2019 Oscar Nominated Shorts: Live Action

It’s pretty disappointing that the Academy almost cut out the entire Live Action short category this year for the Oscars, as there are so many wonderful short films nominated. There are five pretty fantastic short films with strong messages about childhood and loss of innocence, and I hope now that they’re back in the broadcast, that audiences get a chance to watch and celebrate them.

Detainment (2018)
If there’s any film that struck a nerve with me this year, its Vincent Lambe’s “Detainment.” Based on one of the most notorious murders of the nineties in Britain, director Lambe stages dramatic re-enactments of the interrogation of two ten year old boys who inexplicably abducted, tortured, and murdered two year old “Baby James.” With transcripts and audio recordings as a base for the film, “Detainment” amounts to a compelling and incredibly disturbing crime thriller, in which the entirety of the interrogations is spent trying to find out why these two boys decided to murder a small child.

The why is just as horrific as the how, as there never seems to be a single rational explanation as to why these two felt compelled to murder this small boy. Leon Hughes and Ely Solan are amazing in their performances portraying ten year old murderers Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, conveying two sides of this horrendous crime. “Detainment” is an emotionally exhausting short film that ends on the explanation that there were some tapes of the interrogation never released to jurors due to their inherent disturbing nature. What’ll keep viewers horrified is the thought of why this crime was committed. Sadly, we may never know. 

Fauve (2018)
Jeremy Comte’s “Fauve” is a disturbing and heartbreaking look at childhood recklessness and how things can take a turn for the worse, at any time. Felix Grenier and Alexandre Perreault portray two boys that are wandering around abandoned construction sites and train yards one day, horsing around and exploring various environments. They’re engaging in a game of one upping each other.

As their game gets riskier, they inevitably drift to an abandoned construction site where they continue their shenanigans. When they flee after being caught, their escape is hindered by a sudden world shattering event that will change everything. “Fauve” is a gut wrenching, torturous short about the end of innocence and how the screws can turn at any second, no matter how young we are. The performances are top notch and Comte bookends his short with a tear jerking final scene. 

Marguerite (2017)
Marianne Farley’s short drama is a masterpiece, and perhaps the most relevant short film of the bunch, a drama about a woman from a different generation, facing her final days, haunted by her past. Béatrice Picard plays Marguerite, an old woman slowly dying from diabetes who finds her only solace and peace with her kind nurse, as played by Sandrine Bisson. When she finds out her nurse is gay and in a passionate relationship, Marguerite reveals something about herself to her nurse that depicts the life of a sad and broken woman.

Marguerite is someone from a different time and vastly different era who found herself in love with a woman who she could never admit her feelings for. The final moments and contemplation of Marguerite’s own life is heartbreaking, especially as she views her nurse as someone she not only admires, but clearly envies. This LGBTQ based drama is engrossing, mesmerizing, and absolutely thought provoking. One can only imagine how many Marguerites have lived their entire lives terrified to admit who they really were.

Mother (Madre) (2018)
Rodrigo Sorogoyen chronicles every parents’ worst nightmare, the feeling of helplessness as their child is thrust in an extraordinary and terrifying scenario. At a tight nineteen minutes, “Madre” is an intense and terrifying short that will certainly cause every mother or father to make sure they know exactly what their children are up to. Marta (Marta Nieto) is at home with her mother when she receives a call from her six year old son Ivan. When Ivan explains that his father went in to the water and hasn’t returned yet, Marta realizes Ivan is all alone with a dying cell phone, on a beach that could be literally anywhere.

When Ivan comes across a lone man on the beach, the terror becomes ever more evident. Marta Nieto’s performance is fantastic as she gradually evolves from a woman in an impossible situation, to a frantic mother who is just as helpless as her son, and has to face that something truly heinous has happened or is about to happen. “Madre” begins with a shot of an empty beach that seems innocuous at first but takes on a whole new definition in the finale. I loved this short and I can’t wait to see how this is transformed in to a feature film.

Skin (2018)
I like where “Skin” was going originally, but then it kind of takes a veer in to an absurd direction in the finale that’s both heavy handed and clunky. Nattiv takes us in to the life of young Troy, whose parents Johnny and Christa are very proud and loud Neo-Nazis. While shopping, he has a sweet encounter with a black man, but Johnny (played memorably by a near unrecognizable Jonathan Tucker) takes offense. Confronting him in the parking lot, he commits a hate crime in front of his eyes and nearly murders the man in front of his family.

It’s a well directed and beautifully acted short film that has a chance to say something really poetic, especially in this day and age where racism is a very hot button issue. The encounter with Troy has the chance to evoke shades of Emmett Till, but Nattiv almost seems to kind of run out of ideas and delivers a twist in the climax that I found pretty silly. “Skin” is well constructed short drama with a second half that all but hobbles the momentum of the message about racism, and conditioning our kids to hate.