Vincent D’Onofrio seems normal.  The short certainly has its flaws, of course.  It relies a little too much on long monologues and immediate reactions to them (though the first one is priceless).  Some of the dialogue felt a little off, and the film may not be as weird as it thinks it is.  But the insanity is generally well-paced and consistently off-the-wall engrossing.   Overall, this dark, funny, bizarre short is a gem.

Miracle Fish
Brian: Easily my least favorite in the bunch, this story of a lonely, bullied kid who wakes up from a nap to find his school eerily deserted is ambitious, but in the end pointless. It may have been well-produced as a film, but the payoff/twist is unearned. Its hard for me to talk too much more without spoiling the short film, but even the title was a red herring that didn’t fit well with the thematically confusing story.

Jared: This short felt like it had shocking twists for the sake of shocking twists. The turns didn’t fit into the story and they didn’t serve any larger purpose. Like with Kavi, just because a film references some great tragedy doesn’t make the movie tragic.  The big twist felt a little cheap, to be honest. It is a shame, because certain parts of the short felt fairly strong, for example, I thought it did a good job establishing the main character’s isolation. But the story just tripped all over itself.

The Door
Brian: I’m a sucker for historical fiction in movies — so this depressing story of a family evacuating Chernobyl, and a father’s return to the condemned house to pick up one last item — was another of my favorites. In just a few minutes, I felt as though I learned more about this family unit than I did about the one in Kavi. And yet, even though it focused on this one family, I also managed to get a sense of the enormity of the Chernobyl disaster. This was the short I think did the best job of handling the limitations and advantages of the form.

Jared: To me, this one didn’t feel like a cohesive unit at all.  It felt like they plucked out a few scenes of a movie and tinkered with the order some.  It was depressing, sure, but I felt that the short was a little restrained.  I mean, goodness, there shouldn’t be anything much more depressing than parents burying their daughter as a result of fallout from Chernobyl.  That’s got Russian nihilism written all over it.  Instead, I was relatively unmoved.  Maybe mostly because the film never really got around to its punchline.

Instead of Abracadabra

Brian: Napoleon Dynamite-lite. Funny at the time, but the more I stew over it the less I remember and or care about it. By far the best part of the short was the parents of the 25-year-old amateur magician. Living at home with his sights on the nurse next door, the magician has his funny parts, but its his mom and dad, especially the former, who steal the show. Her maternal and easy-going nature is undeterred by a trick gone wrong and serves as a humorous balance to the stock-character father, embarrassed by his son but loving nonetheless. With a predictable script, I give credit to the actors behind the roles, but even their efforts couldn’t push this short to excellence.

Jared: I see the comparison to Napoleon Dynamite, but I’d generally disagree, and not just because that film is a blight on humanity matched by very few.  Here’s the thing about this short.  There’s one really funny moment, just a classic.  There’s maybe three or four pretty humorous bits.  And the rest ranges from filler to vaguely annoying.  Is that enough?  I dunno, maybe for a nomination.  I’d be seriously concerned about expanding it to a full-length feature. I think it may be comedies like this, with little real lasting value, that somehow make the Academy unable to nomination any comedies at all.  Also, I’ve spent about fifteen minutes trying to find something listing the song from the end credits, but have had no luck, so if anyone happens to know it, I’d appreciate the info.


Should win the Oscar: The New Tenants
Will win the OscarKavi


Should win the Oscar: The New Tenants

Will win the Oscar: Miracle Fish

February 2020
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