Short Films, Long

How long can a Short be? The Oscar rules are quite specific about short films:  A short film is defined as an original motion picture that has a running time of 40 minutes or less, including all credits. This year, there’ve been a lot of longer films. Of the 10 Best Feature Oscar Nominees, there are only two movies that have running times under 2 hours: “Belfast” is a reasonable hour and 38 minutes, and “Coda” is just under 2 hours.

This year, the shorts programs had so many longer films that the Documentary Short Subject films had to be divided into two programs as the total run time would’ve been 2 hours and 45 minutes! There’s been room in the past to include a few Runners-up Animated Shorts in the Shorts TV compilation that screens in movie theaters. Not this year. Sadly, the awards for the Short Films won’t even be shown live during the 94th Academy Awards telecast on ABC this Sunday.

Cinema lovers have been joined by esteemed directors and actors to protest the sidelining of many film craft awards. Movie Editing, Hair & Make-up, Short Films–a total of eight award categories won’t be featured live but edited in; presumably to save time. It begs the question, for whom are these award shows? Perhaps the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences should go back to a dinner party for only those in the Industry and stop trying to create a splashy event to attract an audience.

There are four categories of Short Films: Animation, Live Action and Documentary. This year, that meant four trips to the movie theater to see all the nominations (two Documentary programs). The nominated films are a somber bunch, and occasionally terrifying. Each of the four programs seemed to feature either sex or violence or a combination of the two in at least one of the films.

In the case of the Animation Program, nearly all of the films. “Robin Robin” will likely win this category as the Aardman Animation was whimsical and sweet. A bit twee for my taste. I preferred “Affairs of the Art”, about a Welsh artist specializing in nudes. The messy, artful animation matched the subject matter in it’s cheer. There was artistry in the other more adult subject selections with much to admire in “BoxBallet”, an unusual pair in a dour, melancholy romance. Some explanation of the subject matter or context would’ve helped “Bestia”, a grim tale of torture from Chile. That film gave me nightmares.

The Documentary Short Subject films had a two uplifting tales. “Audible” celebrates a deaf football team, and “Queen of Basketball” is a tribute to a pioneering black female basketball player, Lucia “Lucy” Harris Stewart. She’s the first and only woman to be drafted into the NBA. “Three Songs for Benazir” is a glimpse into another world but “Lead Me Home” felt like a PSA (Public Service Announcement). I had a personal connection to “When We Were Bullies” as I know filmmaker Jay Rosenblatt from his earlier short films. This one felt like it pulled back from the full story.

Live Action Short Films are another group of violent stories. There’s rape, kidnapping and rape, mass shooting and wrongful imprisonment. The film that had the most positive story is about a woman dying. It’s not like all films need to be cheerful or have an uplifting message. But, an entire program of depressing, distressing short films is hard on the psyche. “On My Mind” moved me the most but I thought the dystopian “Please Hold” was very relevant. There are others who thought Riz Ahmed’s rap lament was riveting in “The Long Goodbye”. I found the film so violent that it took me out of the narrative and I would’ve preferred subtitles as the lyrics were hard to parse.

Last year’s Oscar broadcast was a mixed bag. This year, we have three female commedians to host and yet another producer trying new ways to attract an audience. I hope Regina Hall, Wanda Sykes and Amy Schumer have fun hosting the show and keep us entertained. Maybe we won’t notice that while the Academy is trying to attract a larger audience, they’re alienating the artists they’re supposed to support. I for one, would favor one more program, the Oscars, that has a longer run time. After all, it’s all about celebrating all these films that have also been super-sized.

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