Academy Awards Project: Best Live Action Short Film
If you aren’t too familiar with shorts, you should know they operate very differently. A feature has so much time to develop a plot and get characters to shift. A short has very little time to pull this off. When done right, it’s a spectacle to witness. If you haven’t seen many shorts, let this be a turn around for you, because watching fictional shorts is like being reintroduced to cinema all over again. They are to the point, usually clever, sharp and swift. Short films can be used to carry a punchline, or to evoke one particular essential mood. They can carry an idea without stalling, or they can just keep you in a situation for just the right amount of time. Here are the nominees for Best Live Action Short Film, ranked from worst to best.
Biggest Snub: Chuchotage
For any shorts beginners, Chuchotage is what shorts are all about. There’s a silly situation (two language interpreters only have one patron listening, and they both compete to garner her attention), and many hijinks occur. Apparently based on a real situation, Chuchotage is a great example of the exact purpose a short film has. This wouldn’t make sense to be blown into a feature (take note, many Hollywood executives that think one case of happenstance is enough for a full length), but in its brief sub-twenty minute time frame, you are graced with awkwardness galore.
This is the most controversial nomination of the year, if you haven’t heard the news. Based on the real testimonial footage of the two youngest convicted murders of the century (20th, that is), Detainment is a heavy recounting of how the investigation of a dead toddler went down. Aside from some great acting (particularly from Ely Solan as Jon Venables), Detainment feels really hell bent on exploitation. To know that these cries and admittances were from real kids, and that this murder actually happened kind of makes this short feel like a recreation of events you’d already understand if you listened to the public tapes yourself. Then there’s the editing; I understand it’s to piece together fragmented memories of the series of events, but it’s way too scattered and frantic to sit still. Taboos aside, Detainment isn’t quite as fluidly made as the other films here, and it’d be the weakest nominee even without the headlines.
From slow to unforgettable, Marguerite is great at tricking its audience for most of its duration. The ending’s purpose might be able to be seen from a mile away, but the actual execution is extremely startling and the kind that truly makes the film a thousand times better. A nurse takes care of the titular character for the entire film, and Marguerite becomes increasingly curious about the caregiver’s personal life. The more you learn, the more you think you understand Marguerite. However, once again, by the tremendous ending, you will finally understand both Marguerite and the entire short of the same name in full. It’s a great turnaround.
I really want to say this is the best short of the year. The majority of its runtime is done in one single take. You slowly see the developing stress surrounding an abandoned child trying to reach out to his mother for help, who can only do so much from a different country. The anxiety keeps getting caked on and on, until you feel like your head is about to explode. Then the ending happens. It’s hardly ambiguous, but it still feels just a little too open. For a film that you are fully invested in, I wish there was a bit more closure than “did the mom make it to her child in time or not?”. Otherwise, Mother is a thrill ride. On an arbitrary note, this film’s stylish ending credits are by far the best of the year (out of any film).
Like Marguerite and many other short films, Skin lives for its ending. A white supremacist family goes on about their un-merry ways, until the son engages in an interaction with an African American man; naturally, the kid’s awful father explodes. The son is quickly taught to hate persons of colour, which becomes a comeuppance by Skin’s final hour. With a turn of events, and the metaphor of skin being taken into account (including the skin we pick, tattoos and all), this short turns from a statement into an unsettling fable extremely quickly. The ending (which I will not spoil) has to be seen to be believed; it’s that striking.
This Canadian Franglais-clad short is so well balanced in structure and mood, it’s impossible to not claim it the best of the bunch. Two mischievous boys have a contest to see who can rank up the most points. Points are accumulated by fulfilling dares, or tricking the other person into cracking (whether it’s by laughing, or by making them panic when there isn’t actually any danger). All of Fauve is a tight rope act waiting to see when something will go wrong. And then it does, and the entire world comes crashing down. With brilliant cyclical ideas (that fox, for instance), this is the capturing of that very moment when childhood innocence has drastically died. This is the end of salad days. It’s a difficult film to explain without spoiling, because so much is hinged on that scene. Just take my word for it. Fauve is an entire lifetime (past, present and future) captured in one gigantic mishap, and its power makes it the best live action short film of the year.
Our Predicted Winner: Currently, Marguerite and Skin are battling it out for the big win, but I think the heart of Marguerite will make it pull through on top.
Our Academy Awards Project is an ongoing series that will continue until all the categories have been ranked and reviewed. Tune in Monday to Saturday for a new category each day.
Andreas Babiolakis has a Masters degree in Film and Photography Preservation and Collections management from Ryerson University, as well as a Bachelors degree in Cinema Studies from York University. His favourite times of year are the Criterion Collection flash sales and the annual Toronto International Film Festival.