Column: 2019 Oscar Nominated Live Action Shorts

By Keri Johnson, Contributor

Madre (Spain) is an unnerving, 19-minute exercise in technical expertise. The film is the story of any parent’s nightmare; a mother gets a phone call from her child, who is lost and alone on a far-away beach. The writing drives the film. Viewers hang onto every line, searching for clues or answers. The film consists of only four shots and relies on the superb performances of the grandmother, mother and the child’s voice. The film ends on a cliffhanger, and it leaves viewers wanting more and feeling unsatisfied.  The ending is a glaring, gaping hole that cannot be ignored, but audiences watch to be in present in a mother’s terror. The film is unscored until the very end, with a surge of sound that rocks the theater. What Madre lacks in closure, though, it makes up for in execution.

Read more: 2019 Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts

Fauve (Canada) is a 16-minute story of two young boys’ summer day gone awry. This film is carried by stunning and expansive cinematography; its visuals make viewers feel the warmth of summer. The chemistry between the two lead actors triggers childhood nostalgia, but the playfulness and energy of the film are flipped after tragedy ensues. A symbolic ending is heartbreaking and haunting, and Fauve leaves viewers with something to discuss afterward. Audiences will leave wanting more but in the best possible way.

Marguerite (Canada) is the story of an elderly woman and her caretaker. In the film, Marguerite’s nurse helps her not only with everyday life but also with coming to terms with her past. With an emotionally devastating reveal, it is classic Oscar material. It is heartbreaking, beautifully shot and leaves viewers with a warm feeling after telling an important, underrepresented story.

Detainment (Ireland) is based on the true story of the murder of James Bulger, an English 2-year-old who was killed by two 10-year-old boys, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson. The nature of this film is questionable — what it’s trying to accomplish isn’t really clear, nor are the production’s overall ethics. What should be gripping is not because of poor editing and weak pacing. The non-linear storytelling lacks flow. The editing is absurd, stylized in weird, ’90s-esque saturated fades. Detainment runs a bit longer than the other short films (30 minutes) and suffers for it. Most of its strengths lie in the strong performances of actors in the film, specifically with the parents of Venables and Thompson. However, a short that could be great feels like nothing more than a true-crime television special.

And the winner is… Skin (U.S.) is a challenging film. It features some great, tender performances by child-lead and It star Jackson Robert Scott and Bird Box actress Danielle Macdonald. Skin is the story of a bright, young son in a family of skinheads. His interaction with a black man in a supermarket spirals into a kidnapping and torture. The film then plays with dual narratives of both sons of the men involved. It ends in symbolic tragedy with a meaning that cannot easily be determined. Skin’s tactless exploration of racial inequality and life in prejudice makes for a confusing artistic message. Maybe its director, Guy Nattiv, wants the Twilight Zone-inspired strangeness that Get Out has. But what it ultimately possesses is dark and half-baked.

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