On December 21, the Academy will announce shortlists for categories like Best Sound, Visual Effects, and Original Score. The most exciting thing about the announcement for me, however, is when the short film categories are whittled down for the Live Action, Animated, and Documentary Short Subject races. Last year, the Academy expanded the finalists from 10 to 15 entries, so it allows for some different voices to enter the race, and it makes it slightly trickier when it comes to predicting.
Most short films (both animated and live action) qualify for the Oscars by winning a prize at a qualifying film festival from somewhere around the world. Student films (like last year’s shortlisted When the Sun Sets) are eligible if they win Gold, Silver, or Bronze Medal from the Student Academy Awards competition, and, of course, short films that are released theatrically (with paid admission) can make the cut–the best example of this is an animated short that plays before a Pixar animated feature.
It is worth mentioning that hundreds of films qualify for these three categories. Last year, 145 shorts were eligible for Live Action while 82 films qualified in each of the Animated and Documentary Short Subject. Let’s take a look at some films that might get mentioned in tomorrow’s announcement.
Best Animated Short
As far as I can see, Disney doesn’t have a traditional short film in the race this season. If Anything Happens, I Love You won two years ago for Netflix, but the streamer confirmed with me that they only had doc shorts competing. Is there a Bestia hiding in the shadows?
New Moon – A man recounts a loving memory from growing up with his mother on a sweaty, summer night. This is one of two shorts that could appear on this year’s list featuring the talent of Colman Domingo (scroll down for more), and this is so personal and deeply felt that it’s hard not to be entranced by it.
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse – Apple came close to being shortlisted least year with Blush, but there is something simple and beautiful about their latest adaptation of Charlie Mackesy’s beloved book. It invites you to slow down and really examine what’s important in life. It helps that every frame would look handsome framed in your home.
7 Lbs 8 Oz – Set in New Jersey, director Yoo Lee pulls from her own experiences to tell the story of a new mother who encounters a gruff neighbor who just might have her back even though he might just be looking out for himself. This stop-motion short has so much awesome detail of this grubby block that I could see it turned into a series.
Welcome to the Club – Could this become the second Simpsons short to land a nomination? This brief, 4-minute jaunt follows Lisa Simpson as she embraces the idea of becoming a Disney princess now that Disney+ has acquired the beloved animated series. Things take a dark turn when a clan of Disney favorite villains try to convince her to become a baddie. It’s fun to see Ursula, Cruella, and Jafar get the Simpsons treatment, and, even though it’s brief, it manages to get in some playful jabs at the Mouse House.
Christopher at Sea – A young man from Glasgow boards a cargo ship to travel to the United States and get away from crowds of people in this melancholic, romantic short. I’m not sure how much the Academy will go for a film that, on the surface, is about queer desire, but it’s beautifully made.
Do Not Feed the Pigeons – There is something wondrous and sad about this short about strangers in a bus terminal who encounter a batch of pigeons. It’s a short that invites you to find beauty in the mundane and to not take your surroundings for granted.
Black Slide – A young boy faces his fears of a terrifying waterslide–something that I won’t even do as an adult. Uri Lotan’s film taps into something innocent and childlike when it comes to what we are afraid of. It’s nostalgic for what scares us.
My Year of Dicks – Nominate it for the title alone! Pamela Ribon’s short (“thirty years in the making”) deftly and hilariously chronicles one young woman’s determination to lose her virginity. Making out in a movie theater and feeling your first is quite different than the euphoric, rabidly exciting explosion of feels when you realize you like someone. It’s truly unique. Again, the title, please.
Scale – Addiction expands and shrinks in the surreal imagery of Joseph Pierce’s film. I was fortunate enough to see it at HollyShorts, and some of the images have yet to leave my brain.
The Flying Sailor – After two ships collide and cause an explosion, a sailor is thrown into the air in this philosophical, comedic short from Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis.
The Originals – Everyone has stories about growing up, and, as we get older, we look back on them with more fondness. Cristina Costantini and Alfie Koetter takes us back to Matty “Square” Ruggiero’s South Brooklyn, and we learn what friendship truly meant back then.
Holy Holocaust – A family history comes between two friends who meet casually. One is Israeli and the other is German. There is a kinetic energy to some of these scenes that really drawn you in, but you should go into this as blind as possible. It makes you think of how history will never stop haunting us.
Amok – You want disfigurement at the hands of an evil Santa gnome? Look no further! With deep colors and a cartoon-y, murderous tone, this is a lost Ren & Stimpy entry that you didn’t know you needed.
Those are just some of the titles that might show up. Other films that might make the cut are:
The Garbage Man
More Than I Want to Remember
Night of the Living Dread
Best Documentary Short Subject
This category offers some of the most sobering stories at the Oscars every year, and the last two winners were female-driven, biopic-esque films. The Queen of Basketball shared the little told victories of Lusia Harris while Colette centered on a former World War II resistance fighter who visits the concentration camp where her brother perished. Will the trend continue?
MINK! and The Best Chef in the World – Not only does this film about Patsy Takemoto Mink fit into the Academy’s wheelhouse, but it’s directed by Ben Proudfoot. He won this category last year for Queen, and he was nominated for A Concerto is a Conversation. Chef tells the little known story of Sally Schmitt, a chef who sold her restaurant, The French Laundry, before it became a huge sensation. Both films are charming and totally in the hunt.
Stranger at the Gate – A confrontational film about hatred and redemption. It’s one of the best films of the year no matter the length.
The Martha Mitchell Effect, State of Alabama vs. Brittany Smith, and The Elephant Whisperers – Netflix always offers a diverse and impressive slate of doc shorts, and this year is no exception. If you were a fan of the limited series, Gaslit, Effect is right up your alley, especially we get to see the real Martha Mitchell being silenced by powerful men. Whisperers follows an indigenous couple as they fall in love with an elephant who has been orphaned, and Brittany Smith tells the true story of a woman in Alabama who killed a man who broke into her home and raped her. She used “stand your ground” in her defense, but she was met by an unsympathetic judge. Interestingly, Brittany Smith is directed by Good Night Oppy‘s Ryan White. He might have two films shortlisted and nominated this year.
Barefoot Empress – Education being a right and not a privilege comes to the forefront as it follows a 96-year-old Indian woman who starts attending school. Deepak Chopra recently boarded the film as an executive producer.
Haulout– Set in the Siberian Artic, one man notices that rising ocean temperatures are pushing walruses to the brink, and every year, it’s getting worse. They have little to no ice to rest on anymore, and by using little to no dialogue, the film lets you get lost in its imagery.
Sickness in the System and They Won’t Call It Murder – Field of Vision produces some of the most thought-provoking visual journalism that, thankfully, gets noticed by the Academy. Do Not Split was nominated, and last year’s The Facility was shortlisted. In Sickness in the System, we learn about positive COVID tests in San Quentin prison. It feels like a brother project to The Facility. Murder follows five women searching for accountability for those killed by the police in Columbus, Ohio.
Nuisance Bear – People flock to Manitoba just to get a glimpse at polar bears that walk amongst the streets. Who really is the nuisance? I’m pretty sure it’s us with our stupid phones. Seeing these creatures walk around is simply majestic.
Other films that might make the shortlist are:
As Far As They Can Run
In the Flow of Words
Long Line of Ladies
Live Action Short Film
My personal favorite category of these three is Live Action Short, so I saved it for last. I have had the distinct privilege of speaking with a lot of these artists or seen these films at festivals, so I will just give you a brief reason why I think they deserve to be mentioned on shortlist morning.
North Star – As queer people are again under attack by those want to extinguish us, PJ Palmer’s film is more important than ever. It’s a love story but not a naïve one, and it features a remarkable performance by Colman Domingo as a man trying to keep it all together. One of the best films of the year.
The Wake – Two brothers climb through windows of those who grieve for some petty thievery. The older brother is trying to stray away from his father’s ideals while the younger, who is deaf, only wants to spend time with his big bro. The ending will leave you breathless.
Sandstorm – Our phones can be a huge tool, but they can also be a weapon wielded by those who only want to take what they think is rightfully theirs. A young girl in Pakistan sends a video of herself dancing sensually a suitor over Snapchat, and once he has it, he owns a piece of her that she can never truly get back.
The Red Suitcase – A young girl flees an arranged marriage and her suitcase might give her away as her proposed spouse hunts for her in the airport. Carefully drawn and never over the top.
The Mason Ring – Two brothers think they are only doing their grandmother a favor by taking their deceased grandfather’s mason ring to the funeral home the night before he is to be buried. Instead, they are given a lesson they never considered and will never forget. It’s a handsomely made film with strong, subtle performances.
Enjoy – Himesh Patel’s wary private tutor is struggling with his own mental health and depression, but he soon realizes that his explosive, foul-mouthed student might be on his own path towards heavy sadness. How can he be a proper guide?
Warsha – A closeted construction worker in Beirut accepts the job as a crane worker despite the danger. When he is alone, high above the city, he can express himself how he truly deserves to. It’s tender, amusing, and inspiring.
Burros – Set in Arizona, a young indigenous girl meets a Latina girl her age who has been separated from her parents. When you are that young, things like borders, hatred, and prejudice don’t make sense, and it’s tragic when a young mind learns what they are.
Moshari – Nuhash Humayun’s film wades through what scares us as kids and how we carry them into adulthood. Remember the monster under the bed? You aren’t ready for this atmospheric allegory.
Remembering – Disney’s film asks you to tap into your childhood again to find out where ideas go. This could be the first AR experience shortlisted in the category’s history.
Aysha – Identity cannot be covered even when society demands you to do so. A young girl decides to take a stand even though she might not know the events outside her own backyard.
The Baldwin Archives – James Baldwin remains a literary giant, but to see Tory Devon Smith embody the icon is astonishing. Recreating Baldwin’s Peter Duval Smith interview for the BBC from 1963 is a painful reminder of how far we still have to go.
Triggered – Tara Westwood’s film brings the topic of gun violence into your living room. Two grieving parents are asked to make an unspeakable decision, and this film will force you to confront your own feelings and thoughts about this volatile subject. Everyone has an opinion about it, and the conversations needs to continue.
Look At Me – Why are men so scared? Why do they hide behind so much swagger and bravado? Sally Potter’s film, starring Chris Rock and Javier Bardem, focuses on a relationship on the verge of a breakthrough while asking all men to look inward.
Too Rough – A young man goes against his better judgement and lets his boyfriend stay the night. What he doesn’t anticipate, however, is that they will sleep in, and he will have to find a way to sneak his beau out of his homophobic parents’ house undetected.
The Water Murmurs – Would you ever be able to leave your childhood home or the place you identify with safety? This meditative Canned Film Festival winner shows how a world event asks us to analyze the seemingly small things.
All Too Well – Any Swifties in the house? Whether you think Taylor Swift’s film is a music video or the greatest thing of all time, here we are still talking about it. Swift has been vocal on expanding her mind when it comes to visually telling a story, and we’ve seen that all along with her music videos (just watch the frame-by-frame breakdowns online). I love her use of color and how she wants her music to support the story. It makes you reach for the nearest sweater or…scarf.
The shortlists will be announced on December 21!