Big Screen Berkeley: Academy Award nominated short subjects

Directed by Trevor Jimenez, Weekends is the film most deserving of recognition

It’s time for this year’s Academy Award-nominated short subjects to screen at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas – and with the Animated and Live Action programs opening on Friday, Feb. 8, it’s also time for me to review how well I handicapped last year’s competition. Let’s begin!

In the Animated category, I put my money on something called Revolting Rhymes while referring to ultimate winner Dear Basketball as “the only thing close to a dud” in the category. In Live Action, I opted for My Nephew Emmett, suspecting the film’s civil rights focus and searing true life story would guarantee victory, and predicted that The Silent Child would “walk away winless thanks to its rather unsatisfying conclusion”. Naturally, The Silent Child won.

In my defense, I’ve never claimed to be any good at this, but my failure in 2018 was particularly galling. It’s compelled me to rethink my strategy: this year, rather than selecting the film I think is most deserving of a prize, I’m going to opt for the one I judge worst in each category. I’m sure you’ll agree that this daring counter-strategy is all but foolproof!

We’ll start with the animated category, which — it must be said — is not particularly impressive this year. Only two of the five nominees made a good impression on me: Late Afternoon, a moving meditation from Ireland about the changes wrought on a parent-child relationship by dementia; and Weekends, the story of a small boy splitting time between his separated parents. Directed by Trevor Jimenez, it’s the film most deserving of recognition, but Weekends’ darker tone and angular style may alienate small-c conservative Academy voters.


That leaves Canada’s Animal Behaviour, a stale ‘Adult Swim’ take on group therapy;  Bao, Pixar Studios’ pseudo-cannibalistic depiction of an anthropomorphized dumpling and his ‘mother’; and One Small Step, a trite and thoroughly predictable tale of a young girl aspiring to be an astronaut. So which will it be? I’m voting for Bao: despite being the most misguided attempt to tell a heart-warming story of family reconciliation I think I’ve ever seen, its Pixar pedigree surely won’t hurt its chances.

Fauve provides pointed commentary about the environmental degradation caused by extractive industries in rural Quebec

And now for the good news: the Live Action shorts are much better! My personal favorite is Fauve (one of the category’s two French-Canadian nominees), a bold and intriguing effort that provides pointed commentary about the environmental degradation caused by extractive industries in rural Quebec.

Hot on Fauve’s heels is Detainment, Vincent Lambe’s controversial film about Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, the ten-year old Liverpool boys found guilty of murdering toddler James Bulger in 1993. Detainment has been strongly — and understandably — condemned by Bulger’s family, but it’s a sensitively made, brilliantly acted recreation based on investigatory transcripts.

The category’s second Quebecois entry, Marguerite, examines the developing relationship between a diabetic senior citizen and her caregiver, while Spain’s Madre is an engaging — though, it must be said, ultimately pointless — look at a mother’s desperate search for her child, who’s been abandoned at the beach by his father.

That leaves Skin, a commentary on 21st-century American racism that might have made a great Ray Bradbury short story but instead makes for a thoroughly absurd film. Relying on some pretty hoary racial stereotypes about white Southerners, the film’s sledgehammer approach to its topic will likely propel it to victory.