Archive for the Shorts Category

2023 Oscar Nominated Short Films (Part 3 of 3)

Posted in Drama, Shorts with tags on February 28, 2023 by Mark Hobin

The 2023 Academy Award-nominated short films have been playing in theaters since February 17. ShortsTV has made the nominees in all three categories (animated, live-action, documentary) available to audiences every year since 2006. Visit the website here to learn more about the participating cinemas and how to purchase tickets. See them before the upcoming Oscars ceremony on Sunday, March 12.


The entries in this category briefed me about nature and human nature. Tales of misery often dominate this award. This year is more positive. Even the negative efforts have a silver lining. The best documentary shorts give us everything we need to know in 40 minutes or less and do it impartially. These accomplish that goal with varying results. I instinctively resist heavy-handed narratives, but a documentary should have a point of view. Thankfully there isn’t a clinker in the group as they are all interesting.

I’ve ranked these shorts in order for their ability to captivate.

INDIA / 41 MINS / 2022
Director: Kartiki Gonsalves

Bomman and Bellie are members of the Kattunayakar Tribe, a forest community that resides in the Mudumalai Forest Reserve in Tamil Nadu, India. They are elephant caregivers who rehabilitate injured, abandoned, and orphaned baby elephants. Their lives intersect when carrying out the duties of their life’s passion. They successfully raise two baby elephants, Raghu and Ammu, and become husband and wife in the process. It’s that last part that clinched it for me. The tender presentation of these majestic animals was enough, but adding the human drama of love to this portrait just puts it over the top. Yes, it’s manipulative but so what? The most feel-good entry of the program. My pick for what WILL WIN and SHOULD WIN.

UK / 25 MINS / 2022
Directors: Evgenia Arbugaeva, Maxim Arbugaev

The setting is on the Kara Sea coastline on the Yamal Peninsula in Russia. A lonely scientist waits patiently in a ramshackle hut on a remote beach. He’s there to witness a historical gathering of walruses that temporarily leave the water between foraging periods. Stunning cinematography highlights a breathtaking reveal. But don’t get too enamored by all the beautiful wildlife on display. There is a nefarious explanation for what we are witnessing. Not surprisingly, this phenomenon is blamed on climate change. Shrinking ice is the reason. Yet another reminder that human beings are the most dangerous threat to our ecosystem. I assume the conservationist-minded people who made this documentary are not being reprimanded.

USA / 30 MINS / 2022
Directors: Joshua Seftel

Islamophobia is the theme. Richard “Mac” McKinney is US Marine consumed with rage. After 25 years of military service that comprised multiple tours in Somalia and the Middle East, he has returned home to Muncie, Indiana. However, his hatred for Muslims persists. So much so that he plans to construct an improvised explosive device (IED) and set it off at the Islamic Center in town. His wife Dana and stepdaughter Emily are unaware of his intentions. The story takes an unexpected turn when he meets Afghan refugees Bibi Bahrami and her husband Dr. Saber Bahrami, as well as their fellow believers, which includes Muncie native Jomo Williams. What could have been a very dark story ultimately incorporates kindness and rehabilitation. That people can undergo a true conversion for the better is a powerful testament. However, the unsettling idea that if the Muslims hadn’t approached Mac in just the right way, they would be dead still lingers well after the happy ending.

USA / 39 MINS / 2022
Directors: Anne Alvergue, Debra McClutchy

Martha Mitchell was the wife of John N. Mitchell, United States Attorney General under President Richard Nixon. She became a whistleblower of sorts when her public comments and phone calls became a thorn in the side of the Nixon administration. She complains of allegedly being held captive in a California hotel. The portrait elevates the outspoken woman as a hero whose sanity was publicly and unfairly questioned at the time. This heavily relies upon having prior knowledge of the politics of this era. For example, what made Watergate such a scandal is never satisfactorily explained to the uninformed. It’s been over half a century. The opinion that Watergate was a bad thing is neither unique nor revelatory. Rather superficial at 39 minutes but a breezy watch of how Watergate affected this one wealthy socialite.

USA / 29 MINS / 2022
Director: Jay Rosenblatt

Director Jay Rosenblatt interviews his daughter every year on her birthday until age 18. Watching someone age before our eyes is inherently compelling. The edited compilation is acceptable, but I suspect the presentation would be mildly fascinating with almost any child. To truly transcend requires a director to ask cogent questions. It’s not happening here, folks. “What are dreams?” and “What is power?” are emblematic of the queries. The answers predictably change over time but not in any meaningful way. Social media is filled with viral videos of parents who feature their kids. Much of what I see is more riveting than this. Either more parents should submit their work for Oscar consideration, or Jay Rosenblatt is lucky. The filmmaker was recognized in this category last year for When We Were Bullies. That didn’t win, and I doubt this will either. Kudos for getting nominated again, though. Perhaps his next movie should be entitled How do you get an Oscar nomination?


2023 Oscar Nominated Short Films (Part 2 of 3)

Posted in Drama, Shorts with tags on February 22, 2023 by Mark Hobin

The 2023 Academy Award-nominated short films have been playing in theaters since February 17. ShortsTV has made the nominees in all three categories (animated, live-action, documentary) available to audiences every year since 2006. Visit the website here to learn more about the participating cinemas and how to purchase tickets. See them before the upcoming Oscars ceremony on Sunday, March 12.


This year the live-action short nominees will give viewers a tour of the world. An international selection that doesn’t include the U.S. If one thing unites all of these entries, it’s that human relationships are fraught with tension. The finest of these stories ends on an uplifting note. There may be hope for us after all. The less satisfying ones conclude that people are inherently evil.

I’ve ranked these shorts in order from best to least favorite. There was a wide variation in my enjoyment of the films in this category.

IRELAND / 23 MINS /2022
Directors: Tom Berkeley, Ross White

The double-meaning title is slang for when you duck out of a party without bidding farewell to anyone. Two brothers come together to mourn their recently deceased mother. Elder brother Turlough (Seamus O’Hara) attempts to get affairs in order. He also hopes to find a relative who can look after his younger brother Lorcan (James Martin), who has Down Syndrome. Their parish priest (Paddy Jenkins) informs the duo that their mom had a bucket list. Lorcan convinces his reluctant brother to finish every item to honor her passing.

A warm-hearted Irish saga is a real audience pleaser full of cultural humor. It’s hard not to compare this darkly comedic tale about male bonds in rural Ireland with a certain pessimistic Best Picture contender. The vast difference between the philosophical worldviews of these two pictures couldn’t be more disparate. This wholesome, poignant yarn is the anti-Banshees of Inisherin. My pick for what SHOULD WIN

ITALY, USA/ 37 MINS / 2022
Director: Alice Rohrwacher

“Let them eat cake.” A group of young girls at a Catholic boarding school in Italy yearn for a playful childhood. This is Mussolini-era Fascist Italy, and resources are scarce. “The pupils” are bound by strict moral teaching. One of the girls named Serafina (Melissa Falasconi) appears to be the odd one out. While the sisters seem somewhat lenient, Mother Superior (Alba Rohrwacher) is anything but. A radio in the background broadcasts news of WWII but also music. The girls must wash their mouths with soap after singing the lyrics of “Ba Ba Baciami Piccina,” which means “Kiss me, baby.”

The longest short of the program is set in motion about halfway through when a wealthy woman visits the orphanage. She seeks the orphan girls’ prayers for her philandering husband. To strengthen their resolve, she bakes them a decadent cake she claims has 70 eggs. The dessert becomes the focus of an important decision. This account features a cast of adorable children and celebrates their innocence and anarchic spirit. Although it is advent season which is the period leading up to Christmas, this is not typical holiday fare. The tone is tongue-in-cheek. Produced by Alfonso Cuarón and distributed by Disney+. My pick for what WILL WIN.

NORWAY / 15 MINS / 2020
Director: Eirik Tveiten

On a cold winter night in December, Ebba (Sigrid Kandal Husjord) waits for the tram. While the conductor is on break, she enters the empty train to keep warm. In an attempt to close the door, Ebba pushes random buttons and inadvertently starts the tram. Then a group of various people boards the train. The narrative stars a little person and what develops when a transgender woman is harassed on the bus. Ebba struggles with what to do. The most concise contender begins on a whimsical note of light comedy and morphs awkwardly into a serious drama. That combination has made this the most polarizing of the shorts. It ultimately course corrects into a supportive tale.

Director: Cyrus Neshvad

First comes marriage, then comes love? An Iranian teenager (Nawelle Ewad) has arrived at Luxembourg Airport. Her suitcase is sitting at the carousel. Yet she fears the man (Sarkaw Gorany) waiting beyond the gate. The dialogue is minimal and offers little situational particulars. The lack of details feeds into our apprehension, just the presentation of two strangers and mounting anxiety. She makes the life-changing decision to remove her head covering and leave.

Without question a controversial practice that is a cultural and religious institution for some. This predictably takes the traditional belief that arranged marriages are bad and something to escape. Although in this case, the couple hasn’t met, and we know little about them. This portrait takes the stereotypical point of view and ticks all the boxes for a Western (read U.S.) audience. This complex subject deserves more than a cursory 17-minute condemnation.

DENMARK / 16 MINS / 2022
Director: Anders Walter

In Greenland, a young girl named Pipaluk (Mila Heilmann Kreutzmann) is distraught by the disappearance of her sister Ivalu (Nivi Larsen). Father seems to be less concerned. What is going on? Tragic story highlights gorgeous cinematography of outdoor scenery, and that’s about all to recommend. Stories about suffering children (sexual abuse, suicide, etc.) are so commonplace in this category that the drama requires significant art or innovation to surpass the inherent cliché. The “big reveal” is predictable, given it’s artlessly telegraphed at the beginning. Based on a graphic novel by Illustrator Lars Horneman and author Morten Dürr.


2023 Oscar Nominated Short Films (Part 1 of 3)

Posted in Drama, Shorts on February 16, 2023 by Mark Hobin

Starting February 17, the 2023 Academy Award-nominated short films will arrive in theaters. ShortsTV has made all three categories (animated, live-action, documentary) available to audiences since 2006. Visit the website here to learn more about the participating theaters and how to purchase tickets. See them before the upcoming Oscars ceremony on Sunday, March 12.


This year’s selections are an eclectic bunch. Once upon a time, Disney ruled this category, then Pixar. They’re both absent this year. Apple TV+’s The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse is the only release from a major studio. Most prognosticators predict its high profile (and positive spirit) could push it toward a win. However, it’s neither my fav nor the one I think will ultimately take the prize.

I’ve ranked these shorts in order from best to least favorite. With that said, this is a strong group of nominees.

Director: João Gonzalez

A father and son produce ice they sell to the village far below their home. This undertaking is easier said than done. They live high above in a house built on a steep cliff. They jump in tandem using a parachute. In this touching portrait of a family, filmmaker João Gonzalez utilizes expressionless faces, no dialogue, and a haunting piano score to convey their close bond. His use of unique camera angles and perspective exploited my fear of heights in a way that few live-action pictures have. It is also the first Portuguese film ever nominated for an Oscar. Hold onto your hat! A real charmer. My pick for what SHOULD WIN in this category.

AUSTRALIA / 11 MINS / 2022
Director: Lachlan Pendragon

The title is the plot. A telemarketer learns that the universe isn’t real from a talking ostrich. He’s now inspired to convince his colleagues of the same thing. An existential crisis that is both amusing and appealing. The meta-ness of this account is a clever conceit. We see actual human hands that highlight the mechanics of stop-motion animation. I’m reminded of the classic 1953 Chuck Jones short Duck Amuck, an early example that acknowledged the creatives behind the scenes. Director Lachlan Pendragon produced this while a student at Griffith Film School in Brisbane, Australia.

UK / 35 MINS / 2022
Directors: Peter Baynton, Charlie Mackesy

British author Charlie Mackesy adapts his 2019 illustrated book of the same name with animator Peter Baynton (Over the Hill) for this short. A curious boy (Jude Coward Nicoll) is searching for home and makes an unlikely friendship with a greedy mole (Tom Hollander), an insecure fox (Idris Elba), and a wise horse (Gabriel Byrne). Not a story per see but a random collection of platitudes spoken by animals. “What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever said?” the boy asks. “Help,” the horse replies. “Asking for help isn’t giving up. It’s refusing to give up.” Heartwarming sure, but every successive adage feels like a game of oneupmanship attempting to be that a-ha moment. If you’ve longed for uplifting affirmations delivered by animals in a cartoon, then your prayers have been answered.

USA / 25 MINS / 2022
Director: Sara Gunnarsdóttir

Director Sara Gunnarsdóttir (animated sequences in The Diary of a Teenage Girl & The Case Against Adnan Syed) and writer Pamela Ribon (Ralph Breaks the Internet, Moana) offer reflections of a 15-year-old girl set in the 1990s. A series of five chapters interspersed with actual footage of the writer. The scattered vignettes emphasize the slim pickings in the dating pool for the protagonist. This rotoscoped animation style recalls a much cruder version of Richard Linklater’s animated efforts. Her personal experiences are entertaining, sure, but I’m sorry. That ribald title is too tempting. I predict Academy members will vote so they can hear the presenter say those words on Oscar night. My pick for what WILL WIN in this category.

CANADA / 7 MINS / 2022
Directors: Amanda Forbis, Wendy Tilby

Inspired by actual events. In 1917, two ships collided in Halifax Harbour, causing a major explosion. A sailor was blown skyward and flew a distance of two kilometers. (That’s 1.24 miles for us Americans). He landed uphill, sans clothes, and unharmed. Over a century later, that incident is the basis for this tale. A naked dude is depicted flying through the sky while his life flashes before him. Every year at least one animated submission offers full-frontal nudity. This is that entry, and it includes a 360-degree view of a tumbling torso.



Posted in Biography, Documentary, Shorts with tags on May 2, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

In the 1970s the definition of feminism was changing. The idea that a woman could reclaim her sexuality by exploiting it to her advantage was becoming a thing. Few women better embodied this ideal than Valerie Perrine. The actress was certainly comfortable in her skin. She was never afraid to flaunt raw, unbridled sensuality. This documentary short does not shy away from that reality.

Born in Texas, Perrine began her path to stardom as a Vegas showgirl. Early on, she was cleverly cast as stripper Honey Bruce in the 1974 biopic Lenny. It was a raw, credible performance. In fact, she was so memorable she earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. Later parts would also often rely on her physical assets. She was fully aware of this. However, she was much more than a voluptuous beauty. She gave authentically earthy performances in many movies and held her own alongside some of the biggest names of the decade. These include Dustin Hoffman (Lenny), Jeff Bridges (The Last American Hero), Robert Redford (The Electric Horseman), and Jack Nicholson (The Border). I was a child in the 1970s. She will always be Miss Teschmacher in Superman and Superman II to me. She made the character iconic.

Valerie is the celebration of the life of a star. She is currently 78. Perrine would continue to act well after her 1970s and early 80s heyday, but would ultimately fade from the limelight. In a heartbreaking development, Perrine was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2015. The chronicle opens with her voice narrating how she ended up in the hospital. We see a daily struggle with illness. The film then flashes back to the beginning of her Hollywood career. The contrast between the past and the present can be jarring. Yet she consistently remains a vibrant and compelling personality.

Valerie is a complimentary account — occasionally excessively so. In archival footage, photos, and memorabilia, we are presented with a flattering homage. Interviews with celebrities including Jeff Bridges, Angie Dickinson, George Hamilton, Stacy Keach, Richard Donner, Loni Anderson, and David Arquette attest to a life lived on her own terms. What comes through is the humanity of a talent who understood her charms and utilized them to the fullest. I now understand what made this woman tick a little better than before. Director Stacey Souther (an actor in his own right) presents this intimate portrait as a friend. This warm and loving memoir is like hanging out with Valerie for 36 minutes. It was time well spent.

Valerie is streaming Tuesday, May 3 on Amazon, iTunes, AppleTV, YouTube, and Google Play. Available for pre-order on DVD through Amazon.


2022 Oscar Nominated Short Films (Part 3 of 3)

Posted in Drama, Shorts with tags on March 2, 2022 by Mark Hobin

ShortsTV has made the Oscar-nominated short films (animated, live-action, documentary) available to audiences since 2006. The 17th-annual theatrical rollout of films nominated in the live-action, animated, and documentary short categories began on February 25. To learn more about the participating theaters and how to purchase tickets, visit the website here. The program will play in theaters only for the first four weeks. They then will be released to VOD via iTunes, Amazon, Verizon, and Google Play beginning March 22.


A pioneering basketball player, a high school for the deaf, life in Afghanistan, homelessness, and bullying: the topics covered in the documentary shorts are an eclectic assortment, although perseverance is a common thread. The shorts programs have long focused on depressing subjects and the documentary category is often the bleakest. These certainly depict adversity, but they affect a more hopeful mood than in years past. I’ve ranked them in order of my favorites but all five nominees are compelling. This collection is my favorite of the three short programs this year.

USA | 22 MIN | 2021

Lucy Harris is a trailblazer. She played basketball for Delta State University in the 1970s and won three consecutive National Championships. Then she represented the U.S. team in the first women’s basketball tournament at the 1976 Olympic Games and won the silver medal. She was later drafted by the New Orleans Jazz in the seventh round in 1977 — thus becoming the first and only woman “officially” drafted by an NBA team. Despite her immense talent, Harris did not express an interest to play in the NBA and declined to try out. She focused on raising a family instead and had two sons and twin daughters. This makes her even more intriguing. Luisa Harris is such a warm and self-effacing woman. Her humble persona belies a charming personality that shines throughout. I’m pretty confident that what “will win” and what “should win” the Oscar in this category is the very same thing.

USA | 38 MIN | 2020

Amaree McKenstry is a high school student at the Maryland School for the Deaf. The football team has a forty-two-game winning streak. Then they lose a game. The tournaments have a cinematic grandeur with a rousing score. Friday Night Lights director Peter Berg is one of the producers. Yet it’s not just about football. It’s a coming-of-age story about Amaree, the whole school in general, his group of friends, a tragic suicide, an absentee father, bullying, and sexuality. The uplifting account is a triumph over layer upon layer of hardship. The massive scope of the various narrative threads portrayed is so wide. It touches upon a lot of weighty themes within a brief runtime. There’s enough subject matter to sustain a 2-hour feature. Heck, it could be a miniseries. That’s a tribute to how engaging these stories are. These kids are so amazing the portrait captivates through sheer magnetism.

GERMANY/USA | 36 MIN | 2021

Bullies feel regret. Writer/director Jay Rosenblatt’s film is a recollection of a bullying incident. It happened 50 years ago when he was a child in the fifth grade. He was one of the perpetrators. Indeed the entire class was complicit in the taunting he recounts. All except the victim — whose name was Dick. No last name is given. Jay includes sound bites of the classmates he was able to interview. They share their memory of the event. Even his ninety-two-year-old teacher is interviewed. Not surprisingly, Dick does not particulate in this chronicle.

The fact Jay — the oppressor — is reconstructing this horrible experience to assuage his guilt makes him a lot of things: insensitive, self-indulgent, callous. He acknowledges this. “When I began making this film, I didn’t consider how it might make you feel, ” he addresses the victim. “I guess I’m not as sensitive as I thought.” The document is like an autopsy on a dead body completed by the murderer himself. Jay isn’t someone to be commended or admired. The overwhelmingly negative reactions on social media would agree, its Oscar nomination notwithstanding. Yet it still doesn’t make the reconstruction any less fascinating. It’s a psychological window into human behavior. This is real-life horror and it happens on playgrounds every day.

USA | 39 MIN | 2020

Over 500,000 Americans are homeless on any given night. This profile humanizes that statistic with the specific stories of people in three U.S. cities on the West Coast: Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle. This slickly-produced account is filled with stunning cinematography and music that sometimes verges on making the environment too beautiful. The presentation doesn’t delve into the roots of the problem or come up with any solutions. This is merely a sympathetic plea for help with a problem on a daunting scale and scope. What ultimately comes through amidst the crushing details of their lives is the humanity of these people.


Shaista is a newly married young man to Benazir. The couple lives in Kabul in a camp for displaced persons and they’re starting a family. His wife is expecting their first child. Nevertheless, he wants to be the first of his tribe to join the Afghan National Army. His desire to leave her for the army is difficult to support. Everyone tells Shaista to remain with his wife. “Go poppy harvesting,” his father implores. But that’s not the driving force behind his ambitions. The fact we never hear what his pregnant wife thinks speaks volumes. Shaista seems like a sweet guy and his love for Benazir is evident. We flash forward four years. The bleak ending does nothing to alleviate my distaste for Shaista’s decisions in life. This chronicle ends on a sour note.


2022 Oscar Nominated Short Films (Part 2 of 3)

Posted in Drama, Shorts with tags on February 24, 2022 by Mark Hobin

ShortsTV has made the Oscar-nominated short films (animated, live-action, documentary) available to audiences since 2006. The 17th-annual theatrical rollout of films nominated in the live-action, animated, and documentary short categories begins February 25. To learn more about the participating theaters and how to purchase tickets, visit the website here. The program will play in theaters only for the first four weeks. They then will be released to VOD via iTunes, Amazon, Verizon, and Google Play beginning March 22.


American singer Nina Simone once said, “An artist’s duty is to reflect the times.” So if aliens wanted to understand the human experience through the Oscar-nominated live-action shorts this year, they would have to conclude that life on planet earth is pretty awful. That’s not to say there isn’t some interesting work here, but every single one is blighted by misery. As a personal challenge, I tried to list them in order of enjoyability.

USA | 19 MIN | 2020

In the near future, a young man is informed by his phone that he is under arrest. A police drone apprehends him without explanation. He’s brought to a holding facility using a fully automated system without a human being in sight. This portrait of an American justice system gone wrong takes the frustrating experience of navigating a computerized phone-system maze to its horrific extreme. A perfectly realized idea is masterfully executed. I guess I should watch the British anthology series Black Mirror (itself based on The Twilight Zone) because I’m told this melding of science fiction technology and a dystopian society is like an episode of the TV show. I was captivated throughout. This is director Kristen (K.D) Davila’s directorial debut.

DENMARK | 18 MIN | 2021

A forlorn chap goes for a walk and winds up in a bar. He orders a quadruple pour of whiskey. As he’s about to leave, he spies a microphone. “Is that…karaoke?” he asks. This 18 minute short is all set up which unnecessarily draws out a simple idea. He wants a recording of himself singing the classic “Always on My Mind” for his wife Trine. The story is pretty lethargic, but it admittedly builds to a touching conclusion in the last 3 minutes. The somewhat clumsy execution feels like the work of a student filmmaker. However Danish director Martin Strange-Hansen won in this category for This Charming Man back in 2003.


The Academy adores films that highlight “barbaric behavior that is the normal practice of a certain country.” They usually appear in the “Documentary Short” category, but this Live Action short continues the perpetual tradition. 19-year-old Sezim wants to study in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek through a college scholarship. However, her plans are thwarted when she is forcibly kidnapped by a group of young men and taken to the hinterland. There, she is forced to marry a stranger against her will. If she refuses she will become a social pariah. Sezim is tormented by the traditions of Kyrgyz culture. She desperately seeks a way out. “Ala kachuu” is a form of bride kidnapping. Sources suggest that currently a third of brides are taken against their will in Kyrgyzstan. My respect if you can pinpoint that country on a blank map. This admirably exists to highlight an appalling practice, but it’s a chore to watch. The extreme length doesn’t help. If it were 2 minutes longer, this 38 minute “short” would have to compete as a feature.

UK | 12 MIN | 2020

Islamophobia in a post-Brexit UK is the topic at hand. Riz and his family are in the middle of preparing a wedding celebration when a far-right rally arrives on their doorstep. After they shockingly kill everyone in his life, he starts beatboxing. It’s an odd development until you realize that The Long Goodbye is also the name of actor and rapper Riz Ahmed’s second album. This long-form music video of sorts is a collaboration with director Aneil Karia. A political statement with a raw, brutal, and depressing view of contemporary British society. Racism is quickly becoming the topic to win in this category. Skin and Two Distant Strangers – the respective winners in 2019 and 2021 — both focused on the subject. If current predictions hold, this frontrunner will also take home the gold.

POLAND | 30 MIN | 2020

Julia is a lonely maid in a Polish motel who just wants to be normal. As truck drivers come and go, she meets a handsome fellow who becomes the object of her desires. He likewise expresses an interest in taking her out on a date. She now must find a nice dress that will fit her. The 30 minute short has moments of poetic beauty. Given the setup, I suspected this would be a poignant tale. It’s not. Unpredictability can be an asset. Still, it’s hard to award points for upending expectations when a development is so disturbing it destroys any initial feelings of goodwill. The portrayal of an abusive act is hard to watch. Of all the shorts, this epitomizes what critics have derided as “misery porn.” Actress Anna Dzieduszycka is a charismatic presence in the lead, but she deserves a better film.


2022 Oscar Nominated Short Films (Part 1 of 3)

Posted in Drama, Shorts with tags on February 22, 2022 by Mark Hobin

ShortsTV has made the Oscar-nominated short films (animated, live-action, documentary) available to audiences since 2006. The 17th-annual theatrical rollout of films nominated in the live-action, animated, and documentary short categories begins February 25. To learn more about the participating theaters and how to purchase tickets, visit the website here. The program will play in theaters only for the first four weeks. They then will be released to VOD via iTunes, Amazon, Verizon, and Google Play beginning March 22.


Family-friendly entries have long dominated this category for decades. However, this year’s selection of animation shorts came with a boldface warning: * for mature audiences only. They’re not kidding. With one exception, the collection of nominees this year is NOT for children. I was originally dumbfounded when Us Again from Walt Disney Pictures somehow failed to get a nom on the morning of February 8th. It now makes perfect sense. Unlike 4 out of the 5 nominees, it doesn’t feature nudity. First time since 2009 that Disney is omitted from the Top 5. Nothing from Pixar was nominated in this category either. I’ve ranked these shorts in order of their ability to inspire. It was difficult.

RUSSIA | 15 MIN | 2019

A lithe ballet dancer and a hulking boxer meet and fall in love. Obviously, Olya and Evgeny live in two very different worlds and this chronicle explores that contrast. Opposites attract. The idea may be as old as time itself. There are no words. The intersection of the worlds of their realities is purely visual. Their tour of an art museum à la Ferris Bueller is delightful. A 1986 song called “Balance” by Soviet new wave group Kofe is now my current jam. Olya makes a questionable decision. Meanwhile, the boxer behaves admirably. The portrait is intellectually unsophisticated, yet it has a whimsical style that ultimately champions love so it’s hard to resist. I suspected these two might have a future together right at the outset. Simplicity is the short’s greatest asset.

UK | 31 MIN | 2021

A young robin –appropriately named Robin — is raised by a family of mice. She questions where she belongs and sets out on a fearless journey to figure it out. Robin meets a materialistic magpie who tells her about Christmas. It’s worth mentioning actress Gillian Anderson purrs seductively as a cat. The title character is cute but I’m more fascinated by what makes the single dad mouse tick. He’s admirably raising four child mice and a bird all on his own. The chronicle is a heartfelt, sweetly rendered fuzzy-felt creation that really takes a lot of time to tell a predictable tale. At 31 minutes, it’s double the length of the other nominees in this category, but it’s also the only one you can show your kids. This Christmas special from Aardman Animations is a co-production with Netflix. Aardman has been nominated 8 times in this category and won 3. Their last win (in this category) was 26 years ago in 1996 for Nick Park’s claymation short A Close Shave featuring Wallace & Gromit. Prognosticators are predicting that animators Dan Ojari and Mikey Please will change that this year.

CHILE | 16 MIN | 2021

Based on a true story, a woman works for the secret police of Chile in 1975 during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Her intensely close relationship with her dog suggests a highly disturbed individual. This demonic woman trains her German shepherd to do unspeakable acts. To be fair, it’s unclear what this unsettling short is really trying to teach us. It prompted research on my part. I learned things I wish I hadn’t. To present depravity without the historical context of who Íngrid Olderöck was, renders this short incomprehensible at best and exploitative at worst. Hey, I’m well aware there is unmitigated evil in the world. I suppose I wasn’t prepared for a stop motion cartoon to capitalize on the idea.

SPAIN | 15 MIN | 2021

A man sits inside a cafe, smoking a pack of cigarettes, and ruminates over the question “What is love?” He is merely a framing device for a collection of fragmented vignettes ostensibly presented to provide an answer. A woman wearing nothing but a bikini bottom sits next to her fully clothed boyfriend at the beach. Two Tinder users in a grocery store inadvertently select one another on the app — oblivious they are standing side by side. A homeless man is captivated by a mannequin. A woman commits suicide by jumping off a building. This may be director Alberto Mielgo’s first Oscar nomination, but he is well regarded in Hollywood. The animator is known for his visually distinctive contributions to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) and the adult animated anthology TV series Love, Death + Robots (2019). The hyper-realistic animation featured here uses keyframe software to animate characters into digitally painted backgrounds. I wish the heady visual style — which resembles rotoscoping or motion capture — had something interesting to say. It’s a nihilistic view of relationships by someone who has seemingly never been in a positive one.

UK/CANADA | 16 MIN | 2021

Beryl is obsessed with drawing and holds determinedly grand artistic ambitions. This is filmmakers Joanna Quinn and Les Mills’ fourth short starring the 59-year-old working-class Welsh housewife and the first to get nominated. In Beryl’s latest adventure, we are introduced to her eccentric family. The depressing lot provides a window into Beryl’s unpleasant personality. It begins and ends with her husband descending a staircase nude à la Duchamp. As a child, her sister Beverly abuses animals like a future serial killer. The hand-drawn character designs are grotesque which matches the subject matter I guess. Originally, I thought the nadir was when Beverly tortures a mouse to its eventual death on a toy train set. The short manages to go even lower. She later gets into taxidermy and stuffs the family dog — through the rectum. Absolute dreck.


2021 Oscar Nominated Short Films (Part 3 of 3)

Posted in Awards, Documentary, Drama, Shorts on April 9, 2021 by Mark Hobin

ShortsTV has made the Oscar-nominated short films (documentary, animated, live-action) available to audiences for over a decade. This year you can watch them online or via VOD or in a theater where they’ve been playing since April 2.


This is my 9th year watching the documentary shorts. I’ve seen every Oscar nominee in this program since 2013. I must say, it hasn’t always been a bed of roses. The Oscar voters in this particular branch overwhelmingly favor stories of hardship. Topics of this year’s nominees include the Holocaust, civil unrest, starving children, discrimination and racism. Injustice is an underlying theme in all 5 docs. I did rank these, but I appreciated them all more or less equally, so my order is somewhat arbitrary.

USA/19 MINS/2019

The life of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins is celebrated. She was shot to death in March 1991 after an altercation escalated between the owner of a South Central Los Angeles store. She believed Latasha was stealing a bottle of orange juice. Many believe the tragedy — which occurred just 13 days after the videotaped beating of Rodney King — partly fueled the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

The portrait is focused on the joy of Latasha as a human being. Her best friend Tybie O’Bard and her cousin Shinese Harlins recount touching memories in gentle narration. Fictional and non-fictional storytelling elements unite in a reflection of what could have been, in order to remember the young girl. More of a meditation than a conventional bio, the flow of thoughts and feelings are presented in a stream of consciousness. Actors, animation, and music converge in a visual pastiche. It’s somewhat disorienting but undeniably poetic.

USA/13 MINS/2020

A discussion between jazz pianist/composer Kris Bowers and his grandfather Horace Bowers Sr. sheds light on Kris’s career. Kris scored the Oscar-winning Best Picture Green Book. He also had a successful premiere of his violin concerto “For a Younger Self” that was performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic on January 28, 2020. Kris himself co-directs this conversation on his achievements made possible by the life of his 91-year-old grandfather.

The African American business icon left Jim Crow Florida by hitchhiking across the country at age 17. Years later in 1960, Horace purchased the small dry-cleaning plant in South Los Angeles where he had worked. Today he owns the entire block. A two-hander featuring admirable protagonists separated by over six decades. The sacrifices of one undoubtedly contributed to the advance of another. The most upbeat entry in the program.

USA/25 MINS/2020

Another year, another entry about the Holocaust. Colette Marin-Catherine is a 90-year-old French woman and one of the last surviving members of the French Resistance. She came from a family of fighters that included her older brother Jean-Pierre who she last saw in 1943.

Lucie Fouble is a young history student who is investigating the story of Jean-Pierre. At her behest, Colette begrudgingly agrees to visit the concentration camp in Germany where he died. Colette is an irascible individual. She most definitely has every right to be bitter. I’m just surprised because these docs so often feature individuals with sanguine views on life and Colette is a bit edgier.

USA/40 MINS/2020

One minute longer and this short would have had to compete in the FEATURE category.

Unflinching portrait highlights the admirable efforts of Dr. Aida Alsadeeq and Nurse Mekkia Mahdi, a couple of health care workers who tirelessly dedicate their lives to help starving children. The two pediatric malnutrition wards are unquestionably a blessing in war-torn Yemen. However, seeing hunger-stricken kids so frail they can barely stand is a horror few people will be able to bear. Days later and I can still see the heartbreaking faces of these youngsters.

The resulting famine is a direct result of the Yemeni Civil War which has been an ongoing conflict since late 2014. Most of the world has forgotten about their issues. Luckily this documentary shines a brighter light on this humanitarian crisis. I’ll forewarn you though: “tough to watch” doesn’t even begin to describe the weight of this tragedy.


Beijing is censoring the 2021 Academy Awards. This inside view of the front lines in Hong Kong’s fight for democracy is the reason why.

Before the British government handed over Hong Kong in 1997, China allowed the region considerable political autonomy for 50 years under a constitutional principle known as “one country, two systems.” Hong Kong enjoys some independence but it is still not full-fledged democracy. These limitations on their freedoms have only gotten worse over time. I’m simplifying things, but the 2019–20 Hong Kong protests focused around an Extradition Bill that Hong Kong citizens believed would further undermine their autonomy from mainland China.

Norwegian filmmaker Anders Hammer often inserts himself in dangerous environments. The clash of citizens and the police is extremely chaotic and confusing. However, a documentary about the revolt shouldn’t be. More detailed background information would have helped to fully comprehend the issues at stake here. Viewers already well versed in the antagonistic political relationship of Hong Kong and China will appreciate this more. Incidentally, the bizarre title refers to a rallying cry of demonstrators. That is, to maintain solidarity against the repressive regime of China.


2021 Oscar Nominated Short Films (Part 2 of 3)

Posted in Animation, Awards, Shorts with tags on April 6, 2021 by Mark Hobin

ShortsTV has made the Oscar-nominated short films (animated, live-action, documentary) available to audiences for over a decade. This year you can watch them online or via VOD or in a theater where they’ve been playing since April 2.


I hate to be a gloomy Gus, but this year’s crop of animated films did not enchant me. Sadly Out, the man-dog body-swapping tale and Kapaemahu, the poetically beautiful Hawaiian folkloric tale didn’t even make the cut this year. With one notable exception, this animation program is not for kids. I’ve ranked these predominantly unlikable shorts in order of likability. It was hard.

USA/6 MINS/2020

A rabbit trying to dig herself an underground home keeps running into her neighbors. She’s confused. Her subterranean tunnels form a delightful labyrinth and the adorable critters are amusing. I get Wind in the Willows vibes. It’s a simple pleasure, but at least it’s pure and innocent. Burrow is from SparkShorts, a series produced by Pixar Animation Studios. It’s undeniably cute. What it lacks in innovation, it makes up for in feel-good spirit. Ironically that quality makes this entry unique by default this year. The rest of the submissions are dour, depressing and frankly a little twisted.

Director: ERICK OH

This one grew on me upon closer study. A pyramidal diorama of a corrupt society is depicted in an overview of tiny figures before our eyes. The people on top have an effect on the humanity below. This would be impressive playing on a massive wall on a loop in a modern art gallery. It is impossible to grasp everything that is happening on screen, but upon further examination (I watched it more than once) a sense of purpose develops. Somewhat reminiscent of the work of Renaissance painter Hieronymus Bosch and his depictions of hell. This is an animated update for our modern times. It’s supremely unsettling but easily the most innovative of this year’s nominees. It begs your attention.

USA/13 MINS/2020

A husband and wife grieve the loss of their daughter — their only child — taken by a mass shooting. Minimalist, expressive black and white pencil sketches are a mediation on violence against children. The worst thing that any parent can possibly imagine is depicted for your entertainment in the form of a cartoon. There’s even a contemporary pop song “1950” by King Princess for your listening enjoyment. Clearly, their motives are pure. The filmmakers are opposed to school shootings which I think (I can safely say) is something everyone is against. The filmmakers worked closely with the American nonprofit organization Everytown for Gun Safety. I can’t see this not winning the Oscar as the filmmakers have literally done their homework with a sanctioned advocacy group.


In the polytheistic religion of ancient Rome, a “genius loci” was the protective spirit of a place. The longest at 16 minutes, this is extremely avant-garde. Reine is a young Black woman who ventures through the urban chaos of Paris. The people and places around her are an ever-shifting collage of surrealism. Is she on drugs? Is she mentally unstable? Are paranormal forces afoot? Who’s to say. One thing’s for sure. She is anxious and dissatisfied with life. Disconnected from her thoughts and body, she even becomes a canine at one point. The most experimental of the nominees which is a nice way of saying, I didn’t get it.


A group of unsavory residents live in an apartment building. The characters with their exaggerated features are visually grotesque in this portrait of domesticity. Good luck divining a story in this narrative. Their nonverbal dialogue consists of grunts before culminating with moans and screams of ecstasy at the end. These (amusingly?) reverberate throughout the building when one couple decides to get intimate. How on earth is this up for an award? The worst of the lot.


2021 Oscar Nominated Short Films (Part 1 of 3)

Posted in Awards, Drama, Shorts with tags on April 5, 2021 by Mark Hobin

ShortsTV has been making the Oscar-nominated short films (live-action, animated, documentary) available to audiences for over a decade. This year you can watch them online or via VOD or in a theater where they’ve been playing since April 2.


Cops or prejudice or a combination of the two are the connective themes that unite the majority of this year’s nominees. Incidentally, it wasn’t the subject of Pedro Almodóvar’s highly promoted short The Human Voice starring Tilda Swinton. That may explain why a submission many thought could potentially win in this category, didn’t even get nominated. Regardless, there are some worthy films here. I’ve ranked the nominees in order of best to worst.

USA/29 MINS/2020

Carter James, a black graphic designer (Joey Badass) wakes up in the bed of the girl (Zaria Simone) he met last night. After some chitchat, he leaves her apartment only to be stopped by an aggressive white cop (Andrew Howard) in an altercation that shockingly leads to Carter’s death. Suddenly he’s back in her bed. Apparently, it was all a dream. Yet the cycle is repeated again and again with different iterations but always ending in his demise. What can he do differently to survive? Because I just saw Joe Carnahan’s recent Boss Level, I’ll compare this time-loop nightmare as a clever amalgamation of that film mixed with the social message of Black Lives Matter. Pay attention to how Carter dies each time because you best believe there’s meaning behind each one.


Yusuf (Saleh Bakri) simply wants to get his wife Noor (Mariam Kanj) a present — a new refrigerator. — for their anniversary. What seems like a simple task is anything but. You see Yusuf lives in the occupied West Bank of Palestine. He must cross a pedestrian bridge before reaching a checkpoint manned by Israeli soldiers. There Yusuf must submit to a humiliating detention before being able to cross over. The fact that he has brought his daughter Yasmine (Mariam Kanj) along further complicates matters. Drama elucidates how even the most mundane tasks are difficult for a Palestinian under Israeli occupation. The tone deftly switches from lighthearted to tense back and forth several times in a mere 25 minutes.

USA/33 MINS/2020

Richard (Oscar Isaac) is a kindhearted but lonely corrections officer recently transferred to the prison’s letter room. He must monitor all prisoners’ incoming and outgoing mail. While there he becomes familiar with the lives of two inmates: Jackson (John Douglas Thompson) hasn’t gotten a message from his daughter in two years . He beseeches Richard to verify that the mail wasn’t withheld. Meanwhile, Cris (Brian Petsos) is facing execution. He receives rather passionate letters from his girlfriend Rosita (Alia Shawkat ). Earns points for daring to feature a good-natured officer. That’s almost nonexistent in 2021, but this slight chronicle is not justified by the length. At 33 minutes, it’s the longest “short” in this program. For what it’s worth, this is the handpicked frontrunner to win. The category is also notoriously hard to predict. I initially thought this feature was lucky to secure an actor as talented and famous as Oscar Issac. He’s the husband of director Elvira Lind.

USA/19 MINS/2019

Tereek (Steven Prescod) a young black teen wandering the streets of New York. He’s been texting a girl for a possible hookup. Then he encounters Artie (Robert Tarango), a deaf-blind man in need of assistance in locating his bus stop. Their unexpected interaction is the subject of a connection that is almost spiritual. This poignant tale coasts on emotion, not dialogue. Star Robert Tarango is actually a dishwasher from Long Island with no acting experience. The press materials boast that this is the first film to star an actual deaf-blind actor. Hard to believe but kudos to the filmmakers for their consideration.


“White eye” is an affliction of someone who is blind. Ah but to what? Omer (Daniel Gad) discovers his stolen bicycle locked up on a street corner in a squalid quarter of Tel Aviv. Yunes (Dawit Tekelaeb) is a migrant worker from Eritrea who claims to have recently bought the vehicle. Omer angrily demands his bike. His ensuing reaction sets off a sequence of events that ultimately gives him pause. The idea that you should allow others to take things you own because they need them more is an *interesting* moral. Shot in one continuous take, the narrative deals with corrupt cops and the plight of migrant refugees from northeastern Africa looking for employment in Israel. The ending is frustrating, to say the least.