Short films are the hidden gems of the movie industry. Every year we hear about the Oscar-nominated shorts, but rarely do we pay attention or make an effort to actually watch them. In a way, they represent filmmaking in its purest form. Unsullied by large studios and celebrity payroll, they are simply films produced with extreme passion. Here are two of the best in each category for the 2019 Oscars.
A Night at The Garden
When Americans think about World War II and the rise of Nazism, we tend to imagine a far away ideology that was never actually supported by the citizens of our country. A Night at The Garden tears down this narrative.
At seven minutes in runtime, the Marshall Curry-directed film is the shortest nominated documentary but still manages to tell a story of deep-seated hatred. A Night at The Garden depicts more than 20,000 Americans gathered at Madison Square Garden in 1939 to celebrate and validate Nazism. It’s eerie to watch the most famous arena in the country be used as a platform for bigotry and hatred to stand on, but reminds us that we cannot forget the past when planning for the future.
Sometimes it is the mark of a great documentary to tell the story that no one wants to hear, but must. In this sense, End Game is a great documentary. The 40-minute project gives viewers an inside glance of what is like to be in the room as a loved one dies, illuminating the struggle of going through hospice care.
It’s quite painful at times as you watch patients and their families come to terms with the idea of death. There are lighthearted moments sprinkled in, and it is particularly interesting to see the behind-the-scenes of how doctors, social workers, hospice volunteers and chaplains work together to help the patients. The film is directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman and is my pick to win the category.
The only film on this list where the dialogue is not in English, Marguerite is entirely in French, though the emotions depicted transcend language. The title character Marguerite is an elderly woman who develops a bond with her nurse, Rachel. While primarily a vessel for highlighting the importance of having someone take care of you, it also brings up the issue of LGBTQ equality. With still shots and quiet dialogue, directors Marianne Farley and Marie-Helene Panisset deliver a movie that tells a peaceful story of two very different yet similar people.
The most provocative film on this list, Skin pulls no punches while portraying racism in America. What begins with a black man smiling at a white child in the supermarket unravels into a mini-race war in this small, unnamed town. Skin is as violent as it is gut-wrenching and, despite the 20-minute run time, you feel as mentally worn out by the end as if it were a 90-minute feature.
Skin reminded me of J. Cole’s 2013 “Crooked Smile” music video because it shows how conflict between fathers can impact their children. The reasoning for the film’s title becomes fully clear in the last scene, and it is my pick to win the Live Action category.
Weekends is Canadian filmmaker Trevor Jimenez’s first professional film and, after spending ten years working on it, he struck gold. The film tells the story of a young boy who moves back and forth from his divorced parent’s respective houses, eventually meeting their new partners.
Many scenes unravel into law of nature-breaking sequences that the boy dreams up and this contributes to a hazy and mystical quality of the film. The hand-drawn-style of animation is simple, yet incredibly effective at delivering emotion. Another short without any dialogue, Weekends tells a moving and relatable story.
One Small Step
Directed by Bobby Pontillas and Andrew Chesworth, One Small Step tells a beautiful coming-of-age story of a young Chinese-American girl named Luna. From a young age, Luna was obsessed with space and the prospect of being an astronaut, a dream that was fully encouraged by her adoring father Chu, a hard-working man who runs a shoe repair store from his garage.
Luna eventually makes it to college to study astrophysics and the audience watches her make mistakes, suffer loss and question herself. It’s a touching story that shows the value of a positive parental relationship and a positive attitude. One Small Step is my pick to win the category.