We live in a Wild West time for the short film, with short form video coming our way from all directions online, and a camera in every hand. There was a time when short films were relegated to film festivals, with a few selections seeping out onto compilation shows that were dubbed and passed around. Now, with access to countless short films on demand on YouTube and Vimeo and beyond, it can be a daunting task to wade through it all and find what is especially good.
For 18 years now, ShortsTV has released the Academy Award-nominated shorts in theaters so that film fans can gather together and see what the industry deems the best of the year. Long ago, I made my peace with the Oscars. The Academy Awards obviously do not actually represent absolute merit, but are instead a contest with many thumbs on the scale, most of which are most concerned with a return on investment. Rather than rail against this fact with outrage at every slight, I think about the Oscars as an organizing system. These are the films who made an impression on Hollywood and its investors. And then there are all the films that were too good for those dorks (looking at you, “The Woman King”). Unlike the Best Picture or Best Actress category, the Best Short Film categories don’t have the same potential box office effect, though winning is a good stepping stone for the creators. Because of this, it feels like a purer category, one that has the potential to let the merit of the films speak for themselves without all the posturing of fame at play.
The Oscar Shorts programs are usually international in scope, and this year features films from Australia, Canada, Portugal, Greenland, Luxembourg, India, Norway, the U.K., and the U.S.
With five nominees in each category, there are fifteen chances to go in wildly different directions and encompass a wide range of experiences. Looking at the selections across all the categories, there are some trends that are telling. Each category features a film set in the tundra, with melting ice playing a role in the action of the film. Many of the films are about relationships, with strangers connecting, families examining their ties, and children seeking their place in the larger world. There are gems of pure cinema here, with experimental nods and beautiful cinematography, coupled with powerful observations about the human experience. While some films are not as memorable or boundary pushing as others, all are worth watching. Plus you’ll look very cultured when you cheer on your favorite.
The Animated Shorts program – 97 min. Recommended for 18 + due to the sexual nature of the content.
Friday, Feb. 17, 6 p.m. | Sunday, Feb. 19, 12:30 p.m. | Friday, Feb. 24, 1 p.m. | Saturday, Feb. 25, 3 p.m. | Sunday, Feb. 26, 12:30 p.m.
Cross into the impossible worlds of families who parachute off icebergs (“Ice Merchants”), and a stop motion animation character who becomes aware of his own shot-by-shot manipulation (“An Ostrich Told Me the World is Fake and I Think I Believe Him”), before a near-death experience brings you crashing back to earth (“The Flying Sailor”). And on opposite sides of the spectrum are the two favorites in the Oscar race: the beautiful travel narrative about an unlikely friendship “The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse” and the hilarious episodic teen-girl tale, “My Year of Dicks.” Both of these later films are can’t miss, instant classics.
Will Win – “The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse”
Should Win – “My Year of Dicks”
Live Action Shorts – 115 minutes. Recommended for 16+.
Saturday, Feb. 18, 3 p.m. | Wednesday, Feb. 22, 1 p.m. | Saturday, Feb. 25, 12:30 p.m.
Follow estranged brothers as they complete a bucket list in Ireland (“An Irish Goodbye”), then ride along with a Norwegian woman as she hijacks a tram (“Night Ride”), and check in with a gaggle of rebellious girls at a boarding school during wartime in Italy (“Le Pupil”). Take a tour of a Greenlandic girl’s homeland as she searches for her sister (“Ivalu”), and root for an Iranian girl as she tries to escape a Luxembourg airport – and a future she does not want (“The Red Suitcase”).
Will Win – “The Red Suitcase”
Should Win – “Ivalu”
Documentary Shorts – 166 minutes with one 10-minute intermission. Recommended for 16+.
Saturday, Feb. 18, 6 p.m. | Friday, Feb. 24, 6 p.m. | Saturday, Feb. 25, 6 p.m.
Meet orphan elephants in India (“The Elephant Whisperers”), then head to Siberia with a marine biologist to observe thousands of walruses ashore (“Haulout”). Watch a little girl grow into a young woman through the lens of her father’s camera (“How Do You Measure a Year?”) before pivoting back to a major, but forgotten, player in Watergate (“The Martha Mitchell Effect”), and witness a terrorist attack headed off by radical love (“Stranger at the Gate”).
Will Win – “The Elephant Whisperers”
Should Win – “Haulout”
The Oscar Nominated Shorts
at the Speed Museum
$12 / $8 Speed members
Speed Art Museum
2035 S. 3rd St.