If you want to be a better Oscar forecaster, or you just like short films, you can check out the 2019 Academy Award nominees for best animated and live-action short films when they hit movie theaters Friday, Feb. 8.
They represent the best in class from around the world and are selected on the basis of merit, but there are some uncannily unifying themes in evidence. Among the animated nominees, for instance, connections between parents and children dominate the offerings. Ubiquitous Pixar is nominated for Bao (the short feature that ran with The Incredibles 2), a charming vignette about a possessive mother who has two standout traits: She makes excellent dumplings, and has a consuming desire to manage her daughter’s life.
The mother-daughter dynamic takes different form in Late Afternoon (Ireland), a hand-drawn (and nicely scored) film about an elderly woman in the throes of dementia, who lives in dreams of her past, and is brought to the here and now by a memory of her daughter at the beach. In One Small Step (USA/China), a girl grows up with a devoted single father, and though she loses him, she retains the belief he had in her.
Weekends (USA), the most surreal and visually adventurous, follows a boy as he shuttles between divorced parents. For straight comedy, Canada’s Animal Behaviour offers animals and insects in group therapy, where everybody tries to wrap their head around the female praying mantis’ problems with males (she tends to eat them).
There is a separate program featuring live-action short films, several offering harrowing portraits of children at risk. Detainment, controversial in its home country of England, is a disturbing drama drawn from actual audio tape of two juveniles who confess during a police interrogation to the 1993 kidnapping and impulsive murder of toddler James Bulger. The confessions form the script for this chilling reenactment, vehemently criticized by Bulger’s mother, who was not consulted on the project, and who views the film as exploitation. The film does not feel exploitative, nor does it offer much insight into the minds of the young killers — if there is any to be had.
In Madre, from Spain, a mother answers a panicked phone call from her young son, on vacation with dad but is lost and alone on a beach he cannot name, as a menacing figure approaches. In Skin, a neo-Nazi father teaches his son to shoot and surf and also to hate, assaulting a black man as the boy looks on. What starts out as a mini-American History X takes a turn — as though somebody saw Get Out and did a quick rewrite — and a horror movie breaks out.
There are more children at risk, in Quebec’s Fauve, which follows two boys along railroad tracks on a hot summer day, leading to an episode in a gravel pit that starts as something playful and morphs chillingly into something else.
Also from Quebec — Marguerite, the profile of an elderly woman in failing health who gets daily visits from a home health-care worker whose competence and kindness broaden into a deeper connection. A nice little film, and quite an advertisement for Canadian health care.
Parents’ guide: Not rated.
Running time: 108 minutes.
Playing at: Ritz Five and area theaters
Parents’ guide: Not rated
Running time: 75 minutes.