Many people who write about films say that nobody watches the Oscars anymore, or that people are losing interest in the Oscars. But to yours truly, part of the Academy Awards is to speculate on the winners. It would be nice to watch some of the films that got nominations below the line, which yours truly did. There are better short films but the five that got nominations for live action short film are decent.
The first is Tomer Shushan’s White Eye. Here, an Israeli man (Daniel Gad) faces the consequences of reporting a bike that someone stole from him. This is one of two short films that don’t depict the state of Israel in the best of lights. But this one separates the state from the morally ambiguous individual. This also tells its story on what seems like one long take without being showy about it, and the same goes for its contrasts.
Director and writer Farah Nabulsi’s The Present is the second short tackling Israel as a subject. This time around it depicts a Palestinian man (Saleh Bakri) trying to buy the obvious titular present for his wife. Fact – it takes four hours to drive through the most northern and southern portions of the country. So this man’s day long journey for a fridge drives the point home, as blatant that point might be. Editing and performances are also slightly off, but opening images haunt.
Elvira Lind’s The Letter Room‘s poster of a mustached Oscar Isaac might signal whimsy but the short is more than that. The short depicts the tragicomic nature of…the American prison system. It wears on Isaac’s character, zombified in front of the TV between shifts in a correctional facility. The protagonist’s tedious life gets a shake up when his work assigns him to the titular room, where he reads letters from a prisoner’s wife, Rosita (Alia Shawkat).
By the time Lind’s short ends, the program might exhaust viewers from issue shorts. Sadly, the rest of the program won’t give yours truly a break. Although there is some surprising levity in Martin Desmond Roe’s Two Distant Strangers. Here, a hipster-y Black graphic designer (Joey BadA$$) dies under the hands of the same white police officer. There’s intensity in its depiction of both the levity. And the urgency of the subject matter which thankfully, those balance out. Jesse Williams and Kevin Durant serve as a producer and executive producer in that order.
The last short takes its viewers at the same place Strangers did – New York City – but this time around, it takes us from bodegas and streets and bus stops. Doug Roland’s Feeling Through also depicts a day in the life or Tareek, a young Black man’s life but here, he’s quasi-homeless and becomes a temporary support person for a man with different abilities, Artie (Robert Tarango). It feels like an after school special, but those things have a way of working through the iciest of hearts. The short also has the first blind and deaf person to act in a film, which is enough of an accomplishment here. Marlee Matlin serves as an executive producer.
The Oscars are, for better or worse, a popularity contest, which makes The Letter Room most likely to win. Star wattage works especially in Isaac’s case. That also applies to Two Distant Strangers and Feeling Through because of its stars or producers. But I always go for my heart during Oscar pools, which makes me want to root for White Eye even more.
Find out how to watch all the Oscar Shorts: Live Action at https://www.tiff.net/.
- Rated: 14+, 14A
- Genre: Comedy, Drama, Sci-Fi, Short
- Release Date: 4/2/2021
- Directed by: Doug Roland, Elvira Lind, Farah Nabulsi, Martin Desmond Roe, Tomer Shushan, Travon Free
- Starring: Alia Shawkat, Daniel Gad, Joey Bada$$, Oscar Isaac, Robert Tarango, Saleh Bakri
- Produced by: Jesse Williams, Kevin Durant, Lawrence Bender, Marlee Matlin, Ossama Bawardi, Sofia Sondervan
- Written by: Doug Roland, Elvira Lind, Farah Nabulsi, Tomer Shushan, Travon Free
- Studio: Dirty Robber, Dutch Tilt Film, Giant Hunter Media, Philistine Films