Rating the Live Action Short Nominees

Many blockbuster directors got their start directing shorts and the group of nominees this year should once again prove a stepping stone for talented directors to break through.  Check out my reviews of each as well as where to see them.

Feeling Through
Nominees Doug Rolland and Susan Ruzenski
Watch on YouTube

A homeless teen helps a DeafBlind man who requires assistance.

The least harsh of all the nominees, Feeling Through features two of the best performances from Steven Prescod and deafblind actor Robert Turango.  Presented with the upmost compassion, the two actors play off each other and offer a lesson in empathy.  Avoids the cliched “who is really helping who” narrative in the smoothest of ways.  This one will stick with you.

Score: 4.0/5.0

The Letter Room
Nominees Elvira Lind and Sofia Sondervan
Watch on Topic (7-day free trial)

A prison guard who sorts through inmate’s correspondence finds himself attached to a particular letter to a death row inmate

Starring Oscar Issac, the main character is a conundrum, wanting to advance himself in his field, but seeming to actively hate it.  His new position gives him uncomfortable insight into the minds of these inmates, but how far should he go and how comfortable should he be doing it.  Another solid ending, but the characterization is all over the place.  Well-intended, but clumsy.

Score: 3.0/5.0

The Present
Nominee Farah Nabulsi
Watch on Netflix

A Palestinian man and his daughter attempt to buy a present for his wife on their anniversary.

No other film gave me more anxiety than this one as Saleh Bakri and Mariam Kanj show an authentic father-daughter connection.  The struggles of the Palestinian people are on full display, with Israeli soldiers taking every action out of the context of humanity.  Features the best ending of the shorts.  I had to cuddle with my daughter during my watch to relieve my anxiety.  A masterwork of tension.

Score: 4.5/5.0

Two Distant Strangers
Nominees Travon Free and Martin Desmond Roe
Watch on Netflix

A black man attempts to get home to his dog but has to relive the same day over-and-over where he is killed by the same police officer

New versions of Groundhog Day are nothing new, but constantly clashing tones muddle the message.  Sometimes, it feels like there should be a comedic element, but it never comes, while also never delving into the inherent darkness of the material.  Time loop films always suffer from the question of why, but the message of an unnecessarily repeating cycle of violence is hammered home more than once without explaining the loop itself.  The film does feature a sensitive lead performance from Joey Bada$$.

Score: 3.0/5.0

White Eye
Nominee Delphine Girard
Watch here

A man finds his stolen bike is the possession of another stranger.

The most gimmicky of the nominees, White Eye is another Palestinian entry, but presented as a single take.  Despite the masterful setup of the film’s environment and majestically shot, the story gets in the way.  Presented as a morality tale where even the best intentions have horrible consequences, the film can’t stick the landing and ends on an empty gesture that passes itself off as righteousness.

Score: 2.5/5.0

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