The Documentary and Animated Short categories, like the Live Action short category, once again offer up the Academy’s best representation of great filmmaking. Each of the doc shorts take us into the lives of ordinary people who either survive extraordinary things or do extraordinary things. Here are mine in order of preference.
- Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405 – a short film about a broken human being who is an unbelievably talented artist. While it’s true that we often thing about great artists as being damaged or struggling to cope with reality, we don’t often see them as completely as we do with Mindy Alper in this film. Most of the film is Alper telling her own story, describing her relationship with her parents, and showing her early drawings that expressed what was happening to her as she struggled with severe mental illness. She is on a wide array of medications to hold her together, yet she doesn’t believe they are working properly. So much of the movie is about who she is, how she talks, how she lives, who she loves – but when her art is brought out and seen in full display of its brilliance it’s just astonishing. Truly, we are in the presence of greatness. I guess I liked this movie the most because I liked her so much — women don’t often get the credit they deserve for being great artists unless they’re somehow tied to a romantic legacy about themselves – and as usual, to do with how they look or who they slept with. But Alper is just pure raw genius. I don’t know if this one will win but you should track it down.
- Traffic Stop was a film that took me by surprise. We’re inundated with videos of police brutality so that those videos themselves seem to tell us a story we think we know already. But as we follow Breaion King’s life told in her own words we see a young ambitious woman with hope in her eyes and faith in her heart. She so clearly believed that if she did everything “right” and followed the rules surely nothing terrible would happen to her. But of course, she’s pulled over and because she gives the cop a tiny bit of attitude (as we all do when we’re trying to get out of a ticket) he yanks her out of the car and throws her to the ground, then tries to pin her arms behind her back. It is a shocking thing to see no matter what (she’s tiny, he’s huge) and no one deserves that kind of treatment by our law enforcement — learning more about her life, that’s she’s a schoolteacher with a Master’s degree, a dancer, so smart, so kind it’s the part of the story we don’t often see. We see the video and we feel outrage but do we ever really get to know the victim? Traffic Stop introduces us to a bright light who got a lesson in the way of the world she never should have had to endure.
- Knife Skills – this is one of the more professional looking of the shorts and tells a story of prison inmates getting a second shot at life by learning how to run a French restaurant – to cook, to be waitstaff, hostesses, etc. Most offenders re-offend the moment they’re out of prison, this program is meant to be a way to catch them when they first come out and hopefully redirect them to a better life for themselves. It’s a joy to watch so many of them connect with the work, and sad to see that some still do fall through the cracks. This film could easily win.
- Heroin(e) follows three women who are out to change the crushing statistic of the opioide addiction in one small town that has an overdose rate 10 times the national average. Fire Chief Jan Rader brings victims back to life, or tries to, Judge Patricia Keller works with offenders and tries to find better solutions for them then throwing them in jail, and Necia Freeman of Brown Bag Ministry who drives around giving out free food to addicts and those living on the streets. It’s so moving to watch such brave and mighty women hold such fragile life or struggles in their hands.
- Edith+Eddie is the short most people believe will win and indeed it is a heartwarming story, with two elderly people who have met and fallen in love and just want to live out their days together. The problem becomes how can they survive, how can they take care of themselves. What we do with our elderly is about estate planning, money and conservatorships – not a lot of it is to do with what happens to our rights to, say, be with the one we love. It’s a heartbreaking and frustrating film on all fronts but captures an important story about love, really, and the tragic ways our lives can sometimes end.
In terms of what will win, there is just no way to tell. Your own preference might not match what those who do decide to vote for these. Since many members skip these categories, it’s impossible to tell year after year which of them will get selected. But you could do worse than predicting Edith+Eddie for its universality.
In terms of the animated shorts, I’ll not offer individual reviews of them, just a wee bit of analysis. I think by far the most accomplished is Garden Party about a group of frogs hanging around what appears to be the scene of the crime. It is so captivating, so charming, so real looking, so unique and so funny that I hope it wins. I suspect it won’t. Probably Dear Basketball will win, since it’s a poem written by Kobe Bryant who will likely attend the Oscars. I’m guessing voters would like to see him go on stage to win an Oscar – but the short itself is very very short. It’s good, for sure. Garden Party is better. Lou is every bit the level of quality and storytelling you would expect from Pixar. You’ve likely seen it. It could win – and might very well win simply because there are so many Pixar members voting. Negative Space and Revolting Rhymes are also very very good. My choice is Garden Party as the best, but at the moment I do not know which film will win. Probably Dear Basketball.