Movie Review ~ The 2021 Oscar Nominated Short Films – Live Action

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BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT

In the past few years, this category has been growing slightly more uneven but these five nominees were unusually off-kilter this year, only one stuck out like a sore thumb as truly bad, though. I purposely didn’t read any synopsis about the films first so I could be surprised by what they were about, just in case the summary spoiled any secrets. Reading the brief descriptions of them while putting this post together, I made sure to edit out anything that might give away too much. Consider the synopsis provided and my review spoiler-free.

Feeling Through (Directed by Doug Roland)
Synopsis:
A late-night encounter on a New York City street leads to a profound connection between a teen-in-need and a DeafBlind man.
Review:
One of the last trips I made before this pandemic set in was the NYC and it was such a wonderful trip, I keep it and the city as it was then alive in my memory as best as I can. Watching Feeling Through made me remember the out of the way, non-tourist-y places of the city, the neighborhoods that give the city it’s most charming ambiance, and that’s where we meet a young man texting a number of his friends looking for a place to crash. The night is getting late, the friends he’s hanging out with are heading home, and he’s either too proud to tell them about his situation or doesn’t feel he can ask again. Randomly, he sees a man waiting on a curb holding a sign…and that’s where a small wonder of an adventure begins. Director Doug Roland’s film is perhaps a bit of a candy-coated, rose-colored glasses version of what the same situation might be 8 out of 10 other times but the quickly developed interchange between the two men and what both gain from their time together is easy to jump on board with. I always look for which of the live action shorts would lend itself well to a longer format and this one I could totally see expanding to feature length if handled with the same kind of care and compassion.

The Letter Room (Directed by Elvira Lind)
Synopsis:
When a corrections officer is transferred to the letter room, he soon finds himself enmeshed in a prisoner’s deeply private life.
Review:
Previous years have had familiar names and recognizable faces in the cast of these shorts but finding a star like Oscar Isaac (The Addams Family) turn up in a compact piece such as The Letter Room took some getting used to. Isaac is playing a prison officer guarding inmates of all security levels but friendly with a number of death row convicts. His request to transfer to a desk job with more human resources work leads to him the unexpected assignment of being a one-man band in the titular room. Day after day, he has to open the mail that arrives for prisoners, scan it for the system, skim it for content, and then pass it on if it doesn’t violate any protocols. Of course he eventually blurs the line between his job and the letters he’s reading, eventually crossing a line that changes his perspective on the task he’s been given. Isaac’s character is, let’s just say it, kind of creepy and the film never addresses this as a problem and that bothered me. He does things that are clearly out of line but writer/director Elvira Lind takes giant steps to not judge this man that maybe could use a little judgement. When you find out that Lind and Isaac are married in real life, the whole project begins to make sense…and it made me feel like the short was nominated for all the wrong reasons. It’s a poorly executed “pat myself on the back for being so noble” exercise and it’s without question the weakest of the bunch.

The Present
(Directed by Farah Nabulsi)
Synopsis:
On his wedding anniversary, Yusef and his young daughter set out in the West Bank to buy his wife a gift. Between soldiers, segregated roads and checkpoints, how easy would it be to go shopping?
Review:
One thing I’ve come to learn about these shorts is that you need to be ready to jump in no matter where the director drops you off and be prepared to not ask too many questions about the final destination and that helps a lot with The Present, set in the West Bank near Jordan. The first few minutes of the film feel a bit overwhelming, with Palestinian-British director Farah Nabulsi introducing lead actor Saleh Bakri amongst a throng of Palestinians retuning home in the middle of the night through one of the difficult checkpoints. The next morning, Bakri’s character takes another arduous journey with his angelic daughter in order to buy groceries and pick up a gift he’s secured for his wife as an anniversary present. Nabulsi tracks father and daughter’s tense trek into dangerous territory quite effectively, coaxing out the small details in each performer. It’s a rather simple tale, true, and yet it will likely have you on the edge of your seat when the pair come up to a security stop, first as they go to pick up the present and then again as they return when everyone is tired and feelings are running high.

Two Distant Strangers
(Directed by Travon Free & Martin Desmond Roe)
Synopsis:
Cartoonist Carter James’ repeated attempts to get home to his dog are thwarted over and over again.
Review:
I’ve deliberately edited the synopsis for this short way down because it gave away a key bit of info about the piece that I think would ruin a fairly significant surprise if it hadn’t already been spoiled for you. As I mentioned before, I avoided reading anything about the shorts prior to watching them so was able to experience Two Distant Strangers without that knowledge and I’d advise you to try your hardest to do the same.
I feel as if Two Distant Strangers is going to be the #1 favorite of voters or could end up last on their list, depending on where they are in their process of understanding the impact of this last year and the reckoning our country went through related to police violence. Either way, it’s going to spark an emotion and that will keep it front and center in the memory of many, not to mention that it’s readily available on Netflix and has been talked about since it premiered on the service. I have some questions on the taste level at times in the way the writers and directors weave familiar news stories of police violence into the plot almost as a gimmick for entertainment, and that will likely be something that gets under the skin of its detractors as well. If the acting isn’t as strong as the other entries (some significant performances are merely serviceable), it must be said that it remains a slick film with a frighteningly timely message.

White Eye
(Directed by Tomer Shushan)
Synopsis: A man finds his stolen bicycle, which now belongs to a stranger. While attempting to retrieve it, he struggles to remain human.
Review: While a number of the films nominated in this category have pristine production values, White Eye is a bit rough around the edges and more’s the better for it. Shot in one continuous (and impressive) take, director Tomer Shushan’s gripping drama takes viewers through a situation that rapidly escalates out of control, eventually spiraling into something bigger than anyone involved could have imagined. A young man thinks he has found his bicycle that was stolen weeks before chained up on a street corner of a rough neighborhood in Tel Aviv. Determined to get his bike back, the man calls the authorities even as the migrant worker who claims he bought the bike earlier that week protests he is innocent. While many of these “one shot” movies like to make a show out of the gimmick, Shushan makes the plot and the characters the focus, so you wind up not even noticing it’s all being done in an uninterrupted take. Keeping all of the central action going is one thing but if you think of it, watch what’s going on with the background players because there’s a storyline happening there as well. Capped off by a finale that is perplexing and devastating in the same breath, White Eye signals Shushan is a director to watch out for in the future.

Final Thoughts
: Considering the year we’ve had and the way our country has responded to the Black Lives Matter movement, I can easily see the votes swaying toward Two Distant Strangers which covers some of these issues (albeit with a questionable taste level) but really drives its message home with a final crawl displaying stark facts about BIPOC deaths involving police. It isn’t the best film of the pack (that’s probably White Eye, technically and narratively) and a win wouldn’t signify anything but Hollywood essentially saying “we hear you”, however the emotional prickle the short leaves with viewers will likely sway the votes. The worst case scenario is if The Letter Room wins…not just because it’s bad (really bad) but because it would clearly be a case of voters going for a familiar face.

Movie Review ~ The 2021 Oscar Nominated Short Films – Documentary

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BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT

Oh, how I’ve come to love this category. Documentaries have always been a favorite of mine and once I started to become an Oscar completist, looping in these Documentary Shorts unlocked another level of insight into subjects that may not be meaty enough to fill out a feature length endeavor but can achieve a great power in a brisk run time. However, I’ve noticed that “short” is starting to feel more like “expedient” and that isn’t the same thing and a few of the films this year felt like they were in a gray space between short and feature length and were forced to be trimmed to qualify in this category. Cohesion is beginning to get sacrificed and I’m having trouble easily finding the narrative thread…or at least the general concept.

Colette (Directed by Anthony Giacchino)
Synopsis:
Resistance took courage in Nazi-occupied France. 75 years later, facing one’s ghosts may take even more.
Review:
If given the choice, I prefer to get any documentary about Holocaust out of the way first because I know it will take an emotional toll on me and this short on survivor Colette Marin-Catherine was the first one I crossed off my list. A moving study of the 90-year old who fought in the French resistance and hasn’t been back to Germany since making a pledge never to return after her brother was killed in a concentration camp, Colette could bend under the weight of its sentimentality but refuses to wallow in any sort of sadness. As Colette travels to Germany with a young student that has been researching her life, there are many emotional milestones met and the expected bouts of unbearable sadness at confronting the site of such terrible acts of horror. Colette is so matter-of-fact in her way of speaking and director Anthony Giacchino is almost resolute in not allowing his film to become just about re-opening old wounds, that the short is more about moving through the pain of the past and into healing.

A Concerto is a Conversation (Directed by Kris Bowers & Ben Proudfoot)
Synopsis: A virtuoso jazz pianist and film composer tracks his family’s lineage through his 91-year-old grandfather from Jim Crow Florida to the Walt Disney Concert Hall.
Review:
Every year I tend to forget that The New York Times produces a great series of documentaries available on YouTube (Op-Docs) and really I have no business letting this slip my mind seeing how often they wind up getting nominated for an Oscar. This year the nominee is this super short piece on Kris Bowers (who also co-directed), a jazz-pianist readying a new concerto while at the same time speaking to his terminally ill grandfather, a self-made business owner, about how he made a life for himself during a period of civil unrest and systemic racism. Using the documentary format to retrace the history of his family, Bowers has a dynamite subject in his amiable grandfather but their “conversation” comes in the form of both men speaking direct to camera…so it feels like they are connecting with us but not each other.

A Love Song for Latasha
(Directed by Sophia Nahli Allison)
Synopsis
: A dreamlike portrait of a vibrant 15-year-old girl whose shooting death sparks the 1992 L.A. Riots.
Review:
After spending the last year watching the video of George Floyd being murdered by the now convicted police officer Derek Chauvin (not to mention countless other similar videos) over and over again on the news, I guess you could say it was a small relief not to have the video of the 1991 shooting death of Latasha Harlins shown in a similar fashion during director Sophia Nahli Allison’s documentary A Love Song for Latasha. The murder of the teen was a catalyst for the uprising in LA and her death is an important part of a lengthier story to be told, but without any other footage of Latasha to show, Allison’s film is filled with incongruous images and animation that don’t achieve the type of impact I felt this life warranted. The ‘love song’ of the title is related to viewers as an obtuse interpretation of Latasha’s life and dreams up until that point but somehow it was never able to paint in picture in my mind or, sadly, heart.

Do Not Split
(Directed by Anders Hammer)
Synopsis:
The story of the 2019 Hong Kong protests, told through a series of demonstrations by local protestors that escalate into conflict when highly armed police appear on the scene.
Review:
Here’s a prime example of what I was talking about in my opening paragraph — a documentary that lacks cohesion because of its editing and lack of context. To understand where this short is coming from you need to have some (actually, quite a lot) of understanding on the conflict between Hong Kong and mainland China and the protests that boiled over in 2019. For most of director Anders Hammer’s film, the scenes are just a randomly assembled jumble of protests, on-screen facts, interviews with heavily masked/concealed fighters for the cause, and it’s all hard to follow — even if you are aware of what was happening there. To a viewer, all we’re seeing is people running toward armed police who shoot tear gas at them, only to turn around and run away. Little extra is added beyond that and when the protestors eventually barricade themselves away from the police and start fires, images of a modern day Les Misérables began to dance in my head. It was only when the events began to get to more recent months that Hammer found some meter to it all, and that’s mostly because the pandemic stymied the protests from returning, though they had ceased long before the world was in global lockdown having seen the writing on the wall concerning COVID-19. Truth be told, the film lost my interest even further back.

Hunger Ward
(Directed by Skye Fitzgerald)
Synopsis: Filmed from inside two of the most active therapeutic feeding centers in Yemen documenting two female health care workers fighting to thwart the spread of starvation against the backdrop of a forgotten war.
Review: Every year it feels like there is one documentary or documentary short that is almost painfully hard to watch and Hunger Ward is by far the toughest sit of the nominees this round. Detailing the epidemic of the childhood famine in Yemen, director Skye Fitzgerald (previously nominated in this category in 2018 for Lifeboat) follows a doctor and a nurse in two different hospitals treating malnourished children. Poverty, overpopulation, and the devastation of war has left the children suffering the consequences and Fitzgerald and his crew don’t spare viewers an up close look at their tiny weak bodies, sunken chests, and hollow cheeks. In two excruciating scenes, we watch as hospital staff try (and fail) to revive children as their families cry howling sobs around them and in the halls. It would be easy for Fitzgerald to give the mourners some space or the staff who are also deeply affected by each loss room to mourn as humans must…but he keeps his camera focused and following so we aren’t spared the luxury of looking away. While not an eye-opening film if you’ve kept up on current events, hopefully it doesn’t allow people in power the chance to blink in the face of opportunities to make a difference.

Final Thoughts
: This one could go many different ways and so I’m torn, honestly. Sadly, I feel like we have to cross Hunger Ward off the list because I don’t think voters will watch the film due to its subject matter. I also think Do Not Split can definitely be counted out seeing that it’s weaker when compared to all the other entries, I’m honestly surprised this landed in the top selections when looking at potential nominees that were passed over. If we were voting ten years ago, I might hedge some bets on Colette due to the subject matter and emotional appeal of the voting body but am more inclined to say that A Love Song for Latasha and A Concerto is a Conversation will have a greater hold over this new Academy which grows more diverse year over year. A Love Song For Latasha could stand out because of the politicized nature of the last year and the protests we’ve seen surrounding Black Lives Matter; her story has seeds of that movement that voters may want to reward. On the other hand, A Concerto is a Conversation feels like a solid choice for its examination of race through an intergenerational lens and also because it doesn’t resort to easy theatrics to elicit an emotional reaction from its audience.

Oscar Nominations – 2021

After much delay, the nominations for the 2021 Oscars have been announced and as usual they brought with them a certain amount of celebration in the recognition of work that was well-deserved as well as disappointment that our favorites of the year didn’t make the cut…a feeling I’m sure the performers/technicians/producers share in a somewhat more heightened capacity 🙂

Click HERE for a full list of the nominations and stay tuned for more reviews of upcoming films as I make my way through the remaining movies in an attempt to get through all of the Oscar nominees this year.

Oscars – Final Predictions

The Oscars, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, air Sunday, March 4 on ABC

BEST PICTURE
1. Call Me By Your Name
2. Darkest Hour
3. Dunkirk
4. Get Out
5. Lady Bird
6. Phantom Thread
7. The Post
8. The Shape of Water
9. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Will Win: Dunkirk 
Should Win: Get Out
Why?: OK…I predict I’m going to be wrong here and that’s OK with me.  I just figured in a year where there is no clear favorite, the preferential ballot that is used to determine Best Picture might just come out in Dunkirk‘s favor.  Hard to believe that less than six months ago (and after Get Out was released), Dunkirk was the favorite to win this award.  I’d love to see Get Out win here but wouldn’t be upset if Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri or The Shape of Water were named either.

BEST DIRECTOR
1. Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
2. Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
3. Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread
4. Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
5. Jordan Peele, Get Out

Will Win: Guillermo del Toro
Should Win: Guillermo del Toro
Why?: del Toro is loved in Hollywood and his movie is so totally his vision that it would be hard to deny him the award for his efforts.

BEST ACTOR
1. Timothee Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name
2. Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread
3. Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out
4. Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
5. Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Will Win: Gary Oldman
Should Win: Gary Oldman
Why?: Even though Oldman has his fair share of detractors after some questionable remarks made in a magazine several years ago, he earns and deserves this award.  After Best Supporting Actress, this is the closest thing to a lock.

BEST ACTRESS
1. Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
2. Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
3. Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
4. Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
5. Meryl Streep, The Post

Will Win: Frances McDormand
Should Win: Frances McDormand
Why?: Divisive as the movie is, it’s hard to deny McDormand’s powerful turn in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.  Ronan will win her Oscar soon and if Robbie keeps up the good work she’ll be back in the race in no time.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
1. Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
2. Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
3. Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water
4. Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World
5. Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Will Win: Sam Rockwell
Should Win: Sam Rockwell
Why?: While two people from the same film nominated in the same category often means both go home empty-handed (hello deserving winner Sigourney Weaver and Joan Cusack from Working Girl!), this year Rockwell will beat out Harrelson and the rest of the guys for this award.  His character has polarized audiences and critics but he’s so well liked in Hollywood and has turned in consistently fine work for over a decade, this is another easy one to call.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
1. Mary J. Blige, Mudbound
2. Allison Janney, I, Tonya
3. Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread
4. Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
5. Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water

Will Win: Allison Janney
Should Win: Laurie Metcalf
Why?: My heart breaks for this category since there are SO many deserving nominees.  Janney is so damn popular and respected (with good reason!) in the industry that the odds are locked in her favor for the win.  Still, as memorable as she is in the role it doesn’t seem like a huge stretch which is why my vote would go to Metcalf’s performance in Lady Bird.  It’s a much more challenging role to navigate and she does it with ease.  The best of all possible worlds would have Manville best them all — she’s really terrific.

BEST EDITING
1. Baby Driver
2. Dunkirk
3. I, Tonya
4. The Shape of Water
5. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Will Win: Dunkirk
Should Win: Dunkirk
Why?: Dunkirk may not be winning the top honors this year but expect it to do well in the technical categories.  While you could prepare for a I, Tonya spoiler, your safe bet is to fly Dunkirk‘s friendly skies.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
1. Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
2. Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
3. Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani, The Big Sick
4. Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
5. Jordan Peele, Get Out

Will Win: Get Out
Should Win: The Big Sick
Why?: This is another almost impossible category to select the “Best of”.  I loved all of these films so would be fine with any of them going home a winner.  Seeing that The Big Sick got left off of some key categories (Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress), I’d jump for joy if they got some recognition here.  Still, though it has a weak third act, the power of Get Out will push it to the front of the line.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
1. Scott Frank & James Mangold, Logan
2. James Ivory, Call Me By Your Name
3. Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, The Disaster Artist
4. Aaron Sorkin, Molly’s Game
5. Virgil Williams & Dee Rees, Mudbound

Will Win: Call Me By Your Name
Should Win: Call Me By Your Name
Why?: James Ivory is a legend in the business and has never won an Oscar.  At 89, expect him to pick up his first Oscar for Call Me By Your Name (a movie he at one time was going to direct as well)

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
1. A Fantastic Woman
2. The Insult
3. Loveless
4. On Body and Soul
5. The Square

Will Win: A Fantastic Woman
Should Win: A Fantastic Woman
Why?: I usually make a point to see all of these nominees but this year proved a bit more difficult to catch them all.  Luckily, the one I did see is the favorite to win.  Let’s go with A Fantastic Woman from Chile, featuring transgender actress Daniela Vega who will also be presenting at the ceremony.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
1. Roger Deakins, Blade Runner 2049
2. Bruno Delbonnel, Darkest Hour
3. Hoyte van Hoytema, Dunkirk
4. Dan Laustsen, The Shape of Water
5. Rachel Morrison, Mudbound

Will Win: Roger Deakins
Should Win: Roger Deakins
Why?: 14th time’s the charm?  OMG, if Roger Deakins doesn’t win this award I’ll be SO upset.  After 13 nominations, it’s more than his time.  It helps the work is stellar so it won’t feel like an award for cumulative work.

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
1. Beauty and the Beast
2. Blade Runner 2049
3. Darkest Hour
4. Dunkirk
5. The Shape of Water

Will Win: The Shape of Water
Should Win: Blade Runner 2049
Why?: Lots of credit goes to the design of The Shape of Water for adding to its fantasy fairy tale feel.  I won’t be upset when it wins but felt that the sets and art direction for Blade Runner 2049  were a huge part of making that film so intoxicating to look at.

BEST SOUND MIXING
1. Baby Driver
2. Blade Runner 2049
3. Dunkirk
4. The Shape of Water
5. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Will Win: Dunkirk
Should Win: Baby Driver
Why?: Expect Dunkirk to succeed in another technical category, even though some of the dialogue was hard to hear (maybe that was intentional?)  Baby Driver has a more than decent shot to best Dunkirk…but only in this category.

BEST SOUND EDITING
1. Baby Driver
2. Blade Runner 2049
3. Dunkirk
4. The Shape of Water
5. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Will Win: Dunkirk
Should Win: Dunkirk
Why?: It’s Dunkirk, right?

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
1. Beauty and the Beast
2. Darkest Hour
3. Phantom Thread
4. The Shape of Water
5. Victoria & Abdul

Will Win: Phantom Thread
Should Win: Phantom Thread
Why?: People were shocked when The Shape of Water recently won top honors at the Costume Guild ceremony and when you think about the monster suit (yep, that’s a costume) it’s easy to see why people were impressed.  Still, the gowns and natty clothing created for Phantom Thread are almost another fully-realized character.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
1. Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
2. Faces Places
3. Icarus
4. Last Man in Aleppo
5. Strong Island

Will Win: Face Places
Should Win: Strong Island
Why?: Agnès Varda is the oldest nominee for an Oscar and the well-regard French auteur looks likely to win her first Oscar for a film I sadly haven’t seen.  I have seen Strong Island on Netflix, however, and it blew me away.  Gotta go with my heart on this one.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
1. The Boss Baby
2. The Breadwinner
3. Coco
4. Ferndinand
5. Loving Vincent

Will Win: Coco
Should Win: Loving Vincent
Why?:  Everyone loves the emotional Coco and for good reason.  PIXAR always makes a beeline to your heartstrings and that usually means a win in this category.  I’d love to see it go to the gorgeous Loving Vincent, a fully hand-painted film that was totally electrifying to watch.  I’ve heard rumors that The Boss Baby is making a late in the game come from behind play but I’m praying this baby goes to bed early…I couldn’t stand that film.

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
1. Blade Runner 2049
2. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
3. Kong: Skull Island
4. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
5. War for the Planet of the Apes

Will Win: War for the Planet of the Apes
Should Win: War for the Planet of the Apes
Why?: You want to know why War for the Planet of the Apes is going to win?  Because the first two movies didn’t and they both deserved it.  Here’s a chance to reward the trilogy.

BEST MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING
1. Darkest Hour
2. Victoria & Abdul
3. Wonder

Will Win: Darkest Hour
Should Win: Darkest Hour
Why?: While Wonder has the potential to spoil the night for Darkest Hour in this category, I wouldn’t count on Darkest Hour losing seeing that the make-up is praised right alongside Gary Oldman’s work in nearly every review.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
1. Carter Burwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
2. Alexandre Desplat, The Shape of Water
3. Jonny Greenwood, Phantom Thread
4. John Williams, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
5. Hans Zimmer, Dunkirk

Will Win: Alexandre Desplat
Should Win: Jonny Greenwood
Why?: Most signs point to Desplat emerging victorious but I challenge you to find a more beautiful score to any move released in 2017 than what Johnny Greenwood created for Phantom Thread.  C’mon Academy, get this one right.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
1. “Mighty River” Mudbound
2. “Mystery of Love” Call Me By Your Name
3. “Remember Me” Coco
4. “Stand Up for Something” Marshall
5. “This is Me” The Greatest Showman

Will Win: “This is Me”
Should Win: “Remember Me”
Why?: Last year I gritted my teeth with Pasek and Paul won an Oscar for composing a song from La La Land but this year I think they might actually deserve it.  Still, I found more emotional resonance in Coco‘s beautiful nominated tune.

Best Documentary Short
1. Edith + Eddie
2. Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405
3. Heroin(e)
4. Knife Skills
5. Traffic Stop

Will Win: Edith + Eddie
Should Win: Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405
Why?: Sentiment will carry Edith + Eddie over the finish line but that movie had too many one-sided conversations to feel truly complete.  I found Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405 to be an unflinching look at mental illness and how one artist tries to emerge from the darkness.  It was magnificent and deserves an Oscar.

Best Animated Short
1. Dear Basketball
2. Garden Party
3. Lou
4. Negative Space
5. Revolting Rhymes

Will Win: Dear Basketball
Should Win: Garden Party
Why?: Here’s another one that would see like a no-brainer if you truly watched every nominee.  Despite it’s dark twist, Garden Party’s hyper-realistic animation made it the best of the bunch of the nominees this year but somehow the favor seems to be falling on Dear Basketball.  Though animated by the legendary Glen Keane and scored by John Williams, it’s a vanity project love letter from Kobe Bryant to himself that was the absolute worst nominee.  Yuck.

Best Live Action Short
1. DeKalb Elementary
2. The Eleven O’clock
3. My Nephew Emmett
4. The Silent Child
5. Watu Wote/All of Us

Will Win: Watu Wote/All of Us
Should WinDeKalb Elementary
Why?: In terms of crafting a complete story arc within the confines of the Live-Action Short narrative, Watu Wote/All of Us is the clear victor.  For purely emotional raw reaction, I can’t imagine a more deserving winner than the timely DeKalb Elementary.   DeKalb is 20 minutes long and is the kind of riveting, body-tense, make you sweat kind of project that’s unforgettable.

Movie Review ~ The Red Turtle

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The Facts:

Synopsis: The dialogue-less film follows the major life stages of a castaway on a deserted tropical island populated by turtles, crabs and birds.

Director: Michael Dudok de Wit

Rated: PG

Running Length: 80 minutes

TMMM Score: (9.5/10)

Review: Nestled into a small theater on chilly Friday nursing a cup of coffee, I knew what I was in for with The Red Turtle. No dialogue, Oscar nominee, first film from Studio Ghibli that wasn’t Japanese, crafted by a small crew. Leading up to the Oscar nominations every shortlist for possible contenders mentioned this one and now having seen it myself it’s not hard at all to understand why. It’s a beautifully told piece that’s part fairy-tale, part parable, and unexpectedly moving.

Shipwrecked and waking up on a deserted island, a man struggles to acclimate himself to his new environment. We don’t know who he is, where he’s come from, or what kind of person he was before we meet him but we’re instantly rooting for him. Exploring the tropical islet, he winds up in a scene as harrowing as any live-action sequence I saw in the past year. When was the last time you felt an animated character was in physical danger…and not in a fantasy sort of way? In this brief bit of peril, writer/director Michael Dudok de Wit quickly shows what the stakes are if anything should happen to the man and how no one is there to help him.

Using bamboo and leaves, he fashions quite an impressive raft to take him back to civilization, only to have his raft capsized by an unseen force before he gets too far. Numerous attempts seem destined for success only to be dashed again and again by this great presence. Desperate, starving, and losing some will the man tries one last time and that’s when he comes face to face with the titular character. How the man winds up connecting with the turtle is best left for you to discover on your own as the tone changes from despair and uncertainty to survival and understanding.

As with most Studio Ghibli films, the animation is broad and flat which makes it look like a series of postcard images instead of one with great dimension but it’s an intensely rich film on nearly every level. There’s also a fair bit of humor to be had as well, with a family of crabs providing bits of comic relief to break up passages of time.

For a film with no dialogue, it really speaks to the heart and I can’t imagine how any words would have enhanced the thoughts and ideas brought to life by Ghibli. A beautiful score by Laurent Perez Del Mar is really all that’s needed to provoke the imagination and stir emotions. Every year the Oscars seem to locate one true animated gem that isn’t a mile a minute caper comedy or franchise blockbuster to give some variety to the category and obviously The Red Turtle is this year’s treasure.

The Red Turtle isn’t going to break any kind of box office but it’s a film I think parents will discover as time goes on and will enjoy sharing with not only their children but their friends.

Final Oscar Predictions

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Hey — it’s the day of the night of 1,000 stars as The Academy Awards are given out for another year of strong work.  Though I’m still bummed a bit by some omissions to the nominees (Ben Affleck, I feel your pain), this has shaped up to be a year with the potential to reward some richly deserving folk.

My full list of final thoughts can be found here — I hope you enjoy the show.  Check back tomorrow for my deconstructing of the big night with my reactions to the highs and lows of the ceremony!

Note: Spirit Awards

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No question that Sunday, February 24 is Hollywood’s big night with The Academy Awards being presented but in the last few years I’ve enjoyed tuning in to the Spirit Awards.  A much less showy affair (it’s held in a tent and guests/presenters always poke fun at how freezing it is), it fits well with the indie film vibe.  While Oscar night is a time for Tinsel Town to crown new royalty, the ISA’s feel very much in line with the Screen Actors Guild Awards in that they recognize films/actors that the bottom line obsessed Hollywood seems to have ignored.  Chances are you haven’t heard of many of the films nominated but I’ve always come away from the ceremony with a few films to add to my “To See” list.

Check out the nominees here and tune in tonight to watch!