ITHACA, NY -- An excellent tradition continues as Cinemapolis and Cornell Cinema offer up this year’s Oscar nominees in the animated short film, live action short film and short documentary categories. Cinemapolis’ virtual cinema has them available through April 24 (check their website) and Cornell Cinema (CC) has them through April 29; CC’s deal is $12 per program and $30 for all three.
Sharpen up your golf pencils and check out my thoughts on the animated and live-action nominees to help bolster your office Zoom Oscar pool. I also pick my favorite short in each category.
Short Film (Animated)
I daresay Bugs Bunny had some of the same problems we see in Madeleine Sharafian and Michael Capbarat’s “Burrow”: in an animal epic styled after a round of the vintage video game “Dig Dug,” an everyman rabbit armed with a shovel tries to dig a home for himself underground, only to discover that he’s in a pretty crowded neighborhood.
“Genius Loci” may be the boldest and most forward-thinking entry: Adrien Merigeau and Amaury Ovise’s film utilizes many different art styles, abstract shifts in tone and time, and bold, fractured editing as it tells the tale of a young loner who sees a mythic oneness beneath the world’s urban chaos.
Styled in near black and white drawings over a white backdrop like a New Yorker cartoon, “If Anything Happens I Love You” by Will McCormack and Michael Govier uses shadows and minimalist settings to get at the reason why a married couple is so sad and angry; they’re grieving over the death of their daughter, killed in a school shooting. This is beautiful but raw stuff, sketches that illustrate an all-too common American tragedy.
“Opera,” directed by Erich Oh, uses one slow moving camera angle shifting up and down toward a massive community contained within a pyramid. The structure contains many layers, levels and separate rooms populated by what seems to be hundreds of tiny ant-size creatures. Oh’s short has a slow but steady point of view and almost too much detail to absorb in one viewing. In “Yes People” by
Gísli Darri Halldórsson and Arnar Gunnarsson, an apartment building contains many characters living a day in the life: an elderly couple, a goofy teenager and a music tutor.
BVC’s Oscar Pick: “If Anything Happens I Love You”
Short Film (Live Action)
In Doug Roland and Sue Ruzenski’s “Feeling Through,” a young Black homeless man is looking for a place to sleep when he encounters another man who is deaf and blind. Roland’s film elevates the simple act of shopping at a bodega and waiting for a bus to a much more epic status. And you wouldn’t think that a father and daughter going to buy a fridge might merit as a story, but “The Present,” by Farah Nabulsi and Ossama Bawardi, turns an ordinary activity into a terrifying nail-biter that had me on tenterhooks until the very end.
Oscar Isaac stars as a prison guard who gets a promotion to monitor convicts’ mail in “The Letter Room,” by Elvira Lind and Sofia Sondervan. A fundamentally decent man, the film tracks his time making connections with human beings inside and outside jail. A young Black man is just trying to get home to his dog, but he finds himself caught in a kind of “Groundhog Day” time loop of police violence and brutality in Travon Free and Martin Desmond Roe’s “Two Distant Strangers.” It’s painful to admit how timely this film is; it feels like a modern-day episode of “The Twilight Zone.”
It’s a narrative at least as old as “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure”: in “White Eye,” by Tomer Shushan and Shira Hochman, a man finds his stolen bicycle and tries to get it back at any cost.
BVC’s Oscar Pick: “Two Distant Strangers”
Documentary (Short Subject)
Anthony Giacchino and Alice Doyard
“A Concerto is a Conversation”
Ben Proudfoot and Kris Bowers
“Do Not Split”
Anders Hammer and Charlotte Cook
Skye Fitzgerald and Michael Scheuerman
“A Love Song for Latasha”
Sophia Nahli Allison and Janice Duncan