Salute Your Shorts: The Live Action Oscar Shorts

The older I get, the less folks around me give a shit about the Oscars. And, I mean, I kinda get it. But, still, every year, there I am: watching the nods roll out; gauging the buzz; scrambling to see everything.

It’s easy to forget that the short films exist. They barely play in theaters and their pre-Oscars package is super short-lived, shown only on a few screens. Unless you vote for the Academy, I’m going to guess you don’t shit about this (or any) year’s shorts. If so, stick with me. Here, I’ll take you through each entry, giving you my gut reaction after. And because they’re shorts, I’ll keep it quick.

Ave Maria (France/Germany/Palestine)
Directed by: Basil Khalil
Running Time: 14 Mins.

IMDb Plot: The silent routine of 5 nuns living in the West Bank wilderness is disturbed when an Israeli settler family breaks down right outside the convent just as the Sabbath comes into effect.

150-ish Word Review:
Holy cow. It’s astonishing what Maria can balance so succinctly with such little time. Palestinians v. Israelis. Christians v. Jews. Men v. Women. Age v. Youth. Yet, for all it’s warring, there’s no melodrama. Maria is genuinely giggle-inducing.

Maria picks apart what’s wrong with tribe mentality. Both clans decree they’re too different from each other – yet their ignorance is identical. Moche pleads for the nuns to place a call as Shabbat demands he can’t do machines. Except this is a quiet convent. So all the nun can do is dial, then point the phone at Moche’s mouth. Of course, Moche’s mile-away friend can’t crank up his car to help, anyways, on account of his own Shabbat.

Look. We all know where this is going: Both sides see eye-to-eye by the story’s close. But it’s HOW we get there – THAT’S the fun. Watching Maria in increments at work, I was desperate to finish. And it was worth it: At its close comes maybe the cutest line of last year.

Mother Superior:
Come on. We’ve got quite a few Hail Mary’s to say after all that talking.

Stutterer (Ireland)
Directed by: Benjamin Cleary
Running Time: 12 mins.

IMDb Plot: A lonely typographer with a cruel speech impediment but an eloquent inner voice must face his greatest fear.

150-sh Word Review:
Leads don’t come more sympathetic. Greenwood’s an attractive lad with a stutter so crippling, he can’t pay an over-the-phone bill. So how the hell, then, is he meant to survive a blind date with the girl he’s chatted online with for six months? I mean, aren’t first dates hard enough?

Not a lot happens, really. We just kinda ‘hang out’. We see him study ISL. We see his workplace splashed in letters and fonts. We listen in as he kiddishly profiles folks he can’t speak to. He’s eloquent, by the way. Or, at least, internally. So much so that it makes his tale all the more tragic. Devoid of context, it’d be easy to dismiss him as mentally handicapped. I legit didn’t know how he was going to pull this date-thing off.

But he does. And that’s where Stutterer lost me. It turns out: The girl is deaf. Did Greenwood know this the whole time? Were we pricks, piling his deformity on top of what was just first date jitters? Or maybe he just lucked out. Either way: Cute.

Everything Will Be Okay (Germany, Austria)
Directed by: Patrick Vorrath
Running Time: 30 mins.

IMDb Plot: A divorced father picks up his eight-year-old daughter Lea. It seems pretty much like every second weekend, but after a while Lea can’t help feeling that something isn’t right. So begins a fateful journey.

150-sh Word Review:
You hear about what divorce can do to a child: forcing sides, setting emotional minefields, and tarnishing innocence. Okay is a film that ramps up a dad and daughter’s reality that we may feel all the ways divorce’s knife can twist within a half-hour.

At first, it’s fun. A subtle, sinister game. The estranged duo chat about her part in a play, pick out the two hugest Playmobil sets in the store, then hit up a photo booth. It’s all silly faces ’till he suggests a serious shot -something you might see on a passport. Things get shady from there.

Okay is never obvious. Like Lea, you’re just collecting crumbs. You’re not even sure if Dad’s a monster or a martyr. The ‘fun’ does dip, though, once Michael’s case is clear and we wait around for fate. Still, what Okay asks its Lea to do is insane. All tight shots, this isn’t a terror you can just fake. And Julia Pointner knocks it out of the fucking park.

Shok (Kosovo, United Kingdom)
Directed by: Jamie Donoghue
Running Time: 21 mins.

IMDb Plot: The friendship of two boys is tested to its limits as they battle for survival during the Kosovo war.

150-ish Word Review:
Shok feels a little like Stand By Me if Teddy and Vern had wandered off into the woods. It’s classic without being corny. It’s one half naiveté; the other half, danger. Just two kids, bringing the best out in each other, as the adults around them ruin the world. There’s even a moral lesson: Oki rips into Petrit, ringing him a traitor for being Albanian while slinging hash for the Serbian army.

See, Shok’s a bit more ‘real’ than, say, your Simon Birch’s. Oki’s bike gets ripped away and given to a Serbian’s “non-trash” nephew. A school bus get hijacked. Petrit’s family is forced to flee Kosovo on foot -leaving their lives behind on a dime. Oki DOES pulls a gun on the sadistic, home-invading soldier but, alas, no dice.

Then, minutes later, Oki is shot in the head. It was so sudden, so silent, that I had to rewind. The way it’s staged is masterful: A small sea of Albanians trudge between Oki and the screen. He’s almost anonymous. A statistic. Set dressing. A prop. Which is exactly how the Serbs see him. Was it ‘cause he dared to turn around? Was it spite for shoving a gun in the shooter’s face? Forget it, Jake. It’s Kosovo.

Day One (United States)
Directed by: Henry Hughes
Running Time: 25 mins.

IMDb Plot: On her first day in Afghanistan, an interpreter for the US Army is forced to deliver the child of an enemy bomb-maker.

150-sh Word Review:
Day One feels like a fine-enough NBC pilot primed to join SVU for a Friday night block of ‘Warrior Women in the Workplace’. We begin with Feda accidentally seeing Lt. Adam’s ass. (Oops! Wrong shower!) Hours later, a terrorist’s wife begins birthing a corpse that Feda will have to chop up if Mom wants to survive. Aren’t first days on the job the worst??

Day One’s power is in its humanity. To have my heart sink when a terrorist gets told his baby’s a stillborn is no easy task. Flexicuffs get cut. Aggression stops. A husband hushes his wife. Then returns the corny: Tears of love and sworn selflessness spring the baby to life. But then, twist ending, Mom bleeds to death. Day One is manipulative. If you’ve seen enough weeknight soaps, you’ll predict its tricks. Still, that’s not to say that its tricks are ENTIRELY ineffective.

Alright. Truth time. Who do I decree shall win this Oscar? Let me just say: I’m crap at that. I’ve got no clue what the Academy looks for. So DO NOT come to me ’cause you lost $100 in an Oscar pool betting Day One over Stutterer. What do I WANT to win? Easy. Ave Maria. What MIGHT win? I don’t know…Shok?

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the author

Jordan Troublefield sounds like a Bond character you forgot existed. He worships Batman, Ben Folds, and Billy Wilder – in that order. You can currently hear Jordan gabbing about film on PodBayDoor via Soundcloud.com.