In a span of about two hours, I rocketed between laughter, terror, and awe on a breakneck tour of the 2016 Oscar-nominated live action shorts. The whiplash was well worth it. While “Best Live Action Short Film” may be a category about which most viewers (myself included) usually couldn’t care less, this year’s nominees demand to be witnessed.
The first nominee, Ave Maria, features a car full of Israelis that crashes into a convent in the West Bank. Successive events, which include the decapitation of a statue of the Virgin Mary and a group of nuns pouring holy oil into an engine to raise a car from the dead, offer a farcical perspective on Arab-Israeli cultural tensions. Ave Maria is a good short to start your viewing party: it’s interesting, poignant, and not too emotionally taxing. At least, it’s not as taxing as Shok, a striking meditation on friendship, war, and cultural identity in during the 1988 conflict in Kosovo. Its bittersweet simplicity will leave you breathless. Another must-see (and probably my favorite short nominated) is the German Everything Will Be Okay. The plot is simple—a divorced father tries to kidnap his daughter—but the emotional entanglement and the audience’s response is anything but. You feel viscerally the pain wracking the father and daughter.
After watching Shok and Everything Will Be Okay back to back, I found some much needed lightness in Stuttering. The plot seems familiar (boy meets girl online, girl wants to meet boy in person, boy is afraid to reveal his true self to her), but the depiction of the contrast between expression and intention and interiority and exteriority (the protagonist stutters in real life, but provides a richly sarcastic voiceover) is profound.
The last film was Day One, a story of a female interpreter’s first day working for the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. Day One is beautifully scripted and moving. However, it did not feel as surprising as the other short films. This might be because I was worn out from being yanked in every possible thematic direction by the preceding films, but I was less willing to respond emotionally to Day One. To be fair, though, that’s like saying Ringo is my least favorite Beatle. If you love film for film’s sake, watch these shorts. Length is not an indicator of originality, profundity, or emotional intricacy, and that is strikingly proved by this year’s crop of Oscar-nominated short films. As a bastardized Mark Twain quote might read, it’s not the length of the film that matters, it’s how long you think about it afterwards.